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Exploring the Spaces Between Wildstar and Feminism


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Women in Cryo-Freezers: Sadie Brightland

A blue glowing hologram of a pregnant woman, flanked by a sad wolf.

Deadeye Brightland’s creepy hologram of Sadie.

The entire time I was playing beta weekends and then eventually open beta in Wildstar, occasionally I’d hear a guildie (who was almost always a woman) saying, “Gosh, I just hate this quest.” It was pretty remarkable as everyone seemed to generally like, if not tolerate the quests in Wildstar. Every single time, the quest in question would be the story from the Northern Wilds zone involving the ship taking survivors to Thayd. Namely, Sadie Brightland dying in a spaceship.

I am not the first person to discuss how problematic this quest line is, if only for Sadie’s involvement in it and Deadeye’s own strange, almost fleeting reaction to his pregnant wife dying.  See, for anyone who hasn’t really paid attention to the story or hasn’t yet been able to play Wildstar on the Exile side, here’s the rundown of your interactions with Deadeye and Sadie thus far:

  • Deadeye looking for his wife is literally the first thing you are aware of in the game when you roll a new character. The reason you are brought out of cryo-sleep is because Deadeye thinks it might be Sadie. Let’s not discuss why a pregnant woman is in cryosleep.
  • Sadie is eventually found after you are woken up and Deadeye tells you that she’s got “cryo-sickness.”
  • Part of your opening tutorial quests is to go and retrieve medicine for Sadie. You bring it back and it seems to work. Enough that I believe she actually thanks you for your contributions and Deadeye offers to buy you a drink. The day is saved! (Keep in mind that this is the sum total contributions Sadie herself actually has on the story.)
  • If you chose the “human/granok” starting experience of going to the Northern Wilds and Algoroc, you eventually get to see Sadie at another camp, which is comprised of survivors of the space wreck that you’re in trying to get from the space station to the Northern Wilds. Sadie’s model is literally in a rictus of pain or sickness with her legs splayed. It’s bizarre. (see image below this section)
  • In the questing, Deadeye figures they can get people who have been badly hurt to Thayd via a working jump ship that’s coming to rescue them. Thayd is not that far, so don’t ask me why this is necessary.
  • Ship comes and picks up survivors (you see generic models going into it) and before it’s 3 feet off the ground, it gets somehow utterly demolished by Dominion forces who just happen to be close enough to know that there’s a ship there and didn’t blow it up before then.
  • Turns out that Sadie was on that ship, despite not seeing a stretcher or her model being helped onto it.
  • You know this because Deadeye mentions it almost idly in quest text immediately after.
  • This is what fuels Deadeye’s thirst for revenge in the narrative for the rest of the time.

This is weird on almost every conceivable level, which makes Sadie’s death even more unforgivable. But let’s talk about what’s going on here, first.

A pregnant woman is splayed out, sick on a stretcher.

 

As most people have recognized by now, it looks like Sadie is more than just a victim of cryo-sickness, but rather the Women in Refrigerators trope. Sadie’s story is not central, not developed in any way, because it is actually Deadeye’s story. Sadie isn’t developed as a character, because she’s a prop and her death is meant to instill feelings and action to our actual protagonist. In a way, two people are dying for the price of one here and it’s pretty weak all around. Pregnant wives being shuttled off to non-existence or death seem to be popping up recently and I don’t like it one bit.

The part about this that makes me really annoyed is that other more lore-savvy Wildstar players found that there were earlier mentions of Sadie’s life in one of the Tales books. According to this, she was a Justice (Wildstar equivalent of a galactic policewoman, I believe.) I don’t know whether this is writers throwing players a bone or what, but it’s a key to creating an actual three dimensional character that they are never going to use now. And barely anyone will ever know it’s in the game at all.

Sadie as she stands now has been nothing more than a tool or a prop to create angst in Deadeye, a man who admittedly a) has a very weak reaction to seeing his wife and unborn child killed before his eyes b) needs literally no reason to hate or kill Dominion.  He seems only vaguely sad but still has weird hologram of her at a camp immediately after. It’s used to further his need for revenge, which is part of the trope but he would have shot Dominion anyways. Part of faction conflict is that it’s two groups of people fighting over resources. You don’t necessarily need revenge to drive that story forward, much less senseless death. In the eyes of the Exiles, the Dominion are a pretty awful group of people. You wouldn’t need overly justified reasons to hate them outside of the ones you hold already. This forces an already flimsy story further into being pointless. Sadie died for nothing, without much of her own life.

Pushing aside the sheer implausibility of the ship blowing up in the first place, what really made me confused is how well the parallel quest in the Aurin/Mordesh starting zones works in making you, as the player, feel hatred towards the Dominion. You go to all this trouble to help awaken a tree that’s been infused with Eldan technology and it might hold the secrets that the Aurin and the Mordesh both desire to hear, especially about the disappearance of the Eldan. Chua come along right as the tree is going to speak to you via a communicator panel and blow it up. I felt legitimately upset about this! I did not feel this way about Sadie. Nothing about Deadeye’s very discreet reaction or the story-line felt believable or emotionally purposeful. It was very flat and out of left field. There’s nothing there that makes you feel for the Brightlands. All it did was reinforce this idea that gaming in general has a problem with how they use women characters as emotional speedbumps for the male protagonists.

The reason I think a lot of people felt that this quest line in particular stuck out like a sore thumb is because you really don’t expect it in a game like Wildstar. Nothing about the game, despite having warring factions, suggests a particularly grim, tragic tone. Women are pretty present in a lot of ways, especially if you play through Aurin zones. Having an actual matriarchy in the game that works suggests the idea that the creative development team grasps the idea that women are a realistic and needed part of diversity in the lore. Seeing one be killed off for the benefit of one guy seems really immature and in contrast to that competency you see everywhere else.

Granted, people have been upset about this since December and nothing has really been done about so I doubt we’ll see any movement on this, but it just bears remarking upon. This isn’t just a problem that just Wildstar has, but more that it is a problem that writers within gaming and even larger popular nerd culture have. But it does make me sad to see it turn up so soon in a new video game that I have been enjoying otherwise and has been doing a decent job making me feel like my female character is part of the world.

Sadie could have been such a great character. A policewoman, living on the edges of space with her husband and pet wolf, with a new child and all the problems that come along with that kind of settler life (a life that many, many women have lived in real life before, even) combined with intergalactic war? How neat is that?

And now we’ll never know.


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Howdy, Partner!

Mapjabbit stands against her home plot.

 

Hi there, granoks and draken and all other races of the Exile and the Dominion. I’m Aislinana but around these parts I’m known as the Mapjabbit. If you’re lookin’ for an unexplored patch of dirt to stake a claim, I’m your gal.

*coughs*

Sorry, got a little caught up in the whole space western feel of Wildstar. My name is Aislinana and if you came here from the World of Warcraft fandom, you might have read some of my other work over at Apple Cider Mage. I wasn’t really expecting to climb aboard the hype train for this new game but after an extremely pleasant beta weekend, I feel sold on playing Wildstar, at least for a little while.

I learned about Wildstar when it  was first announced, back in 2011. What initially sold me on the game was the Explorer path, which seemed to be conceptualized as a class but eventually got put into the Path systems in game. Either way, it’s the path I’ve been playing the most for the couple of beta weekends I’ve participated in and I’m definitely going to make my main at launch an Explorer. I feel like at heart, I’m the sort of person that likes to ignore the buffs you get for “sticking to the path” and going off to forge my own way – seeking adventure, new ideas and hidden vistas.

This blog is going to seek to illuminate that sort of adventuring spirit (hence the name) and look into Wildstar in a manner that I’ve done for other games up until now. I like to put an emphasis on media criticism versus game-play and ramble on about things I find personally enriching versus guides on how to gear your character. I have a heavy emphasis on feminism and social justice in everything I do, especially considering that the gaming community at large has issues with being inclusive and safe for everyone. Expect a lot of great debate on the finer points of the game’s story, community interactions and how women are portrayed within the Nexus.

Hopin’ y’all stick around on this grand exploration!