I mentioned briefly a few posts ago that I created a new toon. Those in the know will recognize immediately that this blue-tailed lovely is an Alliance character, which means I went other to The Other Side with this alt. I have finally spent some real time as an alliance player (she’s currently lvl 22, my new Lantanna), and have gotten a bit more exposure to that side of the quests, stories, toons, and the all-important Trade Chat.
I had only really ever played Horde. Brought to WoW by a friend as I was, I had no choice if I wanted to play with her (J. – see my early posts). This Alliance thing was actually a bit more novel and new than I had realized. Not only are there whole new sets of low level quests (yeay! new content for me!), the narrative seems rather different. My new Lantanna is now on the “good guys” side.
I never really bought the whole “Horde is evil” thing. But there is a morality story, here (which Elnia of Pink Pigtail Inn discussed recently). When we’re avidly on our killing sprees for gold, reputation, and XP, does it matter who we are, what the story is?
The Alliance races (esp. human, dwarf, gnome) are those that mythology generally identifies as the “good guys”, while Horde are the baddies, orcs, trolls, zombies (undead). I loved the idea of playing a baddie when I first started, but I do see, now, the slightly different narrative and atmosphere around WoW’s Alliance – the “good”** side. Even the names have this valence: “horde” is usually used to describe groups of threatening beings, a la “horde of invaders.”
How much do these narratives matter? How much do we really even pay attention to the stories of the game? (those not on Role Playing servers, anyway) Does it change how we play, approach our characters, interact with other people when we select the “ugly” side?
Some folks who study video games talk about the importance of the story – that the representations of “evil” or power, and the way that you move through ideas are part of what makes the games appealing and engaging. Many who study those stories do so as literary scholars, examining symbols and themes and characters just as they would in Shakespeare or Tony Morrison.
Popular culture agrees: the objections to Grand Theft Auto center around the stories and situations the game presents because of their violence, racial overtones, sexist scenarios, etc.
Other scholars such as Squire (2002) and Dickey (2006) point to the narratives of games like SimCity as providing educational potential (few such concerns over WoW, my friends – although some people like IBM say you learn leadership skills…). Others such as Turkle explain that one of the reasons fewer girls get into video games is because the stories are very male-centered. Some even claim that breaking the narrative, working outside the story, hinders learning and reduces motivation to play. Of course, a big part of this is that in video games, we’re not just reading the story, we’re part of the story. From Nelson to Lanham to Murray to Steinkuehler, scholars have long hailed online participatory narratives as offering rich, flexible, and engaging stories that can be far more appealing than the linear stories of paper. We learn to read, write, and analyze with them. In fact, Steinkuehler (2007) claims, “MMOGs are not replacing literacy activities but rather are literacy activities.” We learn about and express who we are with them, in them, and through them, as Crawford & Gosling (2009) argue. In some cases, those narratives are part of a game’s purpose: games used by the US Army to train soldiers; a game about Darfur designed to teach people about the atrocities there; games for kids to teach problem-solving, etc.
So by joining and investing in the Alliance side, I’ve shifted into a different narrative within WoW. Part of me feels an allegiance, socially, to “my” side – am I a traitor to my Hordies for leveling an Alliance alt? Do we develop a loyalty for our side in a general sense? (I confess that I do have twinges of silly guilt over it…)
In some ways, I think we do. For sure, those pesky Alliance folks are always killing me, so yeah, I see them all as enemies on my server because the game makes them so. The obvious visible cues of our “differences” designed by the game including the way characters are drawn, the boundaries of “enemy territory” where every NPC will attack me without mercy, and the different leveling experiences, reinforce these loyalties.
I also kind of feel as though I’m spying. “Ooooh! Look! I can see Exodar without getting killed! I can talk to Night Elves! What are these folks saying in Trade Chat? Hm. They seem kind of nicer in Trade Chat over here…” In fact, I could be spying. On Destro we once made friends with someone who had a 70 Alliance toon, and he would periodically hop on Vent to let us know a raid was happening, or to coordinate a you-kill-me, then I’ll-kill-you arrangement for farming honor (in Nagrand, of course). It felt deliciously naughty.
So how much do the stories matter? Is the folk wisdom true that Horde tends to attract more of the 14 year old boys who want to vent their anger on the world? Do we gravitate towards – or get pulled in by – certain sides or races in WoW because of their stories? Is there really a moral difference?
**Note, though, that especially in the most recent expansion, the Horde aren’t entirely dsecribed as the bad guys, and that they actually join up with the Alliance to fight the “real” bad guy, the Lich King.