World of Warcraft’s lore is an intimidating thing to delve into. The game’s been around for nearly 12 years now, but its story started long before that. Through the numerous Warcraft strategy games in the 1990s, there’s plenty to learn when it comes to what’s going on within World of Warcraft. I’ve played the game since its first release in Europe, but the lore is complex enough that there’s still a ton of details to get one’s head around.
One thing is obvious though—it’s far from balanced when it comes to gender equality. All too often, female characters are pushed to the sidelines. They’re used either as mothers whose male children play a significant role in the lore, or as a plot device to advance another character, usually through their demise. If they become dominant or murderous, it’s generally because they’ve been wronged in some way, or through a moment of insanity.
To crudely simplify it, think ‘mad, bad, or sad’ and you’re not far off their motivations.
It’s a glaring issue, but there are some significant female characters worthy of your attention. We take a look at four of the most iconic, and whether they adhere to stereotypes.
Dragons play a huge role in World of Warcraft. They’re frequently used as end bosses in raids and dungeons, but they also form the basis of much of the intrigue in the game. Onyxia is one of the most memorable, having been around since the start of the game. She’s the broodmother of the black dragonflight on Azeroth, tying into the concept of females being used mostly as nurturers, but there’s more to her than that. Onyxia has entered into a pact with her brother, Nefarian, and the pair control the entire flight.
That gives her a fair amount of power, but there are some noticeably stereotypical twists here. Onyxia wields her control through political manipulation, rather than through violence. Alongside her shapeshifting powers, she uses charm to influence others to do as she wishes. In her dragon form, she’s physically smaller than most others of her kind.
It’s clear that Onyxia is a tough and fearsome enemy, but her sneaky nature, as well as her stature, means that she’s a little too close to the stereotype that women are weaker, but make up for it through coercion and manipulation.
The founder of Theramore Isle, the Alliance’s main port in Southern Kalimdor, Jaina Proudmoore is also the most powerful human sorceress on Azeroth. There’s no denying how tough she is and, refreshingly, that mostly remains the same throughout Warcraft lore. At one point, she forms a romance with Prince Arthas Menethil, a strong Paladin, but they break up as the two of them focus on their studies.
Jaina goes on to become a significant part of diplomatic missions, attempting to bridge the divide between the Alliance and the Horde. This is where the lore gets even more complicated, with numerous stories surrounding what occurs, but Jaina’s strong spirit never wavers. It’s clear that she’s a career-focused and highly ambitious woman.
Think of her as the Olivia Pope of Warcraft, and you’d be fairly accurate. She knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to pursue it at any cost.
Sylvanas Windrunner is similarly ambitious and, appropriately, has a tie to Jaina Proudmoore. She was killed in battle by the corrupted Arthas Menethil, while trying to protect Silvermoon. Arthas desecrates her spirit, leading her to become an elven banshee, and a fearsome part of the undead. The cruel twist is that she goes on to help Arthas in his assault against Silvermoon. She becomes one of his most trusted generals, destroying many enemy forces in her wake. Eventually, she sides against him once more.
Sylvanas Windrunner’s arrival in World of Warcraft has her as the leader of the Forsaken in Undercity, keen to wreak vengeance on Arthas. That suggests that Sylvanas has echoes of the common female trait of being nurturing and protective of her people, but this much darker turn ensures that it doesn’t feel too cliched or typical of such tropes.
Perhaps the most stereotypical of them all, Queen Azshara is also quite dominant in her own right. Originally the ruler of the high elves of Kalimdor, she was considered the most charismatic elf of them all. Beautiful and highly persuasive, she fits into the idea of women being manipulative through their looks and coercion. This changes, however, once she’s transformed by the Old Gods into the Empress of Nazjatar.
Now in charge of the Naga—underwater creatures—she becomes an almost Medusa-like creature. Her head is crowned by writhing serpents and she moves around on tentacles, but her face remains as beautiful as before. The loss of her previous self leads her to become bitter and desperate to defeat the Night Elves at any cost, blaming them for her demise. If any character could fit more into the ‘sad’ idea, I can’t think of one.
Queen Azshara might be tough, but this is a little bit too much like the fairy tale vision of a beautiful princess losing her looks and becoming an embittered witch.