Image by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Joane d’Arc was always one of my favourite heroines. Her story once unpicked might be sad but she’s become an iconic figure of her age so I have to admit my curiosity was peaked when Blizzard described a new character as being WoW’s Joan.
Like Petrarch’s Laura, Joan is faceless. Any women and all women which is partly I suspect why she’s been so popular with painters and writers down through the ages as she’s the perfect blank canvas. Was she a great commander? By historical accounts, probably not but sometimes all you need is hope, a beacon to light the way and whether sent by God or not, she helped provide that to the French forces until the tides of war changed. Which brings us to the present day and Blizzard likening a new female NPC to Joan. My issue with that is Joan can represent many things and was called many names, witch, heretic, hero, champion, virgin, whore, martyr, saint.. each label comes with a different implication. In choosing her, they risk walking a rocky road. So much has become bound up in her image and especially after the spectacular fail which was the female Draenei artwork April Fools “joke”, the spotlight is definitely on Blizzard to get a female character right. Choosing a woman best known for her demise is not the easiest place to begin. Especially when you’re trying to weave her into a narrative already heavy with the twisted corpses of dead women.
Of course Joan stands for much more than a roaring fire in the marketplace at Rouen but it would simple to lose sight of that in the burning brightness of her martyrdom. Yrel could be the perfect vessel to explore the relationship between the Draenei and the Naaru or Blizzard could merely have picked La Pucelle at random to represent a woman wearing armour, fighting to save her people from a brutish Horde. From the tiny snippets we’ve seen of the alpha so far, it’s impossible to judge. From screenshots I’ve seen of the press events Yrel starts young, naive and not particularly useful in a fight which of course would mirror up with Joan’s upbringing in rural France and that’s fine. Even the greatest heros have to start somewhere.
(Image from MMO Champion).
It’s her relationship with Maraad I find a little disappointing. Time and time again Blizzard have been criticized for their female characters and their seeming insistence that they all stand in the shadow of a man whether that’s their father, husband or lover. Modeling on Joan would have been the perfect opportunity to break the mould but yet it seems that we run the risk of Yrel becoming apart of Maraad’s story rather than an independent character in her own right. Sure we can’t break down Joan’s story without examining her impact on the lives of the men she encountered, her king, her friends who fought along side her and of course her enemies who in the end destroyed her but yet looking back those men whether King or commoner, French or English became defined by their relationship with Joan, not the other way around.
Right from the start (if the data-mined dialogue is to be believed) it seems Maraad is filled with rage.
- Yrel: I was thinking I might go through the portal with you, my love.
- Maraad: Yes, Yrel. You will have a home on Azeroth.
- Maraad: But first, we will make these orcs suffer for what they did to you. Their sins cannot be forgiven.
- Maraad: And now that these hordes have taken, broken, and defiled my angel Yrel, I intend to unleash my own…
- Yrel: Maraad, my love. That’s enough.
- Maraad: Yrel…
- Yrel: You have been through too much, Maraad. Your thirst for vengeance will only lead to our death.
- Yrel: Yes, I was taken, but I am not defiled, and I am not broken.
- Yrel: Rest now. I will lead our attack on the Naval Base.
Reading this, I can’t quite shake the feeling I’ve been here before. We’ve seen other “good” men become twisted by their “thirst for vengeance”, it’s not that long ago for example that Jaina and Arthas could have borrowed a couple of these lines. Of course we don’t know enough yet to correctly represent the whole picture and yet, I feel that faint sense of unease. By describing a character in a computer game as a Joan of Arc you create a bond even if it was just intended to be a just a throw away line, her victories, her losses, the betrayals she faced when the man whose throne she helped save refused to ransom her, her mockery of trial in which every answer she gave was another step down the labyrinth which lead to her pyre and her death all come as baggage. She might be faceless and voiceless but she deserves to be treated with fairness, not flung into a mould and come out cooing over an aggressive macho man.