Note: this post contains some spoilers for the story leading up to (but not including) Drop 3. Fairly warned be ye.
Even though Gracie is an explorer in-game, in real life I am a scientist. I generally have a love-hate relationship with the portrayal of science in video games, movies and television. This is due to the frequency with which several annoying stereotypes or tropes crop up, including the completely socially inept scientist, and the Frankenstein, “scientist tries to play god and causes destruction” trope. So I come to any sci-fi based game, especially one where “scientist” is player option for path content, with some trepidation.
WildStar definitely plays into some of the tropes that bother me so much. The two player races with the strongest scientific minds? The Mordesh, who have meddled trying to create immortality and thus unleashed the ravenous upon the world, and the Chua, who take science to mean weaponizing everything and experimenting without petty worries like ethics. That’s not a great start. Then we have the Eldan, who have done crazy things to Nexus, manipulated the genetics of sentient races because of petty interpersonal squabbles, and oh yeah, meddled by trying to create a god and thus unleashed a horror upon the universe. Because using that trope once just wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong I love the Mordesh and I’m engrossed in the world story, but I could use less of the Frankenstein trope.
On the “socially inept scientist” front WildStar does a bit better. Yes, some of the scientists are a bit overly focused on their work, but there are so many scientists in the game there is plenty of room for all kinds of characters. I especially like seeing scientists from the “non-sciency” races, for example the Granok lady scientist who gives you a quest in Crimson Badlands. My favorite is the Granok scientist in Whitevale, who rightly points out that just because he’s a big burly rock man doesn’t mean he can’t be a good scientist.
Now another peeve of mine is that the number of women scientists and their portrayal in fiction is lacking. So imagine my delight at the sheer quantity of lady scientists (and soldiers, and spies, and leaders, and farmers, and and and…) in WildStar. I love them. I love Belle Walker and her dual scanbots. Yes they’re silly, but this week I learned from a loading screen tooltip that she created them with differing personalities so that they’d help her understand things from several perspectives. I think that level of care is just amazing, and it changed my mind from “Belle is slightly flakey and impulsive” to “Belle is more cunning than anyone gives her credit for”. The writers are trying to create a complete person here. Belle is young and sometimes reckless to be sure, but she is also incredibly smart and capable too. I had an absolute blast running alongside her in the OMNICore1 instance.
Next up is another place where WildStar disappointed me. I love Lucy Lazarin, and I hated what happened to her in Blighthaven. If I could sit down with (Carbine Creative Director) Chad Moore and ask him one question, it would be: why couldn’t that have happened to Victor, and Lucy have been the one to carry on his research? Or maybe something else entirely could have happened there. I mean, imagine the crazy universe where women don’t have to have horrible things happen to them to fuel the plot motivation for the men in their lives. I’m not going to dwell on this too much here, but let’s just say that I threw my rowsdower plushie across the room when I played through that quest, and that Lucy had interesting potential as a character and deserved better.
I think that it is great that we get multiple father-daughter scientist or explorer teams in this game. Both Lucy and Belle fall into this category, and I can think of at least one more team (in Galeras) off the top of my head. Functional families that work together are not something you necessarily see a ton of in MMORPGs. However, it does strike me that we have 3 cases of father-daughter pairs. I would have really liked to see an instance where the senior person was a woman.
Women are underrepresented at the highest levels in most occupations, and scientists are no different. Young women enter academic science in approximately equal numbers to men, but there’s a large amount of attrition as you progress from postdoc to senior faculty. Unfortunately WildStar seems to mimic the real world in that sense. Having at least one of the family pairs with a mother taking the lead would have really meant a great deal to me, and would have sent a powerful message.
The one place where we get to see some hints of a mother scientist are with Elyona. She was the Eldan tasked with raising Drusera. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see their relationship in too much detail since it took place before we arrived on Nexus, and the Elyona we see has been corrupted by the Entity.
Overall WildStar certainly doesn’t do any worse than other media being produced right now. I feel like I am especially hard on it in some ways because it gets so much right and I want it to be even better. It makes me incredibly happy to be able to wander around in a world full of scientists of different races and genders. I hope this game keeps getting more thing right, and keeps feeling like a world that I want to be a part of. For Science.