Blizzard's Long History of Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls and Fear of Women

Richiek

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Nov 2, 2017
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While he is not the first to notice, fantasy author Sam Sykes tweeted last month about the weird recurring archetype that Blizzard Entertainment has been employing with some of their most prominent female characters. While stock characters are a feature of every narrative medium, Blizzard seems to have exactly one vision for female villainy: An angular beauty with lilac skin and a traumatic backstory to explain how a nice girl ended up in the mass-murder business.

Though she’s hardly the first female antagonist in Blizzard’s games, Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft I & II (AKA Queen of Blades, AKA Lil’ Zerg Rush) is clearly the character the mold was created from. Her arc set a tone for villainy that was clearly beloved by the audience and paved the great purple way for Sylvanas Windrunner in both Warcraft franchises and later Widowmaker (née Amelie La Croix) in Overwatch. All of them are characters for whom torture, trauma, control and revenge are indelibly written upon their bodies in an unmistakable way.

Taken together, they present a very odd throughline in terms of how Blizzard imagines anger and evil in women. No matter the size of their narratives, all are germinated from cruelty. These are women whose villainy was created, it’s external to who they “really” were. Kerrigan was taken from her family to be molded and tortured into a psionic weapon by the Confederacy. Sylvanas Windrunner was defeated in battle and ripped from her body by Arthas. Widowmaker was kidnapped by Talon and brainwashed into an assassin. There is this uneasiness around these women, because before the spectacle of their eventual rise to power, there must first be some form of degradation.
I'm a pretty avid Overwatch player, but I had no idea that Widowmaker was a problematic character trope in Blizzard games.
 

Yuntu

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Nov 7, 2019
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Germany
I think only Diablo doesn't have one of these. Unless I forgot a character or D4 is about to change that.
 

Samiya

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Nov 30, 2019
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I'll never forget the way that Blizzard turned Kerrigan from a cold-blooded strategist playing mutliple sides in Brood War into a helpless damsel in distreess who had to be rescued by a guy who previously threatened to exact vengeance on her mass-murderous betrayal in the previous game. There's also something to be said about the fact that Kerrigan's monster-like form has dreadlocks, but I leave that up to others who've pointed out the trope of the loss of white innoncence turning into "monstrous" black features.
 

Kegels

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Jan 24, 2019
3,123
Damn never noticed this.

In terms of purple evil villain Blizzard women, Azshara is by far my favorite. Also she sort of goes against these examples a bit as far as her fall into villainy.



Not that I'm defending their now-apparent trend. I just think she's one they got right
 

Metroidvania

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Oct 25, 2017
1,711
I'm a pretty avid Overwatch player, but I had no idea that Widowmaker was a problematic character trope in Blizzard games.
....Did you never watch 'any' of the pre-release footage regarding Widowmaker? Especially her character short?

It's pretty much essential to the 'who' she is - which, incidentally, is kinda-sorta 'walked back' at times by Blizzard - see the Overwatch Christmas comic where Tracer 'comes out', it features a scene which directly references what happened.


....But yeah, this is kind of a recurring theme with Blizzard - the biggest offender recently being Sylvanas' semi-abrupt turn from evil-ish anti-heroine and/or kinda-villain into full-fledge mustache twirler villain in Battle for Azeroth.

There's other factors at work with her goings on there (such as Blizz continuing to beat the 'War' part of Warcraft drums and needing someone to kick things off). but she definitely got the short edge of the stick in terms of her recent developments, to the point where her actions in BfA directly retcon what happened in her 'own thoughts' in the pre-release book Before the Storm.

I think only Diablo doesn't have one of these. Unless I forgot a character or D4 is about to change that.
Depending on how Diablo 4 ends up turning out, you have Lea-as-Diablo who could theoretically make a return, unless Blizz has retconned what happened to Lea's soul after Diablo took it over and I'm not aware of it.

(There's also the underlying principle of Lea being subsumed and degraded by Diablo, but it doesn't fit quite as neatly as Kerrigan, Widow, or Sylvanas)

You also have Lilith as (presumably) the new major antagonist, who once helped to create sanctuary.
 

JayCB

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Oct 25, 2017
4,363
Wales
While stock characters are a feature of every narrative medium, Blizzard seems to have exactly one vision for female villainy: An angular beauty with lilac skin and a traumatic backstory to explain how a nice girl ended up in the mass-murder business.
I mean..

Sombra, Moira..arguably Symmetra is a villain in the lore too, or at least works for a pretty evil seeming company..Ashe is an anti-hero at best..
 

Chopchop

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Oct 25, 2017
7,141
Blizzard's writing generally has a problem with reusing the same tropes over and over.

Not surprising that they only know how to write villainous women in just one very specific way.
 

EloKa

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Oct 25, 2017
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Curious if the author ever played Warcraft3 and knows about Arthas and / or the Lich King.
 

Tbm24

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Oct 25, 2017
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Blizzard's writing generally has a problem with reusing the same tropes over and over.

Not surprising that they only know how to write villainous women in just one very specific way.
The characters mentioned in this article are not the only villainous women in Blizzard games. It's actually a very silly article the more you break it down.
 

dlauv

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Oct 27, 2017
4,715
I get that Blizzard is a problematic punching bag lately, but this seems like a stretch for woke points - or a school assignment.
 

Glimpse_Dog

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Oct 29, 2017
404
what's a Manic Pixie? Just a bubbly girl?
It's a film trope where an 'unobtainable' female character is created as a desire for the male lead who is usually going through some period of grief or soul searching. The female character is bubbly yes buts it's more than that...theres usually a surreal edge to the character...they dont seem quite part of this world - which makes it seem as though they I only exist to satisfy the Male characters transformation as they never really show any desires or needs of their own. They also usually disappear towards then end, hence the 'unobtainable' part which reinforces that the character was only there to help the guy through his troubles and served no other purpose.
 

shoptroll

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May 29, 2018
1,134
Good to see Vice catching up with the rest of the world. This has been kinda known for a while hasn't it? Like I would swear up and down Chris Metzen or someone else pretty high up the creative chain has a fetish or something going on.

Curious if the author ever played Warcraft3 and knows about Arthas and / or the Lich King.
It's definitely a variation on the theme/trope for sure. Could also argue D1's protagonist getting Diablo'd for the sequel counts too.
 

ScribbleD

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Oct 28, 2017
1,402
It's a film trope where an 'unobtainable' female character is created as a desire for the male lead who is usually going through some period of grief or soul searching. The female character is bubbly yes buts it's more than that...theres usually a surreal edge to the character...they dont seem quite part of this world - which makes it seem as though they I only exist to satisfy the Male characters transformation as they never really show any desires or needs of their own. They also usually disappear towards then end, hence the 'unobtainable' part which reinforces that the character was only there to help the guy through his troubles and served no other purpose.
Is the bolded related to the "not like other girls" trope?
 

Doc Kelso

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Oct 25, 2017
2,254
NYC
Is the bolded related to the "not like other girls" trope?
Yep.

As for Blizzard, the top brass and creative designers have been creatively bankrupt for years. When it comes to storytelling, they have 0 qualms about wringing their stones dry. Especially when it comes to villainous (and in this case) female characters.

See: Jaina in Legion for another recent example.
 

elenarie

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Jun 10, 2018
3,238
"Kerrigan was taken from her family"

She was a murderous assassin already. And she did not get tortured. 🤷
 

Glimpse_Dog

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Oct 29, 2017
404
Is the bolded related to the "not like other girls" trope?
I'm not sure - that usually manifests in stories or themes about multiple women and related a bit more to woman on woman misogyny. With manic pixie dream girls, they dont really claim to be not like other girls...as they dont really claim much about themselves at all. Most of their energy goes into trying to get the male lead to 'live their best life' with seemingly endless energy.

Unless you mean when a guy says..."shes not like other girls" in which case yes I'd say it's related.
 

Glimpse_Dog

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Oct 29, 2017
404
Yep.

As for Blizzard, the top brass and creative designers have been creatively bankrupt for years. When it comes to storytelling, they have 0 qualms about wringing their stones dry. Especially when it comes to villainous (and in this case) female characters.

See: Jaina in Legion for another recent example.
Jain was in legion? I found Jainas story with her family in BFA to be quite good by blizzard standards honestly.
 

Semblance

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Oct 26, 2017
250
This is the first time I've heard of 'manic pixie nightmare girl.'

Damn never noticed this.

In terms of purple evil villain Blizzard women, Azshara is by far my favorite. Also she sort of goes against these examples a bit as far as her fall into villainy.



Not that I'm defending their now-apparent trend. I just think she's one they got right
Yeah. Blizzard's writing hasn't been shit for awhile, but I actually like Azshara's backstory a lot.
 

Metroidvania

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Oct 25, 2017
1,711
"Kerrigan was taken from her family"

She was a murderous assassin already. And she did not get tortured. 🤷
'Tortured' is relative, but IIRC ghost training was pretty bad (and she was kidnapped as a kid after showing psionic abilities is what I think that part is referring to), and her transformation into the Queen of Blades (after Mengsk betrayed her and left her to die) wasn't exactly sunshine and roses.
 
Oct 26, 2017
3,585
Is the bolded related to the "not like other girls" trope?
Pretty much. They're essentially an amalgamation of physical and personality traits that emotionally underdeveloped nerd guys find appealing in women. Their purpose in a narrative is to basically allow the male character to leapfrog the process of emotional development as this magical creature appears to fix their life for them. Another important part of the MPDG trope is that they themselves receive no character development.
 

Doc Kelso

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Oct 25, 2017
2,254
NYC
Jain was in legion? I found Jainas story with her family in BFA to be quite good by blizzard standards honestly.
Jaina showed up in Legion when someone was calling for unity between the Alliance and Horde because, y'know. Space demons. She threw a total and utter emotional fit about the fact that the Horde and Alliance should never-ever team up. Kicked the Sunreavers out of Dalaran and then vanished after throwing her temper tantrum.

tl;dr: Jaina existed to be an emotional woman and then disappeared until BfA.
 

Skab

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Oct 25, 2017
3,352
Depending on how Diablo 4 ends up turning out, you have Lea-as-Diablo who could theoretically make a return, unless Blizz has retconned what happened to Lea's soul after Diablo took it over and I'm not aware of it.

(There's also the underlying principle of Lea being subsumed and degraded by Diablo, but it doesn't fit quite as neatly as Kerrigan, Widow, or Sylvanas)

You also have Lilith as (presumably) the new major antagonist, who once helped to create sanctuary.
I'd say Leah fits the mold.

The only real difference is that she transforms before doing anything (so you don't really see it as her, even though it is).
Don't really agree about Leah. Prime-Evil Diablo used Leah's body to manifest, but thats it. It's very much not Leah at that point. She's dead and gone the moment Diablo appeared. Same as Albrecht and Aiden before her.

And Lilith has always been evil and manipulative.
 

HK-47

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Oct 25, 2017
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They would be better off sticking to the point instead of trying to bring up a trope that isn’t a thing
 

Glimpse_Dog

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Oct 29, 2017
404
Jaina showed up in Legion when someone was calling for unity between the Alliance and Horde because, y'know. Space demons. She threw a total and utter emotional fit about the fact that the Horde and Alliance should never-ever team up. Kicked the Sunreavers out of Dalaran and then vanished after throwing her temper tantrum.

tl;dr: Jaina existed to be an emotional woman and then disappeared until BfA.
Ah I didn't know that. I only came back to wow at the end of legion and missed the starting events. I did really like her story in Boralus though.
 

elenarie

Developer at DICE
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Jun 10, 2018
3,238
'Tortured' is relative, but IIRC ghost training was pretty bad (and she was kidnapped as a kid after showing psionic abilities is what I think that part is referring to), and her transformation into the Queen of Blades (after Mengsk betrayed her and left her to die) wasn't exactly sunshine and roses.
Ghost training was for kids of all genders. Not sure how that fits into this narrative. The transformation of Terrans into Zerg is also not gender exclusive, and if I remember, Stukov was pretty purple in both Starcraft 2 and in Heroes of the Storm.

If anything, Blizzard have a trope where they use the purple and pink colours to show corruption, void, existential horror, that sort of stuff, across all their franchises.

Also... The below doesn't suggest fear of women to me, it suggest people should fear that woman, because she's such a powerful character. :D

 

Wowfunhappy

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Oct 27, 2017
2,989
So, the fact that this type of backstory is seemingly only applied to female villains is kinda problematic.

But... idk, is the trope itself problematic? I think the idea that a villain started out with good intentions, but other people turned them into monsters, is a much more interesting backstory for anyone of any gender, and—for the most part—also more realistic.
 

Braag

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Nov 7, 2017
1,410
One of the biggest blizzard villains is Arthas who was a good guy who turned evil and blue.
I guess they just want their villains to be tragic and edgy.
Calling it problematic is a little weird.

Also what on earth is manic pixie?
 

Moirayn

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Nov 7, 2018
1,154
This is true of a lot of the female characters, but this is something that feels like it also applies to characters like Arthas & Illidan to an extent.
 

ReginaldXIV

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Nov 4, 2017
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I think this is true with most of Blizzard's women villains and anti-hero, notably Jaina, but minor characters get the same treatment. But because of all that I'm a hard Moira from Overwatch stan.
 

ChippyTurtle

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Oct 13, 2018
1,324
Yep.

As for Blizzard, the top brass and creative designers have been creatively bankrupt for years. When it comes to storytelling, they have 0 qualms about wringing their stones dry. Especially when it comes to villainous (and in this case) female characters.

See: Jaina in Legion for another recent example.
Isn't Jaina somewhat understandable in that her city was destroyed? I hate Blizzard's storytelling but i can't particularly disagree with that change.
 

AWizardDidIt

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Oct 28, 2017
583
Blizzard hasn't always done a fantastic job writing their women, I definitely agree there. But I'm unsure if it's 'problematic' so much as just relying on some hack tropes in their past that come from having a very small pool of writers without much diversity between them.

I actually do think they've gotten better, at least where Warcraft is concerned. Sylvanas has pretty much ascended beyond the trope and is a uniquely terrible person but one that very much has her own agency. I'd argue that the last expansion's story was driven by women as much or more so than the men in it and none of it was a result of their victimization.
 

Cmdr Krunch

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Aug 17, 2019
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I'm not sure the point the author is trying to make really lands? Blizzard has always leaned heavily into tropes for ALL it's characters not just female ones. Arthas is the classic example. Also Kerrigan isn't the only character to get zerg-ified and have a similar tragic backstory. I actually can't think of a single character that isn't written in a super tropey fashion. I guess you could say the writing as a whole isn't that great which is kind of what the article is saying, but it's definitely not just an issue with female characters.
 

spman2099

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Oct 25, 2017
5,338
To be fair, Blizzard writing women poorly is consistent with how they write everything else.
 
Sep 27, 2019
233
There's a lot of shit Blizzard deserves, but their writing of women is not part of it. There's powerful, important women up and down the lore of Azeroth, going back several expansions.