My last word on the subject

One of my regular readers, @Alunaria, brought to my attention this morning a recent PCMagazine interview with Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas and production director John Hight. Most of the interview was about Blizz’s motivation for the BFA pre-patch story line that has elicited such an emotional response from players, and I invite you to spend a few minutes reading it if you are so inclined.

Alunaria suggested I might want to write about the interview in today’s post. My first reaction was that, honestly, I have already written about the whole pre-patch story line a couple of times and probably it is time for me to move on. But as I began to write my reply to the comment, I realized that I myself have not yet moved on from the gut blow  it dealt me.

So, if you will indulge me, here is the reply I started to craft and then decided to post instead of put into a comment. If you are sick of this subject, I completely understand and would not blame you if you stopped reading at this point. And I promise, it really will be my last words on the subject.

Hehe, I suspect my readers would think the cheese had definitely slipped off my cracker if I wrote yet another post on this topic — there is a fine line between concern and obsession. Still, I did find the interview illuminating, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Although it was a long and thought-provoking interview, I found Ion’s and John’s story explanations unsatisfactory at best and insulting at worst. Basically what they said was, “Well, yeah, Sylvanas acted badly, but everything’s good now because Saurfang is conflicted about it. And there are secret events yet to unfold.”

Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. It’s as if, after 9/11, there was a revelation that a friend of one of the hijackers had had some regrets about the attack. There simply is no moral equivalency.

If Blizz had given the story even a small amount of thought, they would at least have had Saurfang or one of Sylvanas’s commanders argue with her. Maybe refuse to carry out the order, or at a minimum provide the Night Elves with a warning to evacuate the Tree. But no, she ordered what in almost any army in the world would be considered a war crime, and she was obeyed immediately and without question.

Maybe all this proves is that no one at Blizz has even the faintest notion of what it means to be part of an organized military force. And now that I think about it, that may be why I had such a visceral reaction to the story, because normally I don’t care at all about this game’s story line. I spent a good part of my life as a soldier, and one thing that is drummed into you from your very first day is that you have a DUTY to refuse an illegal order, and it doesn’t matter if you are the highest general or the lowliest private. If you carry out such an order, you are as culpable as the officer who issued it.

(This is why, for example, the My Lai Massacre during Vietnam was such an American sin and why it left such an indelible stain on our military. Beyond the criminal aspect, it was a clear failure of training and was evidence of a moral decline in our military ethos. One could argue that it contributed both to our defeat there and to the domestic demand to leave, because it showed we were losing our soul over the conflict. An army without a soul is nothing more than a rabble.)

Of course, WoW is just a stupid computer game, and it is — and should — be driven by fantasy and by corporate profit, not by the physical or moral rules of the real world. I get that. But for it to descend into gratuitous butchery merely to generate discussion and interest in a new patch seems over the line to me.

Wow is not Grand Theft Auto. It has always upheld a strong moral distinction between Good and Evil. There have been nuances with the Horde, it is true, but here’s the thing:

True evil in World of Warcraft has almost always been from external threats, not from either Alliance or Horde players. The Alliance may view the Horde as a bunch of uncivilized barbarians, and the Horde may consider the Alliance a bunch of goody-two-shoes hypocrites, but historically conflict between the factions — though bloody — has had some kind of moral basis for each side. What Blizz has done with the BFA story line is to force Horde players into being complicit in a heinous criminal act with absolutely no moral underpinning. No amount of angst from Saurfang can change that. As horrified as Alliance players are over the actual act of burning Teldrassil, Horde players should be even more horrified at the position Blizz has put them in. 

I suspect that eventually some kind of story line will emerge that Sylvanas is not true Horde, she has been possessed by some outside force or something, and probably Saurfang will help his coalition regain some honor. But that will not change the fact that Blizz portrayed the Horde as willing to set fire to non-combatants including children — not as an act of revenge or moral outrage, but as an act of pure terror based on ego and pettiness — and they raised not one significant objection to doing it. Battle for Azeroth will be seen as the point at which the Horde lost its innocence, and I am sorry for that.

Blizz really did cross a moral Rubicon this time.

For better or for worse, this is my last post before Battle for Azeroth goes live. Most likely I will not post next week, unless we have a lot of down time because of server problems. I’ll be spending my time leveling and doing some initial gearing on my main BM hunter. In spite of all my crabbing about this and that, I really am looking forward to the new expansion and am finally beginning to feel some excitement and anticipation for it. Let’s hope we all have a lot of fun on launch day.

And now to start my weekend. See you all around August 20.

18 thoughts on “My last word on the subject

  1. I don’t really have anything to add other than my hope that Blizzard reads this. You hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Wait, I do have one thing to add. Regarding the Suarfang video and its supposed exculpatory nature, I call double bullsh*t. I don’t find it exculpatory in the least… quite the opposite actually.

    In the lead-up to the tree’s burning, Saurfang knifes Malfurion in the back and then moans about his own dishonor. That brought forth my first middle finger to the Horde.

    Then Sylvanus burns the tree and everyone in it. Anyone with even a grain of empathy believes she’s a monster. But the thing is and as you say, **all** she did was give the order. It was followed without question. There’s my middle finger number two. The Horde as a whole is on the hook for the burning regardless of what comes next.

    And in the Saurfang video, sure he’s sad about his dishonor and that of the Horde and for this he basically plans to suicide. That act in itself would not combat the bad acts in any way. When he decides against this thanks to a teenager’s peptalk, he doesn’t commit himself to opposing Sylvanus. No, he joins the battle that she’s leading against the Alliance, against the night elves who were wronged. My middle finger number three.

    And finally, in the cut scenes in the Lordaeron campaign this week, he’s back to suicide. Middle finger number four.

    Sylvanus and the Horde have now destroyed two cities and killed their people in horrible fashion. No matter what comes now, the stain is on them all. Nothing can change that. Nothing.

    1. That is what I felt about it too – that moment when Saurfang “returned” to the Horde. It would have been more acceptable (if anything is at this point= to have him return and then throw Sylvanas out to the Alliance saying “Here. You can have her. She does not represent us”.

      I find it bizarre how Blizzard appears to desperately to “rally” us up, Horde VS Alliance- IT MATTERS, as all their adds say. But instead, they shoot so far beside the target (right English expression?)

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it and putting it into words, that I could never do. I can certainly understand why you have another level of perspective on things, considering your RL.

    “I found Ion’s and John’s story explanations unsatisfactory at best and insulting at worst” – so well described. I wonder what it is about Ion.

    He always is on that end – the provoking one. Not in touch with us. I guess he is a lawyer more than anything. He even makes a reference to GoT. As if you can draw parallels from a video game and to a series like that.
    One we play for years – and with that, it means ‘having’ to do it every single day to “be aught up”, and the other we can watch once a week. One we watch characters act – another we get to “control” the character. Gosh I could go on. Waiting years for a “GOTCHA!” moment in a game is far worse than any series, I think.

    But yeah. I feel as if I am just done speaking about this too. I don’t think I’ll fully recover from how bad this has been stitched together.

    They wanted to burn things to get us talking. Yet my time spent has been on our blogs, not in the game.

    I won’t remember with fond nostalgy back to the day where Teldrassil burned.

    But I will always remember how bizarre it was done, and how it caused any hype for BfA to vanish.

    I will wonder to myself, if there could not have been done something else in order to “kickstart” a faction war. Shock effect for the schock effect alone, gotcha moment to make sure players are “kept in the loop” (right expression?)

    I will wonder to myself, why it appears to be all about the Horde and how bad burning children alive made THEM feel. Even in the interview, I see Horde, Horde, Horde. But oh no, says Ion “Wait for it, wait for it”. Maybe I am just no longer part of any of the WoW player segments there exists.

  3. this right here

    What Blizz has done with the BFA story line is to force Horde players into being complicit in a heinous criminal act with absolutely no moral underpinning.

    Oh, I’m sure there were many that did not care one way or the other because it is a video game and not real. I have over the years cringed at the demands made of Blizzard to include real life aspects, be it gender issues, same sex marriage, drug addiction, the list is very long indeed. And there are merits to looking at inclusion of many things. But this was a bit of real life that I could have done without having as part of the game. I sat through the cinematic, I did not cheer when the order was given, did not immediately turn on Warmode or queue up for a battleground to stop some Alliance. I watched it, went back to town, tabbed out for awhile, and just logged out. I had no “Faction Pride” it was a means to generate a reaction, and it did. But it went so much further than they considered. And perhaps they have kept Azeroth too separate from the real world, maybe there is a need for some values to be included in the game.

    1. And mostly, this kind of plot line, trying to heat up tensions only works if people fall for it. Me personally? They have lost me forever when it come to any PvP content. I don’t care what the reward is. I will not be using Warmode, or doing Island scenarios that require PvP. I am done being the punching bag for those on the Alliance side, and if I end up being a super powerful player? I will be out in the world helping players of the other faction if they are in trouble.

    2. Thats exactly what I mean with Blizzard having “shot beside the target”. They wanted to rally us, but instead we just sat there. And we sit here. On our blog. Not in the game.

      I feel no need for revenge in game. I don’t want these emotions tied up in a video game. I don’t want a video game to cause other players to go “LET’S SLAUGTHER ALL THEIR CHILDREN AND BURN THEM ALIVE, Sylvanas is awesome!”

      If I want to hear about such horrors, I can watch the news. In the real world.

  4. Well said, well written. This was the first time that I did not log into my Horde character to see the other side of the story. I simply can not remember if the Horde players were part of the bombing of Theramore, did my friend Sirsmokesalot the Tauren fly over and pull the lever?
    Whatever this is, it doesn’t feel like escapism from the horrors of the real world. I wanna be a good guy.

  5. I hear you on that. As far as I read, she has no real say in how the story plays out either. She gets told the major events, and is asked to write accordingly.

  6. Some good discussion and food for thought here. I think my ultimate hope is that all this part of the story just gets lost by the wayside and mostly forgotten. It really is not one of Blizz’s finer moments.

    All that aside, as I write this we are just a few short hours from BFA launch, and I find I am much more excited about it than I thought I would be. Yay!

  7. Yes, it is “just a game”, but what we read, participate in, play is part of who we are. The problem here is that they have changed the rules of the game — previously playing WoW did not generally make people feel complicit in true evil or mass murder. Suddenly you have many players feeling exactly that — that they are complicit. It is completely understandable that people would have an issue with it. Personally, I think the story-telling is childish and goes for manipulative shock value over maintaining any sense of coherence with the story they have been telling up to this point. (In this I agree with Bellular’s analysis). The kinds of issues they are raising — genocide, racism, mass murder — are treated as mere plot points to advance a narrative, which I find cynical and shallow. I admit that the portrayal of moustache-twirling Sylvanas in her confrontation with Anduin, is hilariously over the top, a comic-book villain drawn with some irony. But contrast that with the burning alive of civilians in Teldrasil, Saurfang’s sulking, Anduin’s LFR level military skills, and you have a narrative that is simply bad. I hope they get their act together in future, and stop using beautiful art direction to sell me this tripe. They’ve told decent stories in the past and they can do it again if they stay within their range. In the meantime, I’ll be leveling my Warlocks, twirling my moustache, and hoping for better things.

  8. I’m a Horde player (I’ve barely touched Alliance-side since Vanilla) and I’m deeply bemused by what “I have let happen”. I played the pre-patch hoping there would be a conversation node that would let me voice opposition to what I knew was going to happen. I knew I couldn’t STOP it (because the world may be persistant, but player actions are not), but I hoped that there would be some sort of moral “out” for Horde players.

    I was sorely disappointed. Blizzard have done an excellent job of making me dislike my own character, such that I may not play him again.

    Way to go, Blizzard.

    1. Indeed. I do not play Horde at all, but even so, I am outraged at what Blizz did to every Horde player. The Tree will grow again, I am certain, but the damage to the basic Horde morality is a stain that will persist for a long time, no matter what kinds of weaselly events Blizz may concoct in order to “explain” how “both sides are to blame”.

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