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Dec 24, 2005

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» Evil is as Evil Does from Walkerings
As usual, there's a fascinating debate going on over at Terra Nova. I won't restate the arguments here; instead, I'll raise some related issues that are most engaging to me. It's not whether the Horde faction in World of Warcraft [Read More]

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Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled The Horde is Evil, in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are on the whole evil, and that this has moral implications for avatar... [Read More]

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Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled The Horde is Evil, in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are on the whole evil, and that this has moral implications for avatar... [Read More]

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To tide us over the Christmas period, Edward Castranova posted a proclamation of damnatio memoriae upon those of us who play Horde characters in World of Warcraft, claiming - the provocative little tinker - that it is a morally loaded choice, which is ... [Read More]

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Comments

1.

Oh, great, this is my fault :-) Since I'm way too busy to play WoW, I'm not even really even on the backchannel discussion, but . . .

I have a couple of questions, Ted.

1) Would you say that the question in WoW avatar choice is equivalent to choosing alignment in Dungeons and Dragons? After all, to play a thief (where you would often end up with different incentives than other members of your party) you'd often pick an evil alignment.

2) Since even single player games are often social (people stopping to watch you play, etc) , is there really so much difference between WoW and Fable or GTA3? Wouldn't your 3 year old be just as bothered by seeing you drive over a hooker after getting a power up to get your money back? Or, to use an older example, in the Origin game Privateer, one of the fasted methods of advancements was to be a pirate, especially because selling captured pilots into slavery was extremely profitable. Is this an evil act, or an optimization of the path through the game to get to more interesting content later?

Finally, if the game was designed to have a struggle between good and evil (I'm not claiming that this is WoW, but posing this as more of a hypothetical), for example an online GTA3 game where you could play either cops or crooks, then isn't having humans playing the crooks critical to the game? How does fulfilling a role critical to the success of the world a poor ethical decision? Thieves and assassins made D&D a more interesting world -- were all the kids who chose to play those roles ethically challenged?

2.

"EVERY art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. But a certain difference is found among ends; some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities. Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity- as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this and every military action under strategy, in the same way other arts fall under yet others- in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be preferred to all the subordinate ends; for it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued." - Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics.

From the standpoint of morality within fiction, most monists would simply ask: "To what level of moral coherence do the actors aspire?" Difference in ranking would come about by painstaking enumeration of the extent of axioms and precepts obeyed in consequence to other axioms and how persistently this structure is pursued. A high score in this cosmological enterprise earns one a predominant leaning toward that thing defined as "The Good".

Warlike or appetitive behaviour alone fails to exclude the orcs or other blemished hominids from being considered moral creatures. Quite the opposite in fact, even though any tendency towards factionalism is an indicator of mortal reason in the domain of the metaxy.

I would be inclined to say that wishy washiness is the prime indicator of morality amongst the denizens of a world in homage to the Art of warcraft. However, I have some doubts on putting obedience to principle over recognition of contingency when it comes to divining natural law.

3.

Well, on a purely factual level, there are some problems here. Orcs have children and charitable works: there's an orphanage in Orgrimmar. The Orcish leadership is not aware, within the game's fiction, of the Forsaken's darker plans, which puts them a step above the United States at various times in our own history. And it's pretty obvious from their actions (rather than their rhetoric) that the Alliance races value war just as much as the Horde races: it was the Alliance which started the current war by colonizing Horde territory.

Also, obviously, whatever the scripting of the NPC's says, the behavior of Alliance player characters is essentially indistinguishable from that of Horde player characters.

Lastly, it's ridiculous to argue that the gut reactions of 3-year-olds are a good way of measuring good and evil. I imagine most 3-year-olds find tarantulas pretty frightening; does that make them evil? Maybe one of the appealing things about Horde is that it belies the identification of "pretty" and "good".

4.

I've always felt that character/alignment selection was an (admitedly pale) reflection of the players actions.

In the 30-odd years I've run AD&D campaigns, I've come only allow player-charcter alignments that in the quadrant bounded by good-neutral to neutral-lawful, with only theives being permitted to be true-neutral. This was the result of my first campaign, run when I was 16, when I learned what kind of viciousness players could dish out, when my father, playing a chaotic-neutral druid participated in attack schemes that horrified me (but were allowed by the rules, given his alignment.) I never wanted to let anyone confuse/dissapoint me like that again.

Ted, if you are serious about researching this, look for a potential gender preference bias:

There is a reason that the vast majority of those who play Diplomacy are male: Male gamers seem to be better at suspending our RL moral code ("always keep your promises") in a game context ("Now is time for me to break my alliance and capture Spain!").

Does anyone have numbers on City of Villans? I loved playing City of Heros for about 9 months, but the idea of CoV just seemed silly to me - more of the same without the moral imperitive.

I found that my favorite COH characters always refected a some internal hero-quality in myself.

But, I was a casual player.

Perhaps thjs is key to the challange Ted has stumbled upon: Are we talking about the differnce between character selection by hard-core players (as play Diplomacy, in the boardgame world) vs. casual players?

Could it be that hard-core players are "consuming all the content" or "playing the min-max game" or whatever optimizing strategy - so morality doesn't much enter into it? Perhaps, in contrast, causual gamers aren't going to min-max anything or consume all the content, so their internal moral compass provides a much larger part of the gaming experience - a sort of gameplay-foundation?

If so, yhis would explain the member of the mailing-list seeming to dismiss Ted's concerns: They're all hard-core - it really *doesn't* matter to them!

5.

I think you're on to something. Don't know what exactly, or if I agree emphatically. Certainly a hypothesis that begs a series of non-anecdotal experiments. In the universe next door where I'm stupid wealthy, I've just released funds for a 5 year study of avatar choice cross-indexed with people and their interpersonal relationships and activities in the real world.

6.

Imagine a game in which you have the choice of playing as a German WW2-era concentration camp administrator and your goal is to gather and kill as many Jews as possible. I would never make that choice. WW2-era Germany was the site of much evil, evil that took place in the real world. I would not want to associate myself with that particular evil in a game. I don't have the same feelings about taking the German side in a game like Squad Leader or Battlefield 1942, but the faint echo of those feelings is still there, even in games like those.

Orcs, on the other hand, are an allegorical construction, they have never existed in the real world, nor committed any acts of evil there. As such, I'd argue that they carry considerably less moral weight than you're trying to put on them. The fact is that the "market" (i.e., the players of World of Warcraft) does not place the same value on Orcs that you do. Evil in the WoW market has been so completely discounted as to be almost meaningless. I would even go so far as to say that the fantasy evil that Orcs represent does not have much value in the broader market. Orcs simply aren't shocking or scary or even very evil anymore to almost anyone over the age of 12. The world -- apart from those few who have bothered to open their OEDs -- does not understand the word Orc in its Old English sense. At this point, the world probably doesn't even understand Orc as an artifact of Tolkien but rather as one of Peter Jackson.

Besides which, there is vast cultural near-sightedness here: do you think Indians or Arabs or Chinese share this centuries-old notion of Orcs, or do the easterners who play WoW, of which there are many, have an understanding of the word that is of much more recent vintage? By that reckoning, the market most decidedly does not share the Old English understanding of the word. We Anglophones simply don't have the apples to make it so.

In any case, the world understands "Orc" as a fantasy construct, one that does not, has never and will never threaten anything real and/or living. Playing an Undead character does not constitute "an open and public acceptance [of] a patently evil society." There is no such society to accept or reject. I'm sure there is some kind of undereducated logical fallacy I'm committing here, but I still maintain that the choice of Orc or Undead vs. Human or Night Elf carries far less moral weight than the choice of concentration camp administrator vs. American leatherneck.

I'm not denying that avatars have deep connections to real people, by the way. I think that's something that's forgotten too often. But I think perhaps the thing that bothers me most about your analysis is that it completely denies the person behind the avatar any opportunity to be a moral actor in the world. In my view, *how* you choose to inhabit the fiction of a game world is far more important than which branch of that fiction you choose to inhabit. What if you did take the role of the German concentration camp administrator in the imaginary game posed above, but instead of putting people to death you managed to gather many thousands of Jews and then ship them off to safety. Can that player still said to be welcoming or condoning evil only by virtue of the fact that he or she is inhabiting a symbol of evil in the game world? Where is the player's moral agency here? Does it really end at the choice of faction? There are indeed faint echoes of the unconscious, the mystical, the religious and the spiritual to be found in these worlds. But what's so wonderful about that is that they are echoes of the things we are doing there *now*, they are the sounds of a new kind of mysticism being created by the power that *players* are given. To me, that power far outweighs the faint echo of Old English that does not even reach most people's ears.

7.

I think that feminists and race scholars have something when they say the social value we attribute to something is reflected in our choice of words, and those words have a reflexive effect on the symbol we attatch them to.

Perhaps that these 'savage' and more 'conniving' and 'warlike' races are considered evil as opposed to their savage, conniving, and warlike alliance counterparts is a reflection of that.

Maybe it's simply we tend to associate 'humans' with the good guys and everyone else as simply being evil.

8.

One of my favorite things is how even some of the most deep-seated of cultural traditions can be taken the wrong way if there's no prior context. For example, I used to freak out relatives by sticking chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice when I was very young. They kept saying I was wishing ill omens of death on us all, and I laughed it off. I still do--certainly not to be disrespectful, but because in my own mind, as Torley, I'm coming from my own culture, a different place.

While a few years may not change the meaning of a word, a few years more might. A favorite example of mine would be the pool that encapsulates "bad" (hi Michael Jackson!), "ill", "sick", and "wicked", among others. If you say someone is wicked nowadays, it doesn't tend to carry a lot of weight, insofar as "the burden of evil" goes.

I have two favorite other examples: Shrek, the ogre, and Deekin, the kobold. Ogres and kobolds, along with orcs and the undead, aren't perceived as being as airy as fairies, but these two individuals are more than comedic token characters.

I am fascinated by hearing of stories about people who are tormented offline with evil and are playing as an evil-associated avatar in the hopes of redeeming and doing good ingame, so that they too may become better as whole people. Online worlds as a metaconfession booth, even. Unfortunately, these tales are hard to come by, and Shawshank Redemption might not make the best MMO (altho it's a fantastic movie), as wonderful as salvation is, so I'm leaving this slot open for the future.

In Second Life, avatar choice is something I take very seriously, and for me, it is extremely reflective of who I am.

9.

I rather see that Blizzard is playing against the grain of the usual alignment of races in its fictions. Blizzard was quite conscious of the (modern) history of orcs as a stock "evil" race when they transformed Warcraft III into a tale of the redemption of the race from the historical, rather than racial, characteristics that aligned it with the demonic.

That is where I think the Warcraft millieu is the most interesting - in its implicit critique of the racist ontology of modern Western family, by which race is moral destiny (the Catholic Tolkein himself struggled with the problem of orc redemption - if orcs were irredeemable, then they lack free will; if they lack free will, then they cannot be damned. Yet he disallows the possibility of orc redemption. In an sense, he could be described as having been caught between two different metaphysics, one of which derived from the British Imperial experience of other cultures, the other derived from Christian moral theology.)

Blizzard went the interesting route of challenging the fantasy-race-as-moral-destiny principle while still leaving in the network of signs by which 'evil' is recognized by humans (or, by the modern West, at least.) If they had simply reversed the formula, and made orcs into poor misunderstood innocents, I think it would have been less interesting. Instead, there are networks - and not monopoles - of ideology within both the horde and the alliance that are compelling.

Remember that both sides are capable of producing warlocks, that magic in the Warcraft fiction has a natural tendency towards the demonic, and that the less destructive alternative - shamanism - is a practice of the Horde. It is not unusual for people I know to identify the Orcs or Taurens as morally prefereable to the industrializing, rationalizing humans and dwarves, to see the latter as suspect, all the while retaining the signs that usually mark the 'good' and the 'evil' (glowing white auras, knighly imagery and white castles for the humans - bone-and-tusk architecture, green skin, and tribalism for the Orcs) in traditional fantasy.

10.

On WoW in specific:

I think you're not giving Blizzard's writers enough credit for being non-simplistic -- and it sounds like you haven't played enough Horde to really know what they're about. One of the things that's been very clear to me as I've played through the game is that neither Alliance nor Horde are fully good or fully evil.

The Undead believe the ends justify the means, and tend to be the ones that most clearly embrace "evil" in the typical evil tropes -- using poisons, consorting with demons, and the like. (But note that the Alliance isn't above using poisons or consorting with demons, either.)

The rest of the Horde, though, is far from evil. The Tauren are peaceful nature-lovers. (As one of my friends jokes, as a young Tauren, you're sent out doing things like "go check in on my mother and make sure you're all right" and "save the animals", whereas as a young Human, you're sent out on a lot of quests to get various people alcohol.) The Orcs are trying to overcome their past as tools of evil, and are consequently concerned about behaving with honor and doing the right thing. The Darkspear Trolls (the only PC trolls) have broken away from the other, evil trolls.

By the way, the Horde races (other than the Forsaken) also have children. There's an orphanage in Orgrimmar and an orphan's day. (The text related to it, by the way, is nearly identical to the Alliance-side text.)

By contrast, there seems to be clear indications that the Alliance is corrupt. Much of the Alliance quests concern their own internal struggles, as well -- consider the Defias, for instance.

The game world benefits from the ambiguity. What it lacks, unfortunately, is a way for players to make meaningful moral choices.

Daedalus, PlayOn, et.al. have shown us that there are quantifiable differences between the way that Alliance and Horde characters behave in-game. Blizzard has, however, tried hard to ensure that all players can see their characters as heroes -- sometimes misguided ones, true, but heroes nonetheless. You'll find that Horde players don't generally think of themselves or their characters as playing evil. If anything, my experience as Horde has been that Horde players pride themselves on being more helpful, friendly, polite, and mature than the Alliance.

11.

Great post, and thought provoking.

First off - Blizzard may not always have intended as such, but by the time Warcraft III came out, the Orcs were by no means intended to be "evil". In fact if anything, the Humans were 'evil' - or in any event tragically flawed, and thus sowing the seeds for their eventual fall at the hands of Arthas, their leader/betrayer.

But back to Orcs - while in WC2 they were stereotypical "kill things rend maim destroy" bad guys, WC3 purposefully made the boundaries vaguer. At the beginning of the game, the Orcs have lost a war and are penned up in reservations/refugee camps (boy howdy, enough latter-day parallels for you?) by an openly racist Alliance occupation force. Their leader, Thrall, doesn't seek to destroy the humans, but to escape from them, and lead his people to his own homeland. A subplot emerges where the daemonic Burning Legion (which are undeniably evil) attempt to subvert the Orcs and lead them back into thralldom and the bestial nature they exhibited in WC2; this is specifically stated to be a Bad Thing and the plot is eventually foiled.

The expansion pack draws this out a bit further; the Orc campaign is actually that of a half-ogre/half-orc (Rexxar, who in WoW wanders Desolace) who fights against human invaders in a foreshadowing of the human/orc conflict in WoW.

So. WoW isn't exactly high drama, but it does have some pretty clear latter-day analogs on the Horde side:

Taurens - Native Americans, from architecture, to a shamanic world view, to the use of rifles on the prarie.

Orcs - Warlike band of until recently homeless refugees, bent on honorable conflict. Kind of a wacky cross between Palestinians and Klingons.

Trolls - Blizzard never really developed trolls beyond "island guys with Jamaican accents".

Undead - Well, this would be the one "evil" race of the Horde (and, really, the entire game). Blizzard tried to write a backstory of the Forsaken as the "good guy independent" Undead, but, well, the backstory in game makes them pretty nasty. Within a few levels you're doing biological experiments on helpless Alliance captives and running fed-ex quests for demons. Yep, evil.

The Alliance backstories pale in comparison; the Humans have their political backstory, the Dwarves and Elves aren't really that well defined, and the Gnomes are played for laughs.

Anyway, I probably take this stuff a bit too seriously, but I can certainly understand a father of a young child not wanting to run around Undercity with his metal-hair Warlock, succubus in tow.

12.

On the issue of roleplaying evil in general:

Search for "roleplaying evil" on Google and you'll find that it's been a much-debated topic in a wide variety of forums, pretty much from the dawn of roleplaying.

The more sophisticated both roleplaying and storytelling in general get, the more gray characters become. This is also a historical cycle, at least in the West -- we cycle between our love of the gray, like Batman, and our love of the black-and-white, like Superman. We seem to currently be in a cycle where love of the gray is dominating, although this may be cycling back. We live in a time of ambiguity, after all, especially in the United States.

I think that it's enormously valuable to have the gray; it lends richness to a setting and to characters. It also means that the player who wants to can think and reflect on what he's doing and the context in which it resides; this is admittedly frustrating in MMORPGs because the outcome has already been predetermined, though, so that moral choice is stripped of its meaning.

There are many complex questions, really. What is the nature of evil? How do people become evil? What means are justified by the ends? Why does evil exist in the world? What are the means of redemption? The flip side questions are interesting as well. What is good? How does one decide between the personal good, the good of the group, the broader common good, and the abstract idea of good? Can good be taken too far? (Ultima V asked this last question magnificently.)

The answers to interesting moral questions are not, and should not be, simple, at least not for adults (or teenagers).

The face-to-face roleplaying games that I run frequently involve rather gray characters, and complex decision-making. What would you do to save your kingdom?

I do think there's a difference, by the way, between roleplaying a genuine sociopath/psychopath who commits vile acts for no reason other than the joy of doing it, and a character who is making difficult decisions because life is presenting him with unpleasant choices. I don't play with people who do the former, and they tend to creep me out. The latter, however, tends to make for fantastic drama.

By the way, your three-year-old is probably going to be scared of the Forsaken, the end, but for an older child, the "ugly" and "frightening-looking" Horde models might be a good place to begin a discussion for "why you shouldn't judge people by just their appearance".

13.

I think people tend to overanalyse things. I think this particular blog entry analyses things past the point where its useful to deeply analyse something. Personally I picked a Horde Undead character because it looked cool.

Maybe that reveals some hidden deep desire, thnking, or motive on my part. But maybe, just maybe, I really did pick a Horde Undead character because it looked cool.

14.

Interesting comments, although I can't say I agree too much with the article itself.

As it has already been said, I don't believe you have allowed yourself to becomes immersed in the story and fiction of WoW. I also disagree with the presumption that those who create an avatar that might more readily be percieved as 'evil' is in fact accepting such morally devoid principles. Most disturbing is the argument that such races such as Orcs and Undead are somehow inherently 'evil'. I reject this wholeheartedly, and I believe this argument stems from an inherent fear of all that is different. (hints of racism and intolerance being causal factors.)

Because a culture identifies with or glorifies warfare, this does not make it automatically 'evil' in nature. For example, anthropologists studied a number of tribes in the pacific islands that engaged in a practice of headhunting - killing others and severing the heads, taking those heads with them. What was considered barbarous activity with no motive other than violence for sport was in fact a part of a very complex belief system, where the taking of heads had spiritual meanings and therefore social consequences (in the positive sense).

Now I'm not suggesting such behaviour is desirable, my point is simply that difference of opinions/cultures/beliefs is not enough, especially academically, to label a side 'good' or 'evil'. Evil in WoW is empitimised by the burning legion, demons who come to devour the world. In them there is no society, no culture, only the goal of ultimate destruction to everyone and everything. Anything else pales in comparison to such a true 'evil'. I highly recommend you take the time to discover the history of Azeroth and the races who make up such a rich world. I also urge you to step back from preconceptions of good and evil, of right and wrong, and be far more objective in your approach.

15.

lsh makes an important point: WoW is (particularly for players new to this kind of game) amazingly good-looking and full of stuff you haven't seen before, and the urge to start dabbling with as much of it as possible is important.

William Huber also makes exactly the point I was going to: that evil in the WoW cosmology is historical rather than genetic. In terms of sheer body count and misery, too, the elves top the list: their first experiments with the arcane gave us the destruction of half a continent, and the high elves' fumbling around after that helped set up for the Burning Legion's return, and now the jury-rigged world tree is very likely to make a fresh catastrophic mess. And they did it all without either civilization-threatening crisis (a la gnomes) or demonic domination (a la orcs) as an excuse.

One more thing about WoW, particularly at the high end: redemption looms large. There's a quest in the Eastern Plaguelands where you set free the souls of Darrowshire soldiers turned into ghouls. It's moving. So is the quest chain from Tirion Fordring to retrieve his son from the Scarlet Crusade. And, on a less epic scale, the gnome warrior Linken and his battle against Blazerunner, which the PCs get to help make possible. And some of the quests in Silithus, to put troubled souls to rest. The list goes and on. Some of these are faction-specific, but many are open to whoever of either side wants to do them. Furthermore, since there are good items attached to many of these as rewards, players are reading through descriptions of redemption and release even when they're not especially paying attention.

16.

I would have to disagree 100% with this viewpoint about the horde and alliance, although I would agree that what one chooses as an avatar in a game does reflect something of that person. in much the same way choosing a car or home or clothes can reflect things.

But really, basing part of htyis arguement off the fact that it scared your 3 year old? Yea thats real sound logic for determining good and evil - base it entirely on looks, sigh. The only real evil I see in the game, as far as characters, are the undead and warlocks, which happen to be on both sides. Humans are good? Doubtful at best - they have just as much built in good and evil as any other race. Night Elves are arrogant and concieted. On the other hand the Taurens are somewhat noble and remind me more of the Amercian Indians. Orcs are a warlike race and got twisted by demons but have their own honor.

You stated "The human race is the only one with children", actually the orc have childred, did you even play any of the horde? There are so many holes and prejudices in your arguement its hard to know where to even begin. It sounds more like being pretty = good, being cultured and advanced (versus a more primitive or savage culture) = good, that because certain races have been stereotyped you should always judge these people by the stereotype.

That because at an interview someone may prejudge your character based on no understanding of what they are judging, and because of this the horde is evil and picking one is evil?

I have read a lot of nonsense online but is certainly at the top of the heap. The only part that has any grounds in reality is a reflection of chosing an avatar. Even that often has little to do with anything.

I first played a Night Elf but by the time I got him to 60 I had found most of the night elf players I met were often jerks who picked them because they were the popular and "pretty class" and similar to the "evil" dark elves of Savatore and AD&D fame.

I then played a human for awhile and then grew bored. So I made an Orc. He is a noble, honorable Orc, and I played him the same way I did an alliance. There was no "evil" wish to play him. Only the undead I consider to be on the evil side. As far as Troll, Orc or Tauren, I choose Orc as I liked how they looked and anyone who has any background on Thrall would know that Orcs are every much as decent as "humans" . In fact, in game or real life, I find many humans to be far less decent then orcs.

Maybe you should stop worryinn about perceived stereotypes and worrying about a 3 year old reacting to a 'scary" graphic and try to get through the "pretty" = "good" syndrome.

17.

In WoW where even the Undead are portrayed as sad, tragic individuals and where the primary activity is grinding, it's not clear much substantial moral play occurs (beyond what individual players make of it). And even in games like GTA, "bad" things are justified and portrayed as good. When you're doing "evil" in a world where everyone else is "evil", you're just a conformist pretending to be rebel :)

Isn't portraying an "evil" character on stage a better example? What does it mean to play a Judas, a Caiphas, or the Devil on stage? Cause playing those roles forces you to actually take on more complex motives, rather than simply stealing grapes from a vineyard in Northshire to help the local drunkard.

But in the same way that the evil step-mother and the fairy godmother in fairy tales are really the same person split into acceptable halves (good and bad mother), and just as we ourselves have good and bad sides, it's not clear this simple division of "good" and "evil" captures what's happening.

Isn't it the people who deny and refuse to understand their dark sides who we really should be afraid of?

My young cousin used to cry when he saw this clown mask in the house. But clowns aren't evil. Oh wait ...

18.

Interesting ideas, but like other commentators I think you're not giving Blizzard enough credit. I think the race lines in WoW are clearly intended to be blurry as to give both sides a chance to be heroes: more often than not this is done by giving you an always-evil third party (scourge, demons) to concern yourself with. Worth noting that almost all of the evil Orcs you'll fight are demonic or possessed, while almost all of the evil Humans you fight are bandits, pirates, or other villains with free will. The orcs have a barbaric, autocratic society, but it has clearly seen enough hardship to temper its people.

Also of interest is the origin of races - the Night Elves, WoW's most frequently referenced "pretty" race, are trolls mutated by the Sun Well thousands of years ago, who persue the relentless destruction of their own, more primal, progenitors (source: Alterac Valley horde collection quests, books in-game).

Early Horde quests also make it fairly clear that the Undead are part of the Horde due to Thrall's insistance - not everyone is happy about it, but the Warchief believes that they deserve the same chance to break free from their shackles as the orcs did. Surely this is an example of charity, of valuing freedom above bloodshed?

I could go on, but it seems fairly clear to me that the Horde cannot simply be labelled "bad".

19.

One element of this is the fact that the words 'troll' and 'orc' and 'undead' have implied evil creatures for as long as those words have been in use in the English language (since the 9th century in the case of 'orc').

On the other hand, the word 'nice' hasn't had a problem changing its meaning completely not once but roughly about five times over every few centuries. It's been co-opted into various slang, many of which I might add, are not more than a decade old, and have wildly different meanings for their own terms.

Definition drift is a wield wildland to cavort in.

===

The problematic core of the argument exists in the question of a duality. Blizzard has clearly formed a Horde vs. Alliance duality, but it has been insistent that this is not a Good vs. Evil duality. The question of alliance with undead creatures, for instance, implies a real-world analogy: should lawyers make deals with criminals in order to put more criminals behind bars? If they do so, are they evil?

Great pains have been made, in various literatures, to show that those often perceived evil are not mere mindless beasts, or cold computer-like masterminds. It's that they are complex beings whose intentions are quite often in the right place, but the problem is that they're not on your side. They're real people, too. One of the most enjoyable features of Warcraft 3 Frozen Throne was the single-player RPG (not RTS) that followed the story of a Beastmaster (Rexxar) who decided to serve Thrall. It was thus that you were able to get a look into the nature of Thrall from a very personal viewpoint, as well as the trolls and the tauren.

One of the most telling pieces of Orc campaign was the blood corruption of Thrall's closest friend, Grom Hellscream, and the best cinematic storytelling was the final stroke when they fought Mannoroth and succeeded in slaying the demon. This was redemption: the same redemption that Luke Skywalker brought his father aboard the Death Star. Who, after all, was the first to listen to Medivh's warning and sail across the Maelstrom? Thrall. Not the King of Lordaeron. Not Arthas. Not the Wizards of Dalamar. The Orc.

None of this makes what they do "right". But it means they aren't evil, at least, not in terms of the mindless roving beasts they're characterized as.

===

Lastly, and most importantly, elves and dwarves weren't exactly stand-up good guys in the lore they were derived from. Elves come primarily from Gaelic/British mythology, being of the faerie, and dwarves from Norse mythology, greedy grubbing forgers of powerful mystical weaponry. In Tolkien, you see a more powerful expression of the concept of Elf, best typified not in Lothlorien Forest, and certainly not in the movie, but in the Silmarillion. Feanor, the Dark Elf, and other notables I've long since forgotten the names of are all, in a particular way, a very morally ambiguous cast. You ought to be aware of that, Ted, with your experience with Shakespeare's Puck, who is an elf.

One of the clearest things that come out of reading The Silmarillion is that everything is supposed to be good, but it never quite works out so well. There is no more evocative message in its text. The only true evil, if you must is Melkor, but is he really evil, or just influenced by the void he spent too much time in? Melkor, too, was originally good, and theoretically would have stayed that way.

Remember that Tolkien didn't make up elves and dwarves, just as he didn't make up orcs and trolls. The mythological is rife with bad associations, which is the entire reason (okay, half the reason, the other half being domination) the Church denounces pagan beliefs. If Tolkien wasn't Christian in some way, shape, or form, we would have been given a very different set of texts as Britain's Tolkien-created mythos.

===

When in want of evil, one never has to look beyond themself.

20.

Oh... this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I'll try very hard not to rant for too long since I *hate* getting into discussions about game specifics; it tends to draw out lengthy comments from Gamers, rather than Game-makers, and I'm very very weary of reading stories about peoples characters, at least in the context of a professional/academic forum.

So onto my comments: I think Ted's opinions are 100% correct. I think his hypothesis is of course less about WoW, or 'Orcs' (in any context) than about the deeper psychological question: What does it say about a persons ethics/moral-fiber/personality if they willingly choose to play an evil character?

Let's set aside all questions about what constitutes an evil character... those are just semantics; let's just assume for the sake of not derailing the discussion too much that whatever the choice (Orcs, Nazi's, Terrorists, etc.) the player makes, *they* associate it with "Evil" in their hearts, and choose to play it.

[OK... in case that wasn't clear enough, here's a quick sidebar about that: Orcs are simply a good starting place since they traditionally represent unmitigated brutish Evil in lots of mythology/literature. If we were to use historical sterotypes for evil, whether it is Nazis/Apache's/Muslim Extremists/(insert someone's idea of a central-casting badguy here), then we all understand these won't be evil to everyone. Too much cultural perspective and baggage. So, as I said, let's take that part it off the table for a minute... the specifics aren't important. Assume for a moment the player *knows* they have chosen "Evil" instead of:
+ "Thought by most to be evil but really noble and misunderstood"
+ "I just want to experience this part of the content"
+ "Orcs have advantages in this game that let me level faster"...

No, assume they just want to roleplay "Evil".

End of sidebar]

I vividly recall Raph Koster's GDC talk about MMOs and griefers where he said; "In the long run, *no one* role-plays". In that room full of 250+ professional MMO operators, everyone was nodding in agreement. Yes, for a time the story 'character' will be roleplayed by the player, but in a very short order, the true character (the player) always comes out. There is a very old saying that goes something like "The true test of character is what someone does when they think no one is watching"

I've covertly studied the behaviors of a *lot* of players in virtual worlds (through the virtue of having operated several big games for publishers), and my empirical observations tell me that if a player chooses to 'roleplay' an evil character, the chances strong that they will be a problem customer who wrecks the experience for others. My not-quite-as-empirical conclusions are pretty simple too; If this is the role a player willingly chooses, chances are pretty good that they've got some personality issues.
I've had players tell me things like "Oh, I play an evil dark-elf assassin who is a relentless homocidical killer, but I'm just role playing... I'm really nice in real life"... guess what? They are wrong; they are jerks in real life too. It's very very simple: If they are an a**hole in a virtual world, they are likely one in RL too. What does this say about someone who willingly chooses Evil over Virtue? It's not that hard to figure out, IMHO.

Someday I hope that EA will openly publish some of their studies about the players of The SimsOnline. The truly frightening percentage of players who engaged in deviant, aberrant behaviors (when they thought no one was watching...); I shudder. Yet somehow, despite all of this, I'm still optimistic about people. :-) I guess my response has been to simply try and make virtual worlds which encourage/reward positive social behaviors.

So... these are just my opinions, but I will offer that they are backed up by seventeen years of making games professionally (not in my garage) and they are based on closely studying tens of thousands of players in about five large (~100k+) MMOs and several dozen smaller ones.

21.

BTW, The discussions about ethics in 'grey' circumstances are fascinating, and worthy of design discussions in their own right... but I don't think WoW (or any other virtual world with a substantial population) are specifically trying to let players explore those issues as a design goal. No, it's traditionally about a bunch of 23 year old guys saying "Dude, wouldn't it be cool if you could play Orcs too?!" and the artists thinking "Yeah, that would be awesome because I've always wanted to work with Clive Barker but I have to make game art instead". The deeper considerations of these design choices aren't discussed too much because they're too busy talking about where to grab a few brewskis after work. This is why we have games like GTA.

(LOL... with a nod to Mike Sellers infamous T-Shirt idea: "I make games... but I'm not bitter")


22.

And after reading M. Steele's post, I feel chagrined about my reaction, and felt I had to say so. Maybe I'll contribute something more pertinent later. Right now, Xmas Eve obligatory dinner, so my academic penchants must needs be set aside for sociological observance of actors under the guidance of multiple cross-cultural traditions in a melting pot format. And food.

23.

I vividly recall Raph Koster's GDC talk about MMOs and griefers where he said; "In the long run, *no one* role-plays". In that room full of 250+ professional MMO operators, everyone was nodding in agreement. Yes, for a time the story 'character' will be roleplayed by the player, but in a very short order, the true character (the player) always comes out. There is a very old saying that goes something like "The true test of character is what someone does when they think no one is watching"

This really reminds me of something I saw today that I can't quite get out of my head, which is tangentially relevant to the post.

Here i was playing WoW, hear about an attack in Elwynn Forest (The Human starting area) I head over to see what's going on, as I HATE griefers. Find out it's a lvl 4 Tauren basically there joy riding. Not so bad, I equip my fishing pole and smack him about. There are a few other players there doing similar things. This goes on for a few minutes and then I realize he's just trying to get away. I stop attacking the others keep at it. Eventually they push him back to the grave yard and he spawns and the mow him down, even when he emotes 'no' and tries to hug us. They probably let him rez and die twenty times. I got to the point I was arguing with these people, almost begging them to just let him go.

What disturbed me most was when one said: "He's Horde, we kill him." He was a player, a human being. My own little view on in-game war crimes...

To more directly address the post: Yes, I agree. I tend to play Taurens and Night Elves, because they're the most tree-huugerish races in the game, the ones that I can identify with. I've tried out other races, but keep coming back to these two. I think the test shouldn't be 'What do we choose to be when we know the lore of the game?' You need to ask, 'What do we choose to be when we know very little?' In that light I think there's not just a significance to choice in race, but also choice in class. (Are all Tauren/NE Treehugging Druids really Greenies in RL?)

24.

I don't disagree that these spaces are extensions of real-world meanings, of histories and hermeneutics and much else besides.

But then I guess I take the position on World of Warcraft's fiction that I would take on any fiction: that it is an interesting, salutary exercise to ask how something looks from the perspective of the "bad guys". In fact, this is a classic exercise of the imagination, the creative version of doing 100 jumping jacks.

There are fictions like Tolkien's which essentially forbid such investigations: orcs are orcs. When those fictions are in less confident or more derivative hands--say, like Eddings--they start to look pretty ugly, in fact, close to something like a mythogrified racism. Even in Tolkien's fiction, there might be a "Paradise Lost" narrative that could be offered: how does Eru's creation look to Morgoth/Melkor? What's his version of the story? Tolkien isn't just uninterested in that question, he actively forecloses it. You could say that's a virtue of his fiction or ultimately a shortcoming, the thing that makes it a kind of greasy kids-stuff compared even in the fantasy domain to Martin or Mieville or Pullman etc. I'm agnostic on that particular argument, but I can't imagine arguing that a fiction where evil is evil is evil is by definition eternally and permanently preferable, that there is never any virtue to playing with viewpoint or perspective.

So equally so in games. World of Warcraft takes the established visual and textual signifiers of evil in most generically Tolkienesque fantasies and tries to unsettle them vaguely (Blizzard's been doing this with this franchise from the beginning). I see no reason why one should not play along with that.

There's also the performativity question here. Why do most actors chew up far more scenery when they play evil characters? That's easy: evil is far more interesting within the conventional terms of drama. Antagonists are what make drama happen, by and large (either that or flawed protagonists). In a conventional MMOG, most of the things that make drama don't exist: there's no real stakes, no real consequences, no permanence in the world, just in the characters. From a pure performance standpoint, evil, or at least "evil-looking", is as much fun as "good".

There's a deeper thing here, too. I take as a given in the real world that one always has an ethnographic responsibility to investigate sympathetically why people do what they do, even people you judge negatively. I can't imagine just writing anybody off in the world as "evil" in a simple way; less so an imaginative universe that I play in.

(As an aside, my four-year old finds undead cannibalism kind of amusing. It's lead to some...complicated...conversations. The cartoonishness of the World of Warcraft universe helps a lot: if we were playing undead in a George Romero MMOG, it obviously wouldn't be at all amusing.)

(As an additional aside: as Horde, I find I hate Alliance far more than I hated Horde as an Alliance player. That's partly because, having played both sides, I'd say that fairly consistently Alliance players are much nastier on a PvP server to their opponents. More smug as well. This raises questions for your argument: if Alliance signifies "good", why doesn't it enforce or occasion performances which match that signification?)

25.

WoW is a poor example, if you want to talk about why people choose to play 'evil' characters. Spending a few seconds reading the lore of the game world will show you that the motivations of all the races in Azeroth are not simplistic, black & white stereotypes based on their race.

There are regular debates over whether the Forsaken (undead) are even evil, or whether their undeath has changed their morality to the point where they can't relate to 'living' values anymore. You can't look at a Tauren and say they are 'evil' simply because they look like beasts. It seems to me that your view is the immature Disneyfied opinion that anything ugly = bad and pretty= good. And you're judging the Horde based on the fact that they don't look like you, so they must be monsters.

26.

P.S. And saying that because orcs, trolls, minotaurs, etc. were traditionally considered 'bad' hundreds and hundreds of years ago automatically means any story with them in it HAS to cast them as evil, is also disappointingly narrow-minded. Blizzard has chosen to use these races in their lore to highlight the moral of 'don't judge a book by its cover' and also the fact that NO one race has a monopoly on righteousness and 'good'. And that cultural differences and past vendettas do not have to color the destiny of anyone, orc OR human.

27.

Michael Steele> Assume for a moment the player *knows* they have chosen "Evil"

I think this is the pivotal premise which to me Ted's arguments do not establish. Randy's point that some (e.g. casual gamers) might choose to turn this choice into a choice between evil and good certainly is true, but it those feel like individual choices using external frames of reference that do not generalize to all players.

Personally, I'm also a bit alarmed by discussion which breezily moves between choice of playing Horde in WoW versus online deviant behavior. The problem with this sort of careless fudge is some nut is going to read this and then decide one is an indicator of the other.

28.

First off about the Horde being evil... well, according to the lore it was the humans that broke the truce with the orcs and it was the Night Elves that unleashed the Burning Legion on the world. The Tauren are, according to the lore a very peaceful tribal people, and they befriended the Orcs because Thrall proved himself to be honourable. The undead were formerly humans, long dead, that were raised by the Burning Legion as slaves.

Now we come to a deeper question, one that has been discussed in philosophy forever... What constitutes good and evil? It is entirely subjective and depends on the point of view of the parties involved. For example, a human being that eats human flesh, or drinks human blood may be considered at worst evil, at least mentally unstable. Are sharks and lions and other apex predators evil because they will kill and sometimes eat the young of rival males? Are leaches and vampire bats evil because they drink blood to survive?

29.

Some cannibalistic cultures eat the flesh of deceased family as a way to connect with their lost loved ones... they eat the flesh of their enemies to absorb the qualities of admirable foes.

Whereas we could argue over the 'rightness' of such practices, only a bigot could call such people 'evil' as their intent is not from some sociopathic tendency, but from a generations-old spiritual tradition.

And I won't deny this entire thesis about why people choose evil or good avatars in games, its a very interesting subject. WoW is just the wrong game to hold up as an example of such moral absolutes in its factions, because it does not paint its two factions so simplistically as 'good side' and 'bad side'. The factions in WoW are socially and poilitically at odds sometimes, they have a history of racial tensions and conflicts between each other, and neither side has always done the right and honorable thing.

Night Elves' lust for power sundered the world and let demons into the world, orcs sold their souls in the pursuit of the glory of conquest only to also lose their cultural heritage, which they are only now re-discovering, the humans abused the defeated Orcs, enslaving and punishing the children of their enemies for a hundred-year's past grudge, even after the orcs turned away from wanton bloodshed, the Dwarves defile sacred lands of the Tauren and call these people 'bull men' as if they were animals, not a intelligent people, in the pursuit of their own archaeological pursuits, etc.

Both factions have their ugly side, and their noble side. Neither side is presented as having the monopoly on 'goodness'. Only the most ignorant of players who barely bothers to even glance at the story of Warcraft could make such an assumption.

30.

P.S. And Blizzard has said many times, they -purposely- tried to subvert the traditional roles their fantasy races played. Night Elves are Dark Elves (traditionally evil), only Blizzard's are good, while their traditional 'High Elves' are the twisted, corrupt side... same for the Orcs being more than just cannon-fodder 'monsters' for humans to fight.

So the reasoning that in western culture, the Horde races are evil because their mythological counterparts were originally such, holds no leeway with Blizzard's portrayals of these factions.

31.

Ultimately, all the different factions have one of their first few missions be "there's some folks of another species; kill them". I got over this, as this is just a fantasy trope, and just a factor of gameplay, etc. But still: Horde vs Alliance is far from a evil/good split. Indeed, I feel more wary of people playing Alliance and consciously playing out violent acts and considering it fully good; whereas with the Horde, I feel more comfortably that I'm playing to some morally grey territory.

But beyond this example, there's still the important point. What's going on there when someone chooses an avatar that's capable of "evil" acts? More importantly, when they pursue evil acts? And I think Lydia says it best:

"What it lacks, unfortunately, is a way for players to make meaningful moral choices."

The ability to make a meaningful moral statement allows you to play a "evil" role self-consciously and meaningfully (like a tragic hero or flawed villain) rather than just enjoying some cruel activity.

I've seen this come up a bit in pen-and-paper RPGs, with which I am more familiar. It takes more effort to provide moral scenarios where the players are actually making a moral statement, rather than just letting them coast through morally problematic territory with the excuse that "it's only a game"/"it's only my character".

32.

First off ...it's a game, there is no moral choice made when choosing an avatar... it's a game, nothing more, if you believe otherwise go work for Jack Thompson :)

Anyone who believes the Horde are evil has a simplistic view of the WoW universe or simply doesn't know their WoW Lore.

I'd highly recommend the following pieces of educational reading in that regard:

http://www.wow-europe.com/en/info/story/
http://www.cesspit.net/drupal/node/967
http://wowvault.ign.com/View.php?view=Totw.Detail&id=33

The Horde are not evil, It's a fact of Warcraft Lore.

To equate "ugly" with evil is a typically human failing / prejudice, sadly even in the real world.


33.

I think others have covered the "orcs aren't actually evil" part of this discussion well enough. What bothers me is the racist tone that implies that because the *race* of my character is considered evil, my character must therefore be evil as well.

I play an orc warlock, only one step away from the most evil combination present in the game, but the way I define the character in my head, and the way I play him, does not match the flavor text for every other warlock in existence. He is sacrificing his own body, perhaps his mortal soul, to wrestle with demons in order to harness their power for the good for the orc people. While possibly misguided, his intentions are not evil and his nature is noble and self-sacrificing. Why must every character from an "evil" or "good" race have the same motivations and the same backstory?

Few would call Thrall's actions evil, while few would argue that Arthas' actions were not eventually so. The grey introduced into the racial alignments stems from the fact that every character, pc and npc, is not a carbon copy of a one-paragraph racial description. One could play an orc to be savage and bloodthirsty or to be noble and saddened by the necessity of bloodshed. Just as a human could be motivated by love of his family and country or a desire for the wealth and power brought on by fighting monsters.

And there are opportunities (aside from the obvious pc to pc interaction) to exert this during the game. I loved acting as a double agent with the evil warlocks bent on the horde's destruction, but I point blank refused the quest from the undead who wanted me to poison a farmer's innocent dog. In fact, the first site of the apothecarium in Undercity filled me (in character) with such revulsion that I still desire to enslave Varimathras and raze the place.

And yet even the undead have room for more diverse motivations. Beyond their evil plots of poisoning there is a strong desire to be free, and an internal hatred of their current state and those who caused it. Just because the race at large has not yet been redeemed does not mean an individual cannot strive for redemption. Just as nothing prevents a night elf rogue from stealthing into Orgrimmar and slaughtering every child in the orphanage. The player determines the alignment of his character through his actions, not the creation screen.

34.

The flaw with fantasy is how every world has a different outlook on creatures such as orcs, trolls, dwarves, etc. To claim that the entire Horde is evil isn't true, only because of the story behind these races. In fact, the most horrifying, prejudice race has been the humans in the series, for it was a human (Medivh) who unleashed the orcs upon Azaroth (who were at the time enthralled by the demons of the Burning Legion) and the humans who banished people for what they felt was different. The current orcs of WoW, led by their valiant leader, Thrall, aren't as savage as they once were. In fact, some orcs tend to be more humane than the humans themselves. The Forsaken do infact have an evil twist to them, but you must look beyond the obviouse taint. They did not choose to become undead, and becoming Forsaken drove them away from the even darker plans of the Lich King. They are bitter and hateful only due to their forced state of life. The Taurens are a very tribal race who love their land, and wish to protect it. The Trolls are the outcast of their own people, and because of Thrall's compasion, they were able to find a home amoung the Horde. If you wish to get even more technical though, there is a certain class that pertains to being evil, and that is Warlock. Warlock's, either Horde or Alliance, summon and use demons and dark fel energy to twist reality for their own desires.
The biggest issue of them all is the definition of evil. Though the humans view the orcs past-time lust for war as evil, the orcs view it as a natural calling. When the orcs arrived on the home land of the Night Elves, they cut down their trees in order to create shelters, and the Night Elves viewed these desecrations as an act of evil. The biggest mistake people tend to make is to apply their own morals and beleifs into a role-playing situation. Though the rules of the orcs or the night elves may not apply in the real-world, it does not mean that the real-world should apply to a fantasy one. When I choose to play something that most would consider evil, I do it for the role-playing experience. I love to act out characters who fell to the darkness, or who have overcome their hatred to seek the light. Playing an evil character does not imply that the said player has such tendecy's to do wrong, unless they have a weak concept of what is real and what is not.
But this is just my own opinion, and we're all entitled to our own. Thank you for this article.

35.

The notion of evil itself is rediculous. It is all based on the current beliefs of the time. Every action has it's motivations and those motivations are justified by the person who is taking those actions. The notiion of evil itself it simply the misunderstanding of another's motivations.

When I choose a character, I don't choose it because I enjoy the mythology behind it, it is because it is statistically a good choice for that class.

I only play undead PC's, not because I enjoy the "evil" lore behind that race. It is because I enjoy the benefits of that race. The ability to break fear at will is invaluable in a pvp situation. When I click the cannibalize button, it is not becuase I "enjoy" watching my character eat the flesh of other things(although we eat other animals and that is not considered evil, why should an undead eating another dead creature be considered morally reprehensible), it is because I regenerate 7% of my life every 2 seconds and it saves me money I would have to spend on food(in fact it is more effective than food on my warrior). I enjoy the ability to swim underwater for long periods of time.

All in all you guys are thinking way too deep into this. The majority of people I play with pick their races because a)they look cool b)they have a nice racial trait c)it was the only race that allowed this class.

36.

It is all about perspective. From the Horde's perspective, the Alliance is "evil". Of course the other side is going to call their enemies "evil", to not do so is counter-productive to their cause. Are Germans "evil" because of World War II? No, they fought for what they believed in, which differ from other's thoughts. Are terrorist "evil" because of their actions that they take? No, they perform the actions they believe will bring them closer to their goal. "Good" and "evil" does not exist, only "winner" and "loser". And, as shown in past, history is written by the winners.

37.

Remember that Tolkien didn't make up elves and dwarves, just as he didn't make up orcs and trolls. The mythological is rife with bad associations, which is the entire reason (okay, half the reason, the other half being domination) the Church denounces pagan beliefs. If Tolkien wasn't Christian in some way, shape, or form, we would have been given a very different set of texts as Britain's Tolkien-created mythos.

I want to call attention to something that Tolkein introduces that does not pre-exist him in fantastic literature: he introduces "anthro"pological modes into his discussion of the races, reframing orcs, elves, dwarves and such as the objects of the kind of disciplinary knowledge of the modern academy - and then ascribing various moral-historical values to it. Modern heroic fantasy is largely dominated by this mode still, to explain the world of fantastic fiction in categories of contemporary understanding (anthropology, economics, sociology, even aesthetics and history) in a way that would have been deeply foreign to the narratives which long addressed things like orcs, elves and such.

This introduces a broad number of issues - it relates, I believe, to the emergence of race as a category in modern discourse, since differences marked as racial and cultural were subsumed under these disciplines in the 19th and 20th centuries.

38.

This whole discussion reminds me of another avatar scheme as described by Piers Anthony in his phenomenal novel about virtual worlds, Killobyte.

His fictional game Killobyte takes a distinctly moral standpoint on avatar selection- there are no alternate races or even terribly many character avatar models to choose from. Rather the game is broken up primarily by gender, with three male and three female avatar choices. The choices for males are True blue, Joe blow, and Dodoo, and likewise for females Royal lady, lone woman, and bad girl. The breakdown goes as one might except, with the most attractive archetypes being the top ones yet the attractive ones also being the most limited in their gameplay options. For example, there is an instance where a character playing "True blue" would not be able to lie- the game maintained a database of relevant facts and fact-checked each statement the character made relative to that to see if it was truthful or not.

So how does a system like that compare to the more loosely defined system in WoW? Should there be some enforcing factor to force characters to act more "evil" or "good" depending on the archetype they have chosen? Would we want to play in a world like that one?

39.

Good and Evil are purely relative terms
the one on the right is larger>
<. or o> now the one that was small is now large. therefore is now both large and small.
Morality is measured In the same. I am more moral than a serial killer yet less moral than a person of faith. i am both good and evil."In every good there is evil, in every evil there is good" the idea of yin and yang.So no horde race is evil.they are merely following there programming as do lions. Would you begrudge a lion his antelope merely because your morals are higher? A undead eating a corpse is amoral compared to a paladin yet moral compared to a monster who attackls anything is sees. ie. every red mob.

40.

1: Warcraft is a fictional place created by Chris Metzen. Orcs, being a fictional being have no real being and there fore can not be described in any one fashion effeciently.

2: Evil and Good are merely concepts told from a different point of view, to the victor goes the spoils, and with such the history books are written to their style. Much as the spanish-american war to the culture of Mexico was nothing more than needless bloodshed, to America it was the betterment of the country.

3: The orcs have children, Gorona, child of a human and an orc. They also have the children's days that alliance has.

4: The alliance with the undead is hardly because the orcs want to. If you were familiar with warcraft lore you would know that the undead we play as are beings that have fought an inner battle to free themselves from the bond of the Lich King, and the Scourge of Arthas. They follow a being of immense power that was the first to break control, Lady Sylvannas. Also, if you don't skip through quest text you will notice any undead not directly affiliated with Lady Sylvannas has no more concern about what's going on with the world. Only what affects themselves. This is known as self reliant. The undead fight to be so. Lady Sylvannas fights to have the undead eliminate all life. After all, if you believe in ghosts, they have something that keeps them clinging to this world, much like the Garrets in the Undercity.

5: Savagery and honor can be one in the same. Look at many native american cultures, "savage."
Now you call any native american's ways "savage" and see if you don't get a: beat down, or b: a tomohawk to the forehead.

END

41.

The bottom line is that people have to be consistent. If one argues that virtual worlds can be more real than the real world, one can't also argue that playing an "evil" race is no reflection on one's own personality.

If you spend 40 hours per week raping, pillaging, and inflicting harm on others, you are a bad person, period.

42.

Michelle Steele> I vividly recall Raph Koster's GDC talk about MMOs and griefers where he said; "In the long run, *no one* role-plays". In that room full of 250+ professional MMO operators, everyone was nodding in agreement. Yes, for a time the story 'character' will be roleplayed by the player, but in a very short order, the true character (the player) always comes out. There is a very old saying that goes something like "The true test of character is what someone does when they think no one is watching"<

That’s not my experience in Role-playing at all. I think your story just illustrates what I have always suspected, professional MMO operators have little understanding of role-playing, at least as I would practice it. In the early days of EQ, when there were still a few role-players around, people playing “evil” Night Elves would establish on OOC back channel with the player of the character they were slanging off IC. The Players could admire each others Roleplay skills while the characters were going at it hammer and tongs. It is the ability of both Players to separate character from Player, and take care of one while attacking the other, that makes for good “evil” roleplay. This is quite different from the jerk who uses “roleplaying evil” to excuse griefing.

I’m not a big fan of the “true character” theory. As I see it, humans are complex being with many different behaviours that come out in different contexts. The behaviours you see in private are not the “true character”, they are simply “behaviours people do in private”. Something would be lost in the range of what it is to be human if all our actions were public. Which is why most MMO operators at least claim to give some privacy to actions in their world. And why posting screenshots of conversations is often controversial. There are good reasons for keeping some behaviours private.

43.

You sir, have completely lost it. Blizzard said themselves none of the Horde races are evil, and its their game meaning it's their lore. Your son's fears give no meritable point. The way you speak, I think your crazy.

44.

We have, at minimum, two options to discuss, and determine which more accurately represents the current state of affairs: 1) the Horde are evil and 2) the Horde are not evil.

Well, what the hell is evil, anyway? We need to have some definition of the word in order to come to any defensible conclusion. The most pertinent and useful definition offered by dictionary.com on this matter is "Causing ruin, injury, or pain; harmful" (this is the second definition. The first is "morally bad or wrong; wicked" which simply complicates the definition game more).

Alright, we have a definition. Do the actions of the Horde as a whole match up to this? We will discount that Orcs, Trolls and Undead tap into centuries old villainous tropes. Tauren are notable in that they can only be called evil by association. There are no racially specific quests, abilities or other content elements to denote them as evil. One exception that can be made is that numerous Tauren quests involve hampering and destroying archaelogical efforts made by the Dwarves, which can be construed as evil if you hold that the Alliance is good. Orcs, and Trolls to a lesser degree, are belligerent and fierce, which is evil for people on the wrong side of the axe. I don't know too much about either in specific, but it would appear that both are races who are of FIGHTING BLOOD, which makes sense given the source material of World of Warcraft. This can be construed as evil, as it is injurious to the people they get caught up in fights with, especially if the Orcs and Trolls serve as the aggressors. I do not know of any Blizzard created content where the Orcs are the aggressors. The Undead are the first race that can be called, on a whole, evil. They routinely perform vicious experiments to develop a superepidemic to bolster their numbers and allow them to defeat their hated Global Oppressors. Corpses of the world, Unite! I can only conclude that the Horde is morally ambiguous.

In terms of player actions, the field is far more diverse. The Horde does a great deal of terrible things to poor, little Alliance players. Likewise, the Alliance does horrible things to those Hordovians. Ganking, assassinations, eternal warfare (see: Tarren Mill), and conducting total war through your enemy's hometown.

My opinion? World of Warcraft was constructed to be systemically brutal, a world now alien to us but our European cousins from as recently as 400 years ago would have easily recognized. It is naive to discuss the game in terms of good and evil so flatly. If one could perform a moral calculus, the qualities of both factions would more or less average out, most likely with the Horde being more evil due to the extreme outlier of the Undead.

And maybe it's me, but I think that's going to be the natural result of any world where your primary form of mechanical interaction with it is to hurt things.

The Wondersaurus Fantabulorus
(For the record, my favorite race is the Undead. They look cool, breath through their ears, and RAWK when dancing. I never terribly liked the New Plague quests, but free stuff and I bring no actual change to the worldstate.)

45.

Rope a dope. Haha. No really, think about these things in wider contexts and a little more in depth next time. Ciao

46.

Ted,

You've taken a far too simplistic view of WoW having ignored the entire backstory of Azeroth. The Horde are no more evil than the Alliance and vice versa. Anyone who has bothered to read the written history of the game world will discover that the stories of each race (with the exceptions of the Trolls and Gnomes) deal in various shades of grey, each race dealing with their internal struggles for what IT consider right and wrong.

I consider the races of WoW an intersting analogy for our own struggles .....

Is the Muslim religion any more evil than the Christian religion? Look at the attrocities Christianity have foisted upon itself and the Muslim nations over history in the name of God and what it considers right: the Crusades, Evangelism, the KKK, the Spanish Inquisituion, McDonalds ... the list goes on. And in the same way extremist Muslims have interpreted the Koran to perform clearly evil acts upon Christians in the name of Allah. But does that make either religion evil. Only someone thinking in two dimensional black and white terms would say YES.

Look more deeply. Don't look upon the purely Black and White. Each person is capable of performing good and evil acts, no matter what side they choose. Judge the person ... not the race/faction.

47.

A really interesting topic and debate, although I kinda wish we could separate it out into the two topics that are now being hashed:

1. Is the choice of avatar (and, by extension, other play choices made in a cooperative online game) a reflection of the morals of the player?

2. Does the morality of a game system in any way reflect or impact the morality of the real world?

The specific debate about whether or not Orcs in WoW are more or less evil than humans is, I think, while interesting to players of WoW... not really the big issue. I played both sides in WoW and found really "good" and really "evil" players in both factions. Yes, Horde animations are scarier. As has been (intelligently) pointed out, ugly does not equal evil, and that's a good lesson.

Whether or not Orcs are evil, though, isn't really Ted's question. The question, is...

What does it mean when I choose to engage in fictional, evil activities?

Before we can answer that question, we have to probe deeper and ask the question: what the heck constitutes evil in a fictional world?

I will put aside issues of griefing -- that's not within the fictional world, but is "real world evil" that happens to take place in the game world. If you were playing WoW when I came up behind you and hit you on the head with a frying pan... well, that's some pretty extreme grief. But it's not behind the fourth wall.

But while role-playing... while staying in character... what does it mean to "be evil" or "be good?"

Does it mean that the character must do those things which we would proscribe in real life? I think not. If so, we'd only ever be able to play The Sims, and then only as our own best selves, and I'd rather peel apples and watch them turn brown than play that game. That's what I'd call the Highest Fictional Moral Extreme -- the idea that you expect your character to do nothing that you wouldn't yourself do, under any circumstance, in real life.

Then there's the Lowest Fictional Moral Abyss -- because it's a game, as long as I stay in character and don't grief, I can do anything. If you are playing an evil character, anything goes. Anything. Period.

As a role player and GM/DM of almost 30 years, I know that the balance between these two presents possibilities for lots of fun, learning, drama... and stress. Because we do think about those things that are outside our daily ken, and apply our own moral compass to weird, funky and fabulous situations.

I've played highly moral characters in "traditional" moral situations, highly immoral characters, and ones with "different" moralities. All good ways to explore philosophical questions about what morality is, the boundaries of ethics vs. cultural behaviors, etc. For example, in one long pen-and-paper series I was involved with, a particular race had very high regard for assassination as a method of realpolitik, but thought that the idea of war was absurd, insane and amoral. Killing a business or political rival -- within a set of strict rules -- was highly moral behavior. Those who excelled at it were considered wise, strong and to be trusted, as they could protect themselves, their families and friends. Those who couldn't... got theyselves kilt. Nuff said.

If you are truly roleplaying -- for the same joy that we authors and actors get from taking on the lives of others -- than considerations of self, including morality, aren't as important as considerations of story. If you are playing a game -- for whatever reason -- and it includes elements of roleplaying, and you are going to roleplay -- do it. Don't type words like "kewl," don't call me, "dude" and I don't want to know you're from Seattle. If your backstory makes you into a bad guy... be bad. If good, good. The play's the thing. If that's the case, and you choose to game, pick a character, get into the role, and make choices based on *his/her* morality. Not yours.

That's the whole point. Same as when you write or act. You're not you, Ted. That's what you can tell your kid and your audiences. That's what authors/actors do. Is Brad Pitt upset morally about the rolls he's played? Did T.S. Elliot wring-his-hands because the world he described was one of terror and darkness. Nope. It is, of a purpose, a different world. They're not your choices.

But... question 2...

Just like we had a moral high and low mark for how much we want our character to resemble our own ethical behaviors, we have to decide how *important* it is that morality in games be in any way linked to real world morality. If they aren't linked at all, then all you need to do is make in-game decisions that are based on concepts like fun, art, play, pacing, character development, etc. They are "craft" decisions. That's the low-rung. The idea that there can be no cross-over between game morality and real life morality.

The ultra-high-rung of the morality ladder is that we shouldn't be playing games at all.

Wha-tha-fuh?

Yep. Put down the mouse and the joystick and go do something productive. Whatever you do in-game, no matter how good or bad, cannot have as morally relevant an effect as donating that time to Make-a-Wish or visiting your grandpa in the retirement home.

It's not real, folks. It's entertainment. It's fiction. It's shared story. But you knew that...

As did I. And I'm being a pain and a kill-joy on purpose to make a point; that in a shared, fictional, leisure-based activity, morality will be highly selective, arbitrary and flexible.

In real life, killing somebody is almost always very, very bad. There are exceptions, of course, but they are highly specific.

In MMORPGs? We kill more than we chill. That's the whole point, eh? Animals, monsters, other characters, other races... kill, kill, kill, veins in our teeth, burnt black flesh. All the time, no waiting, walk right this way, here's your weapon. That's why we play, why we level, why we guild, why we loot. To be better killers. Period.

In the middle of a game based purely on killin'... you wanna argue about the moral relativity of a chunk of greyish-green pixels vs. a chunk of pinkish-white pixels? Ya boonch a wee girls... Git yer axes sharpened and git oot a' tha field a' blood!

Sorry... death talk makes me come over all Scottish.

Anyway... if the game, to me, is just a game, as some on this post have (rightly, for their leisure choice) said... morality don't enter into it. It's for fun. And since the game need not have any moral implications in their lives, there is, in fact, no moral difference between playing -- and playing really well -- the most immoral undead warlock in WoW and sitting around reading Little House on the Prairie Books. That's what leisure activities are for; having fun.

On the other extreme, if you are playing the game in order to find stuff out about your own morality, or to teach your young son about moral choices... whoops. You got some thinking to do. Not a bad thing, but a hard thing. I know actors, to again use this comparison, who have turned down roles that they felt would comprimise their own morality in order to play well; i.e., it would be "bad for them" to get into that character.

Why do we game? Why do *you* game? These are the questions you need to ask before wondering about the morality connected to the activity. If it's just for fun... the same actions will have a much different flavor than if you game because you hope to learn something, meet new friends and gain real experience from your time.

48.

To continue along the same thread as Watson, since I think he/she has this by the tail:

The parading around of terms like "Good" and "Evil" is inherently disigenious. Are all things/people/places/actions either good or un-good?

The words Good and Evil are as linguistically and morally convenient as they are powereful in their generality. They are a gloss over subtlety, and do little to further real understanding of the nature of things. They are more often than not the tools of propaganda: a judgement made, a point to prove.

Is it valid to judge someone by their choice of faction in WoW? Well, perhaps, but I don't think you'll find any remotely conclusive answers.

To get yourself all tied up about whether chosing a side when playing a game somehow shows off some darker aspect of your moral fibre is taking things a bit far. You might as well ask if playing black or white in a game of chess displays something of a person's nature....even if your three year old son is afraid of the black pieces----as a child I thought the black pieces of a set my parents had looked terribly sinister. Were they? Was my uncle (even somewhat) "evil" for almost exclusively playing black?

Speaking of childhood, who was "evil" when playing cowboys and indians?
Depends on how well you know your American history (and who wrote it). Regardless, even a child's choice of sides doesn't amount to much as they probably have a multitude of reasons that have little to do with morals.

"They are a place where we can hear a faint echo of things unconscious, even mystical."

I think you have a point here, but you'd be better served by examining how people *behave towards other players* when donning their masks of anonymity, not their choice of masks (nor, if the masks are complex, the innate behaviour of the mask e.g. undead).

49.

I play a Orc Warlock... I try to be good...

In regards to the person who talked about head hunters and not evil. What do you call evil?

I remember hearing from some old missionaries (who had worked in Papau N.G.) about the difference in the people from areas effected by Christianty.

Those from the christian areas were much more friendly, smiled more.

Those who were closer to their head hunting past were shiftier, quieter and less friendly. What they considered very clever was to sleep with someone elses wife with out them finding out. In fact anything you could get away with theft, lies, adultery were all considered great acts. Unless you got caught. "It is only wrong if you get caught" was there attitude.

To me that way of living is evil.

50.

Being a griefer (being evil) and looking "evil" are two seperate things.

Many Halloween costumes will scare 3 year olds. Is Halloween evil? Are people who dress up in scary clothes on Halloween evil?

51.

I'm sorry that I can't write a really long review like I should, but I'd like to point out: Orcs don't go round starting wars on purpose (it was the demonistic influences in their blood) and that there -ARE- Horde children in the game. Not only that but they care about their kids, as seen in Orgrimmar (The Horde Orphanage is located in the Valley of Honour). There are farms in the Barrens where Orc children and parents take care of level 3 critters (swine), but the best point is in the quests. In a Durotar Quest outside Orgrimmar, a mother is distraught over her lost son who stormed out of the house in a hurry to hunt Crockolisks. When you return with proof of his demise, there is a rather emotional quest log.

I'm an Undead rogue, but my avatar takes honour in it. He didn't choose to wake up rotting, he didn't go and make war on humans who are trying to invade his homecity. The Scarlet Crusade attacks level 60 human paladins, and level 5 Undead rogues.

52.

not to be too at length here, but just this. the act of choosing horde doesn't necessarily reflect a choice of an evil character. orcs were under control from evil forces and now in a shitty situation. you could consider taurens to be the only good guys and the alliance to be like the empirical conquering belligerent USA. Undead are the saddest race in the game. none or at least most of them never chose to be undead. trolls, well, they can be mean alright, but what can you do when everybody keeps kicking your ass when you're on your own.

anyway, I don't really think faction choice reflects good or bad person. I think actions in game reflect your assholish tendencies more than anything. ganking greys for example is an assholish act. and alliance and horde do this equally. so both sides are permiated with this.

horde also tend to think of themselves as better players. neither have I observed this be true. It's amazing how many shamans out there don't carry ankhs, and that is just sad.

anyway, yeah. i disagree with OP

53.

Suppose we accept the stipulation that players are entirely ignorant of the backstory for various races when creating their avatar, and we also accept (for argument's sake) that a fantasy/mythology-ignorant individual would infer that orcs, trolls, tauren, and undead are evil while humans, dwarfs, elves, and gnomes are good.

What I am interested in are the moral implications of choosing a character because you believe it is one of the "good guys" by virtue of its race.

Can this be a sound rationale?

Should we examine whether, accordingly, players who choose to play humans are, on the whole, perpetrators of the same arrogant righteousness that the game poses as a character flaw in the fantasy humans that inhabit the gaming world?

54.

Matt Berends wrote:

I remember hearing from some old missionaries (who had worked in Papau N.G.) about the difference in the people from areas effected by Christianty.
Those from the christian areas were much more friendly, smiled more.
Those who were closer to their head hunting past were shiftier, quieter and less friendly. What they considered very clever was to sleep with someone elses wife with out them finding out. In fact anything you could get away with theft, lies, adultery were all considered great acts. Unless you got caught. "It is only wrong if you get caught" was there attitude.
To me that way of living is evil.

[Deep breath] I don't often look to weigh in about cross-cultural differences and other matters anthropological, but sometimes the risk of viral replication from an off-hand, third-person claim is just too great. Cultures in Papua New Guinea, and everywhere are, as Tylor put it, "complex wholes" that cannot be reduced to a soundbite. Rather than type out the entirety of lectures from an introductory anthropology course, I would instead simply make two reading recommendations for anyone who may share the view above about Papua New Guinea (or any similar place, for that matter). This and this are recent, stellar works on the transformations that globalization wrought on Papua New Guinea.

These transformations include PNG's encounter with Christianity along with those of capitalism and decolonization. All of these, in short, upended the multiple social orders in place. Do we think that the contrast presented above is at all trustworthy under those conditions? Consider how in PNG now it is possible (common) for a middle class PNGer to address his squatter-class caddy at a country club as "boy". Now imagine how a white colleague of that club member might reach similarly stark opinions about the habits of the "others", in this case, the lower classes.

55.

I disagree that the Horde are evil. As it has been pointed out above, if you learn the background lore of World of Warcraft you will find out that the Horde races are not evil, they just have a different point of view with the Alliance races. Much like in a real conflict, there is no good or evil, just a conflict of interest.

56.

"Race does not dictate honor, troll. While you remain on my farmstead, I ask that you remember and respect this credo.

I have known orcs who have been as honorable as the most noble of knights and humans who have been as vile as the most ruthless of Scourge."

57.

Ultimately the original question seems to come to this: Does what we do in a virtual world have meaning in the real world?

I think I can see the critical responses to this question (one that's worth asking) breaking down into a couple of categories:

1. Game vs. simulation ("it's just a game")

2. Relatives vs. absolutes ("The Horde aren't bad, they're just misunderstood")

In the first case, most gamers seem to be utilitarians. For them, in-game actions have zero meaning in the real world; they're just what you have to do to win the game. So a question like "is the Horde evil?" with its implication of meaningful ethical value is incomprehensible. "It's just a game."

More specifically, this first argument boils down to an assertion that there is no connection between in-game actions and real-world actions. If the game exists as a fully self-contained world (this line of thinking goes), then it can have its own ethics. Those ethics can be good, bad, neutral, or nonexistent and it doesn't matter because the constructed virtual world has no connection to the real world.

So when you choose to play an evil character in in a world that has been constructed to allow evil actions, it's OK to do evil things in that world. And ethical uneasiness in the real world about what happens in the game world simply doesn't make any sense.

As a counter to this belief we could make the point that although virtual worlds are constructed realities, they can only exist (to whatever degree they exist) because they were created in the real world. So there must be some amount of connection between the virtual and the real -- what's done in a virtual world has some non-zero impact in the real world.

Maybe it's not much above zero... but anything above zero means it's not silly to ask whether "evil" actions in a constructed world have some negative fallout in the real world within which that constructed world exists.

The second argument against the need for concern about the ethics of one's in-game actions allows that in-game actions can matter in the real world, but takes the position that since real-world actions have no absolute ethical value, neither do in-game actions.

This is another perspective that derives from one's world-view. Someone who can believe "there is evil in the world," however they define evil, will be able to accept asking the question of where one's actions -- even while playing a game -- fall on the spectrum ranging from absolute evil to absolute good.

A dedicated relativist can't allow that formulation to stand because it threatens the position that no one's beliefs about good or evil trump anyone else's. From this point of view, no one's actually bad; they're just occupying their personal ethical space. (In a way, this actually does resemble the "no connection between the virtual and the real" argument in that is treats every person as their own isolated constructed world. You can't call anything I do "evil" because my ethics have no connection to yours.)

So since nothing in the real world may be judged by another, what you do in the game world (as a part of the real world) isn't open to being judged, either. It makes no sense for you to judge the Horde as "evil" -- they're simply operating according to a cultural structure that's different from yours.

There's pretty much no response to this position other than restating the absolutist viewpoint that no, some actions really are better (and worse) than others. That's not going to persuade the committed relativist, but it would at least help clarify the deeper reasons why we answer the question "does what we do in a game have any meaning in the real world?" the way we do.

Finally, to those who thought the original question was silly, consider this alternate version: When your character in a game is helpful to another character, should you, the player, get any credit for that good action?

In other words, if you say that no actions in a game world can be "evil" to any degree in the real world, don't you also have to say that no in-game actions can be "good" in this world, either?

If no one can be condemned for any action, then no one deserves praise for any action.

Personally, I find that belief foolish in theory and harmful in practice. So while I don't think there's much real-world damage done by playing evil in most game worlds, I'm open to the possibility that there might be some.

I don't find the original question silly at all.

--Bart

58.

I've been reading Terra Nova for a while now, and this may be the most thoughtful article I've seen here. It doesn't ask the usual questions of why a game designer does a certain thing, or why a game society evolves a certain way. It asks, very specifically and personally, why people make certain choices about their avatar.

It's a question that very few people have a good answer for (the author himself doesn't answer it). Debating whether Blizzard meant orcs to be evil in World of Warcraft is beside the point-- it shifts the focus back to the game designer, when the focus here is really on the player. It's not even about the way you play your character, it's about the moment of choosing what your character will be.

For a lot of players, it's pure stats, so you can throw all of those cases out the window. In early EQ, I doubt most people who played Necromancers did it because they were fascinated with dead things-- they did it because Necromancers kicked butt. So right off the bat, you can ignore a large portion of the player base.

But, when all stats are equal, why choose one race over another? That's a question you can't really answer without getting personal.

It's a fascinating question, even if a lot of people do seem to think it's useless.

For me, I always played Erudites in EQ, because they were smarter than all the other races and they weren't exactly nice about it. They were mostly neutral-- even the good-aligned Erudites were still neutral to the rest of the world's affairs-- and that reflected how I felt about most of the other players in the game. It let me feel superior even when I wasn't.

In WoW, for the 2 weeks I played before I got bored, I played a Tauren. I really dug the hippy, earthy vibe they had. I also dug the fact that, while they were allied with the evil-looking races, they didn't seem to be evil themselves. They seemed out of place, tossed into a war they didn't start, and probably the most innocent race in the game. They would have fit into the alliance just as well. Everything about them felt extremely cool.

I've never played what I felt to be an evil race in any MMOG. It just never felt right. Occaisionally I would start an evil character just for the hell of it, but my main characters were always neutral or good.

Good topic.

59.

Are orcs evil? I tend to agree with the OP. Orcs and trolls do carry a mythological signification of their own. While it might be possible to twist and turn that somehow, it will take a lot more effort than Blizzard has offered (and is capable of offering, probably).

Orcs are to romantic myths as witches are to fairy tales. How do you tell a fairy tale from the perspective of the witch? Sure, I bet she had a bad childhood and some kind of excuse for eating little children... but she's still the witch, and at the end of the tale, she has to die.

There's only so much you can do with these tropes. Insofar as Blizzard is attempting to tell the story of the witch's redemption, I don't think they have really comprehended how myths operate. That is already evident in their refusal to provide an *ending* to the myth.

That also explains the confusion every person with an operating conscience must feel when playing an evil character in such a setting. There is, of course, nothing wrong with pretending to be evil for the sake of a story. However, the narrative, by its very nature, requires the evil character to be dealt with, which usually means that it has to be punished somehow. The witch must burn, the orcs must be killed, the undeads must be put to eternal rest again. If the narrative never arrives at this necessary climax, but drones on forever until fizzling out without an ending because the funding of the servers has ceased, moral confusion is the obvious result.

60.

if the characters reflect yourself then you are saying that YOU look down upon horde becuase that is who you are, there is a lot of stupid people in the world that look down on others for their made up beliefs or is that just because you dont like hordes looks :O racism against horde! white power!

=/

61.

This is just someone with a hero complex that REALLY wants there to be a good side that he can pick and live vicariously through. Know what? The world (or computer games) aren't black or white. Besides, there was a couple of factual errors in the text as well.

62.

"The human race is the only one with children, and charitable giving, for example."

Looks like you haven't been to the Orc orphanage.

63.

I didn't know there was an orc orphanage.

Horde's still evil.

64.


I think most of the points raised in the original question have been well addresses by others. There are a couple small things I still take issue with..


I'm saying Blizzard does not have that power, that there are fundamental forces at work that prevent anyone from creating a thing, calling it 'orc', and then assigning to it a broad social goodness.

While it certainly may not be simple to change prevailing attitudes they certain do change over time. Identifing something as evil by label because of social connotations is no different to me than racism. Analagous to the negative connotations people still sometimes to assign the the word "black" and often assign to the word "homosexual" or "gay". Saying orcs are evil because they are called orcs holds the same weight (none) with me.

Assigning a moral weight according to a label isn't a well grounded arguement since simply changing the label causes the arguement to fall.


But what made me feel most isolated from this community of scholars was the general indifference to the entire issue. To choose orc, it was said, does not carry with it any particular moral or ethical baggage. It was a matter of playstyles, tastes, personal interests.

Why would it carry any baggage? You are picking a starting condition. If you are born a particular race, or nationality does that carry particular moral or ethical baggage? Don't the real choices come after establishing starting conditions? How many of the Forsaken are undead by choice? Isn't it possible there are good people stuck in a bad situation?

If you really feel that play online reflects moral and ethical choice how can you condone playing WoW at all? Regardless of which faction you join wholesale killing is required to advance.

65.

We don't see many posts with this many responses this fast, so this has clearly made people passionate. My guess is that no one wants to think of themselves as "bad" so everyone is defending their own reasoning for why they've chosen to play what they play. (BTW: http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2005/12/the_grey_area.html)

But I think the discussion clouds the overall point here: the site of meaning is in the player's mind, not in mine, yours, Blizzard's or their parent's or teacher's.

If, for Ted, orcs are unredeemably evil because of their longstanding origins in Western lit and his psyche, then they are just that for him. If, for another person it's a question of moral relativism, bang, that's right too. Or, for another person, they are a symbol of resisting authority in a corrupt world, they are. We each make our own meanings out of what's given to us--otherwise every movie review would be the same, no?

The theory for this is called Encoding/Decoding: the creators of the material attempt to put a message in it, but the receivers get to accept it or reject it or totally refashion it (the latter being Jenkins' "Textual Poachers").

Tension comes when one person sees their interpretation as the only possible one. Thus many peoples' gut reactions to Ted's post. But he gets to be right for him and you get to be right for you. Trouble ensues when you tell him forcefully (or vice versa) that he must be wrong.

True, it's only fun to play a game when we are inside the same magic circle. If player X roleplays evil and I don't, it's going to be an ugly evening. So, choose your party members wisely and have an understanding of their perspective.

Lastly, a reason this touches a nerve is that we want our games to MATTER. If the things that happen there are irrelevant, then really, what are we all doing wasting our time studying them and making them? Are games training for the real world? Are they amoral fictions? Do they tell us deep things about ourselves, morality, Christianity, terrorism, etc? Or are they just a lark? Well, the trouble is that people will answer those questions differently. So, we use them in different ways and often talk past one another.

Here's my only RL comment: moral certainty is the most evil force in human history, period.

Thus, my own meaning-making in games and fiction is to avoid black and white choices like the plague. The need for black and white bothers me at least as much as Ted's dislike of grey, but hey, we're all paying $16/mo. so to each their own.

-Dmitri

PS Love the clown line, Nick!

66.

Ted>Being wicked for awhile is fun and instructive and cathartic. But that guy's not my Main, and never could be. That would be wrong.

From a designer's point of view, there had better be a difference between Alliance and Horde, otherwise what's the point of having them? Anyone who doesn't believe there's a difference can only answer the question as to why they chose to play one over the other with the word "randomly". So I agree with your premiss that choice of faction is somehow reflective of a player (as is choice of avatar race, class, gender etc.). I just wish these choices didn't lock you in so much: what's right "now" might not be right later.

As for the Horde's being evil, well of course it's not - even the WoW backstory only says it used to be evil. The worst it is is "naughty". Evil people are as likely to attack each other as anyone else: it's rule by fear. In an evil world, you do what your guild leader says not because you agree with it but because if you don't they'll halve your score.

If the Horde were really evil, only evil, stupid or curious people would actually play it. Everyone else would play good, or play some other game. Evil is just a role-play label. How can you be evil if you can't actually do anything to anyone?

Likewise, good is only a label. Self-sacrifice is so cheap in WoW (a couple of minutes run from a graveyard plus a few further tiresome seconds reacquiring your buffs) that even evil people will do it.

People who play the Alliance and think they're play-acting good would be horribly shamed if exposed to actual goodness. People who play the Horde and think they're play-acting evil would have an even worse time of it if exposed to actual evilness. The game doesn't have the interactions necessary to support either in any depth. If it did, how many people would play it?

They're labels. As with all labels, choosing one says something about you, but believing what it says is a completely different matter.

>Our job is to take what we can see and try to do the right thing. That's an assertion of faith

I don't see why it has to be. I'm not a person of faith, and only blasphemy laws and the reactions of fundamentalists prevent me from stating what I think about faith. Nevertheless, I will always strive to do the "right" thing. To me, doing something because you've reasoned it's right is a better reason for doing it than because you're hoping for a reward from someone who's taught you it's right. In other words, you don't have to have faith to be good; indeed, in my opinion if you can be good without faith, that's even better.

Ted>thus it's incumbent upon everyone to carefully consider what avatar choice means. And in the context of WoW, it's important to consider what sort of vision to make one's self a representative of.

It is, but for many people it's better done reflectively than in advance. That's what we get from these false realities: the chance to experiment, and to learn from experience.

As I said, I don't hold with any deities, but it seems to me that most of those that other people hold with would probably be OK with those famous four words, "it's just a game".

Richard

67.

Sheesh you're fast Richard.

He's responding to comments that I put up and then took down. I thought they were too incendiary and arrogant. But the things he's quoting are accurate reflections of the sentiment.

68.

Is choice of Halloween costume as telling as choice of a virtual avatar? I think by your rationale, Ted, that it must be even more so because it is not virtual, it is in the flesh, in person. Do you wonder why a person has chosen to wear a vampire costume? Frankenstein's monster? Zombie? Werewolf? What does that say about them?

Costumes/Avatars as advocacy? I think not.

Besides, wouldn't an actually evil person choose to disguise their nature with a "Good"(tm) costume? Yes. Paladins are Evil. :)

69.

Dmitri> Here's my only RL comment: moral certainty is the most evil force in human history, period..

You sound morally certain of that. Or didn't you notice?

Dmitri< Thus, my own meaning-making in games and fiction is to avoid black and white choices like the plague. The need for black and white bothers me at least as much as Ted's dislike of grey, but hey, we're all paying $16/mo. so to each their own.

I don't dislike grey. Grey doesn't even make me uncomfortable; it makes a moral distinction interesting. And in my OPs, I repeatedly asserted that this is not a black and white choice.

What bothers me is when people see grey and conclude that there's nothing morally relevant happening. Moral ambiguity does not imply moral equivalence. It does not follow from the moral complexity of human affairs that everyone's morals are OK, or that every choice is morally defensible. "To each their own" is a cop-out; it's the easy way.

All I can say is, I hope I'm never trapped in a lifeboat with a group of moral relativists.

Nonetheless, I think Dmitri's sentiment accurately reflects the views of most reasonably well-educated people, and almost everyone I know in the intellectual circles I frequent. I must have missed something, because my thinking doesn't fit at all.

70.

Dmitri >Here's my only RL comment: moral certainty is the most evil force in human history, period.

Do you see any limits to moral relativism? It tends to become problematic as you approach the limits - but its hard to set relativist limits. The rather extreme [absolutist?] position in your statement expresses a high degree of moral certainty - the classic dilemma of the extreme relativist. I'm tempted to take it as jest, yet the context of your comments doesn't point me to such an interpretation - do I just need to lighten up?

Richard > "it's just a game"

Depends on the forum, doesn't it? Elsewhere, you've written at length about the Hero's Journey and the process of self-actualization through virtual worlds. And yet when a discussion arises about the mythical structures and archetypes infused in a given world, it's suddenly "just a game" again. I think there are some potent critiques to be made of Campbell's universalist leanings - but to what extent can you have your cake and eat it too?

I don't mean to pick on you personally, Richard - I think this is broader problem within gaming circles. On the one hand, we have claims that videogames have the potential to provide educational, therapeutic and life-changing experiences. And yet, when a critique arises about the context and effects of those experiences, we revert to "just a game" rhetoric, as if the deeper moral/social/etc implications can therefore be set aside. I'm not saying there is an intent to be disingenuous, but it highlights a fundamental dilemma we need to address in the approaches we take to virtual worlds.

71.

Ascribing a moral category to a fantastic race is itself a problem. (The very question, whether morality is "relative" or not, is incoherent without reference to some metaphysics or onto-theology, which is beyond our scope, I'm pretty sure. It is, I hope we agree, an empirical fact that multiple moralities exist, even if some people believe only a subset of them aren't somehow defective.)

And, even if one carried a clear, unambiguous moral code into the evaluation of this game, I would assume that it would be applied to moral agents. What does it mean to assign agency to a race in this case? Do you make no distinction between the iconography and semiotics of "evil" (the use of the idea of evil as a rhetoric) and the question of moral choice? Or is evil, in this case, a matter of aesthetics? And do you dismiss the idea that Blizzard can in any question and rework the relationship of these questions to the term "orc?" Do you not see any historical change in the use of the word?

I'm presenting a paper at the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts next year. I may call for the formation of the discipline of "Orc studies."

72.

Ted > "Orcs are ancient representatives of a bad, bad thing, and one cannot undo the power of that association in the course of a single videogame, even one played by millions for a year. . . . just as my five bushels of apples are not sufficient to change the world's understanding of what an apple is and what it costs, Blizzard's game is not sufficient to change the moral loading of their orcs"

Ted, by your own economics of meaning, the moral loading of Orcs has changed. There are not many apples in the basket these days that understand Orcs as a figure of unmitigated evil. By contrast, there are many, many apples that understand Orcs as figures who are at the very least capable of redemption.

Because that's what you're essentially saying here, that no matter how nobly one plays an Orc, that Orc will always be a figure of evil. What you're saying (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the player has no moral input whatsoever beyond his or her choice of avatar. Is that really how you see these virtual worlds? How is it even possible to listen for an echo of mythos and spirituality in these places if that's the case?

73.

For what it's worth - and it's likely not worth much, as I don't have anything really deep to say, in comparison with most of these comments - but playing Alliance, I've been griefed far less than when I play Horde, while seeing much more of the same behavior that Gary Rogers described in the Alliance than when I play on the Horde.

That said, when I play Horde, I tend to play the two races least invested in the faction - Trolls and Tauren. Without a playable Goblin race, they're as close to neutral as the game offers, which probably reflects something about me too. Like I said, this is something that I can't even begin to think deeply about, because it's just a game that I play a couple hours every once in a while. It's like saying I must be a Raider National because I like picking the ol' Black and Silver in Madden - why? Maybe I just like throwing to Randy Moss; maybe, when I play Horde, I just like being a Shaman more than I like the Alliance classes. Maybe I just like the Tauren's racial abilities more than I like any Alliance race's.

I tend to agree with Gary that class has more to do with it than anything else - how many rogue griefers have you seen, compared to priest or druid griefers? - and even then, there's always a significant number of people who simply maximize their performance within the game mechanics - Tauren Shamen and Human Paladins, twinked and frozen at level 19 for the sole purpose of dominating Warsong Gulch, for example - whose choice of race and class is utterly meaningless under the light Ted presents in his post.

The Truth, as it were, may fall between the two. There's a moral element, sure, but most people who play want to be successful while playing with their own style. Knowing enough of the game mechanics to know a Tauren Shaman is a powerful character that can get most anything in the game done, doesn't make that character's player inherently good or evil, a tree-hugger or an industrialist or any crap like that. It means that person wants to advance in the game.

One last thing, though - the feeling of community is much stronger when I play Horde than Alliance, in every aspect. People look out for each other more in my experience with the Horde, and cooperation is welcomed, appreciated and celebrated - charging my level 24 Troll hunter up against a level 60 Dwarf paladin to buy time for a friend to get away from him brought salutes and kudos from players twice my level.

Consistently, the only thing appreciated and celebrated when I play Alliance is advancement - the only time I've been congratulated is when I level up or get a nice bit of kit. Helping others finish quests or fight off Horde raids doesn't bring any response, and frequently ends up with me being abandoned in an instance after the other people in my party finish their quests before I do.

You can probably guess which side I have more fun playing. If you want to attribute personality defects to me based on that, rather than your personal experience with me, go ahead - just don't expect me to take you seriously.

74.

One last thing: Nothing in the game forces you to do evil. Even playing as an undead, nothing forces you to do evil. Every quest has a Decline button, and you can level - in many cases, rather quickly - simply by testing yourself against the environment. You can walk right out of that starting crypt and leave that place behind, and with some craftiness and a lot patience, make your way to Ratchet without torturing one human, without condoning one assassination or contributing to one bottle of poision.

It's not impossible - difficult, but not impossible - to simply work your way to a situation where the tasks are less distasteful, and you never really _have_ to go to Undercity.

Just like real life, you can be morally exemplary in WoW. It's just difficult. And when people are playing a game to get away from real-life pressures, I don't blame them for ignoring the path of absolute morality.

75.

this is a perfect example of why blogs suck.

your "article", sir, is very narrow minded.

you have no foundation for your claims at all. you say "because i think trolls are evil, they must be, and anyone portraying one in a fantasy setting must also be inherently evil". that is rubbish. people like you are exactly what blizzard was aiming at when they created the factions for WoW. hatred fueled by race. the game is rife with references to bigotry and racism. and id like to point out, they didn't make the game this way to feul that... they made the game in that way to call attention to it in a way everyone should be able to understand.

the message to you is: bigotry is not right.

the fact that you cant grasp this shows your ignorance and instantly discounts your argument. this attitude is the reason why kids grow up feeling alienated and different. this is the reason why a guy with tattoos cant get a job next to a clean shaven "well dressed" guy. this is the reason why we still have a racial divide in this world.

keep judging books by their covers, sir. keep fearing what you dont know. follow the pack and keep your head down. believe the bulls**t. i just feel sorry for your child, and for his peers who are going to have just another as**ole to grow up with.

-esseks
60 ud rogue
spinebreaker

76.

Alright, so a thought occured to me (in addition to realizing my earlier comment was KINDA SORTA off track). One of Ted's claims is that orcs, trolls and undead possess inescapable heritages of evil dating back to Very Long Ago, and their being Very Bad Things. Is this true?

The word orc originally described grampi, a class of carnivorous cetaceans that includes the killer whale (orca). By this point, we don't terribly regard the killer whale as evil, but it's been a while since I was last at Sea World. Negative connotations arose from the fact the orca is a tremendously vicious animal. At this point, the primary cultural force that suggests orcs as being bad, to my quick analysis, would be Tolkien, who CAN be overwritten (and SHOULD, but that's not part of this discussion), seeing as he hasn't been around for centuries and become a deeply ingrained piece of cultural information.

Trolls are Scandinavian in origin, and were at worst mischievious. In fairy tales, by their modern forms, they are at worst bumbling and mean fools. Nobody denies that they are bad things, but they mostly seem worthy of derision than fear, except for usage of troll as boogeyman, which is an overloading of the word. I have to grant this one to Ted, but I disagree as well that it is inflexible.

Undead are presented in a wide number of ways in modern media, and are internalized that way as well. We have everything from George Romero's zombie hordes (which, by Land of the Dead, have become sentient and increasingly intelligent, suggesting coexistence with humanity by the end) to the kind ghosts of loved ones who've passed away. It would be extreme oversimplification to write off undead as evil, in a large cultural context.

I do agree, however, that a reflexive examination of avatar decision is good. My problem is with broadly painting a category as evil based on making three year olds upset. I can only examine my own decisions. I play undead. I've always liked the undead as a story element. It's not because I like to eat my dead enemies to fuel my own unholy existence. That's just a nice benefit that heals 70% of my health.

77.

One way to look at "good" and "evil", is as recommendations for action. That is, if someone says "X is good", one way to understand what they mean is "I desire you to do X".

Applying this lens to Dr. Castronova's claim "To play Horde is evil", I translate to Dr. Castronova saying "I desire you not to play Horde".

I think it is customary and polite for people to refrain from criticizing others' small failings - if you have an acquaintance who drinks slightly too much, it is polite to refrain from pointing this out.

The quantity of evil ought to be a factor when contemplating a campaign against a behavior; how would playing Horde compare, in quantity of evil, to fantasizing about rape? Is it appropriate and reasonable to campaign against that behavior?

I think my conclusion is that even if playing Horde is an evil behavior (which I am not prepared to grant), it is so tiny an evil that it is impolite to criticize someone for indulging in it. And further, that campaigning against playing Horde is inappropriate because it uses resources that could be directed at more substantive evils.

78.

First an fyi - WoWVault posted a link to this piece: http://wowvault.ign.com/fullstory.php?id=13705

Second, I agree with Richard Bartle's sentiments above. It seems to me these games are designed not to explore good and evil in any actual sense but rather to provide a fun gaming environment to attract paying customers. I see "good" and "evil," as represented in games, as labels identifying opposing forces. I don't specifically chose one or the other because I necessarily and particularly identify with it or abhor its opposite. My decision is based on a number of factors, most, bot not all, being independent of my own personal ideology.

To that end, why do I play the Alliance? (1) My guild started there. (2) More people play the alliance so it is much easier to find groups, trade and sell equipment and services, interact with others, etc. (3) My initial favorite class was the Paladin - an alliance-only class.

I'm glad I play Alliance. I prefer to hang around the human and dwarvish cities and towns as opposed to the more wilderness, camp-oriented Horde places I've seen. Since my first char was Alliance, I know all the Alliance leveling places and cities very well. It took me a while to learn those, I'd prefer not to switch now and learn the rest. Etc.

As for whether or not the Horde is evil per se, I don't think so. Though the character graphics due tend to indicate evil - skeletons/Undead, vicious-looking Orcs, cow/monster-like Tauren - taking that as the sole basis seems petty or incomplete. Personally, at worst, I ascribe a label of "different" or "not-as-nice-looking" to the Horde. I don't call them evil.

Excellent issue to discuss, though. Good post!

79.

You're problem is this: you don't know much about the setting or world of Warcraft.
I'm glad you've seen the lord of the rings but until you know about how the creatures called orcs came into existence you're just wasting people's time.
I agree with you that the Forsaken (who you insist on calling Undead because you think that all Undead are the same as the player character race) are evil. But the Tauren are, as a group much better than, certainly, the humans.

So, while I appreciate that you're trying to stimulate debate: you're ruining your arguement by demonstrating that 1. You don't pay any attention to the quests or storyline of the games 2. You haven't played any other Warcraft games 3. you haven't bothered to read the book that came with the game. etc.

You post would have been better if it had been generalized (so you weren't trying to use factually incorrect examples) or else you, uhh, knew something about the game.

80.

I haven't played WoW, so I sincerely do not know the answer to the questions I'm about to ask:

Do dwarves have children? Do night elves? Do none of the Alliance races value warfare at all?

The principle flaw with the argument is its application to WoW. If you can validate the application, then it's a good argument; but you haven't done that. The only post, really, that I've read in the comments said, "Okay, I don't care about that. They're still evil."

Why?

81.

Although someone above me has probably hit on this already and I am too lazy to read all the commentary, there are 2 flaws in your argument. Orcs have children, too. And you can make cloth donations with Horde factions as well.

82.

I just wanted to mention that it's also possible to read your concerns, Ted, as not so much about the ineradicability of good/evil (with shades in between), but instead as a discomfort with the notion, on the part of Hordeside players, that their races' histories does not matter (the orcs, trolls, forsaken's histories in particular).

This was Edmund Burke's argument against the philosophes of the French Revolution, and it's hard to argue with Burke when he says, essentially, that they were not only fooling themselves if they thought they could overturn the past and create something wholly new, but that to do so was to commit the worst kind of crime against society.

At root here is a claim that a society's history generates a moral load, one that cannot simply be wished away, and thus to associate oneself voluntarily with such a society is to be complicit with that moral heritage, good or bad.

While I think that Burke was right that it's foolish to think that history can be wished away, the notion that it is so unchangeable as to become a lodestone around the neck of descendants (or, in WoW, converts? volunteers?) ignores the contingency of social processes.

Also, some have noted in passing the very futility of action within WoW (quests simply reappear, etc), and this can only, I'm guessing, exacerbate such a feeling of moral discomfort with the world and its players, precisely because its design suggests that its players cannnot escape the history that precedes them. If that history is bloody, then the chances for redemption can of course seem to approach zero. If I may, it seems that for you, Ted, it is disturbing to witness players blithely proceeding in apparent ignorance of that morally-loaded combination of gamestory and architecture (and perhaps Blizzard's own ineffectual attempts to undermine it?).

83.

Ted> I didn't know there was an orc orphanage.

Horde's still evil.

EVIL ORPHANS! Muahahaaha. Gleefully plotting world domination from their... orphanage.

More seriously, I think this comment thread shows the danger of specificity. If Ted had simply posted a thread about "evil in MMOs" without specifically fingering WoW's horde but with the same bullet points, I suspect this thread would be far shorter...

(And I tend to agree with Michael Steele - people who consistently want to be The Dark Moody Bad Guy With A Horrible Secret probably have one or two issues.)

84.

EVIL ORPHANS! Muahahaaha. Gleefully plotting world domination from their... orphanage.

My first thought was Stewie, from Family Guy.

My second thought was the theme song to Pinky and the Brain.

Evil mice.

Damn those universal social histories. I'm going to tell my kids scary bedtime stories about vicious elf/orc battles. I wonder how many people knew what an orc was before they started playing Warcraft. I didn't.

85.

C.D.: "How do you tell a fairy tale from the perspective of the witch?"

For the answer to this question, I suggest you read Gregory Maguire's "Wicked" (or see the Broadway musical, which is magnificent and much lighterweight than the novel). It's the Wizard of Oz retold from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. (More broadly, Maguire seems to be making a career out of retelling traditional fairy tales and whatnot from the perspective of the villain.)

For that matter, Neil Gaiman's "Snow Glass Apples", which is Snow White retold from the perspective of the wicked stepmother, is also magnificent. (There's been at least one short story collection from various authors that retells such stories from villainous perspectives, as well, but I forget the title.)

In our complex modern world, where an intelligent, caring human being is virtually forced into seeing all sides of an issue, stories told from the perspectives of the ostensible villains of the piece are particularly fascinating.

86.

Ted: "Orcs are ancient representatives of a bad, bad thing, and one cannot undo the power of that association in the course of a single videogame"

Except that orcs aren't. The orc as most gamers and fantasy readers think of it is strictly a Tolkein creation.


87.

holy carp, this is a bigger response than I'm used to seeing. Just to warn everyone ahead of time, this is a fascinating question IMO but I didn't have time to read all the responses!

There are a lot of similarities you're overlooking when you set out to think about this, though.

1. The creators of WoW created the Orcs. Are they evil by your reasoning?
2. Is an actor portraying an evil character evil?
3. Is a role-player who plays an evil character evil?
4. I DM a D&D game every Tuesday night. As a matter of course, I am forced to role-play both good and evil NPC characters. Is the act of me role-playing an evil NPC character evil?

I would posit that the creation of a Horde account might fundamentally reveal certain trends, but it is not an inherently evil act. Rather, I would say that the actions you take as your character may be good or evil, but the mere creation of an Orc is neutral. Pure appearance cannot be good or evil -- scaring your small child with your Lich might be, but having a lich is neutral until you have either a good or ill effect on somebody else.

A problem with this is that virtual acts don't count, but real effects that virtual acts have do count (at least in my reasoning). So this could become quite complicated.

88.

I sort of wish WoW hadn't been used as an example, too. Instead of being able to deal with the more interesting general question of "playing evil," mentioning WoW just provokes comments about that game's features.

But OK. Let's talk about WoW.

1. Although some people ran into the concepts of "orcs" for the first time in Warcraft, for most people (including, presumably, Warcraft's designers) "orc" is straight out of Tolkien. (Who seems to have gotten it from one line of Beowulf, along with elves and ents.)

Which matters because Tolkien presented orcs as irredeemably evil. From his influence, this is now how most people are accustomed to thinking of orcs as a race -- all orcs are evil, and for no other reason than because they're of that race.

So if that's how you see orcs, then to be told "and you can play as an orc!" in some game suggests that to be true to your understanding of orcs, you'll have to do evil things in that game. If Blizzard then decides to change the definition of "orcs" to creatures whose race no longer determines their ethics, well, that's their prerogative, but it's going to conflict with the preexisting general understanding of orcs as inherently and immutably evil.

I can see how this could lead to questions like "does playing an orc mean I have to act in evil ways?"

2. Blizzard rewrote orcs in WoW as having been redeemed. An orc character in WoW is capable of being good (if that's how the player makes the orc character act).

By doing this, didn't Blizzard miss out on an opportunity to allow players to experience redemption?

Suppose Blizzard had launched WoW with orcs and members of certain other races only being able to do evil acts, then later loosened the rules so that these characters could take good actions as well. Wouldn't that have offered those who played these characters the chance to make a conscious choice of whether to continue to "play evil" even though it was now possible to choose good?

If redemption suddenly became possible for you, would you choose it? Could being able to make that choice (even in a game) possibly lead you to consider your own ethical choices?

Being gifted with ethical freedom could have been a moment of growth for WoW players, or at least a chance for interesting storytelling as in KOTOR. But it never happened because Blizzard elected to "pre-redeem" orcs as part of WoW's initial rules.

No doubt there were gameplay reasons for that decision, and I'm not criticizing Blizzard for it. I just wonder whether WoW might have been more emotionally compelling had it not made the choice of redemption for its players.

--Bart

89.

For those who don't wish to treat this argument in a specific, applied way, keep in mind that the argument is baseless unless it actually happens in application, so it has to be so treated somehow, and Ted chose the venue of World of Warcraft to do it, because he plays it.

Re: the nature of orcs.

Between the time of Tolkien to Warcraft I: Humans Vs. Orcs, I get the sense that not much was done using orcs. Nothing significant, in the RPG genre. I think that's interesting to note.

I never played WC1 (except a quick demo), so I can't comment on that. However, in WC2, Orcs were definitely considered evil, as they were in cahoots with demons. We never see much past the atrocities rained upon Azeroth and Gul'dan's power-hungry lunge for power.

In WC3, orcs were brought back as a misled people, who shook off the blood curse of chaos to join the united people of Azeroth in one massive fight to take the world back.

Finally, Re: Ted's argument, I think he has a case, but it's not a very good one.

Trolls maintain their pariah status: They are not redeemed. And the Forsaken are characterized as evil.

Orcs and Tauren, on the other hand, are described as otherwise peaceful peoples, who have been placed in a situation where they must either fight or be exterminated.

So while I can look at the Trolls and the Undead and concede that they are inherently, if not irredeemably, evil, I cannot concede that point on the issue of Orcs and Tauren. Someone else used the analogy of Native Americans, I think it's apt. Were Native Americans evil to have killed the American colonists? I think not: they were defending their land when the Americans were taking it from them.

It comes down a question of the nature of evil.

Moral relativism is fatally flawed by its inability to grasp that absolutes exist.

But moral absolutism is equally flawed by its inability to articulate what those absolutes are.

Because when it comes down to it, you cannot prove the existence of an absolutely morally correct being, which is what you need to determine moral absolutes. This does not justify relativism; it merely points out that absolutism is no better in terms of correctness. Most absolutists are just as relative in their morals.

90.

Edward's rant provoked pretty much the same reaction in me as the hopelessly pretentious chapter on the "Hero's Journey" that mars Richard Bartle's otherwise excellent book: "This guy is taking himself WAY too seriously."

A lot of the replies have tried to logically address specific points like whether WOW's orcs are really evil, but while I certainly agree with the opinions expressed, frankly I think you guys are giving the whole argument more thought than it deserves. WOW is a game; what you do in there has no real life consequences. Playing Horde or Alliance can't conceivably be anything other than a matter of personal preference in playing style, and pretending it has any deeper significance is, well, just silly.

Instead of arguing about the moral qualities of the Horde vs Alliance or any similarly deep matters, my own reply to Edward is the same one that, I would cheerfully bet, at least 99% of other WOW players would give: "Lighten up, dude, IT'S ONLY A FREAKIN' GAME!"

91.

Amberyl:>
Gregory Maguire's "Wicked"
Neil Gaiman's "Snow Glass Apples"

I don't think that these examples are pertinent to my question, because a) they aren't fairy tales b) they don't tell the same story. 'If a certain fairy tale was political propaganda produced by a spin doctor, what would the counter-spin look like?' might be an interesting question in its own right, but, unless one views all literature as rationalisations of Marxian power struggles, this new question doesn't illuminate what kind of symbols we're dealing with in myths and fairy tales. If The Witch has a childhood, she has become less than The Witch.

In our complex modern world, where an intelligent, caring human being is virtually forced into seeing all sides of an issue, stories told from the perspectives of the ostensible villains of the piece are particularly fascinating.

In our complex modern world, it is more important than ever that people strive for virtue. Stories in which good and evil are clearly delineated are better suited for that purpose. One must be able to identify goodness in its pure, ideal form if one wishes to tell it apart in the real world, where all its appearances are corrupted. Therefore, learning to hate The Witch unconditionally while realising that she doesn't and cannot exist in the real world is both more fascinating and more useful than learning compassion for all the real, misunderstood witches. The first lesson must precede the second.

Except that orcs aren't. The orc as most gamers and fantasy readers think of it is strictly a Tolkein creation.

The orc is the beast-man, a man overwhelmed and consumed by low, brutish forces. The type is at least as old as the Minotauros.

92.

C.D., are you suggesting a parallel between the Orc archetype and Joseph Campbell's Ogre Father?

93.

A fundamental problem with the discussion at hand is the confusing of metaphysical, even supernatural idea of "evil" and the more realistic idea of being an evil person due to committing immoral on unethical acts.

The real-life dictators were not metaphysically evil, like undead are sometimes claimed to be. They may be called evil, because their actions make them so. Being metaphysically evil means that the person commits evil acts because they are (magically) in his nature. Are the actions based on alignment, or is the alignment based on actions.

Player choosing to play a metaphysically evil creature does not do an immoral decision, since the choice is done pertaining the insides of magic circle of play: The choice is not part of ordinary life, and thus not subject to moral assessment.

After beginning the play, the player can't simulate the metaphysical evil, since man is not supernaturally bending towards "evil" (at least by our own account). Emulation of such activities again go to the insides of the circle, and are thus above -- or rather below -- the scope of moral judgement. The most grievous evil acts in WoW are all fictional; the described victims rarely exist as virtual artefacts, and even when they do, they do not suffer permanent damage. Spreading a digital plague that can't affect anyone in anyway is not immoral.


I'm inclined to think that griefing is entirely a different matter, and would like to look at it as well, but alas I haven't yet seen a proper definition for it. Sometimes it's something like "intentionally destroying the enjoyment of other players". Vagueness of this magnitude certainly requires further details on the exact event to be possible to judge morally.

The biggest griefing problem of WoW, corpse camping, is plainly a result of lousy game design that often forces the killer and killed to face each other again, with the loser starting from a much worse position than where he originally was.

Ganking is also often called griefing, and the classic dilemma is:
- Player of the ganker-paladin can't be immoral since he's only ganking supernaturally evil creatures.
- Player of the ganker-undead can't be immoral, since he's emulating supernatural evil.

Instead of discourse of morality, good and evil, griefing needs a discourse of sportsmanship.


*hmmm...*

- M

94.

Me> "it's just a game"
Peter Edelmann>Depends on the forum, doesn't it? Elsewhere, you've written at length about the Hero's Journey and the process of self-actualization through virtual worlds. And yet when a discussion arises about the mythical structures and archetypes infused in a given world, it's suddenly "just a game" again.

No, that's not what I meant at all. My contention is that it's OK to role-play "evil" because through that you learn things about yourself (and I would also contend that on the whole the outcome is positive for you). I was saying that any self-respecting omnipotent being would recognise what you were were doing, realise that sometimes you have to go down a hillock to climb up a mountain, and that because it's all couched in terms of a magic circle - ie. it's "just a game" - you don't have to worry about an afterlife of eternal damnation for doing it.

There are many reasons why people might want to play an "evil" character. Very few of them actually do evil things while playing them, though; it's as if they're exploring the boundaries of their own behaviour, pulling back from pushing as far as they could because they find that they don't want to go that far even though they're allowed to. Through playing, they have discovered something worthwhile about themselves that they didn't know before; what's more, they've done it in a game context without actually having to hurt real people in a major way. Why would a (non-evil) RL deity be unhappy with that?

Richard

95.

Ted>Sheesh you're fast Richard.

The UK is 6 hours ahead of Indiana time, so I had plenty of time to respond!

>He's responding to comments that I put up and then took down. I thought they were too incendiary and arrogant. But the things he's quoting are accurate reflections of the sentiment.

Seriously, though, feel free to delete my comments too if this happens again.

Richard

96.

essex>this is a perfect example of why blogs suck.

Yet they're still compelling enough for you to deign to read them, though, eh?

Richard

97.

I think players in MMOGs have a much harder time identifying issues of good and evil in the context of the game than they do in single player RPGs. This is because real issues of good and evil in their interactions with other players completely swamp their awareness of those involving NPCs. Griefing, helping guildmates and PvP interactions are far more immediate than the text of a quest or the relationships between NPCs.

If some other players steal my kill, my reaction isn't that they are helping me battle evil, it's that they prevented me from completing my quest or getting the loot that I was after. If they violated common rules of behavior in doing so, then I feel justified in being angry, despite the fact that "in character" it doesn't make any sense.

For me, I find that only when interplayer interactions are unimportant do I start to care about the in-game context of what I'm doing. If a guildmate asks for my help with a quest, I don't care what his quest is, the important thing is that he needs my help. On the other hand, if I'm working on a quest for myself, I do care what the story is, and I don't like playing an "evil" role.

To bring this back to WoW and the role of the Horde, I think most players pick a side based on other factors than good vs evil. Many players want to play with their friends, so they pick whatever side they have to in order to do that. Another major factor is the attractiveness of the avatars. The Alliance is widely agreed to have more attractive character models than the Horde, which has led to a serious imbalance in the populations between the two sides.

I suspect some players do want to play on the "good" side, but I doubt any of those have much experience with the story behind the Warcraft universe. If they did, they'd know that none of the playable races are entirely good or evil.

98.

Um good vs evil?
it's all relative, being on the horde side, i see the alliance as being evil. their whole reason for existence is to take the horde down, we were here first...
you dont think that orcs came out of the primordial ooze long before anything human? cmon, they're still green!

99.

Ted > "it's wrong, when you are a public figure, to say that evil acts are OK"

It would also be wrong, as a public figure, not to follow up with a second post at some point (even if it's in the new year) that takes into account all that's been written here and either lays out how your thinking has changed or actually responds to the points made. You can gank people all you want in World of Warcraft, but dismiss their contribution to this dialogue out of hand, now that's just . . . evil. ;P

100.

OK, I'll get right on that.

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