Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Kings and Warchiefs

Before I start today's post, I just want to say hi to the recent influx of visitors from Team Sportscoat. I don't know what I did to catch your attention, but I definitely appreciate it. :-)

I know I've said it before, but the one thing that keeps me coming back to WoW above all others is the Lore. The story. This universe that Chris Metzen has created is beyond amazing. And the help and support he's gotten in bringing it to life leaves me slack-jawed.

I finished reading The Shattering on Tuesday night. It was a good read. Quick, clean, but still captivating. One of the things it showed me, though, is how dreadfully out of touch I am with the lore of WoW as it is right now.

I could go on and on about the War of the Ancients, the War of the Shifting Sands, Arthas' history, Illidan's history (and most of the lore surrounding the major players of Burning Crusade), etc. But I never really took the time to read up on the current players.

For the purposes of this post, I'm specifically referring to Varian Wrynn and Garrosh Hellscream. Two very important and very controversial figures in the current happenings of WoW.

Opposition to these two being in power is pretty unanimous. Both are hot-headed, impulsive, and violent. They have a hatred of the opposite faction so powerful that it's blinding them to (what we as players see as) any type of reason. This is especially true when we stand them up against their more moderate counterparts Jaina and Thrall. (I could toss Fandral Staghelm into this discussion, too, as he's probably still the single most reviled lore figure to ever grace the game.)

But there's a couple factors here that we as players never seem to consider.

Good writing doesn't avoid tension. It creates it.
Think of every story you've ever read. Think of every movie you've ever seen. Think of every game you've ever played. Think, particularly, of the best of each of these.

How many times are you screaming in your head, "just kill the bad guy! He's. Right. There!" or, "would you two just admit you have it for each other and get it on?!" or, "he was my favorite character, why did he have to die?!" or, "why can't the Horde and Alliance just put aside their differences and realize there are bigger problems?!"

It's simple...because what makes a story compelling is when it does the things that we as readers (and even as writers) don't want it to. There has to be a conflict that we want to see resolved or we lose interest. And as frustrating or disheartening as it can be when it gets worse instead of better, that only shows how invested we've become in it.

Have you ever read a story by a novice writer (they proliferate now, thanks to the internet) where everything just kinda goes right and all the conflicts are resolved the way we'd want them to be before they can really cause strife? It's boring as hell. And worse, it's completely unbelievable. You walk away feeling like you wasted a part of your life for having read it.

That's why we have Garrosh. That's why we have Varian. We may not like them. But they certainly keep the story interesting. Plus, it's worth noting that we are not the people they rule.

We are not Azeroth's citizens. We are its champions.
When the extent of your NPC interaction is clicking on them to open the AH or having them ask you to "keel six snow moose," when it takes 30 seconds to run from Stormwind's Cathdral to its Keep, when you can mount up and run from Westfall to Redridge in minutes, it's easy to forget that the world we play in is only a representation of the "real" Azeroth.

While the players that make up the Horde's fighting force would probably continue to play regardless of whether Garrosh or a Basic Campfire were appointed leader, the people of the Horde certainly would not.

Thrall had a very difficult decision to make and he had a very, very short time in which he could make it. He didn't want to give control of the Horde to Garrosh. But he didn't have any better alternatives. Not if he wanted to keep the Horde unified. The citizens of the Horde would break apart under any other rule in Thrall's absence, and he knew it.

And his intention at the time was for it to be a temporary thing. Just while he was off in Nagrand learning what he could about why Azeroth's elements were in such turmoil and how he, as a Shaman, could help. He assumed that when he returned from Nagrand he would resume leading his people. But it didn't turn out that way. And he couldn't just waltz back into Orgrimmar at that point and say, "Well, I'm not coming back to lead the Horde. But I thought about it and I think I'm going to appoint _______ for the job instead of Garrosh."

Yeah...that would go over well.

Likewise, on the Alliance side, we may not like Varian, but he is the rightful King of Stormwind. And as long as the Humans are the center of the Alliance, he will be its leader. At the end of the day, he's probably a good King. He's just a dick of a person. But there's a reason for that...

The game doesn't do a great job of telling the whole story.
When we see Varian in game, all we see is a giant, pushy, unreasonable jerk with an irrational hunger for Horde blood. But we usually don't think to stop and wonder why.

Through Warth, I knew a little bit about Varian. I knew that after he was kidnapped by the Defias he somehow got free, but was found washed up on shore with no real memory. I knew he was captured by the Orcs and forced to fight in their arenas until he eventually regained his senses and fought his way back to his rightful place in the world. So I could understand why he had a little bit of a distaste for the Horde, Orcs specifically.

You know what I didn't know until I read The Shattering? Varian was actually split into two people during that time. Literally.

There was Varian, the good, reasonable side of his personality. And there was Lo'gosh, his angry, violent side. It was Lo'gosh who was forced to fight in the arenas of the Horde while Varian tried to figure out what was really going on. And when the two halves were didn't go quite right. Instead of meshing back together into a whole man with each side of his personality acting as a balance for the other, he's still fractured. He's still two parts that wrestle for control. And Lo'gosh, being more naturally dominant, is often the side that gains the upper hand.

Now I understand why he's so unreasonable at times (during the siege of Undercity, for instance) and then does a complete 180 at others (telling Muradin to stand down so Saurfang can collect the body of his son, and telling Saurfang that his son was an honorable orc). (For those of you who only play Horde, this plays out when an Alliance group defeats Deathbringer Saurfang in ICC.)

Similarly I was able to learn why Garrosh is so battle-hungry and that he's not completely without a brain, or honor.

Metzen didn't make these characters jerks just for the sake of them being jerks, or just for the sake of keeping the story interesting. There's actual reasons for their personalities to have developed that way. (Again here, I would point out Staghelm. He, too, has reasons to being such a jerk.) But if you only look for readily-presented, in-game answers as to why, you'll never find them.

The game isn't about them. It's about us.
Here we come to the flip side of the citizen/champion coin. While we are not representative of the people of Azeroth as a whole, as long as we're logged into World of Warcraft, the game is still about us.

While it would be great at times if the game would do more to show us the stories of NPCs like Varian and Garrosh, they're secondary to us as heroes. We are not there to find out about Varian's past, or to counsel Garrosh. That's not our story. Our story is fighting to banish Ragnaros. It's stopping Onyxia and Nefarion from continuing their father's work. It's defeating Illidan once and for all. It's ending the Lich King's reign. It's slaying Deathwing before he can destroy the world.

Blizzard only has so many resources at its disposal to tell us stories (I have a whole other post about that for sometime in the future). While it's good for us to know what and who we're fighting for, at the end of the day, our story is the fight. And that's the story the game has to focus on telling. Blizzard realizes this, and that's why there's a plethora of other avenues for us to learn about all of Azeroth's history and the histories of all those who are a part of it. It's left to our discretion to go out of our way to find it and consume it.

And I highly recommend you do so. I've finally started to and it's made the game all that much better.


  1. After I read the Shattering I tried to pursue some of the lore that I had missed. Unfortunately, a lot of it is in the comic books and the Warcraft RPG. I'm not going to go out and buy either of those, so I'm stuck reading up on WoWWiki, and its very disjointed.

    I often think that I want to write out timelines for Thrall, the kings of Stormwind, Medivh, the orcs and draenei, the night elves and highborne, the Bronzebeards, and others and see where they all overlap. That would give the "big picture" that is missing from the disconnected stories.

  2. I was going to say something about the comics in the post, but I decided I would save it unless/until someone commented on them.

    I have this irrational aversion to comics/graphic novels as a medium for story telling. I know it's irrational because I'm fully aware that they can be excellent devices for telling a story and doing so in a very mature, enjoyable manner. I've read a few exactly like that. But I still get wrapped up in the stigma of them being for kids.

    I do eventually want to get over that mindset enough to pick up the comic series and read it. I also really want to pick up the Death Knight manga, as Thassarian is easily the most intriguing character to come out of the whole DK story line and I'd like to learn more about him.

  3. I'm reading the Shattering right now, and I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying it. I felt very disconnected from much of Lich King's raid content, and I'm hoping that this won't be the case come Cata.

    I hope the game does more with Anduin, based on what I've read so far.

  4. The Shattering was a great read IMHO. I certainly felt engrossed in the story and it's many twist and turns. I know it is the lore and the story behihd the story that keeps me playing. This book made it all make a lot more sense without that nice and tidy convenient ending that plagues most forms of entertainment today.

    It even inspired me to roll a Horde that is saying something as I have almost exclusively played Alliance characters from day one. I look forward to Cataclysm even more now...even with all its uncertainties. If you love WoW and love the lore of it you MUST read this book.

  5. Well I love comics and intend to buy the Warcraft ones if they are good and advance the story line. I used to collect comics growing up and sold part of my collection to buy my first car for $2500. :)

  6. I still have most of my comics from when I was a kid, boxed up in a closet. Too bad I didn't take better care of them or they would be worth something.

    About 15 years ago I invested in buying all the comics from a brand-new comic company - Ultraverse by Malibu Comics. I bought every comic they produced, starting with #1 of each line. When they announced a Saturday-morning cartoon based off their comics I thought I had hit the jackpot. Then Marvel bought them out and buried them to eliminate the competition, and that was the end of that.

    And that was the end of my short-lived obsession with comics as an adult. I haven't been in a comic store since. I didn't want to get WoW comics because I didn't want the hassle of having to get a new one every month (or however often they come out).