Gnomes, Nerds, and Kyriarchy

(Early Frost will hopefully return next week, when my bandwidth resets, allowing me to download the 1GB patch)

While I am ready to admit that my time spent reading blogs are slim to none compared to writing my own blog (which by itself is also quite slim nowadays), being simply a part of the wow blogosphere at all had me eventually encountering the issue of feminism in numerous blog posts on my twitterfeed as well as numerous more linked by those posts.  I am also ready to admit that my while my interest in feminism is not that high, I do advocate empowerment of those who are marginalized by influences beyond their control (i.e., minorities affected by racism and the like, the “punk” aspect of steampunk).  Thus, when the topic of gender-centric discussion in WoW ran its course, from female-centric posts to male-centric posts, I began thinking that such issues go beyond gender and sexuality.

Enter kyriarchy, a term that encapsulates the scope and breadth of such issues of control and empowerment of one social group over another, based on differences in qualities between those groups, and associated stereotypes within those differences (please don’t burn at the stake if I’m not 100% correctly grasping the definition of the term).  This isn’t just sexism, but racism, sexualism, mentalism, ableism, and much, much more.

To be as brief as possible, kyriarchy exists in the World of Warcraft, particularly with regards to gnomes as a race, as the lore, design elements, as well as social response to the gnomes as a class insist on particular stereotypes that I hope to outline within this post.

Gnomes as Nerds

With their engineering prowress (+5 Engineering racial), excellent cognitive skills (+5% Intellect), and overall eccentricity, it is no surprise that gnomes come across as the nerds of WoW.  They are active contributors of technology to the Alliance war machine, and are responsible for such creations as the flying machine, submarine, and perhaps most important of all, the Deeprun Tram, which runs through nearly a third of the Eastern Kingdoms, including the great sea, to connect Ironforge and Stormwind.  With such important technological advances and influences, one would think that the Exiles would benefit more from the credit they receive for their abilities.

Apparently, this is not so.  Despite their claim to fame, gnomes are not treated with the dignity of their intellectual prowress.  Instead, their assets are used merely as assets, tools of war that are to be taken for granted.  Not a single gnome in lore is treated with the same level of respect or reverence that is given to the likes of the Wynns, Velens, Bronzebeards, and Stormrages.  Their main leader, Gelbin Mekkatorque, was mentioned in written warcraft novels once (Beyond The Dark Portal, written by Rosenberg and Golden), and even though he only held the position of Tinker (as opposed to High Tinker) in the novel’s setting, it was with regards to a rat infestation during the development of the Deeprun Tram.  Turalyon, the supposed Alpha of the humans at this time, is put off by the sheer technological depth of the contraption, pointing out the insignificance of a mere infestation.  Gelbin’s character, on the other hand, is completely lost in technological translation due to the perspective from which the novel was written.

It would also seem that the intellectual prowress of gnomes is also a means of stereotyping them as nerds, and by extension, weaklings.  The authors take on gnomes is that, despite their abilities to be strengthy Warriors and Death Knights in-game, they are weak as a whole, and having Gelbin approach Turalyon at all with this problem is a huge misappropriation of gnomish physical prowress.  This is further expanded by the WoW lore team, who have yet to introduce an important gnome character who is a class other than engineer or caster.  However, Kelly Aarons from wow.com, also known as Cadistra from WoW, eh?, has taken that opportunity in her weekly webcomic, Byron, the Tauren Rogue, by introducing a gnome rogue named Evi Daggershock.  Not only does she bring up the issue of misappropriation by having a human initially dismiss Evi’s skills as a rogue, she subverts the trope entirely when Evi throws a dagger at him, having it barely miss his head.

But is Evi enough to turn around the misappropriation that Gnomes are unable to be anything but nerds?  A look at warcraftrealms suggests that there is much work to be done.  Of all characters level 20-80 censused by warcraftrealms, 5% were gnomes, and only 38% of them were a class other than Mage or Warlock.  Considering that 3 of a possible 5 classes selectable by gnomes are physical dps classes, there is a discrepancy between what is available and what is actually selected.  I cannot fathom that intellect bonuses would create such a bias towards casters, but the fact that Gnomes are the class that has the lowest representation of physical DPS classes of all the races (1.9% of all toons, compared to trolls at 2.8% and forsaken at 3.51%) is quite telling.

Blizzard could have gone out of their way to alleviate this skew by introducing another physical DPS class to gnomes in Cataclysm, but instead have decided to make priests a playable class.  This strikes me as odd, since Paladins would have been better for this situation, as they are not only a physical DPS class, but have a tree that can benefit from their Expansive Mind racial as well*.  An opportunity wasted, simply due to Lore junkies wanting gnomes to be gnomes: smart but weak.

*which will actually be represented as a mana pool increase in Cataclysm, rather than an intellect stat increase.

Gnomes as Unsexual Children

There’s a significant pretension that gnomes, as a result of their comic relief role in Warcraft, are highly unsexual, and that anything sexual about them is strewn about in a comical manner.  For instance, the male gnome’s /dance animation is perhaps the most sexually lewd of all the races and genders for its numerous pelvic thrusts and imaginary booty slaps.  Yet, I have yet to hear any complaints on the deviance of the act, due to the fact that it’s gnomes that are doing the dance.  Had it been the animation for humans, orcs, elves, or any other “manly” race, I am sure that the dance would look miles more sexual, and would be more likely to become the centre of controversy.  Why is this?  Recalling a conversation on twitter, it would seem that there is a generalized taboo regarding gnomish fetishism, rather than the sexualization of gnomes themselves.  People turn the other cheek  on the gnome /dance because they’re not allowed to like it, not because it’s wrong in the first place.

I can’t explain why this is, but I definitely feel that such a practice is wrong.  There is definitely something wrong with not acknowledging the sexuality of gnomes, as reflected by the relative lack of art depicting gnomes in sexually suggestive situations compared to other races such as Humans, Elves, Draenei, Trolls, and Orcs.  While I agree with Pewter’s supposition that female infantilisation is one of the core causes of desexualisation, I also believe that the childish nature of male gnomes also contributes to their infantilism as well, despite the fact that most of them have beards that make them look otherwise.  The race as a whole suffers from this due to misinterpretation of their eccentricity, that they treat their inventions like childish toys, or that their pursuit of knowledge is based on childish curiosity, rather than for more mature selfish gain like the other races.  Regardless, Gnomish fetishism should be acceptable, and I deeply respect those who are open about it (you know who you are, and I give you mad props for it).

Gnomes as Avatars (Alternatively, Gnomes as Footballs)

As a whole, gnomes were introduced as the comic relief race of the Warcraft universe, but with the passing of time, that label has become stale.  As part of a univese that is socially stratified favouring those with particular qualities, gnomes have unfortunately found themselves in the lower rung of that pyramid, both in popularity amongst the fanbase, as well as importance in Lore.  The reason why I decided to take on this gnomish angle rather than the male-centric view that Pewter originally called out for, is because I chose a gnome as an avatar of myself.  Of all the different races, the gnomes are the ones who I have the most in common with, and share similar philosophies and beliefs with.

For people like Blizzard to suggest that being a gnome, or being gnome-like, is to be marginalized by the superior races is to suggest that it’s not okay to be smart, to be individualistic, to be expressive; that being strong and sexy is the only way to get ahead in life.  And it’s not just the developers and writers who make this mistake, but the community as well.  For every person who makes a lame gnome puting joke, or enjoys the thrill of killing a gnome in a battleground or a gnome NPC in a dungeon, I see Vinnie Valedictorian getting stuffed into the locker after second period by Johnny Jock, getting his lunch money stolen, just so he can be rejected by Chelsea Cheerleader after school*.  WoW’s treatment of gnomes in-game is like a form of bullying, and encourages the same type of behaviour in the real world.

I find that very discouraging, as I can imagine many a nerd picked on by his or her peers in high school retreating to the escapism of Warcraft, only to find the same treatment in-game.

*I apologize if I offended anyone with this statement, if it came off that nerds only go for the cheerleader.  I myself fell in love with Betty Band-camp.

33 thoughts on “Gnomes, Nerds, and Kyriarchy

  1. Pingback: [Discussion] So let’s talk about the men in World of Warcraft | The 'mental Shaman

  2. I honestly don’t know what to make of this. I am, as you probably know, a die-hard gnome fan. And yeah, the gnome hatred is a bit strange and incomprehensible to me.

    But on the other hand – isn’t it a part of what constitutes to be a gnome? We’re a bit of outcasts, ridiculed, laughed at, but in the end we know that we’re smarter and part of a huge conspiracy to take over the world, so we laugh it away. If the big people keep living in the delusion that gnomes don’t count, well, it will just make it easier for us to keep the control. They just don’t know who’s in charge. Is that so bad?

    About the lack of gnomish sexuality I must admit that I think that’s one of the reasons why I love to play a gnome so much. I never thought about it until Pewter pointed it out, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the reasons why the race stuck with me so easily.

    • “If the big people keep living in the delusion that gnomes don’t count, well, it will just make it easier for us to keep the control. They just don’t know who’s in charge. Is that so bad?”

      Sssshhh, you’re giving away our secret!

      Errr, I mean, uh, yeah. I can see it sort of being bad, since it’s like saying those who enjoy playing gnomes for that aspect accept their role as a marginalized member of society when they can be much, much more. There’s a simplified term for this concept, and I’ve read about it before in previous posts, and I believe this falls into that same category, though it escapes me at the moment, since I have just woken up.

  3. Hehe I find this a rather refreshing take on the marginalization matter. I never actually played a gnome in WoW and hence I never ‘studied’ issues of gnome representation. what I certainly agree on is that, also for society as a whole, people that deviate from a certain ‘optic’ stereotype will be ‘neutralized’ (in its literal meaning, rendered neuters). this goes for the infantilisation of shorter people but I have also seen this happen to people that were rather overweight (hence losing the more ‘characteristic’ shape people associate with gender). another point that should concern male gnomes too, is voice pitch – I have known a few boys in school that were rather late on the change of voice and suffered horribly from it. male gnomes have boy-ish / childish voices in WoW, so do the females.
    All of these aspects render gnomes as a race somewhat a-sexual and it cannot be size only, because the dwarfs seem a lot more defined to me in that respect. I always felt that Blizzard wanted the gnomes to be the ‘goofy sidekick’ or ‘cutesy / kiddy’ race because of the way they’ve presented them in WoW. that’s probably also why they’re the race I can identify with the least, even though I think they’re a lot fun as NPCs.

    • Since I play mostly with my own personal playlist drowning out most if not all the sounds in-game, I actually never really considered voice as one of the characterisations that infantilise gnomes, but from what I recall, I do agree there is a childish tinge to the gnome playable characters, especially with regards to females. Upon hearing random emote lines such as /silly or /flirt, it’s easy to pass off gnomish personalities as naive and lacking any sort of leadership qualities, but if you listen to Gelbin Mekkatorque’s speech during Operation Gnomeregan, he instills a sense of pride in his people, as well as those who support the gnomish cause.

      Dwarfs seem to be moreso a case of “more sexual” than “less asexual” compared to gnomes because of your reasons, and I wholeheartedly agree about the “goofy sidekick” quality that gnomes have with regards to their relationship to the dwarves.

      Golden and Rosenberg’s take on this relationship in Dark Portal is more akin to a big brother/little brother relationship, with Turalyon wondering why the gnomes didn’t go to Bronzebeard and the Dwarves for help regarding the deeprun tram. The passage itself did emphasized the aspect of the brother relationship where the big brother is annoyed with having the little brother around all the time, and is asking for outside help to humor the little brother.

      While the Exiles are more than thankful for being welcomed to Ironforge while they try to reclaim their homeland, they are well aware of their refugee status and would give anything to have a home again.

    • I just don’t buy into the mindset that because gnomes are cute that they, therefore, cannot be attractive. To some people, that’s even more attractive than normal, stereotypical ideas of sexual attraction.

    • It actually reminds me of the issue of infantilisation of anime characters, and the social stigma regarding anime fetishism. I was going to touch on that subject, as there are plenty of real life examples of issues related to that, as well as my own personal experiences regarding anime fetishism, the otaku/weaboo that I am.

    • Excellent post. Love it. I think the social stigma surrounding lolicon is…interesting. I don’t really know enough to comment. The thing is that gnomes in game have what we would call ‘adult bodies in miniature’ rather than ‘childish’ bodies, where the issues with anime fetish seem to be over the infantilisation of supposedly adult bodies? I don’t really know enough to know the exact objections :(

      Do the females have their hourglass figure to avoid the infantilisation taboo, just as the males have their beards? I guess so.

    • @Pewter: lolicon is a very touchy subject, since there’s a fine line as you said between fetishism towards childlike figures and behaviours of mature adults, and straight up pedophilia, not to mention the messy business surrounding statutory laws. In Japan, the laws are very hazy, and at the same time, are severely go unenforced, not only causing the line to blur even further, but also resulting in the misinformation of people who experience anime fetishism (an issue that is heavily affecting the furry community as well as the relatively larger social stigma placed on their tastes as well).

      It’s also very difficult to investigate the matter with a balanced viewpoint, because anime fetishists are spread out throughout the broad range of the spectrum, with humble/polite/shy people on one end, and boisterous/rude mysoginistic trolls on the other (see 4chan).

      In general, if the fetishism practiced is aimed towards individuals/characters of consentual age, who is one to say what the ideal woman should be? Seems to me that there is an underlying message that short, flat-chested women are sexually undesirable if such fetishism is dismissed within a social context.

  4. *salute* Props accepted. :P

    But yeah, I’ve definitely had that sort of marginalization in-game. Hell, I’ve been in a raid where there were three people who came in to tank but only two tanks were needed (Vault 25), and despite having more HP/gear than one of the other two people, they told me to just “go dps plz” because “ur a gnome u cant tank” (direct quotes).

  5. I have an 80 gnome mage, warrior and lock. All three are quite capable at their roles (the warrior has tanked half of ICC at this point). I am firmly of the opinion that sentient creatures taller than 4ft should not be trusted. Dwarves are the only “good” tallies.

  6. This “in-game racism” of sorts is an interesting topic that hasn’t been discussed enough. I’ve yet to be on the end of any anti-gnome bile (although I have no doubt that it happens and will happen to me, as my gnomes get higher up in level), but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been made fun of on my female tauren. Of interesting note is the “You must also be a fat cow IRL” one. *sigh*

  7. Go gnome or go home. While I love the OPness of Diplomacy as a racial when I’m doing rep grinds and the like, I’d rather be a gnome paladin. Other than that, my 80s are either gnomes (rogue, mage, DK) or a class that gnomes can’t be right now (priest). I’m absolutely planning on changing my priest to a gnome once that class/race change becomes available.

    And yeah, I’m sick and tired of the punting jokes. I wonder if some of that kyriarchy marginalization stems from the need of a group that has that kind of marginalization (nerds) to ‘pass the buck’ and find a group to marginalize so that they can be on the giving end rather than the receiving end. I think too many poor behaviors, both in WoW and out, can be traced to the need to make oneself feel superior by finding a group that they can make out to be inferior.

    And that’s just sad.

  8. Pingback: Rabid Yoda with a Mohawk « Illumination

  9. I offered to strip and bust some moves while in a 25man ICC the other night.

    They all laughed.

    I offered to pop mirror image at the same time, so there was enough Gnome to go around.

    They all gagged.

    TBH, I think Gnome gals are the sexiest of the lot… the Elves and Humans may be centrefold material, but I’m taking a Gnome girl home with me.

    Taurens are close 2nd.. but I hate the way they punt me out of bed in the morning.

  10. My main is a gnome warlock, and I play on a RP server. Gnomish racism drives me CRAZY. Seriously, no other race has to put up with the crap that we do, from enemies and allies.

    I’m suspecting, though, that the marginalization of gnomes by players and Blizzard alike is due to the experiences of the person behind the keyboard. That is, many players share the geeky characteristics of a gnome. Rather than standing up and saying, hey, geeks shouldn’t be treated this way, they instead perpetuate the cycle, like a kindergartner shoving a toddler around after having been picked on by an older child. I think players and devs both need to come to terms with their geekiness as something to be appreciated rather than looked down upon.

    I love gnomes. I love the depth of character they have – on one hand, they can be light-hearted and perky, and on the other hand, they have emerged from a horrendous catastrophe where 80% of their friends and family were killed. And I find them intriguing as sexual beings too. TBH, the only romantic relationship I have roleplayed has been one between two gnomes. It’s the only one where it felt like it was between real people – it feels like I’m acting out a porno if I even vaguely stray that way with the rest of the hypersexualized Warcraft females.

  11. Pingback: The last Tweets and Trends » Gnomes, Nerds, and Kyriarchy « Frost is the New Black

  12. My guild came up with the idea of having a gnome darts event. When I mentioned to the guild leader that I had a problem with treating gnomes as objects to be tossed off cliffs, she told me I was taking it all too seriously. Come to think of it, that GM had more than one moral blind spot.

    Gnomes are not darts!

  13. I admit it: I used to be an anti-gnomite. Three level 80s and a slew of lower level alts, and none were gnomes. I thought they were silly and a bit creepy.

    But then, after almost a year away from the game, I came back and made my Mage my main. She was a Draenei and I HATED it. Hated the hooves, hated the tail, hated that stupid Russian accent.

    So I decided to race change to Gnome since I didn’t have one and it totally changed the game for me. All of a sudden it was OK for me to be silly and fun. I started interacting with NPCs, doing a little bit of roleplay, and just generally having fun. Switching to a Gnome was totally liberating – I think because deep down I identified with the Gnomes more than any other race.

    I am the only Gnome main in my guild and also the only raiding Gnome. And yes, I’m the object of countless ‘punt the Gnome’ comments (the first time I went flying because of the Ooze in Putricide, people broke out in laughter on Vent). But I enjoy my role as raid cheerleader and try to add a bit of lighthearted, gnome-related fun in raids whenever I can.

    The first thing I’m going to do when Cataclysm drops is race-change my Dwarf Priest to Gnome.

  14. Pingback: [Discussion] So let’s talk about the men in World of Warcraft « Decoding Dragons

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