In WoW, avatars are superficially modifiable, allowing the player to customize gender (male or female), skin tone (ten shades ranging from very light to dark), hair style, face style, and facial accessories (which offers the gendered choice of facial hair for males and jewelry for females). Body type, size, and height are not modifiable (every character of a particular race and gender has the same stock body) and begin with the same starting clothes and weapon (specific to race and class). Perhaps one of the persistent critiques of WoW and similar games is a critique of the lack of customizable characters. But there is something going on with all of this window dressing, all of this dependence on archetypal avatars, all of this playing with and sampling and intertexting of real world race. Race becomes limited, digitized on a incremental scale of hue, and strangely mix-and-matchable; it is, as Lisa Nakamura (2002) says, a kind of "menu-driven identity" that forcibly includes and more importantly excludes, requires hard-coded choice and reveals lack of choice for players and their real world bodies. The logics of gamic race and the code that girds it is transcoded (using Lev Manovich's term) from the logics of real world race. It is this contamination of fantasy race with real world race that makes Alexander Galloway (2007) puzzle, "[T]he world is still waiting for an explanation for why World of Warcraft's troll race speaks with a Jamaican accent" (p. 94). More accurately, the puzzle is not that the troll speaks with an accent (for the designers could have invented a trollish accent, whatever that might be) but that a specific porting in of an offline, real world, non-diegetic accent is mapped onto the troll.

Human male "toon" with darkest skin tone. World of Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment, 2008. Game still.

This curious ambivalence expressed by race on- and offline in World of Warcraft is here the crux. It is this ambivalence, this tension that allows for Nakamura's "mediating spaces" and that allows for the potential to make intelligible and perhaps resignify racial logics. For example, non-human races aside, humans in WoW ostensibly represent a kind of ideal, perhaps abstracted humanity -- one race out of a world of many different, distinctive, and typified races -- representing in a toonish way the range of humans possible in the real world. Humans in WoW, the most obvious connection to the real world, are cybertyped as generally Western European (given the medieval castle architecture of human cities, monarchical feudal government), default white (the character creation screen starts with a pale-skinned avatar), and heroically proportioned (superhero-like musculature, knights-in-shining-armor models). However, humanity in-game is not further subspecied. Humans are just humans regardless of their class, occupation, equipment, appearance, or skin color. In fact, humans in WoW all share the same origin, start in the same city. However, just as "human" as race is simplified, codified, and blandly multiculturalized in game, it is the intrusion of real world race that breaks the illusion of WoW's "we're all just humans" logic.

NPC weaponmaster "Woo Ping." World of Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment, 2008. Game still.

For example, in the human capital city of Stormwind, there are non-player characters (NPCs) controlled by the computer, the program. NPCs function as merchants, quest givers, guards, friends, sometimes adversaries; they are the "extras" on the set of the gamic world. One such NPC is the Stormwind weaponsmaster, the person players go to see to learn how to use different armaments, named Woo Ping. In fact, this character is named after a real world person: Yuen Woo-ping, well-known martial arts director and choreographer of such films as the Matrix trilogy, Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon, and Kill Bill. Here in a world of "just" humans is a specifically racialized human, a human that discursively and representationally signals Asianness in a fantasy world without Asians. Woo Ping has the body of every other "human" but is black-haired, black-eyed, bare-chested, and wearing tight black pants and slippers. He is the orientalized stereotype of the martial artist, the ninja, the stylized and racialized warrior that deals a "whooping." Here real world race intrudes into the gamic world, into the ostensibly raceless logic of humans in WoW, and reminds (as much as reasserts for) players that race is not disappeared by the game.

In fact, to begin to answer Galloway's question, the NPC Woo Ping or the Jamaican-accented troll provide a way to theorize a constellation of tactics of racialization (phenotyping, ethnic affiliation, legal or illegal citizenship, nationalism, political alliances or antagonism, globalization and transnational capital) that may reveal correspondences and hopefully useful contradictions. The troll in WoW is tall, lanky, blue- to green-skinned, hails from a sandy, coastal, tropical part of the game world, lives in grass and bamboo buildings, and practices voodoo, cannibalism, and blood sacrifices. Here these design choices, these representational choices, these narrative choices resonate with real world geography, cultural practices, race, and stereotypical fears and prejudices. The historical, political, economic, and cultural ties between the United States and the Caribbean get played out -- fear of the racialized other, colonization and postcolonization, recuperation of the primitive, installation of corporate interests, commodification and fetishization of island, nature, native, and tropical fantasy. All of these things coalesce and erupt in the moment the troll says, "How you doin', mon?"

The cybertype of the troll as Jamaican (or the Tauren as Native American or the Draenei as Eastern European and so on) functions to call attention to and further calcify discursively and representationally racial logics of difference, othering, and overthere-ing, which designers and players and game narrative collectively cite, perpetuate, and assent to. In fact, these odd real world racializations of fantasy world bodies, voices, artifacts, and "nations" perform epistemological, political, and algorithmic shorthand allowing designers and players to make intelligible, recognizable, and identifiable with locations, formations, and articulations in a narrative and medium without real places, things, and bodies. Put another way, how does a player see, relate to, and know the game, the game world, and the game characters if they are fully fantastic, unreal, alien? These cybertyped logics are a fix, a metonymic patch, a hook, a sign that orients the player to the familiar, the predictable. They are Easter eggs waiting to be found and consumed by the player; they are cybertypes that provide players with the familiar, the understandable, the intelligible. They are a "common cultural logic" that mollify and mediate fears and crises over the potential slippages of identity online, to stabilize a sense of self and identity "that is threatened by radical fluidity and disconnect between mind and body" (Nakamura, 2002, pp. 5-6).

Here then are opportunities to pay attention to these common cultural logics, to reconnect what has been disconnected between game world and real world, and to challenge and negotiate cybertypes through critical practices like close reading, close playing, and writing. Students can use WoW as the occasion to think through, play through, play against, and write analyses of the game's "digital racial formations" (Nakamura, 2008, p. 14) (and other kinds of digital formations: digital gender formations, digital class formations, digital erotic formations) paying and playing close attention to character naming patterns, public chat, avatar customization, NPC characterization, quest and world narratives, and in-game and out-of-game behaviors. Playing WoW serves as both theorizations about the game's logics and direct action that potentially uncovers countergaming and radical playing practices.

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