Diablo® III

Race and the WD

85 Orc Warrior
5840
Posts: 101
I was looking at the "Why is no one playing the WD" thread and saw a couple of the answers pointing to the character's obvious Blackness. Even when people didn't mention skin color or voice acting, there seemed to be a lot of disagreement over his (I'm just gonna call the class a him in reference to how it was written up in the short story) racial "style" (the whole voodoo/tribal thing). This happened on both sides, with those talking about how cool it was and those who found it weird/off-putting both marking off similar main characteristics which are racially marked. This, along with the agreement that it is an unorthodox character archetype in the Tolkien-inspired fantasy genre (through D and D) Diablo fits into, makes me wonder about the WD's role in gaming.

First, I think Blizzard has made the games where most gamers have played someone not White. Most protagonists in video games are White (not including sports games or the Sims since those are more simulations and less fictional narratives, so I seem them as a separate but related thing). The way I see Blizz having bucked that trend is not through direct racial representations (like the WD), but through playing up some of the racial allusions embedded in fantasy archetypes. And I'm primarily talking about WoW here (sure, the paladin was Black, which is an interesting switch especially in light of the role of Christianity in Africa and the African American community, but he was mostly a holy crusader type and not so interested in playing out or upsetting racial narratives). The subaltern conglomerate know as the horde brings together Blacks (orcs, trolls), Indians (Tauren), goths/punk-!@# teenagers (Undead), and gays (Blood Elf males...females in this model would be gay groupies?) all under the command of the Orcs, a race uprooted from their tribal/shamanistic existence by a foreign power bent on conquest and looking to use the Orcs as some free labor. The Orcs are now dealing with being freed from slavery (Twice! the story of Thrall as civil rights leader...Thrall = MLK and Grom = Malcom X? Malcom doesn't come off all that well here, prolly pre-Hajj. Or maybe its Dubois and Booker T. Washington...lol, no) and attempting to reclaim the culture their forced diaspora wrenched from them and negotiate their new, embattled place in the world. While this isn't exactly good history, it does play on many prevalent themes in the narrative of the African American community. Thrall has become one of the most celebrated characters in modern fantasy and the King of Stormwind is routinely criticized on these forums for being "xenophobic" (a term which includes racism while also opening up its connotations to the fear/hatred of ALL difference).

Now, the Witch Doctor. While his origins in an impenetrable jungle populated by tribes dedicated to ritualized blood sacrifices and other decidedly left-handed magical arts first conjure up visions of the African tribe in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and all the colonial baggage that novel is dealing with, he's positioned in his short story as a cultural rebel. He's dislodged from a dangerous culture of Black alterity but uses its modes of reproduction (ritualistically mobilizing natural threats like locusts, disease, and herbal poisons along with iconic markers of voodoo like toads, chickens, fetishes, and zombies) to pursue his new path. He is at the same time a rejection and reinstantiation of racial narratives. He's not really on anyone's straight and narrow. His posture is stooped and he has a pot-belly, further differentiating him from the archetypal mode of fantasy hero as exemplary European demi-god. His body, so often the site of racial demarcation, doesn't even fit into these narratives. The necromancer, the class he's most compared to in style, is pale, straight-backed, proud, and thin like his European aristocratic model (kinda vampy). The Witch Doctor is nowhere near as familiar to most gamers/fantasy enthusiasts in terms of either cosmology or ease of identification with the character.

Some of the things I see falling out from this happen in both actual gameplay and expanded role within the genre for multi-ethnic representation. The gameplay, as so often noted by people excited about playing a Witch Doctor, is dynamic, flexible, and full of possibilities. I think this comes partly from the characters racially liminal position in the fantasy world. Its not tied down to archetypes (meatshield, rogue, caster) nearly as much. And this has the potential to be leveraged into a shaking up of the European based fantasy model in gaming.
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85 Orc Warrior
5840
Posts: 101
Now, two things I know I'm not dealing with. First, the Asian angle. I know how popular JRPGs have been (are?) and how much of gaming culture happens in a sort of Pacific world of exchange. I'm not really incorporating that into this, though I'd love to hear what people think. Also, the Witch Doctor as sort of revolutionary racial hero (as a particular reading of this post could portray it) comes off as pretty naive. I wouldn't argue for that. But, because I'm arguing for a trend specifically in Blizzard games, I see the Witch Doctor as an important piece to understanding race in modern gaming. Beyond that I have ideas that are mostly undeveloped and sort of floating in my head during free time but nothing I'm too wedded to.

I'd love to hear what others think about this while we wait the last hour and a half. :)

TL;DR-Blizzard's doing more racial stuff in their games (in terms of their protagonists) than I'm seeing from other developers. The Witch Doctor is an interesting step along that direction that I see coming out of WoW races (specifically Horde).
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It shakes things up and things need to be shaken up or they grow stale.

So, yeah. Agreed. Diversity only helps fantasy grow.
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Posts: 1,015
Personaly I don't mind it....I do wish I had a choice, But hey- Im not complaining....I'll just deal with it. atleast they gave him a good voice actor :)
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Posts: 16
I don't mind that the WD has dark skin, at least not enough to make me not play him, but I would have liked an option to modify his skin tone. Appearances, genders, and races are a few of the things that I believe help players form a connection with their character and become immersed in a game.

I've always been one of those players who tries to make my character bear as much resemblance to myself as possible, and generally prefers to play caucasian male characters. Simply because I feel I can relate better to them being of the same race and gender, this helps increase the level of immersion and helps me form a special bond with my character.

The Witch Doctor's accent and posture may form a problem for me, but if I like playing him enough, I should be able to look past that.
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I'm only going Witch Doctor 'cause I love undead stuff and all that. Played a necro in D2 and play warlock in wow. I don't like the tribal voodoo theme of the WD, but I'm willing to deal with it to get some zombies!
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Doesn't bother me, suits his theme.
My Ritualist in GW is clearly asian, infact, gw has a lot of multi-racial options, some are forced upon you if you want to make a character starting in that campaign.
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85 Worgen Death Knight
3465
Posts: 56
05/14/2012 10:32 PMPosted by Arjuna
I was looking at the "Why is no one playing the WD" thread and saw a couple of the answers pointing to the character's obvious Blackness.


No idea why but I cracked up when I read that first line.

I don't really see Diablo as Tolkien inspired. If anything it would be closer to "Inferno" inspired (due to the categorization of separate evils and the dark overtones to the story).

Back on topic: At first I hated the overall art and theme decisions of the game but they grew on me over time. As other posters above have said, it's a solid change and will stop the series from going stale (at least aesthetically). Choice is good and all but I'm quite happy with the linear system in the Diablo games, as the designers can inject more character and polish into their character designs, rather than having to dilute them in order to create broader possibilities.
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85 Orc Warrior
5840
Posts: 101
05/14/2012 11:12 PMPosted by Wðrgasm
I don't really see Diablo as Tolkien inspired. If anything it would be closer to "Inferno" inspired (due to the categorization of separate evils and the dark overtones to the story)


Yeah I see that. Definitely based in a Judeo-Christian mythology (also Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, other more radical dualist stuff). Though I think you could read Tolkien as Christian allegory and link it up there. I also see Tolkien as the seminal moment for modern fantasy as a genre, so I'd always link it back up in some way (maybe I haven't thought that out well enough). You're right, though, probably heavier influences from elsewhere.
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Tolkien had a big part in the inspiration of D&D, which is one of the rallying points for modern fantasy gaming and even literature.

I don't care for the conceit that Tolkien is the sole father of modern fantasy, though. Things like paladins owe more to medieval romance and Arthurian legend. The archetype of the wizard existed long before Gandalf and there's definitely nothing in Tolkien about heroic barbarians or sinister assassins.

Modern fantasy is a heterogenous mixture and-- good God, I sound pretentious right now.

I AM SO BORED.

Fantasy, like sci-fi, need not take place in a suspiciously all-white universe.
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I don't really see Diablo as Tolkien inspired. If anything it would be closer to "Inferno" inspired (due to the categorization of separate evils and the dark overtones to the story)


Yeah I see that. Definitely based in a Judeo-Christian mythology (also Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, other more radical dualist stuff). Though I think you could read Tolkien as Christian allegory and link it up there. I also see Tolkien as the seminal moment for modern fantasy as a genre, so I'd always link it back up in some way (maybe I haven't thought that out well enough). You're right, though, probably heavier influences from elsewhere.


Tolkien proudly cited pagan influences in the creation of his mythos.

He is, though, one of the great fathers of modern fantasy. Not the only one, by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely of the larger contributors. Much of the way we view the basic archetypes for elves and dwarves comes from him. Hobbits/halflings obviously owe their imaginary existence to him as well.

Edit: Not exclusively pagan, that is. There's some Christian stuff in there too, and Luciferian allegory is pretty rampant throughout.
Edited by Apostate#1465 on 5/14/2012 11:31 PM PDT
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Posts: 54
Wouldn't make much sense to have a Caucasian tribal voodoo dude, would it?

It's for story purposes, and it fits his character. Just like it wouldn't make much sense for the Barbarian to be black, it doesn't make much sense for the WD to be White.

And it doesn't bother me at all...frankly, I'm tired of playing White Male Characters, even though I'm a White Male. I'm excited to start playing my WD in half an hour.
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85 Orc Warrior
5840
Posts: 101
05/14/2012 11:30 PMPosted by Apostate
Not exclusively pagan, that is. There's some Christian stuff in there too


Yeah, hard to separate those two out from one another. :)

05/14/2012 11:30 PMPosted by Artimus
frankly, I'm tired of playing White Male Characters


I hear that

Also, FOUR MINUTES! lol
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