A Rock in a Hard Place: Dustin Browder’s Interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun

I am clearly a guy who likes Blizzard games, if my opinion about certain other company’s products and their art direction is any indicationStarCraft II in particular was a game I began craving ever since its announcement in 2007. I waited a long time, people, and as those three long years passed I became fairly acquainted with Dustin Browder, the title’s Game Director.

Mr. Browder is a man who had some pretty positive opinions about destructible rocks, which the gaming community has had a fair amount of fun with. The guy’s got a sense of humour, too, if his battle.net moniker is any indication, and his enthusiasm for the whole scene is well-supported by how badly he wants people to agree with him. Nobody’s perfect, though, and the following exchange occurred over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun during an interview last week over the upcoming Blizzard game Heroes of the Storm:

Roller Derby Nova alternate skin.

RPS: You have some interesting alternate outfits for heroes. Roller Derby Nova, especially, caught my eye. On its own, that’s totally fine – just a silly, goofy thing. A one-off. But it got me thinking about how often MOBAs tend to hyper-sexualize female characters to a generally preposterous degree – that is to say, make it the norm, not a one-off at all – and StarCraft’s own, um, interesting focus choices as of late. How are you planning to approach all of that in Heroes? 

Browder: Well, I mean, some of these characters, I would argue, are already hyper-sexualized in a sense. I mean, Kerrigan is wearing heels, right? We’re not sending a message to anybody. We’re just making characters who look cool. Our sensibilities are more comic book than anything else. That’s sort of where we’re at. But I’ll take the feedback. I think it’s very fair feedback.

RPS: I have to add, though, that comics might not be the best point of reference for this sort of thing. I mean, it’s a medium that’s notorious – often in a not-good way – for sexing up female characters and putting them in some fairly gross situations. 

Browder: We’re not running for President. We’re not sending a message. No one should look to our game for that.

RPS: But it’s not even about a message. The goal is to let people have fun in an environment where they can feel awesome without being weirded out or even objectified. This is a genre about empowerment. Why shouldn’t everyone feel empowered? That’s what it’s about at the end of the day: letting everyone have a fair chance to feel awesome.

Browder: Uh-huh. Cool. Totally.

[PR says we’ve run over, tells me I have to leave]

RPS: Thank you for your time.

Nathan Grayson, the interviewer, acknowledged that the interview “ended in an uncomfortable place” and promised to follow-up with a separate opinion piece in the near future.

The Boulder Rock Gets Over His Conflicted Feelings

I think we should be fair to Browder and ackowledge that RPS may have been less than fair. Right before this line of questioning Grayson was motioned by the PR that time was running low, and this was a topic he was clearly prepared to discuss in-depth. On top of that, the interview article was titled “Blizzard On Heroes Of The Storm, Female Designs In MOBAs” which is not representative at all of what took place.

To Browder’s credit, a mere two days after the interview took place the following post was published on the Heroes of the Storm website, and stands out as being one of a small handful of articles released thus far:

dustinapology

In a recent interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I responded poorly to a statement the interviewer made about over-sexualized character designs in games, and I want to apologize for that. This is a serious topic and I don’t want anyone to think that I, or anyone else at Blizzard, is insensitive about how we portray our characters.

It takes work to make compelling characters, but it’s important to take a step back to ensure that we’re not alienating our players. We have an amazing roster of heroes and we will always strive to make sure that everyone can have a hero that they identify with and feel powerful using. And at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. A great game where we can all have fun battling for glory and maybe some bragging rights.

On the stage at BlizzCon, I spoke about Heroes being a collaborative project, shaped by the passion, love, and support of gamers like you. We’re building this game together, we’re listening, and your thoughts are valued.

I would like to thank Rock, Paper, Shotgun as well as our players for their feedback on this important issue. We want to do better, so keep the feedback coming and thanks for the continued support. We’ve got some pretty amazing things in store for you and we’re looking forward to seeing you in the Storm.

Which is, frankly, pretty great. I obviously have some bias in all of this, but it’s a decent apology that recognizes that as a company they have the responsibility not to alienate their fans, or players who may one day become fans. But speak of the devil and he doth place himself into many bodies and open his legion of mouths because-

The Fans Have Opinions About This

And to make it simple they fall into the categories of The Good and Reasonable [from the interview’s comments section]:

sanguineyoureanangel

The Bad, made less so by the mere virtue of being hidden due to the upvote/downvote system [taken from the reddit thread discussing Browder’s apology]:

theseguysarebad

And the downright Ugly:

goatskullandpolloaretheworst

Hoo boy, I bet Nathan Grayson sure regrets his surname now. But I digress, much like most of the comments on the RPS article. I am going to assume that some of these people, goatskull and Pollo fully excluded, had some decent thoughts to contribute to the issue that was being broached. This was of course derailed by how it took place within the interview, which leads me to believe that the only way to get us back on track is to conduct another interview. With myself.

I Ask and Answer the Important Questions

Is hyper-sexualization of female video game characters an important issue? 

Yes, it is. While it may not matter to the vast majority of gamers, who are male, the fact is that it can affect women in much the same way other media, which is equally guilty of doing the exact same thing, can. On top of that designing games which can be potentially alienating for 50% of the planet can’t be in most companies’ best interests.

Should Nathan Grayson have brought up the topic?

Well, since it is important, yes. It’s also relevant to Heroes of the Storm in general since it’s a game which Blizzard hopes to bring in more players, and any way they can do so is a good thing.

Should he have asked in the way he did?

Not at all. Grayson should have brought up the topic at least 2/3 of the way through the interview, and not right at the end when they were about to run out of time. On top of that, he should have allowed for more of Browder’s opinion about the topic instead of outright stating what his take on the genre is.

So what you mean to say is that Grayson had a very pertinent topic to discuss with Browder but ultimately failed to do so due to his interview methods?

And he wasn’t very gracious when it came to Browder’s response, was he?

Even if we want to ignore the timing of his final questions and the fact I mentioned before about how he tacked on “Female Designs In MOBAs” to the title in spite of it only comprising the very last part of the interview there’s the intro to the article to consider, which ends with the line:

Browder’s perspective on the MOBA genre’s epidemic of absurd, hypersexualized female characters turned out significantly less [delightful].

Which is actually pretty terrible when you take everything else into account, and which makes the ire from so many gamers about his behaviour completely understandable.

So goatskull was warranted in likening the surname Grayson to “u gay son”?

No. What is that guy, five? I take that back, actually, because it is insulting to five-year-olds everywhere.

And should Browder have apologized?

Grayson’s behaviour aside, the truth is that Browder’s response was fairly dismissive, and did kind of make him and the company look less than great. The apology was a good way of him being the bigger man and reassuring those who side with Grayson [whose stance is a fair one] that their concerns will be heard.

I think that just about covers things. It’s surprising though, isn’t it, how Browder only says “right” three times in the interview?

Seriously. I mean, you really have to watch at least ten seconds of this-

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2 responses to “A Rock in a Hard Place: Dustin Browder’s Interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun

  1. I’m really glad you wrote this post, as I’m sure you know.

    First of all, Grayson did write an opinion piece he just never updated the original interview with a link. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/11/22/re-that-heroes-of-the-storm-interview/

    By default I’m generally going to take the “video games oversexualize women too much” stance when it comes to discussions like this. I’m grateful to you for writing this post because you know considerably more about Browder and Blizzard are were able to give a much more balanced look at this situation.

    My hope for the future of Heroes is that Browder would have an opportunity to be interviewed on this topic again but with considerably more space to hear from him.

    As terrible as some of those comments were they did get one thing right: Grayson went in with an agenda. This becomes abundantly clear when you read his follow up. It seems like he wanted to write about this issue but needed a “bad guy” and chose Browder to take the fall. That’s not fair and Grayson shouldn’t have done that.

    I think the sexualization of female characters is a hugely important issue to discuss and the general theme of the role of women in video games has been arguably the biggest issue the gaming world has been wrestling with for years. But I think as a community gamers often don’t know who to blame. We know something is wrong but don’t know how to fix it. This leads to people throwing each other under the bus just to look like they are actually combating the issue.

    If you want to write about MOBAs sexualization female characters that’s fine. If you want to focus on Heroes that’s fine. But don’t set someone up for a fall and then pounce.

    • This guy’s follow-up post made me kinda angry, mostly because I agree with where he’s coming from but not at all with how he’s doing it. Definitely agree with you about how another interview with Browder on the same topic [but with a different interviewer] would be great to read.

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