Leveling through Pandaria on my hunter was a bit rushed. Syndrome and another friend were constantly on my case about not leveling fast enough so to humor them I decided to speed level knowing that I could do the zones properly on another character (I regret that decision as I still don’t have a very good understanding as to what the hell is happening in Pandaria, but that’s another gripe for another time). It’s been a year and my second highest character is only 77 so I have yet to run through the zones again. Two nights ago however, while helping Syndrome level his warrior (read: be his taxi), we decided to do all of Krasarang Wilds to get the achievement. Part of this entailed going to Zhu’s Watch and completing the quest chain there which I hadn’t done the first time through. What should I find but the famed panda rolling quest which I remembered hearing about on the forums when Mists of Pandaria was still new. People got a good laugh out of it but I didn’t know just what it was about. I had assumed the Pandaren had eaten too much and thus needed to be forcibly taken back to his home. You know, like something you’d see in an old Looney Tunes episode.
I did not expect to find the poor Pandaren was suffering from severe depression and it would be my job as the “hero” to kick his ass back home. I did not expect, halfway there, for him to vomit all over himself when the rolling made him dizzy and for me to have to keep kicking him anyway.
Mmmm, yeah. That didn’t sit well with me.
In case you haven’t done the quest chain, here’s a bit of exposition. The people of Zhu’s Watch have all fallen under a strange, hopeless lethargy. It turns out their unfortunate situation is being brought about by the Sha of Despair, one of the most terrifying of the Shas given how many real life people suffer in his hold. In typical video game fashion you must kill the Sha to save the Pandaren from their hopelessness (because heaven forbid we be allowed to do something interesting and more fitting for a Sha of this nature).
You know how I’m always talking about how games can do good? About how games can help people learn to cope or see the world though another’s eyes? Well here was a missed opportunity if ever I saw one. Rather than come up with an enlightening or motivational way to deal with the Sha’s influence the entire quest chain is turned into one big joke with a depressed Pandaren suffering the brunt of it.
Now I get it, WoW is a silly game. There are lots of moments that could be tragic, but are instead turned humorous. In most instances it works (though I wouldn’t mind a little more seriousness. If WoW could make me cry I’d be ecstatic…) But this quest bothered me, not because they were making light of a serious issue, but because they were making light of a very common and deeply misunderstood illness.
There’s a commonly held notion that depression is a choice. That people who are depressed are that way simply because they don’t want to be happy. Or that they are too soft, or too weak, or too pathetic. Depression alienates friends and family, thus worsening it for the person who is suffering. When they don’t lose their loved ones, people with depression are often told to just “get over it” instead.
“Why won’t you just get over yourself? Go to a party or something.”
For some reason, the majority of people seem to believe that depressed people actually want to be that way. After all, if they don’t like how they feel they should just change, right?
Perhaps now you see why I was upset. When I found that no amount of coaxing or kind words could help the panda and the only valid option the game gave me was to say “I don’t have time for this. Move your ass or I’ll move it for you”, which then forced me to literally kick the panda down the hill, I got pretty miffed.
Say what you will about our actions in video games not mattering, but I am a firm believer that the media we take in reinforces our beliefs and actions. So if a game allows you to abuse a mentally ill person in this way, and present it as something that’s good for a laugh, it isn’t hard to conclude that people who already look down on those with depression or similar psychological struggles will continue to do so because their belief has be reinforced.
What could have been a moving, brilliant quest chain became instead a cheap joke. What could have been an opportunity to teach millions how to help their friends or loved ones cope with a very serious mental illness was shoved aside in favor of a poorly implemented attempt at slapstick.
I don’t know what it is about games that make devs think they can write “comedy” at the expense of real peoples’ very real problems, but I see more and more of it flooding the market. Since when does humor have to consist of making poor jokes about sex, race, rape, sexual orientation, or mental illness? Since when is good humor about mocking the victim rather than the person or entity that is in the wrong? How is it funny to belittle the horrifying struggles of others?
Panser from Tradechat said something very good on Twitter today which I think ties in nicely: “We live in a world where those being bullied are told to suck it up, instead of people teaching their shitty kids not to bully.”
Indeed we do. But we also live in a world where people who suffer from horrible circumstances are made the punch line of our jokes. Rather than bother ourselves with how to aid our fellow humans we feel the need to put them down in order to raise ourselves, and it’s pretty pathetic behavior. How can we expect gamers as a whole to become more accepting and considerate of others if the games they are playing continue to degrade people for things they can’t control.