World of Warcraft

A literary analysis of Warcraft

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So I fell in love with the world of Warcraft thanks to Warcraft III. And perhaps one of the biggest parts of why I loved it so much was because, even then, it was a world. Arthas, and Jaina, and Thrall, and Tyrande were cool and all, sure, but I didn’t really connect to Warcraft through them. It wasn’t thanks to them that I won my battles. I connected to Warcraft through its people They may not have had names, but I still had fondness for my huntresses, and mortar teams, and grunts. No, not individually, that would just be insane. But collectively. As a group. These were Warcraft to me. Not Illidan, or the Lich King, or Sylvanas. They were a part of it, and they certainly add to it, and I had affection for them, but largely as a part of this fantastical world, not in and of themselves. It’s because of how they relate to this world that I love them, not so much because of who they are in and of themselves.

When WoW came out, it was wonderful, because I got to step into this world myself, and become a part of it. I got to be one of those knights or raiders or mages or druids. I may have done great things, but never on my own. I was one of dozens fighting back the Redridge Gnolls. I was one of five who freed Silverpine from Arugal’s influence. I was one of forty who defeated Ragnaros. Intentional or not, the structure of the Warcraft games have always emphasized community effort and spat in the face of Great Man History. And on top of that, Azeroth’s Great Men constantly end up becoming its villains, reinforcing that message. Arthas wants to be the One to save Lordaeron and ends up destroying it. Illidan wants be the One to defeat the Legion, but becomes corrupted by it. Any time he actually manages to fight for good, it is when he relies on allies. Kael’thas wants to be the One to lead the high elves to salvation, but nearly turns them into ravenous slaves of the Legion. Garrosh wants to be the One to lead the Horde to glory, but leads to its implosion.

Great Men don’t exist in Azeroth.

Now, let me take a step back and explain that this is what we, in the literary criticism business, call an “aggressive reading”. I will bet money on the fact that no one at Blizzard intentionally set out to make this the theme of the Warcraft series. In fact, if may be permitted a touch of wild speculation, I suspect Metzen himself is likely to believe in Great Man Theory. Apologies if I’m mistaken on that, Chris. But authorial intent does not matter here. All that matters is what the text, itself, says.

Of course, some of you may already be trying to think of some counter-examples. Perhaps Thrall springs to mind. Fair enough, Thrall was a great man (orc). He led the orcs to the safety of Kalimdor, and founded Durotar, but the thing is that, first off, Thrall never really had much ambition. Founding Durotar is probably the most ambitious he gets, but that’s also just kind of the natural next step. I mean, what was he supposed to do? People can do great things, but great things are never done alone. In founding Durotar, Thrall has the help of the tauren, trolls, and even Jaina. Not to mention that it’s really the people who found the nation, and really Thrall just gets credit because they looked to him as their leader. It’s much easier to credit a single person for doing something than it is thousands. Still, it’s more accurate to say “the orcs founded Durotar” than to say “Thrall founded Durotar”. Now, I’d also like to point to the one time when Thrall actually does get closest to being the One person to do something: Cataclysm. But in doing so, I’d also like to point to the community’s feelings about this at the time. Thrall was not a popular character while he was hogging the limelight and getting all the credit.

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You may also be tempted to point to your player character. They do a bunch of great stuff. But… most of what you do is quests and instances. Instances are, obviously, inherently a team effort. No one person gets any more credit than anyone else for slaying VanCleef or Yogg-Saron. Even canonically, every instance boss is credited as having been slain by “a group of adventurers”. And as for quests, the majority of quests are things that many people could canonically do concurrently without a need for further explanation, like clearing troggs out of a mine, or gathering materials for a team of engineers. Those quests which are an exception typically get credited canonically as having been performed by a group, like with dungeons, even if they aren’t actually group quests (though, notably, many once were before Cataclysm). Even in the more modern successors to these quests, the completion of the quest is usually thanks to the quest giver just as much as to the player. Even if they aren’t participating in the activity themselves, the quest giver tells you what needs to be done, how to do it, and sometimes gives you the tools needed to get it done. Without the quest giver, your character wouldn’t be able to complete the quest any more than the quest giver could without you (ignoring the restrictions and side effects of this being a game, of course; we’re talking in-universe).

Even when the player character gets more singular attention like in WoD and Legion, the Garrison and Class Hall have many people going about working on things that are needed to keep things running, even if they’re less exciting than adventures. You may be a catalyst, but you aren’t the sole driving force behind anything.

But then comes BfA. And suddenly… Great Man History everywhere! Sylvanas wants to execute a nonsensical attack on Teldrassil. So of course no one questions her, because Great Man History. It’s not like we’ve ever had other leaders push back against decisions they disagree with. Rank-and-file soldiers showing doubt? That’s not a thing that happens! In Northrend. During the Third War. Perhaps in a mission named after that very act. Sylvanas is the Warchief, so of course everyone’s going to follow her blindly. Even if the last Warchief had a completely different outlook. And the one before that was overthrown for pretty much doing this exact same thing. Even though he was more widely trusted by the members of the Horde than the current one.

I mean, I could also talk about how what is probably Blizzard’s most nuanced character ever is getting every scrap of that nuance just thrown out the window, but plenty have people have already said so much on that topic… What really frustrates me – and what’s risking me losing all interest from here on out, not just until things blow over – is that… it’s the themes of the entire world. Not just the planet, but the setting. That are at risk, here. And that’s not something that’s as easy to recover from.

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At the very least, ever since Warcraft III, contrary to its name, the Warcraft series has been almost anvilicious with its themes of cooperation and reconciliation. Archimonde could only be defeated because the orcs, humans, and night elves set aside their differences and worked together. The Horde and Alliance worked together against the qiraji as the Might of Kalimdor. The Scryers and Aldor unite as the Shattered Sun Offensive against Kael’thas. The Ashen Verdict. The Avengers of Hyjal and the Earthen Ring. The Siege of Orgrimmar. In addition to the customary-at-this-point Horde/Alliance… alliance, even Garrosh and Yrel fought side by side against Archimonde. And everyone hops on the Vindicaar together to take the fight to Argus.

So after all this, when the world itself has been smacking the Horde’s and Alliance’s heads together like unruly school children, why in fel should I be expected to take such a nonsensical status quo reset lying down? What am I supposed to make of the fact that Vol’jin, the Horde’s Warchief most dedicated to peace, second only to Thrall, chose Sylvanas as his successor given what she's done with the position? Stepping outside the narrative, why should I be content when we’ve been here before and the story offers literally nothing new? Why should I continue to have faith that engaging writing will be on its way when every actually interesting plot hook got unceremoniously dropped in favour of such a ridiculous war?

I ask because I love Warcraft. I truly, deeply love it. You don’t put this much thought and critical analysis into something you don’t love to perhaps a slightly unreasonable degree. And I don’t want to lose it.

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