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Dec 24, 2005

Comments

101.

I'm just desperately curious, that's all. You have managed to do a great job of completely engaging everyone here. Kudos for that, it's not easy to do.

102.

Sometimes I like being a jerk in games. It’s fun to foil people’s (the GM’s or your allies’) plots. You know what D&D alignment I play? True Good. No one can be more stubborn, short-sighted, and ignorant of your party’s needs than someone who chooses to boldly launch their random crusade in order to recover lost honour or something. Evil players can be bribed, neutral can be convinced, chaotic will eventually do what’s needed (“a stopped clock is right twice a day”), and lawful will simply follow the orders of a sufficiently authoritative NPC. But True Good will never be swayed and thus can be the most annoying of all.

There are many thousands of ways to detect who is a good roleplayer and who isn’t (friendliness, thoughtfulness into character creation, etc) that using “whether they play good or evil” as the tell is pretty darn trivial. And the person playing the character determines much more about how enjoyable an experience everyone has, than the particular trappings involved. I feel bad for the person who forbids “evil or chaotic” characters, because what’s really apparent is that he just has bad roleplayers to game with.

Lastly, there are definitely some interesting psychological dynamics in the original post. He believes you are either good or evil, with us or against us, and that is the question. To such a person, of COURSE you ignore context or trivial details about whether the Horde is evil in fact. A universe where everything is definitively on the side of good, or on the side of evil, is the presumption necessary behind thinking this is the most important question. It is of course, a perspective I abhor.

*To add to the “Horde aren’t actually evil”, Thrall himself is quite the swords-into-plowshares pacifist, who has allied with the alliance for the greater good many times and has the trust of the alliance boss Jaina Proudmoore. There is a very important endgame quest where your character advocates attacking the Alliance now that they are weakened, and Thrall says no because escalating the war would cause endless strife and ruin everything he has worked for. Also, there’s decent evidence that the Undead represent oppressed proletariats.

103.

I think you have come to your conclusions a bit early. If you make some other horde characters, you will see that the undead are the only patently evil horde race. The other three are varying degrees of tribalists and naturalists who are fighting against a seemingly benevolent, but actually self-righteous expansionist and deal-breaking empire, run in secret by another(truly) evil manipulator. To me this seems to echo world politics on a certain other planet we are all familiar with.

104.

First off, whoever posted the Tirion Fordring quote, You > Me. *bow*

A nice treatise on good and evil in WoW, based on a fundamental misunderstanding, and near-total ignorance, of the robust and detailed milieu that's been developed over the past ten years. Well done. Near-zero research plus cosmetic knee-jerk reaction equals lengthy and marginally useful treatise on Good vs. Evil. Its only real value thus far is the conversation it's spawned.

For the ambiguity present in WoW's lore, one example. Take your Night Elf to the docks of Auberdine and talk to the lonely male on the pier. You find that he wants you to release the spirit of his wife Anaya who roams the ruins of Ameth'Aran. When you get there, you find she is wandering, lost and alone, and she will not do a thing to you until you attack her first.

Do you kill her? She is harmless and peaceful, and she will blissfully ignore your presence (and everyone else's; watch her stroll around for a while) unless you do, at which point she will fight to preserve her "life."

Do you kill her? Her husband asked you to. Almost begs you to.

Do you kill her? She's technically Undead, after all.

Do you kill her? You'll get a cool ring if you do.

Do you kill her? Why?

The "why" is the evil portion of the equation--not the race you are when you do it. Bottom line, everyone *in* the game is human *outside* the game. Some more than others.

105.

WOW is a game; what you do in there has no real life consequences.

I disagree. I also believe that watching a steady diet of slasher horror movies is corrosive as well. I suspect people disagree with me on that, too. But we are shaped by what we do, in leisure as well as work.

106.
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.

I'm not sure where this idea came from. From my recollection of Tolkien orcs are a corruption of the elves. They certainly weren't originally evil, and in my opinion for something to be irrevocably evil it would have to originate that way. For example the Balrog..

107.

Good and evil are defined by actions, not a genetic structure, or even a fictional genetic structure.

--matt

108.

Scott: If you are what you eat, then I should look like two buns and a wad of hamburger, no?

"Shaped by our experiences" does not mean we specifically become those or a physical mirror. A steady diet of slasher flics will probably encourage short attention span, over-sexualization, pupils attuned to low lighting, and a number of things that have nothing to do with specifically wielding a machete or wearing scary masks.

109.

Thabor>They certainly weren't originally evil, and in my opinion for something to be irrevocably evil it would have to originate that way. For example the Balrog.

Balrogs are fallen Maiar.

110.

I usually play ronaldinho gaucho on soccer games. I suck playing that IRL... any clue why my "good" avatar is not transfering his "good" influence to me?

111.

I'm just desperately curious, that's all. You have managed to do a great job of completely engaging everyone here. Kudos for that, it's not easy to do.

Oh... not everyone. I see quite a bit of interesting debate going on. Personally I tend to agree more with the original post than others. Maybe I don't have such a problem examining why I choose the path I walk.

There is certainly something to be gained in understanding of ourselves and others in asking why we make the choices that we do in a virtual world as well as the real world. The fact that the world we are talking about is virtual really doesn't have a lessening effect on our choices, only their consequences.

When I ask myself, why I choose NE/Tauren I know it's because I identify with the naturalist tendencies of these two races. (As well as history with Tolkien and Elves) While the initial discussion was geared towards a simplistic examination of 'good vs. evil' it opens a more interesting conversation of 'why do we choose to be the people (avatars) that we are in-game'?

If we examine that question then we begin to understand more of who we are, and can grow from that.

112.

All this over a video game?...

I think some people just have too much time on their hands to sit and think up this crud. Evil is a neccesity for the good. Everyone has either side within them, but to take a game and try to say that somehow choosing the evil side (And the races are not inherently evil, if you choose to do a little study about the games back story.) will somehow show how "evil" a person is? It's rediculous. And I think perhaps you either play the game too damn much, or read way too far into it.

I play either side, Why? Because either side is fun. The Horde have some great design and social structure, the Alliance have pretty landscapes. To read more into it then that, is to get nearly obsessed.

113.

Heh, lots of discussion.

Just so I don't get left out: I think that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. There are plenty of non-evil reasons to play "evil" in a game. Perhaps my friends were already playing Horde? Maybe I want less "friendly" competition for resources? Maybe I've already played through the Alliance side and in a fit of "altoholism" I want to see new content?

Could it also be that someone playing WoW wants to give in to their deepest, darkest fantasies and want to play a race that feasts on still-warm corpses for power? Sure, but there's plenty of other reasons as well. So, I think that while I won't say Ted's 100% wrong in his original statements, I don't think they really say anything that can be meaningfully applied to game development or observation.

My thoughts,

114.

There is a little bit of self satisfaction in the original post which has only increased as the discussion has continued.

It's also interesting that most of the discussion has centered around Orcs rather than the Undead.

For an interesting discussion of the Orc that has a little more depth than this forum allows, you might check out this article --> http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/archetypology21dec01.html It covers the Roleplaying Orc, but obviously has relevence to this discussion.

115.

I play an Undead warrior on Deathwing server. I've found that the vast majority of Alliance PCs I've come across have been played by jackasses. Spend any time around Tarran Mill on my server and you'll see what I mean... packs of level 50+ Alliance characters corpse-camping around level 23 Undead characters. How does that fit into your "good/evil" dichotomy?

116.

Also, I agree 110% with Nicole,

All this over a video game?...

I think some people just have too much time on their hands to sit and think up this crud.

117.

Does discriminating against one's virtual race count as racism? :)

118.

Performing hate crimes based on race is racism if there are real people involved, I think. But that goes into a dimension of identification that most people don't get to.

119.

Given the nature of play, play will eventually explore the limits of the game space. If you assume, as I think it is reasonable to assume, that "moral" space (e. g. good) is a subset of "amoral" space (e. g. bad), then, over time, play will graduate from the "good" space and explore the "bad" space. Given such a context, you could even say that play, in general, has a natural proclivity to become bad (or "evil").

However, these labels -- good/bad/moral/amoral -- have little to no theoretical value for me. That is, they don't distinguish among different forms of play or, alternatively, they do distinguish among otherwise similar forms of play.

So, when I hear these sorts of discussions, it's all blah-blah to me.

Everyone knows, after all, that characters aren't really evil -- and nerfing designers are.

120.

Richard >My contention is that it's OK to role-play "evil" because through that you learn things about yourself

I don't necessarily disagree - and I agree that Ted's OP may go a little far. But the question remains for me as to how seriously you take Campbell. Is it just a convenient shorthand for describing the process of identity exploration/self-actualization in VWs? If so - why bother picking up all the baggage that comes with Campbell's monomyth? If not, does this mean that the moral/ethical choices made in the course of play have no bearing on the progression of the "Hero's Journey"? That doesn't sound much like Campbell, nor does it resonate with my (admittedly limited) knowledge of mythology. Most mythologies seem to be infused with a collective understanding of social values, and the Hero doesn't play a predominantly evil role [in the framework of the mythos in question] to attain those values. What does it mean for a "hero" to enact an embodiment of evil?
On a side note, I'm not so sure Campbell would dismiss the deep infusion of mythological and archetypal structures alluded to in the OP because it took place in a "magic circle". Magic circles are traditionally the places such things gain the greatest power. [I know this isn't necessarily the sense in which we use "magic circle" - but the etymology is interesting, no? And I'm not so sure it strays far from Huizinga's usage.]

Why would a (non-evil) RL deity be unhappy with that?

Many (most?) RL deities have pretty explicit rules about playing/interacting with iconography and archetypes. The question is - do we take such things seriously? You evidently do not. Ted apparently does (perhaps a little too seriously...). But the problem is, if we don't take such things seriously - to what extent are we really going through a process of self-actualization by interacting with them? If they are just window dressing, wouldn't we be better off interacting with symbols we do take seriously? In the end, "just a game" remains a double-edged sword.

[Note: none of the above is a comment on WoW in particular - I haven't played enough to have an opinion either way. I agree with Bart that it's perhaps unfortunate that Ted chose to pick on the Horde - although y'all seem like a nice bunch ;-) ].

121.

We may need a whole new thread. One that takes the WoW stuff out and puts the issues on the table carte blanche without references to Tolkien, elves, killer whales (killer whales?), undead vs. Forsaken, real vs. imagined racism and with a polite request to suspend all "it's only a game" comments. After all, the Illiad was only a story, Shakespeare was only a writer and Freud was only a confused, Austrian mama's boy. Gaming is now as much an art and medium as film or fiction; to say, "it's only a game" is like saying "it's only pretty pictures" to a painter.

Questions of good or evil are meaningless outside of two contexts; social and individual. And both of those contexts require statements of purpose in order for there to be and kind of moral order. Many/most religions have, at their roots, the base moral purposes of social harmony, familial peace and personal well-being, usually in that order. IE, if you "do good," everyone (society) will get along better, your family will be happier, and you will prosper. This is often seen as "pleasing to god(s)" as well.

I'm starting here, because I think it's important to determine what Ted (or any of us) means when we say things like this:

Ted> Third, I'm defending a point of view that I'm disappointed is not more widely-held among academics, which is that these worlds are not mere play-spaces, nor mere extensions of the real world. They are a place where we can hear a faint echo of things unconscious, even mystical. What happens in these places is deeply significant; their symbology carries genuine religious and spiritual meaning; they are (or ought to be held and protected as) different, fundamentally different and distinct, from life as usual. To treat these environments as mere platforms for fooling around or making money, is in my view bordering on sacrilege.

Back to me> Well... that's like saying, in a very, very broad way, that to treat the printed word as "a platform for fooling around or making money is bordering on sacrilege." Gaming is a medium. Like print. Like film. Like TV. Some of it is good to the point of religious ecstasy. Some of it is bad to the point of nausea. Why should we hold gaming to a different standard?

MMORPGs have the potential to be, as Ted says, deeply felt. So do other media. My mom cries over Hallmark Hall of Fame on TV. I've run pen-and-paper games that have made people so angry (in a good, in-game way) that they've yelled (in character) and had really good catharsis. I've read fiction that has affected me as deeply as any religious tract.

So. OK. Yes. Games *can* be significant. Here's the two most important questions you can ask, then, if you want to form a social/personal morality regarding online gaming:

1. Why are we (all of us) doing this?
2. Why am I doing this?

You must get to the root *whys* before you can have a morality. And the morality of gaming may be very different, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

If the final answers are "to make money for Blizzard," and "to have some fun," then there are, obviously, no moral concerns, as those goals don't really require moral pointers.

If the final answers are, "to explore the bounds of cooperative fiction and virtual friendships," and "to understand myself better," then there are moral concerns.

For example; one of my "moral imperatives" in any roleplaying situation is to "improve the animal." And by that, I mean, to leave the overall roleplaying environment better than I found it.

Early on in playing WoW, as a Human on a roleplaying server, I came upon a guild leader who was very, very bad at roleplaying. Very bad. After a few minutes of talking, it became clear that he was fairly young (18ish), and was interested in learning more about roleplaying per se, not just on WoW. I offered to join his crew of almost 20, if he'd start taking some pointers as to ways in which he might improve the RP aspects of his guild. He agreed, and I did so, always in IM, never on the open channel; as that would be "bad RP."

I served as his #2 for 3 weeks, helping him attract more than 30 more players, setting up a bulletin board for him, etc.

I told him from the get-go that I was going to turn on him. That I was going to split off and form a splinter guild. That I was going to take as many players as I could, after those 3 weeks of play, get them all to crash their Alliance characters and move over to the Horde as un-dead versions of their Alliance players.

After several in-game sessions of talking this over, he understood why I was doing this, from an RP perspective; it was "good." It established, among the folks that stayed, a hugely strong "backstory" that kept them bonded together more significantly than any Blizzard-provided quest. When he "bested" me (this all happened, naturally, in text, not in game), it set him up even more strongly as a leader. It also provided me with a cadre of very interested folk who, at that point, were tired of the Alliance side and wanted a good reason to switch. And -- go figure -- people like a good RP adventure on top of their game. A fact which I have found to be true again and again, no matter the genre, engine or system.

Good story, good RP, good characters, good game-mastering, good grouping, good writing: all of these things are *good*... and are entirely independent of ANY notions of good vs. evil in the real world. You can have all of the above with evil characters.

So... if your goals are to teach roleplaying skills, to improve writing ability, to learn to work as a team, to get better as an "actor" in game... then considerations of morality are only important inasmuch as they further those goals; i.e., it's all inside the magic circle. That which improves the animal is good.

If, however, your goals involve teaching children right from wrong in the REAL world... well, first of all, WoW ain't the place to go. Unless you're ready to have a very, very long and complex discussion with them first. This is not the right room for an argument...

Why do we game? Why do *you* game? I've played every race in WoW. I've played a Human with a heart so black you couldn't but call her evil; she's the one who "turned" on her guildmaster. On purpose. As part of my goal to teach some kid about RP. Was that evil? My (Andy's) intention was quite good. His (her?) reaction was one of gratitude. But my character? Oh... she was nasty, nasty, nasty. Twisted six ways from heck.

When she resurrected as a Forsaken, however... she found that her anger, bitterness and lust for power had disolved. Now, in her "new un-life," all she sought was companionship and a chance to help others.

Which character was evil? Was I ever evil?

I have the most fun roleplaying when I can GM a game that really helps players expand their insights into their own creativity. That is the essence of the point of gaming for me. To create a "new thing." I ultimately stopped playing WoW because it didn't allow enough player creativity to suit me. There wasn't enough room for me to be either bad or good...

I'm just starting to mess around with Second Life. We'll see what happens there.

122.

Out of curiosity, a question for the original poster: how does your 3-year-old react when you play a human character who goes into the woods for the sole purpose of slaughtering, say, bears, because someone asked you to get 10 claws so they could make a necklace?

123.

It seems to me some people are getting hung up on WoW specifics, Orc literary history, and Undead motivations. While these do tend to form the backdrop against which Ted painted the original post, if the discussion is to root itself in MMOs in a broader, intellectual context as opposed to a "WoW Horde are/are not evil" specificity, then perhaps other examples of this phenomenon need to be suggested and considered. I'm not suggesting we dispense entirely with the WoW particulars and the Horde. Rather, that other examples should be considered in parallel.

Unfortunately, based on my own personal, somewhat-limited experience with MMORPGs, I can put forth only two additional worlds for consideration, each one being at the polar opposite of the 'depth scale': SWG and DAOC.

I mention a 'depth scale' as perhaps there are a few overreaching dynamics at work that can be quantized, at least relatively as between the various worlds. Depth or backstory is one such dynamic - the amount of story or purported history that lies behind the races/world. A Tolkein-based world would likely be at one extreme end, having an inordinate amount of already-provided background. A world I draft together in 3 minutes would have virtually no depth or history to speak of.

Of SWG and DAOC, from my limited experiences in them, I would say SWG is on the Tolkein-end, having a great deal of story incorporated, either by effort (as in making a world with lots of depth built into it) or by virtue of the world's already-known state (as in the six Star Wars movies, 50+ books, comic books, cartoons, toys, etc.). I would also say DAOC is at the thin end of depth as I found little overreaching background or stories in the quests (if memory serves me correctly, though it may not so this is hardly definitive).

In any case, using these two worlds...

Does roleplaying the Empire in SWG have you performing 'evil' acts or representing an 'evil' avatar?

Was the Midgard Realm of DAOC, arguably the least-appealing in terms of races and environments, an 'evil' association?

Someone will surely say that the Empire was evil since it favored slavery, oppression, cruelty, and a host of other elements taken to suggest an evil disposition. But does roleplaying a character amid this "pervasive" evil make you evil? Do you really hate Wookies that much? Would it be "wrong" for Ted, as a celebrity figure, to roleplay an Empire Commander and control AT-AT's as they attack a Rebel Encampment? Would this make Ted "evil"?

As I write this and look at the available races in DAOC, I note that Mythic seems to have spread out the "ugly" races a bit more in the expansions. A lot of my DAOC memory is centered in the pre-expansion age, back when only 4 races were available to each realm, as opposed to the current 6 per realm (18 total). I shall forge on only slightly daunted though admittedly with less stable footing.

Likewise, someone will surely point out that the Midgard Realm of DAOC was/is based on Norse mythology, characters, and attributes. Nonetheless, based on the 4 original races available to each realm, the non-human Midgard races were certainly the most grotesque in DAOC. They even have Trolls!!! This clearly parallels Ted's WoW-Orc concerns, not to mention the availability of those diminuitive and untrustworthy Kobolds!

Does roleplaying a DAOC Troll make you evil? Does it suggest some subconcious desire of yours to act out your dark fantasies by lashing out at the world as a tall, thick-skinned brute?

Now comes the tie-in: How much of your answer to the above SWG and DAOC questions is based on your knowledge, or lack thereof, of the respective world's backstory? And how much is based on the avatars' appearances and your mere knowledge as it relates to those appearances? In SWG, you can be a human agent of the Empire, in fact that is a preferred race for Empire members. But in DAOC, you can be an ugly Troll with all the literary connotations thereof. How does that affect your answers if at all?

Alright, I'm only putting forth more and more questions. Perhaps there are better examples, either MMO-based or not, upon which to propound these questions and further explore these issues. I'm just suggesting that additional worlds merit inclusion since WoW seems to be such a loaded environment. Perhaps we need to consider other loaded or unloaded worlds as well.

124.

if you look farther into the lore of the world of warcraft game you'd come to find out that both factions are grey... like in real like everything is far from black and white... the alliance doesnt look evil but the leadership in the story are currupted by an evil black dragon... and in the capital city the orcs have a orphanage.. their most revered ethics are strength and honor..

125.

OK, in the spirit of your back-channel flame war, my gut-level, emotional responses first and then, hopefully, something more thoughtful:

Why am I finding pleasure in expressing myself in a form that frightens 3-year-olds?

Why are you running around Under City with a 3-year-old in the room in the first place? You want to point your finger at the rest of us and say that our choice of avatar isn't being sufficiently considered and that it is "morally compulsory" that we examine these choices, but you're the one scaring your kid? Pull the other one, mack, it's got bells on.

I give talks and interviews. I'm often asked what avatar I play. People then draw conclusions about me from what they see.

The conclusions others draw about you are not symptoms of my short-comings. That someone else does not "get" the roleplaying aspect of an RPG does not invalidate the experience of players of that RPG. You stated explicitly that for those of us familiar with the game, it's probably not "a big deal," so I am left to assume that you are, in fact, worried about the reactions of those unfamiliar with the game. If the conclusions non-players draw about games invalidate the experience of that game, man, I hate to tell you but D&D would have been banned by well-intentioned but uninformed moms & dads decades ago.

My choice of avatar has not hurt anyone. If someone in the real world decides that my choice of avatar is a suitable guidepost for their own moral formation, there is something already wrong with that person. In the meantime, the opposing faction is probably just as happy as not to see another bundle of Honor Kills roll out of character generation.

OK, more thoughtfully, maybe:

I can understand that you may have felt some highly personal horror at the thought that your child was frightened of "you," if you closely self-identify with your avatar in the game, but I think you're painting with a very, very broad brush to say that makes all the Horde evil or anyone who plays them at best an unwitting accomplice of evil. Perhaps someone is playing an Undead because they want to see whether their Alliance main is justified in their beliefs. Perhaps they are just playing it to take on another role. Perhaps in their personal life they are powerless and need to be able to give Sweetness & Light the finger in a safe environment as a release valve, to feel powerful, to feel feared in the absence of an ability to feel respected. Do I think avatar choice is reflective of a player? Sometimes, yes, but not always. And besides, this is a roleplaying game. That we play with our role, that we experiment, that we step outside of ourselves is right there in the category title.

Yes, there are roles in the game that are evil - palladins were used to guard the Orc concentration camps, after all, and no number of jog-by buffs of strangers will ever change that "fact" of the game's history, and the Undead certainly do engage in inarguably evil behavior - but the game would be awfully dull if all of that were taken away tomorrow.

I say that as adults we have the right to experiment in a safe setting without worrying that every mouse-click is a gamble of our soul or a strike against our moral fibre.

Also, I'd like to note I play a Night Elf. Oh, I have a dwarf Hunter alt I play sometimes, too. I tried making an Undead rogue but didn't find it very interesting so he's not been logged in for weeks. Yep, I'm an Alliance, and a big ol' Carebear of one at that. I don't do PvP, don't do Battlegrounds, don't raid Horde towns when I'm bored, etc., so it can't be said that I take any of this personally just because I, too, play Horde. I don't (play Horde - I do take it somewhat personally, as most people do when they are the target of blanket moral judgements); but to sit there and look down your nose at the choice of others' playing Horde is short-sighted and ignorant, and it doesn't take playing a Horde character or an Alliance character to see that.

You speak of a lack of moral analysis within the academy, but I think perhaps you've forgotten that precisely that is what draws many to the academy in the first place - that in fact many of us would like the chance, to take advantage of the opportunity presented by a community of scholarship to seek out and discuss and incorporate the technical, objective, observable phenomena and be allowed to make our own decisions about the emotional, subjective, entirely personal conclusions of morality.

126.

Egon> 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!

Actually, in Warcraft lore orcs invaded Azeroth via a demonic portal from their homeworld, which was destroyed (by the energies of multiple such demonic portals). Dwarves (or their ancestors, the Earthen) are probably the oldest azerothian race extant, seeing as how the Earthen were a servant race created by the titans (creators). Trolls are probably the second oldest indigenous player race, followed perhaps by the elves (a troll offshoot race). The exact point at which humans and tauren enter the picture is quite uncertain, and the origin of gnomes is a complete mystery. The Forsaken are indisputably the youngest "race" of Azeroth.

But I agree with those posters who think the question the OP poses is too interesting to wave off with WoW lore trivia.

I have met many types of gamers in my life, both in face to face roleplaying games (of which orcs have been a staple since the late 70s) and in computer games. Many of these gamers do not "step into the skin" of their characters, while many others do. For those who don't, playing a given character is much like playing a wargame in that they don't really think that much about the cultural background of what they have chosen to play, they are much more focused on "winning". To that end, they pick the race/class/skill combo that makes them most powerful, without regard to whether it makes any sense in roleplay. Asking them about backstory elicits nothing but vague cliches, if anything.

An unscientific review of my experiences in WoW observing other players and guilds reveals a lot of focus on competition. This may take the form of defeating other players in duels, winning high rank in battlegrounds against the other faction, or simply being "uber" by virtue of better gear or being in a more hardcore guild. To many people, competition is what the game is about, not roleplay. In fact, on many servers RPers are considered hokey, weird, or even pathetic and subject to open ridicule. This is especially true on "PvP servers", where horde in general and forsaken in particular are most popular.

I think the most obvious way to tell whether someone cares at all about the background of their chosen race is whether they have chosen a lore consistent name or not. Odds are Moolan the Tauren, Shortbus the troll, Bubbahotep the Forsaken, and Underbite the orc don't take the game or choice of race nearly as seriously as the OP does. All of those are names I've seen in game, along with even more obscure or silly ones.

127.

Someone up above (Richard Bartle?) asked about distinctions between factions apart from moral issues. Among them:

1. Size. Horde has fewer players, on virtually every server. This affects how often you get into battlegrounds and other aspects of PVP. In addition, some people like crowds more than others, and sometimes it's a technical issue - people with low-end computers often favor the Horde because Orgrimmar is less densely packed than Ironforge and therefore lags less.

2. Nomadic and barbarian versus civilized and sedentary. This is a matter of aesthetics - do you like the architecture, basically.

3. Environments. Some people like the Durotar desert, the haunted Tirisfal Glade, and the Sierra Nevada-like Mulgore more than the pastoral Elwynn Forest, the alpine Dun Murogh, and the fantasy-forest Teldrassil. Some feel the other way around. The nature of the quests varies a fair amount, too - different mixes of fighting outlaws, demons, invaders of other sorts, helping out with booze making, helping out aged parents and nervous grooms-to-be, and so on.

4. The hair. No, seriously. Given that we see our avatars mostly from the back, it matters more than some folks give it credit for. Particularly for those of us with terrible hair in real life.

5. The walk, the /dance, the emotes, etc. I am by no means alone in playing more female than male humans and elves because I loathe beefcake, particularly when it minces. Others will pick a character the dance its race and sex gets, or because it tells funny jokes, or whatever.

Those are the ones that come to mind, at least.

128.

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').

Please explain why this argument does not also apply to the word "Jew".

129.

Interesting column.
I agree, choosing an evil character simply as a representation of oneself is logically an 'evil' act. However is it really as simple as that?

Context etc is all very well but we're really only talking here about a british middle class context, and most likely a white (or westernised one) at that.

Offline I play an Orc in a Live Action Roleplaying System and the group I play in plays a group of Evil Characters, partly because in real life we all have professional jobs and families, partly because it's fun and partly because it is pure escapism and has little or no impact upon our normal workday lives.

However, as indicated in the original article we play characters whose evil is characterised by their morality.
The morality is 'evil' by the standards of normal 21st century british people. WHy? Because we play our characters as predisposed to violence, happy to hunger after unadulterated power, and ultimately driven by a malthusian ethic. SOcial Darwinism played out in an unrestrained form. Our characters pursue their agendas with an ethic that says personal benefit and power should be gained at any cost, that there is no such thing as the regretted suffering of others UNLESS it stops the self from achieving what they are aiming for.

Interestingly people don't think of the above as evil on paper, but when we play like this we are often accused of being bullies, taking control and not caring about other people's feelings (Out of Character that is (OOC)). Basically we're accused of being evil. Mission accomplished but the irony we're aiming for is that we've deliberately taken aspects of modern philosophies and played them out without the constraining realities of life. In our case we've taken Nietzsche and Darwin and applied them wholesale to our ethics, let them define our morality completely and played the result. The consequence? People call us and our characters evil. An additional irony is that our group has also acquired the most money and we're respected for our ability to trade - that we're good capitalists is also why people call our group evil.

This year my group killed off (In CHaracter only obviously) an entire group of other players and they were furious because they said we shouldn't have done it. We explained OOC that we play evil people so why should they expect us to abide by any moral code they might havbe in mind?

CHoosing evil characters does not necessarily represent ones own normal moral code, indeed it typically, in my experience, allows one to test the boundaries of what is exceptable in real life in a completely safe environment, allows one to demonstrate what evil is without people actually being hurt and as such is an expression like Carnival - the safe outlet of passions and behaviours that are unsuppressable in a safe and controlled environment.

If my child wished to play an evil character one would want to discuss it at some length, but not as a prelude to forbiding it nor as a way of getting them to understand why they should only play good people but so that they know more conciously why evil is evil (or just another moral code perhaps).

It is perhaps niave to consider never exploring the boundaries of one's morality, about not accepting and being aware of the ambiguities of the language we use, about conciously staying away from the edge of our excepted behaviour. It strikes me that this is driven by fear and that the outcome of such a position is that when driven to extreme acts by unusual circumstances we are more likely to react without knowing what we are either capable of or how to control ourselves than those who look themselves in the eye and know who they are.

It is sophistry to consider the alliance evil, an unwillingness on our part to acknowledge that the characters we play are evil by our own definitions. If you're going to play a convincing orc, or troll etc my feeling is tht you must accept that they're evil, that they're morality is vitally different from that of the 'good' forces and that it's one that could not really survive for any lengthy period of time if it was truly realised because it could never lead to a stable society. But to avoid calling something what it is because it's fashionable to mangle the idea of cultural relativism is an action that only misleads ourselves and hides from us what we really know - that the characters we are choosing to play are supposed to be evil.

130.

Having reread some of the comments it seems appropriate to talk about the flipside of the coin - the idea of good.

My experience is that people playing 'good' are more often than not playing out a stunted idea of what good means, that they think 'justice' and obeying some honour code is all that is required. I've yet to meet a character who plays out mercy (where the plot doesn't require it), forgiveness, hope and humility. Instead I find people who are boderline facists, playing by some sort of unbreakable 'moral' code - and entirely missing the point of goodness - love, mercy and forgiveness.
It's obvious that the medium of RPG doesn't really allow for 'good' to be played properly, where are the pacifists for instance? Where are those giving charity out or self-sacrifice as their actual raison d'etre?

It's a nonsense to say that just by choosing a good character I have either understood the anture of moral goodness or that I am actually playing a good character. This annoys me more than people simply thinking that being pragmatic is good or evil and that 'good' people are basically dogmatic fundamentalists. They're not. Indeed we tend to call the dogmatic fundamentalists evil or morally deranged. Quite why we think that Knights Templars etc as well as unconditional hatred of those we consider evil (rather than compassion and despair over their fate) is an acceptable representation of GOod. I doubt the author of the original article plays their 'good' characters as really good. Not a personal thing, it's just that they'd be the first I'd ever come across.

131.

OP:

"Well, 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."

But that's ignoring the fact that there has been a rethinking of the idea of "evil" races in fantasy literature. Blizzard isn't a pioneer in this sense either. Tolkein, for example, makes a lot of people uncomfortable for precisely this reason.

To be fair though it's understandable why someone could easily miss the "orcs as noble savages" meme that runs through WoW--by comparison players aren't forced to immerse themselves in a storyline as with single player games.

132.

Peter Edelmann>But the question remains for me as to how seriously you take Campbell. Is it just a convenient shorthand for describing the process of identity exploration/self-actualization in VWs?

For me, it's certainly not a shorthand. I see it as an explanation, not as a means of description. I could use the monomyth to describe the passage of food through the human body (from mouth="belly of the whale" onwards), but I don't believe that food is undergoing any kind of self-actualisation process. I only refer to the Hero's Journey because not only does it match what I see happening in virtual worlds, it gives a handle on explaining why it happens.

>If not, does this mean that the moral/ethical choices made in the course of play have no bearing on the progression of the "Hero's Journey"?

No, they do have a bearing on it. Every decision you make has a bearing if you have to live with its consequences.

>That doesn't sound much like Campbell

I don't think Campbell rules it out. He does talk of most mythical tales being fragments of the monomyth, and sometimes people do fail in them. The monomyth lays out the general path of progress to greater self-actualisation, but at an abstract level. It's like following a recipe in a cookbook: it tells you how to make the shepherd's pie, but it doesn't tell you what to do if you drop a pea on the floor.

>Most mythologies seem to be infused with a collective understanding of social values, and the Hero doesn't play a predominantly evil role [in the framework of the mythos in question] to attain those values.

Oh, I see where you're coming from now. My mistake: I wasn't suggesting that people who play "evil" characters do so to attain eveil values - that would indeed be something of an about face! No, I'm saying that for some people, playing "evil" gives them a better sense of what it is to be "good". They may wind up with an "evil" label, but if they were actually to BE evil in their play they would soon discover it's a losing strategy.

>What does it mean for a "hero" to enact an embodiment of evil?

It means the hero has authority issues to work out.

There's a "heroine's journey", which gets very dark at times, and it could be related to that. It's not very well thought out in my opinion, though, so I'm not a great fan of it.

>On a side note, I'm not so sure Campbell would dismiss the deep infusion of mythological and archetypal structures alluded to in the OP because it took place in a "magic circle".

I don't think he would, either. The magic circle is the boundary that separates the real world from the "other world" of myth. Without a magic circle, a virtual world can't sustain itself as the "other world".

>Many (most?) RL deities have pretty explicit rules about playing/interacting with iconography and archetypes.

Yes, this is a self-defence mechanism. If your monotheist religion is surrounded by animist religions, you ban the veneration of animals; if your later monotheist religion is surrounded by earlier ones, you ban the veneration of images. If you don't, your followers will be too easy to convert.

>The question is - do we take such things seriously? You evidently do not. Ted apparently does (perhaps a little too seriously...).

I take them seriously, because if I didn't then people who did take them seriously would set about me with pitchforks. I'm not going to photoshop any pictures of Vishnu nailed to a cross, even though I might think they'd look amusing, because I don't want people to come round and burn down my house. I do take these things seriously, just not seriously enough actually to believe them.

>But the problem is, if we don't take such things seriously - to what extent are we really going through a process of self-actualization by interacting with them?

We take them seriously enough to use them as tokens. Tolkien's orcs represent original sin: they are created inherently evil. They come out of birthing pits so we don't have the problem of "do you kill a baby orc, knowing that it is irredeemably evil and will only grow up into an orc that wants to kill you?". Now you don't need to understand Catholicism to be able to use orcs as a token for obstacles that can only be overcome through the force of your own character; they're mere tokens. Part of Ted's problem with WoW is that its orcs are not Tolkien's in nature: they do have babies and they have apparently been redeemed. They don't function as the symbols of implacable evil that they "should" do. This clash of symbols adds a degree of ambiguity to the mix. Individuals will interpret the symbols in the way that's most meaningful to them.

>If they are just window dressing, wouldn't we be better off interacting with symbols we do take seriously?

Perhaps. On the one hand, these would be far more powerful, but on the other hand we wouldn't feel the freedom to experiment. If an NPC Jesus worked in a carpenter's shop in Stormwind, then aside from all the RL problems that would bring Blizzard, would it help the players? Not those who were afraid of violating their RL faith, no - it's a step too far. They'd suddenly no longer be playing in a virtual world, but be back in the real world.

>In the end, "just a game" remains a double-edged sword.

That's what makes games such fun!

Richard

133.

Interesting article.

Too bad it doesn't hold water since not all Horde is evil and not all Alliance is good.

134.

This is a really interesting discussion.

I think the question of World of Warcraft's underlying lore or fiction has been dealt with pretty substantially; it doesn't seem to affect Ted's argument from his perspective.

I think the issue of consquences in the gameworld from avatar actions remains pretty live. What, in the actual play of World of Warcraft, is evil? It's not the quests and so on: those never actually happen to the world, and the only thing they do to characters is make them more powerful.

What are evil actions? On a PvP server, taking a level 60 character to a zone full of level 20ish antagonists and repeatedly killing them strikes me as being at least malicious, even though the consequences aren't much worse than an annoyance. Killing someone who is just about to finish a long, involved and difficult escort quest (easily the most annoying type in WoW) would be malicious. A stealthed rogue following behind someone who is clearing an area in order to harvest some resource (herb, mineral, chest) who snatches the resource while the clearer is occupied with a monster strikes me as being at least slightly wicked.

None of these actions (all of which I've observed) strike me as being correlated in the least with avatar choice. Ted's argument would predict that they should be, that avatars which signify in metafictional systems as "evil" should correlate with the actual maliciousness of players, or perhaps produce a tendency to malice that doesn't otherwise exist.

Perhaps we could look for other indicators: fractiousness between members of the same PvP faction? a tendency to malice in guild politics? These are things which are not coded into the game, which are not game-mechanical. Here again I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that Horde players are no more likely to exhibit "evil" behaviors.

135.

Yes, I think the flip side of this is being ignored. Since Tolkein elves have been "good." Before Tolkein, as far as my memory serves, they were at best amoral, at worst evil trickster types. (Or maybe the rehabilitation began with the whole North Pole-Santa Claus BS?)

We do have the "dark elf" types around (and to me the Night Elves tend towards this more than High Elves or Wood Elves in the D&D systems) and these appear to more closely resemble the sidhe of fable, but only in a relative sense. Where did the goody-two-shoes elf types come from?

Witness how most systems make dark elves less beautiful than their lighter counterparts too. If the dark elves are not unattractive in form, they usually are in facial expressions. The sneer, frown and smirk are the norm.

I think our reactions to these "races" in these games has far more to do with how they look or how they "play" from a mechanics angle than any baggage from language or "history."

The question of evil in games and gaming is an interesting one; I don't think confusing that with our reactions to the look and play of character races will result in much insight. Evil is as it does, not as it appears.

136.

Humans see no nobility in bloodshed? Our history is practically swimming in blood, and the tide has not abated to this day. Blood shed in the name of money, power, love, and especially religion. But it all boils down to a given group of humans trying to destroy everything that does not conform to their definition of right. Your arguments are presented well, but I strongly disagree. Scary does not equal evil. What does equal evil? That's defined differently by every individual, so it's my opinion that playing a Horde character may be "evil" (I hate to use that word, it reeks of dogma) for one person and completely amoral for another. Some may have chosen an Undead avatar simply because of Will of the Forsaken, arguably the best racial ability. That's an amoral decision. Good and evil do not have to enter into every facet of life.

I also believe that it is not logical to cite historic account as an argument that the word "orc" must imply an evil entity. Reams of fiction exist in which beings under the name orc are noble and good. There are many mythological creatures who are all over the morality map, depending on which source you go to.

137.

Richard >for some people, playing "evil" gives them a better sense of what it is to be "good". They may wind up with an "evil" label, but if they were actually to BE evil in their play they would soon discover it's a losing strategy.

I think it might be useful to distinguish the extra-diegetic "evils" of griefing, etc. from the diegetic "evil" of role-play/game fiction. Focussing on the diegetic "evil" character - it seems that you are saying the more the player identifies with such a character, the less they are on the hero's journey, and that the goal is to actually "overcome" the evil of your own character. Thus, if you are playing a truly "evil" character, this requires [one of?] two things: (1) not to take the character to its own limits and in fact play it against itself (thus making it ultimately NOT an evil character, but a reformed/redeemed one); and/or (2) the development and maintenance of a form of double consciousness on the part of the player ("good" player/"evil" character) not necessary for the player who role-plays a "good" character and who can therefore freely immerse themselves in identity play. Presumably, we are to hope that no one would reach the level of immersion you call "persona" [DVW:155] with an "evil" character - although it wouldn't be a problem with a "good"/reformed character.
Is the "Hero's Journey" thus different for a player with a [diegetically] "evil" character? And how does the double consciousness fit into the overall journey? (Can one be immersed at the level of "persona" and maintain a double consciousness? It would seem not - the very definition of persona is that there is no double consciousness.) Ultimately, it sounds like you are saying that there are ethical implications (with respect to the player's self-actualization) in choosing an "evil" character that there aren't when choosing a "good" one. Starting to sound a bit like Ted, no? From the OP (before it goes off into WoWland):

So here's my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil. But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

138.

I see at least a couple of main points being discussed:

(1) The good and evil of World of Warcraft, of Orcs and Undeads and so forth.

(2) Choosing an evil character in an online game is a reflection of your morality.

I'm more interested in the 2nd point, because I'm currently playing the MMOG "City of Villains".

As far as I can see, the game, which is a twin to the game "City of Heroes", only allows you to play evil characters. The game itself doesn't allow you to do the very evil things like murder, rape, and torture. But the things that they do let you do (in fact, you need to do them to advance your character) is, if not evil, blatantly criminal: theft, torture, and kidnapping.

The content of this game is similar to "City of Heroes" (in which you play the good guys) other than the evil flavor. The playable classes are generally more offensive in nature compared to the more defensive classes in "City of Heroes".

I, and a lot of other players, not only chose to play these evil characters, we actually *paid* for the privilege. The expansion is not free.

To be honest, I enjoyed it too. And I'm guessing that a lot of the other players did as well.

What does that say about my moral character?


139.

I wrote a little article on a closely related theme, about a year ago. You can find it here:

http://wow.stratics.com/content/features/editorials/ethics/

My argument there was that many people seem to think that games constitute a domain completely exempt from morality, because they are not real. I argued, to the contrary, that on any ordinary moral theory -- like utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, etc -- morality applies just as much to game behavior as to other behavior.

At any rate, I agree with Castranova.

140.

Since most of the salient points have been hashed out already, I'll focus on the few that I revisit most often when I get caught up in this age-old debate:

1) In WoW, you define your character as "good" or "evil" through social choices more than in quests or developer-structured activities. There are certainly games in which playing "evil" is a possibility inherent to the game design. Knights of the Old Republic is my favorite example. When I tried to explore playing evil I had to make in-character decisions that were exactly opposite to what I would do in real-life. In fact, I became so uncomfortable in some of these situations that I could simply NOT make myself follow through with the evil decision path (I made a significant swing back towards the Light side when I was on the wookie planet; I simply can't be mean to big, cute, fluffy things. It's against my girly nature or something).

Playing a horde character in WoW has not put me in this kind of moral quandary anymore than playing an alliance character has. I am also convinced (as are many of those who have responded before me) that the Warcraft lore points to a truer "evil", those forces that are geared towards destruction: the Burning Legion and the Scourge.

2) I would define the horde as "misunderstood", not evil. Having studied anthropology (specifically folklore) in school, I have an inclination to reject preconceived notions of good and evil. For how many years were the children of Western culture taught that the "savages" were heathens and evil-doers? Australian aborigines purportedly consorted with demons and were thus considered potential agents for evil. From our 21st century point of view, could we rationally or guiltlessly categorize any race with any large, sweeping value judgment? Certainly there are probably some Aborigines out there who have done some evil things, but I wouldn't claim their culture is "evil" any more than I would claim that American culture is "good".

In most video games, the Black and usually be easily distinguished from the White. Sonic the Hedgehog is good, the mad scientist dude is bad. Mario is good, Wario is bad. Even in EverQuest I would argue that the dark races (trolls, ogres, dark elves, etc) are constructed as evil because the gods they worship are all about death and destruction. The horde races in WoW, however, have always been interesting because Blizzard has presented the opportunity to play out these alternate interpretations of orcs, trolls, and undead. You can play a bad-acting, war-making troll if you want to, but you can also play a vegetarian orc hunter who likes to take care of animals.

141.

I also take avatar choice very seriously. In every offline roleplaying gae I have played, my character has generally been a Paladin. When I first got WoW, that was my starting character - human paladin. After becoming disenchanted with Blizzard's vision of the class I rolled a Dwarven Hunter. Slightly more fun to play, and still Alliance (and thus Good).

Not long after, however, I realized the truth as it stands on every server on which I've played for any length of time: Alliance players tend to be younger(apparently), and have little appreciation for role playing or even meaningful social interaction. After the millionth or so "WTFPWN3D!!111!" (on an RP server, remember), I rolled Horde. I chose Undead because I was interested in the redemption aspect of the backstory and chose a Warlock because I liked my hunter's pet abilities (and because I was told that the Warlock is the most difficult class to play well). I discovered that, contrary to your impression (and my initial impressions), the Alliance players regularly raided the starting towns of the Horde, killing hapless low level characters who tried to defend. When the Horde rallied by drawing in their own higher level players, the Alliance would retreat. I had a level 20 Undead character killed several times in a row by a single Night Elf rogue inside a Horde town.

The Horde are almost always outnumbered (4:1 ratios on many of the servers), and usually outgunned (higher numbers of Alliance means more chances to run the end game instances and get the best gear). When the numbers are more evenly matched (say, in the battlegrounds) the Horde generally win because of teamwork (again, this might be due to the relative ages of the players).

Based on your analysis, I am forced to conclude that you haven't really played WoW very much (that is, enough to experience the natures of the relative factions), or that you are on a server that's radically different from any I have seen. Based on every scrap of experimental evidence I've gathered in WoW, you've discovered some sort of Bizzaro world server where the Alliance is actually as noble as their graphics would indicate.

142.

I see at least a couple of main points being discussed:

(1) The good and evil of World of Warcraft, of Orcs and Undeads and so forth.

(2) Choosing an evil character in an online game is a reflection of your morality.

and

(3) Treating players differently because of the character they choose to play is discrimination

143.

Peter Edelmann>I think it might be useful to distinguish the extra-diegetic "evils" of griefing, etc. from the diegetic "evil" of role-play/game fiction.

Yes, I agree. The way I see it, the diegetic evil (ie. that existing only in the context of the game world) enables a player to resolve a dialectic between the extra-diegetic "good" of their real-life existence (as imposed by society) and the extra-diegetic "evil" that is their potential future if they were to rebel.

>Focussing on the diegetic "evil" character - it seems that you are saying the more the player identifies with such a character, the less they are on the hero's journey, and that the goal is to actually "overcome" the evil of your own character.

No, I'm saying that this could be part of their journey: an extended exploration of a possible future personality for them. If they really are bona fide jerks then I suppose it could aid them in becoming better jerks and therefore actually be a transforming step on the journey, but for most people I expect it would be a digression that gave them an understanding of why they don't act as jerks in real life.

"I could be evil, why aren't I evil?"
(2 months later)
"Even when I role-play evil, I still wind up acting good. Evil isn't as cool as it's made out to be."

It's not so much as the evil is overcome as that it's rejected. Evil is for losers.

>the development and maintenance of a form of double consciousness on the part of the player ("good" player/"evil" character) not necessary for the player who role-plays a "good" character and who can therefore freely immerse themselves in identity play.

All players have a certain amount of "double consciousness" in these virtual worlds: their real self and their virtual self. Through play, they gradually modify both of these, until at the end of their journey the character and the player are one and the same (as you say, I call this the "persona"). A player who is role-playing "evil" may have a bigger disjunction in some aspects of their personality than a player role-playing "good", but then the reverse could also be true. For example, someone who is shy in RL may find that by determinedly role-playing a "good" character they help others more, which gives them more interaction than they have in RL. The difference in their RL self and their virtual self could be every bit as big as the difference between someone who is trying to be cruel in the virtual world because in the real world they're a pushover who gets taken advantage of the whole time.

People role-play for different reasons, some directed and some undirected. You may play an evil character "for a change" and find it doesn't really click with you, so try something else instead; you don't have to be playing it because of some psychological need (well, what I mean is there probably IS a psychological need to gain SOME further self-actualisation, but playing an evil character may not deliver it - it's just part of a blind search for that "something" you're missing).

>Is the "Hero's Journey" thus different for a player with a [diegetically] "evil" character?

The steps aren't different, but the time taken in each step and the way the steps are taken will be different. Then again, at some level they're different for everybody.

>Can one be immersed at the level of "persona" and maintain a double consciousness? It would seem not - the very definition of persona is that there is no double consciousness.

The only way this could happen would be if you were role-playing a RL person playing in the virtual world. You might be famous in RL, for example, so pretend you're a truck driver from Baton Rouge, and then through role-playing that person role-playing a virtual character be able to reconcile the character and the fake person while still retaining your own sense of being separate from both.

It sounds pretty damned hard to me, though.

>Ultimately, it sounds like you are saying that there are ethical implications (with respect to the player's self-actualization) in choosing an "evil" character that there aren't when choosing a "good" one.

I don't see the implications as being ethical, so long as they remain diegetic. If they're taken out of the game, then they can be ethical. If players come away from a virtual world believing that it's fine to hate someone because of their sub-species (eg. "because they're orcs") and if they associate sub-species with RL concepts such as race, then that would be an ethical problem. If, however, they're trying to find out what the world would like when you look "different", for some advancement of personal understanding, then it would be fine.

>So here's my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil.

I'm with you up until this point.

>But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

I diverge from you here. I don't see the evil avatar as an expression of self, just as a possible expression of self which may (indeed, most probably will) ultimately be rejected.

I do, however, agree that some people really are wicked, and will pick a wicked character because that will enable them to be wicked without many of the unfortunate side-effects that come with being wicked in real life.

Richard

144.

Sorry I’m late. And I have to admit to some skipping reading the comments. Though I want to return to the very top and Ted’s core assertions:

>When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role.

Possibly, it depends on circumstance.


>There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil.

I think that the last point here needs some expanding. I’m not sure what in what ways ‘to explore the nature of evil’ could be considered a ‘good reason’ and remain consistent with the other views as I understand them.


>But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

There is one way in which I think one can see this as a valid, but false, argument. If we take ‘evil’ in principled / religious sort of way, then it seems to me that within this frame, any personal association with evil could be seen as a minor evil itself. This would based on some principle of association with evil and the belief that breaking that principle was intrinsically wrong i.e. we are not taking a consequentiality or other normative line here.

But what is this principle? What exactly is the person doing wrong?


Say I’m a good person - I choose an evil character as self-expression, well, here I must be mistaken as, if I’m good, the evil character fails to express me. So either good people just cannot choose this character or they if they do, they cannot choose them for the purpose of self-expression – so the, for the good, the choice cannot be evil.

Say, I’m an evil person and I choose an evil character for self-expression. Well, what other choice do I have? I’m evil so no other character would be self expressive – if I chose a good character then I would be deceiving people. So if I’m evil the only choices I have are evil ones, but that’s kinda by definition.

Say I’m not totally good or evil and I choose and evil character as a tool of self-expression. If the character is totally evil, then it’s failing to express me properly as I’m not totally evil. So I’m choosing not to self-express accurately but to emphasise one aspect of my personality over another in a specific context, specifically I’m choosing to express what is evil.

But we must note here, that choosing and evil character for good ends has been ruled out of our consideration, what is evil is just the fact of the choice to express that we have an evil side.

I’m being minimal here as the argument cannot get into what the player ‘does’ with the character as there we may get into mitigating ends and all kinds of consequential or other argument. No, the argument must rest no the act of the choice in and of itself.

But here I have to disagree, if a person cannot chose to express that a part of their personality is evil then they are denying their humanity, the important ethics kick in when the person choose how they act.

Lastly, back to the point on deception, say the not all good not all evil person chooses a good character as self expression, is this not an evil choice too, as the person is not purely good, so they are being deceptive in their choice and most moral codes see deception as bad. Thus, should the argument not conclude that any choice of character for self-expression is a bit evil?

145.

"Also, there’s decent evidence that the Undead represent oppressed proletariats."

I think the point that has to be addressed has far as choosing avatars is lurking in this sentence and others throughout the comment section.

It seems to me that, upon choosing an avatar, it's social signifiance that really matters, not "good versus evil".

In the case of WoW, what do we have ?

Alliance as the domineering class (Human=norm; Gnomes=geeks;Night Elves=Nature controler; I agree I don't quite know what to do of the dwarves yet) and Horde as the dominated (undead=oppressed proletarian, Orcs=blacks; tauren=american indian; Trolls= Carribeans).

What you project via the avatar is a whole construct of your real/fantasized place in society. You can be good or evil on any side because what you are and want to be is what you bring.
Orcs can be bad because you may assimilate them with low-life gangsta piece o'shit. Orcs can be good because you assimilate them with the noble ex-slave trying to find pride in his harsh life.
Humans can be good because you assimilate them with society's necessary normative process. They can be bad because they represent opression to you.

Those are only examples and none is incompatible with any other.

MD²

146.

Ren wrote:

I’m being minimal here as the argument cannot get into what the player ‘does’ with the character as there we may get into mitigating ends and all kinds of consequential or other argument. No, the argument must rest no the act of the choice in and of itself.

Then there's no intelligent argument to be had. The idea that someone is evil or good because of a genetic structure is absurd and is the sort of argument used by groups like the KKK to justify their hatred for minorities.

--matt

--matt

147.

I was not suggesting that anyone IS pure good or evil. I was using those to demonstrate that the argument falls down at each extreme, so the only position to argue upon is that a given individual is a mix of good and evil (assuming that is that one recognises these as meaningful terms – but I wanted to argue within the frame for now).

Given this I’m not quite sure how genetics comes into it. I think that the argument breaks down as I’m not sure how Ted is grounding a principle that the act of the choice in-and-of-itself has a moral status that is independent of any act that occurs following that choice. I can see how this might work in a completely abstract sense but not as a practical ethic, which is what seemed to be being proposed.

148.

Edward Castronova wrote (in part):
----
In advancing these positions, I am upending a number of apple carts. One is the ostensible objectivity of academic research. I know many people here feel they are fully in touch with the ambiguities of value in the academy, but it's amazing how little prepared people are, when it comes to the practical example of avatar choice, to accept that morals and values and Right and Wrong do play a role. As scholars, folks here are convinced they are not swayed by their passions. But what I sense is a passionate and arational commitment to denying the presence of ethics at all in the choice of how we play.
----

What is also interesting is that the opinions expressed by the OP have stereotyped the roles of certain avatars. This disregards the fact that a human avatar can be evil or good (which I hope others have already pointed out). Many RP'rs in Wow choose their avatar for looks and their class for good/evil (paladin=good, warlock=evil). Looks is not everything.

What you wish to see in the literary world (of MMORPG's) is the equivalent of children's tales, where we need obvious evil (orcs and trolls) in order to define real good and then discuss good vs. evil on the most elementary level. Yes, a child will find an Undead character frightening ... the same as the first encounter with a dog can be frightening. It has to do with education and experience whether those first fears will carry on into adult life.

Some enter WoW as teenagers who wish to explore childhood concepts to find out whether they are true or not. Some enter as adults who have already grown tired of these simplistic views of the world and desire to explore the complex gray areas of, for example, an avatar that is "ugly" and yet does "good".

Undead are simply of a different aesthetic - no more than that. And we need those differences to make a complete world that offers more than the one-dimensional good vs. evil linear path.

149.

I had the same reaction as Tom above. After playing an NE Druid in the open beta, I opted for a Troll Shaman on launch because: I like playing hybrid classes (Shaman/Druid) and I wanted to get away from the kiddies. Instead of researching the Warcraft lore (of which I knew scant little) I gathered as much info as I could about server population and makeup during the betas, and everything I read pointed towards Horde being outnumbered and more mature, both of which were strong reasons for me to choose Horde.

I like playing the class/race least played by people and I generally like to confound people's expectations. I just get tired of the cliche and, I would argue, boring avatar choices people make. My actions as a player tend to be exactly the same no matter what race/class I'm playing. I enjoy being a "good" player not matter what "side" I'm on. My shaman never engaged in PVP except to defend herself, and, indeed, I always enjoyed saving some alliance avatar who'd gotten in over his/her head during some PvE encounter. And yes, my troll has a pet panda, mon.

150.

C.D.: 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.

That's a fascinating assertion, and perhaps it's true in the context of teaching morality to very small children.

However, I would argue that videogames for adults -- which MMORPGs certainly are -- and indeed, entertainment for adults, should be far more about the second than about the first. The first is for early-childhood tales. The second is for those who have learned to think in a more sophisticated manner, which certainly includes adolescents and adults. Young adult novels have focused on the greys for decades, now -- arguably, these days, they are far more about the greys than even typical adult genre novels are.

151.

From my viewpoint, Ted's view is much too simplistic, rigid and offbase, especially when it comes to WoW.

In multiple MMORPG's I have played, even the ones with a distinct line between "good and evil", the reasons people play which race vary. I see it more like the difference between people that go to an amusement park and the people that go to Las Vegas.

Playing an evil protagonist is more exciting that playing the goody twoshoes cleric. But I rarely see a person play an evil character as truely evil and the ones that do, do not seem to last long as people shun them. My evil characters are naughty, jealous and generally joke in a ribald manner, while my goody characters are helpful to a fault at times and are more boring on the average.

I do see things on the evil side that I do not see, or see as much on the good side. In EQ1 on the RP server their was an evil guild that was a virtual brothel and on one of the EQ pvp servers their was an evil assassination guild. But on the other hand, inside evil guilds, people tended to be closer and more helpful to each other than the equivalent goody guilds.

WoW has blurred the lines somewhat but the Horde sides does seem to have more camaraderie than the Alliance.

The strongest characters I have seen played, good or evil have been the conflicted ones. Good dark elves, fallen paladins, etc... The people behind them are usually the most passionate too about breaking stereotypes.

It has been a very lively discussion, but ultimately misguided in my opinion. Anyone that plays or follows these games closely and cares enough to comment on them, sometimes very passionately, cannot be truely objective on the topic.

152.

(Chiming in late - apologies if I'm beating horses now recognized as dead.)

Ted said: If Blizzard wanted to make orcs un-evil, then they would have had to associate their culture more closely with commonly-accepted notions of what a good society is: orcs would have to have children, they would have to value love over war, would have to see little nobility in bloodshed, would have to reject alliance with undead beings, would have to be charitable.

Except for the "rejecting an alliance with undead beings" by this standard every person (let alone race) in WoW is evil: there are no children (though I guess the Horde has an orphanage - didn't know that either), there is no demonstration of love in gameplay, no one values anything over war, everyone depends entirely on bloodshed, and no race or group is more charitable than any other. Paladins aren't charitable because they're paladins, nor are warlocks miserly and mean-spirited because they're warlocks (hint: I play both).

More succinctly: "Evil is as evil does." Or: "By their fruits you shall know them." By these standards, I don't see much "good" on either side in the gameplay-related roles provided in WoW.

In terms of looks, Tauren look "good" and Night Elves look "evil." But that's not how they're cast. Do we really want to suggest that judging races or individuals by their appearance, even in a fantasy world, is a good idea?

I'm defending a point of view that I'm disappointed is not more widely-held among academics, which is that these worlds are not mere play-spaces, nor mere extensions of the real world. They are a place where we can hear a faint echo of things unconscious, even mystical. What happens in these places is deeply significant; their symbology carries genuine religious and spiritual meaning

It would be great -- and yet troubling -- if this were true. If game developers consciously or at least consistently handled psycho-social archetypes in ways that resonate deeply, that illuminate what we each already sense or know, then there would be a lot more to the assignment of "good" or "evil" to races and creatures in the game. I hope someday we'll dip more deeply into the well of symbolism, and create games with greater meaning as a result.

As it is, these archetypes are crude caricatures that are at best dim reflections of unconscious realities. They signify little if anything as they are. I'm reminded of my disappointment with the second and third Matrix movies: so many symbols and archetypes swirled around without coherent intent. It's as if the writers found a Jungian Coloring Book and thought if they filled the pages with bright color it would mean something. Unfortunately their jumble signified nothing; to retain meaning symbols need a more careful, consistent treatment than that. Similarly, invoking "orcs" in a fantasy game does not necessarily invoke "evil." At most in WoW invoking "undead" -- complete with ruins and disquieting, ghostly sound effects (as in the ruins leading to the Undercity) provides an impression of fearfulness -- but even this doesn't equate to evil.

While the the Alliance areas in WoW are typically depicted as brighter and more etherial than the Horde areas (though there are exceptions, e.g., Mulgore), what is more significant is the gameplay for each is virtually identical: kill monsters, get loot. If one side in this is evil for doing this, then both are. Neither side can claim any operative moral high ground.

Note that I don't mean to say that good and evil don't exist in games, or that our choices don't matter. I believe it's possible to be "good" in Animal Crossing, say -- helping others out, being charitable, etc. -- and virtually impossible to be anything but "evil" in GTA. (On that note and referencing a reply above, in moral terms why are we less uncomfortable with a game that glorifies murdering prostitutes than one that glorifies killing Jews?) Black & White, flawed game that it was, at least allowed you to experiment with both sides, both in how you interacted with your creature and how you interacted with the villagers.

But in WoW and virtually any other MMOG I know, I have a very difficult time classifying any of the gameplay as wholly good. Even healers and the like are generally acting to the direct benefit of those who are in turn focused on doing as much killing as possible. That said, I'm also not typically worried about the absence of moral good in such games, any more than I'm worried about the devastation and loss of life indicated by actions in a game like "Risk," putting people into bankruptcy and homelessness in "Monopoly," or intent to commit regicide in chess. Our choices have consequences, but not every consequence maps easily to the physical world, or to easy notions of good and evil.

153.

A few days and many posts ago, Mike Steele said:
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".

Well sure, if you make that assumption the whole thing is tautological: someone who knows what they're doing is evil chooses what has been labeled as evil and so it is evil. QED. But you too easily toss out real and viable motivations for choosing what others may call "evil" -- for example I chose to play an undead warlock just so I could see other parts of the content. There was no gleeful cackling about doing nefarious things with my hideous undead that would somehow be impossible with my shiny human paladin.

Now I agree that your play style often says a lot about you (and moreso as the genre approximates reality, as seen disturbingly in TSO), but play style is not the same as character choice. I've played paladins, warlocks, and rogues so far in WoW. My highest level character is an undead warlock. And yet I'm a fairly conservative family guy. I have a difficult time seeing any sort of meaningful "evil" about my warlock that doesn't also apply to my paladin, given that I'm the same player behind both, and given that their gameplay is virtually indistinguishable.

154.

Umm, I didnt bother reading this entire thing... I just feel I should let you realize something.

Humans are attempting massive genocide. Basically what you just said is that Jews are evil and Hitler is good.

Look at it this way: The forsaken dont want Undead to exist, they want to have peace that is why they are going against the scourge. The Tauren are trying to protect the world. The Orcs are trying to survive in a world that does not want them, and while many troll are inherantly evil the Darkspear tribe is basically playing defender to the Orcs trying to survive.

Why did the Blood Elves join the horde? Because the alliance screwed them over. Tried to kill them all, because that is the type of people they are. The Night Elves caused the burning legion to come, who kidnapped Orcs and puppeted the race until they became their army.

Look at seasonal horde quests, you do things for orphans, and try to honor heroes of the past who died.

The writer of this is just foolish, but I have put my 2 cents in.

155.

Actually, there are numerous demonstrations of love in the game, for both factions, with quests where the PC helps out someone wishing to help out their fiancee, mate, or loved one. I particularly like one from the elves in Feathermoon Stronghold (Feralas), where the wife's explanation amounts to "my husband loves to roam the hills on the mainland, but I worry about his safety; please kill some of the monsters there...but be sure not to let him know, so that he won't be humiliated", and one from the orcs in Camp Mojache (Feralas), where the husband's explanation is basically "my wife isn't sure about being posted here, and I'd like to get her something pretty, could you gather some sprite darter wings for a pretty cloak?"

Novice Forsaken get a quest at about level 3 to reunite a Scourge-ridden husband with his dead wife's remains, at the request of a friend of hers. A dozen levels later there's a moving, bitter quest from a Forsaken in the caves under Thunder Bluff to take an amulet of hers to the grave of the paladin husband who abandoned her in life to fight the Scourge and perished in the fight. The text for completing the quest is chill, a reminder of love turned foul.

There's a Horde quest in the Burning Steppes to find out what happened to a lost wife and then a duty to perform on behalf of her ghost.

And so on. It's certainly not a huge element in the game world, but it is there for both factions, with a mixture of humor, serious romance, and tragedy.

156.

Doesn't Saddam Hussein have children? And Mother Theressa doesn't?
Seriously, this is embarrassing. Gamers go where their friends are and look at what class they want to play. This restricts race choice.
Sorry to burst the baby boomer bubble here thinking avatar choice has some deep-spiritual-sexy Jungian meaning. It doesn't. Its just a game. Get over it.

157.

One might find a simpler example in City of Heroes vs City of Villians, where Good and Evil are distinguished more clearly. The acts of the villians are clearly evil. Evil characters begin in prison and have to break out, cops are getting beaten up by prisoners and everything is in flames. I won't let my kids play COV, it just feels wrong.

A good example of good and evil having moral effect can be found in Neverwinter nights, where characters change alignment if they do evil things vs good. This results in consequencesin the game. When I played evil characters on Divided Kingdoms, one of the many free servers hosting NWN, it was all in the playing and for fun.

Still some of those that chose evil were more loners and into greifing.

158.

Richard >I diverge from you here. I don't see the evil avatar as an expression of self, just as a possible expression of self which may (indeed, most probably will) ultimately be rejected.

I agree that Ted places too much emphasis on the initial choice in the rest of his post, and at that stage we are talking of possible expressions of self because there is little identification with the chosen character. The reason I cited the passage was that I read it [out of context, perhaps] as referring to the actualized expression of self of the persona - that is to say the stage at which the character chosen actually does become an expression of self. I think we're on the same page that the ethical problem doesn't arise unless the "evil" avatar as possible expression of self is ultimately accepted as such. Thus, I agree that the key point would be the end of the journey, rather than the beginning - as to whether starting out "evil" may require a different type of engagement I'm willing to leave for another time. The problem for me is the following:

> If they really are bona fide jerks then I suppose it could aid them in becoming better jerks and therefore actually be a transforming step on the journey,

Can you complete the "Hero's Journey" and come out more of an "evil"/jerk/loser than you were at the start? Doesn't sound like much of a hero - and doesn't sound much like Campbell. I think this the key contradiction I see in taking an "evil" character through your "Hero's Journey" - a player who takes it all the way to persona-level immersion could well end up more of a jerk IRL than they were before engaging with the VW [Note: this is equally true for the "good" character who turns "evil"]. Persona-level immersion would appear to be engaged [at least] at the penultimate stage of your "Journey" - Campbell's "Master of both worlds", which you describe manifested in VWs as "The player's virtual and real self are the same." [DVW:440]. Thus if the virtual self is "evil", the real self will either already have been "evil" (and thus presumably be reinforced in its ways), or will have become more "evil" in the course of engagement with the VW. Thus the [RL] ethical significance.
Assuming the Hero's Journey is a useful explanatory structure for VWs [1], then starting a game with an evil character implies, as I pointed out earlier, that either the character must "redeem" itself in the course of play, or that there are ethical issues with the player completing the Hero's Journey, as it may well make them more "evil" IRL on their way to persona-level engagement, much as we might hope that completing the journey with a "good" persona would have the converse effect and lead to personal growth. As I pointed out earlier, it seems to me that the "Hero's Journey"/monomyth described by Campbell is deeply infused with ethical significance in the Hero's choices and ultimate fate. Are the ethical underpinnings of the Journey somehow set aside when it is transposed into the VW context? Is it just as easily a "villain's journey"?

[1] You evidently see some truth in it, which means it is probably worthwhile for the rest of us [read:me] to at least understand the dynamics of it, based on my past experience with your work. It's in large part the reason for my queries, and our discussion so far has already been very helpful in that respect. Probably doesn't mean I'll stop being a pest, though ;-)

159.

I suppose in a simple sense when I read the whole thread I'm left wondering what Ted thinks of Paradise Lost. Or Faust. Or Macbeth. And so on.

160.

Heh... I feel I have to add just one more point before I beg the various TN authors to post *any* other article. :-)

There is a critical difference between single player games, or tabletop roleplaying amongst a group of intimates, and an MMO where you are playing with a large population of largely anonymous *people*. In such an arena, you aren't just roleplaying an 'evil' character by yourself, exploring the story and content, generally having some fun experiencing all the riches a game has to offer... solely an entertainment experience similar to matching a movie about dark characters or reading a novel. In an online world, (even in one whose story richly encompasses 'evil' in one context or another) players who choose to roleplay evil; hurting, inflicting pain and suffering, etc. are doing so at the expense of other *real* human beings. This is where, for me at least, it crosses the line from art/story/harmless-entertainment into something darker
and much much more real. Additionally, being generally anonymous makes it even easier to non-empathize with the other players (as much research has shown) and the barriers against inflicting suffering on others are lower.

I don't neccessarily agree with Ted about specifically "The Horde" versus "The Alliance" since people can obviously be Evil without the trappings of an 'evil' avatar class. That's really not the point, and I think we've all lost sight of it. The larger point I wanted to make was that peoples moral/ethical choices in an online entertainment experience are far from innocent, or apropos of nothing.

I wanted to also thank everyone for a stimulating week of reading! (honest!)

161.

Richard Bartle sez: "If they really are bona fide jerks then I suppose it could aid them in becoming better jerks and therefore actually be a transforming step on the journey,"

Peter Edelmann respondz: "Can you complete the "Hero's Journey" and come out more of an "evil"/jerk/loser than you were at the start? Doesn't sound like much of a hero - and doesn't sound much like Campbell."

Richard seems to be taking away a echo chamber theme from Campbell, and I agree with Peter: that doesn't sound like Campbell. Myths are closer to a crash course in how society should work. Orpheus should try to rescue Eurydice from the depths of Hades. Horus should resurrect Osiris. And what a hero brings back is a echo chamber theme of the society.

The difficulty, obviously, would be applying a good/evil theme onto it. It's relative here: the hero brings the society closer to the correct ideal, as perceived by the narrator. Moses destroyed the golden calf, in part because the narrator knew that the calf was a symbol of idolatry that took away from Yahweh's worship. When the ideal is the status quo, as most fantasy revolves around nowadays, then the villain upsets it and the hero restores it.

It's also been a while since I read Campbell...

162.

Amberyl:>That's a fascinating assertion, and perhaps it's true in the context of teaching morality to very small children.

And yet here is Edward Castronova, feeling surrounded by a crowd of fellow academics and fellow gamers who, apparently, did either not learn the lesson as very small children, or thought it was a lesson they ought to outgrow rather than deepen.

>The second is for those who have learned to think in a more sophisticated manner, which certainly includes adolescents and adults.

That raises an interesting question which Ren Reynolds has brought up before http://www.igda.org/articles/rreynolds_ethics.php>in a different context: Would Socrates play World of Warcraft? That he wouldn't touch Grand Theft Auto with a ten foot pole was a foregone conclusion.

But would Socrates play a 'grey' game, an 'adult' game, in which actual moral growth was precluded by suspending the entire virtual world in the perpetual twilight of moral ambiguity?

I don't think that he would.

163.

Peter Edelmann>I think we're on the same page that the ethical problem doesn't arise unless the "evil" avatar as possible expression of self is ultimately accepted as such.

Yes, I agree with you there.

>Can you complete the "Hero's Journey" and come out more of an "evil"/jerk/loser than you were at the start? Doesn't sound like much of a hero - and doesn't sound much like Campbell.

A hero is someone who completes the hero's journey, so if it's possible to complete the journey through self-actualising as a jerk then you can get jerk heroes.

>I think this the key contradiction I see in taking an "evil" character through your "Hero's Journey" - a player who takes it all the way to persona-level immersion could well end up more of a jerk IRL than they were before engaging with the VW

I wouldn't say that such a jerk would necessarily be more of a jerk than they were before they started, but they'd be a better jerk (ie. their jerk qualities would be more integrated into their personality). It could turn out they were a jerk less often, but with more finesse, for example.

>Thus if the virtual self is "evil", the real self will either already have been "evil" (and thus presumably be reinforced in its ways), or will have become more "evil" in the course of engagement with the VW.

I see these as essentially the same thing. For someone to have become more evil in the course of engagement with the virtual world, there would have had to be the raw material of evilness there to start with. That said, it might have been that if they hadn't played then their evilness would have remained subdued in real life, so the virtual world has liberated it. On the whole, though, I don't think virtual worlds as they are today are set up to release that kind of evilness, and even if they were there are so few people around who truly are evil that we'd be freeing many monsters (especially compared to the number of non-monsters we free).

>or that there are ethical issues with the player completing the Hero's Journey, as it may well make them more "evil" IRL on their way to persona-level engagement, much as we might hope that completing the journey with a "good" persona would have the converse effect and lead to personal growth.

Anyone who completes the hero's journey has experienced personal growth, whether they're good or evil. If someone is basically evil in real life then they could grow as an evil person, much as a non-evil person would. Indeed, they could grow as an evil person purely through playing nominally good characters - their disillusionment could be reinforced this way, much as a good player playing an evil character will usually reject that view of life.

>Are the ethical underpinnings of the Journey somehow set aside when it is transposed into the VW context? Is it just as easily a "villain's journey"?

Not just as easily, no. Fortunately, the number of non-evil people in the world vastly outweighs the number of evil people, and the way that virtual worlds are constructed and exist it would be very hard for an evil person to succeed in them.

Richard

164.

Michael Chui>Myths are closer to a crash course in how society should work. Orpheus should try to rescue Eurydice from the depths of Hades. Horus should resurrect Osiris. And what a hero brings back is a echo chamber theme of the society.

For me, the hero's journey is an individual's journey. Yes, it does show (among other things) how an individual interacts with society, but for some people it may be that it helps them realise that actually they don't want much to do with society. Hermits can be heroes.

In this view, society is an emergent feature of having many people who follow the same path. Society doesn't define the journey; society grows out of people's individual needs, in the same way that economies grow out of the workings of an "invisible hand". Society echoes the psychology of individuals, not the reverse.

I haven't read enough Campbell to know if I'm at odds with him here, but I have read enough to believe that at least when he wrote "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" he saw it as deriving from the psychology of individuals.

Society gives Orpheus the goal, but Orpheus, not society, undertakes the journey.

Richard

165.

Nick wrote:

One might find a simpler example in City of Heroes vs City of Villians, where Good and Evil are distinguished more clearly. The acts of the villians are clearly evil. Evil characters begin in prison and have to break out, cops are getting beaten up by prisoners and everything is in flames. I won't let my kids play COV, it just feels wrong.

You're in prison because of a corrupt judicial system and the cops are long-time oppressors of prisoners, getting what they deserve.

Good and evil are in the eye of the beholder.

--matt

166.

Well I guess the results are in. Ted thought that blizzard couldn’t use the tropes of fantasy to suite their own story and the overwhelming response so far as been a deep attachment to that story. Clearly you are an outsider to Warcraft and as the previous posts have shown the lore of the game is quite meaningful to many gamers.
That is what is truly wrongheaded about your approach. Telling everyone what a word meant in the 9th century is a rather pointless endeavor. Wouldn’t it be better to see what the gamers themselves think, why they play?
Instead you single-handedly write off everyone who plays horde, worst of all you do so as if they were morally inferior.
People keep saying that this is an interesting topic, but really I think it has gotten all of this attention because of the sheerer absurdity of the post. At first I thought you were just trolling, since almost all references to the game are wrong, (See previous posts for factual information)
I have read some great things on Terranova and frankly this is just downright embarrassing. Please stop shaking your OED and pronouncing some sort of moral condemnation on gamers. I think you will find that we have our reasons and that we respond much better to conversations than to morally dogmatic rants.

167.

I would simply state that there is the old idea of the noble savage. The orcs can certainly fill that role. While yes, they do focus on war and strength in arms and their hierarchy is based on such things, they are, as stated, not entirely with out redeeming qualities. In world of war craft there are two types of orcs. Those that you play and those that are computer controlled. The computer controlled orcs(orc mobs as they are often called) are wholly evil, with no redeeming character. The player orcs however are the exceptions to this rule. They are the ones who have risen above their base nature and have attempted to achieve something grander than continual violence and death. They have developed their own nation which prospers. The two nations, Horde and Alliance are in conflict. There would be no story with out this conflict. The general mobs are evil and continually attempting to bring down all of civilization. Attacking farmers and stealing things, burning down buildings and haunting mines. Both Horde and Alliance are steadily working to end such activities, and in this at least they see eye to eye.

Also children are known to be scared, or at least hesitant, of things and people that they are unfamiliar with. Batman may look scary, dark, and bat like, but most people can tell you he is a champion of good and justice. Yet a young child, seeing him for the first time, could be well understood to be frightened of him.

Please note that this is not meant to be an end all argument that the Horde faction is not evil. The world is not black and white, in fact I would challenge most claims of evil. Often it is not evil that people exhibit, but either a misguided attempt at making the world better, or else selfishness.

168.

Would Socrates play World of Warcraft?

No of course not. He'd be too busy with SimCity and The Sims (the original only of course) to bother.

Plato would be a major guild-leader on the Alliance side, and Alcibiades would be an orc corpse-camper on a PvP server. (Or so says my son the classicist, who also roughly equates the three with Obi Wan, Luke, and Darth, respectively).

169.

Travis wrote:

I have read some great things on Terranova and frankly this is just downright embarrassing. Please stop shaking your OED and pronouncing some sort of moral condemnation on gamers. I think you will find that we have our reasons and that we respond much better to conversations than to morally dogmatic rants.

Best post in the thread.

--matt

170.

Richard: Society gives Orpheus the goal, but Orpheus, not society, undertakes the journey.

Actually fate gives Orpheus the goal. Orpheus' journey then serves as an object lesson to society.

171.

"The general mobs are evil and continually attempting to bring down all of civilization. Attacking farmers and stealing things, burning down buildings and haunting mines."

Ironically enough, this is exactly the opposite of the truth. NPCs are completely static, and do nothing until you provoke them through an attack or by stepping too close to them. It is the players who attack farmers, steal things, burn down buildings, and, erm, camp mines.

Any evidence of NPC "evil" is provided only through story text, not through actual action on the NPCs' part. There are a few almost-exceptions in WoW, such as the Rend Blackhand event in Upper Blackrock Spire, but again, you assaulted his citadel- he's not attacking Orgrimmar with the chromatic dragonflight.

(Holding myself from further, more specific ranting in this thread because, well, it's too long already.)

172.

When we begin labeling avatar selection in an online game as good or evil, we have really lost track of any real definition of these words. Even if you could make the case that the Undead or Orcs in WoW are "evil" - what then does that word even mean? It would be easy to make the case that the Holocaust was evil. If these two things are both evil, then that word has lost any relevant meaning in our lives as an adjective.

If the word evil is going to keep any meaning at all, we have to qualify the vast difference between the Holocaust and a WoW Undead by saying the Undead is "pretend evil" - something that exists only in the imagination. That you can even attempt to bridge the gap between real evil and pretend evil by saying that race selection constitutes some kind of real life moral choice, is quite frankly ludicrous and comes off as just an attention-seeking stunt.

While WoW players do have the opportunity to affect other people's lives, this effect is highly contained. About the worst thing you can do in WoW to another person is to disrupt their gaming experience by killing them, camping their respawn, and continuing to kill them. A disruption of someone's entertainment, which we might classify as an annoyance, but could not reasonably claim to be an evil act. And it should be noted that this interation between players is open to all avatars on both sides of the game.

173.

The Holocaust was evil.

Sci-Fi Network's making me wait a few months for the conclusion to Battlestar Galactica's "Pegasus" was evil.

I am fairly certain Ron Moore is not roughly equivalent to Heinrich Himmler.

There are degrees here, folks...

174.

Forgive my intrusion, I don't play MMORPGs. I only was directed here via Liz Lawley's post at the Corante Many 2 Many blog. I have written about blogging and values, so this caught my eye.

So I did a quick lesson in the last 24 hours, reading some of the papers referenced here, reading Nick Yee's Daedalus Project, reading some of Julian Dibbell's writings (I remember reading "A Rape In Cyberspace" a decade ago).

One thing caught my eye from Castronova's original post:

"To treat these environments as mere platforms for fooling around or making money, is in my view bordering on sacrilege."

Now, I learn from WarcraftRealms that only 10% of the WoW players are serious enough to be on the RP realms. I assume the other 90% are fooling around, and Blizzard is happy to have their money. And I can't imagine that these numbers are any different from other cultural activities. (e.g., a elite group of bloggers bloviate about the mass numbers of blogging, while 90% or 99% are just fooling around with it).

I've scanned just the tip of the 173 comments here-- and see that Castronova promised on the 27th to sum them up shortly. (I can wait until 2006) But I'm happy to read the post from "Swerve" at the end. It would seem to me that poor judgment to see evil as inherent characteristic, but instead manifestation of behaviors. Elsewhere I've learned of gold farming, of loot-hoarding, of zerging-- these tend to be behaviors which are repugnant to most users, and thus associated with bad values. Now these add up to a criminal syndicate when you have the little fish doing things for the big fish, who all are striving to curry favor with the capo. That's evil: your free will is subjugated to serving a mortal master towards his gain and at the expense of others.

Now it seems to me that Blizzard or game-makers can do one of two things with behavior. They can outright erase it from their universe (what we mortals in terra prima tend to petition of our Creator). Or they can let evil be, and give man (and elves, etc.) the means to combat it (laws and police and courts). Though I don't think that legal environments are as popular on MMORPGs as they are in television and movies. So to my understanding Blizzard and others tend to follow the first strategy. But I suppose then that if role-players are want virtual universes which have moral strife within them, they will ultimately abandon the sanitized amorality of WoW and decamp to the universes of the "serious games" based on real-world situations.

175.

For me, the hero's journey is an individual's journey

It is and it isn't, I think. In one sense, the hero himself matters: he walks the walk. But in another sense, it's the hero's encapsulation in a society-narrated story what makes him a myth.

I think that Campbell extends this concept and suggests that individuals can and should go on their own hero's journey, which, to me, means they should take part in the myth and extend it by their contribution.

In this view, society is an emergent feature of having many people who follow the same path. Society doesn't define the journey;

Society is almost certainly an emergent feature, but it's not a uniquely human trait, whereas I tend to think that the hero's journey is. This suggests that they're unrelated in the sense you describe.

society grows out of people's individual needs, in the same way that economies grow out of the workings of an "invisible hand".

The analogy, however, is broken, because Smith's thesis, if you ask me, has been thoroughly trashed by Keynes. An analogy between societies and economies might be feasible, but not like this.

>>Society gives Orpheus the goal, but Orpheus, not society, undertakes the journey.

Actually fate gives Orpheus the goal. Orpheus' journey then serves as an object lesson to society.

Fate gives the situation. Society defines the goal. Orpheus undertakes the journey. Orpheus takes the hero's mantle. Society repeats the story as an object lesson to its descendents.

self-actualization

I think the usage of this term is significant. If I don't mistake, the term was popularized by Abraham Maslow and coined by Kurt Goldstein (according to Wikipedia), not Joseph Campbell. While "Hero of a Thousand Faces" was published 5 years after "Theory of Human Motivation", I have some doubts as to whether or not Campbell derived from Maslow.

More particularly, Maslow would not have characterized a self-actualized individual as anything we commonly describe as a jerk. Instead, he seems to suggest an implied sense of absolute goodness achieved through self-actualization that further parallels the Hero's Journey. It's arguable that the Journey is the movement from "Belongingness" to "Self-actualization". (As per http://www.xenodochy.org/ex/lists/maslow.html.) You have a departure and return motif that can be offered: entering the Esteem stage creates a level of separation from society (Departure), during which one might learn much about themself (Initiation), after which he returns to society a better man who is dispositioned towards sharing the fruits of his knowledge (Return).

176.

From a gameplay standpoint:

'Evil' in World of Warcraft is ninja looting (stealing) or auction house manipulation (capitalism.) Playing an Orc is not 'Evil.' If playing an Orc was a reflection of someone's moral values, more Horde characters would ninja loot than Alliance characters. Honestly, I think the vast majority of ninja looters are Night Elf Rogues, so go figure. Night Elf Rogues, above all other compinations, are more likely to be do evil things from a gameplay perspective than any other race/class combination. This is not anecdotal really, go ask on any server forum.

From a lore perspective:

The Horde are definately not portrayed as evil as a whole. The undead are quite evil, or at least dismissive of the concept of morality to the point of becoming evil. This is reflected in the game as they start off neutral to the rest of their own faction.

The orcs have done evil things, but they have done good things. They do have children and they do have an orphanage. They stand against the Burning Legion, a force of destructive evil, and try to distance themselves from the association they once had with them. That would be like saying modern day Germans are evil because their ancestors may have been Nazis.

The trolls are pretty much neutral, the trolls also fight other trolls fairly regularly. So some trolls are good and some trolls are evil, putting them on par with the humans.

The Tauren are clearly good, their racial enemy is the centaurs who are clearly evil. The Taurens revere nature and seek to protect it, and not in an E.L.F. kinda way, so I think we can also put that in the good column.

Many of the humans are definately evil. The Scarlet Crusade is clearly evil. The Defias Brotherhood is pretty evil. Theres as many evil factions of humans in the World of Warcraft as their are good ones. Oh wait, real life is like that too.

In short, race/nationality does not make you evil in real life, so why would it in a game?

177.

Richard >A hero is someone who completes the hero's journey, so if it's possible to complete the journey through self-actualising as a jerk then you can get jerk heroes. [...] Anyone who completes the hero's journey has experienced personal growth, whether they're good or evil. If someone is basically evil in real life then they could grow as an evil person, much as a non-evil person would.

I don't know whether or not to take this as an expression of moral relativism, or whether we simply have differing understandings of personal growth and self-actualization. The various stages of the Hero's Journey are framed in terms of a hero who moves from darkness into light. The heroes of mythology do not go through the stages of self-reflection and struggle to end up like Hanibal Lecter [fill in your own embodiment of evil as desired], regardless how much "finesse" they might bring to it.
In rereading your "Hero's Journey" section in DVW and in the course of our discussion, it is becoming clearer to me that your engagement with Campbell and the monomyth are perhaps more superficial than I thought (which is odd, because my initial reaction reading it a year or so ago was that you maybe took it all too seriously). I make no claims to expertise in Campbell's work, and I haven't engaged with it in any serious way (nor do I plan to, necessarily) - but it seems to me you are using it more as a rough outline that parallels player progression, not only leaving the journey secularized and gutted of its mythic resonance, but also attenuating its transformative nature. Just to take one example, your own description of Campbell's "Atonement with the Father":

This is the key point of the journey, in which the hero faces whatever entity has the supreme power in their life. The hero recognizes the darkness in his or herself and discovers the light. The hero's old self is killed (literally or metaphorically) and the new self steps forth.[DVW:436]
Leaving aside whether this actually reflects Campbell's description - the subsequent application to VWs is somewhat different. While the original description clearly describes a journey towards a form of enlightenment/renewal (Campbell's examples alude, inter alia, to atonement with God), your application to VWs has no moral or self-actualizing element at all. The atonement with the father (the designer) essentially takes place when the game mechanics have been mastered:
Atonement with the father This is the step that players spend most of their time taking, putting the skills they have acquired into practice. [...] The virtual world's achievement metric charts the players' progress to their goal. When they reach the end as the virtual world defines it, they "win". It is the key moment in their virtual existence. The "father" who they are confronting is the virtual world's (lead) designer, whose will is expressed by the virtual world and who wields its ultimate power. When the designer (through the implementation of the virtual world) accepts them, then they have the closure they need to move on to the final, serene state of total immersion. [DVW:438-439]
I suppose that once the Hero's Journey has been reduced to this level of abstraction it can just as easily describe a journey into evil as it can the journey of breakfast through the digestive tract (as you pointed out earlier and in DVW). However, at that point I wonder how much depth the "Hero's Journey" can offer as an analytical or explanatory tool for VWs.

178.

Your questions, comments, and discussions are all very good but here is the most important question, "What is the record for most number of posted comments in a TN thread?"

This thread is up to 178 ...

179.

Scott Jennings>The Holocaust was evil.

No, the people who perpetrated it were evil.

Richard

180.

Michael Chui>In one sense, the hero himself matters: he walks the walk. But in another sense, it's the hero's encapsulation in a society-narrated story what makes him a myth.

The way I see it, the hero is relevant to the individual, which makes the myth relevant to society. Society narrates the story because society grew from the story; if it didn't, how come it's a monomyth and not a polymyth, one for each society?

>Society is almost certainly an emergent feature, but it's not a uniquely human trait, whereas I tend to think that the hero's journey is. This suggests that they're unrelated in the sense you describe.

I'm not so swift to dismiss it on that basis. There are animal societies - wolves, apes, birds etc. - that may or may not emerge for the same primitive psychological reasons as human society, but the reason they don't have a myth is because they're not of human level sentience. If dolphins could pass stories from one generation to the next, perhaps they too would have a monomyth - one which need not necessarily bear much relationship to ours.

>Actually fate gives Orpheus the goal. Orpheus' journey then serves as an object lesson to society.

>Fate gives the situation. Society defines the goal. Orpheus undertakes the journey.

Oh, OK, I thought you meant society was defining the myth in terms of its promulgation. From Orpheus' point of view, yes, fate does give the situation and society then gives the goal.

>Maslow would not have characterized a self-actualized individual as anything we commonly describe as a jerk. Instead, he seems to suggest an implied sense of absolute goodness achieved through self-actualization that further parallels the Hero's Journey.

I haven't read Maslow, so I defer to you here. I know he did the "hierarchy of needs" stuff, but I've only ever read articles about it, not the actual source. Remiss of me, I know...

The reason I use "self-actualisation" is because that's what other people have used as a description of its goal and it seems to make sense. If it's the wrong term, OK, well I need a better one then. I sort of visualise it as a release of hidden potential through self-understanding. What was there before but hidden is now seen, and degrees of emphasis change. It's a growing of the self, but it won't grow what wasn't already in the seed somewhere.

>entering the Esteem stage creates a level of separation from society (Departure), during which one might learn much about themself (Initiation), after which he returns to society a better man who is dispositioned towards sharing the fruits of his knowledge (Return).

I see the fit, but it doesn't really explain what's going on enough for me. Campbell's version has an internalisation mechanism that explains what's going on, whereas Maslow's (as far as I can tell - I may be very wrong here) says that it happens, rather than why it happens.

Richard

181.

I have read, or at least skimmed, nearly all of this thread (except some of the Campbell discussion). One of the things I'm seeing is that people seem to be looking at the parts of the elephant, not the whole.

A lot of this has focused on whether the Horde faction in WoW is evil or not, and whether Blizzard's twisting and reversal of popular fantasy stereotypes makes a difference. I think that's missing some major points.

First of all, the matter of why people pick a specific faction, race, class, etc., in the first place. Leaving out external forces (friends who play Alliance, a guild that needs a healer, etc.) they fall into roughly two groups: the optimizers and the experiencers. The latter is a terrible term, but it's 5 am and I can't think of a better way to describe someone who wants to enjoy playing a particular type of character without carrying the baggage of "roleplayer". In very sweeping and hence inexact terms, these two basic types are as follows:

The optimizers choose their character type for one primary reason: They calculate that its faction, race, class, and talents, combined with their preferred playstyle, will be the most powerful character they can create. They pay absolutely no attention to the game lore because it has no impact on the game mechanics. They play undead because they get WotF. They probably don't know that orcs, as described in the WoW lore and backstory, are not evil -- but they couldn't care less if orcs were angels or devils, all they care about is whether the orc racial bonuses fit into their character template. The character is just a playing piece on a gameboard to them.

The experiencers, on the other hand, do pay attention to whether their character type is good or evil -- but unlike the optimizers, they have looked at the WoW lore, read the background material, maybe bought a novel or two. They know, for instance, of Thrall's brutal childhood as the slave of a human officer and how he led his people to freedom. So the people choosing characters based on what they see that character type as don't consider orcs inherently evil, etc., because they know the WoW backstory. They are not choosing an evil race because they know there are none in WoW.

There is another reason for picking one side over the other which does involve the character models, but it doesn't involve good or evil; it involves machismo, or something like it: WoW humans are kind of sissy looking. Night elves are, um, well, let's just leave out the sexual orientation stereotypes here. Dwarves are stubby little guys, like they got stepped on and squashed. Gnomes are just flat-out ridiculous. (gah-nomes must die!) For someone who wants to take the role of a tough, hardened warfighter in World of WarCraft, orc and tauren characters are much more physically imposing, and hence more appealing. And, of course, undead get WotF.

Evil is defined by a player's actions, not by his avatar's skin. I tend to resist the popular trend of labelling any socially unacceptable action as "evil" -- it cheapens true evil, which is all too common in the world. But to the extent that playing as evil is possible in WoW, it consists of things which cause negative consequences to other players for selfish or cruel reasons. For example, the situation described above where a group of higher-level players repeatedly killed and corpse/graveyard camped a lower-level player in order to spoil his enjoyment of playing a game. In a small, petty sense, that is evil. So is the person who rolls on a rare drop that another player badly needs, then disenchants it and laughs at the upset player who lost the roll and the item. Grief play, in short, is as close to evil as it's possible to get in a computer game -- trying to ruin a fellow player's fun. But it is the actions of a human being, not the particular graphic his character has, which make him good, evil, or somewhere in between.

If Blizzard wanted to make orcs un-evil, then they would have had to associate their culture more closely with commonly-accepted notions of what a good society is: orcs would have to have children, they would have to value love over war, would have to see little nobility in bloodshed, would have to reject alliance with undead beings, would have to be charitable.

It has been pointed out many times that Ted is not sufficiently familar with WoW to use it for an example, shown by statements such as that. It is a regrettable fact that Blizzard did a rushed/half-assed job on the Horde content and Horde cities lack the "color" such as the kids fishing in Stormwind, the soldiers drilling in Theramore, etc. That's not a matter of the Horde races being evil, any more than the lack of beds in the Orgrimmar inn means they never sleep. It's just that Blizzard never finished the job. However, there are cute little Orc kids, and they're just as grateful for their strawberry ice cream as the Alliance kids.

As far as a "good society" valuing love over war -- on that basis, neither faction is good. They both revere their warriors. (come to think of it, a good hard look at our real-world society comes up much the same) Both sides see nobility in bloodshed, in fighting for one's people and beliefs. The Alliance queues for the Battlegrounds too, you know. Both are charitable in game-mechanics terms (the orphans quest, cloth turn-ins, etc.) and in my experience, having played Horde on a PvP server and Alliance on a carebear server, the Horde players are significantly more helpful to their fellow players. As for the alliance with the Undead, has it not been said that the enemy of my enemy is my ally? When the rest of the world is trying to exterminate you, or at least return you to slavery, you take your allies where you find them.

The only race that is arguably evil in the game is the Forsaken, and even then, it is the NPCs, not the PCs, who are evil. Player undead are no more likely to be griefers than anyone else. Some of their quests, yes, are quite disturbing -- but I suspect Blizzard created them that way deliberately, in order to maintain some distance between the NPC quest givers and the undead PCs, who for obvious reasons need to feel more of a connection with other Horde players, of any race, lest the Horde become effectively two factions, skewing game balance all to hell. You don't have to do any of those quests, either.

The NPC orcs, trolls, and undead are evil? Well, yes they are. So are the NPC humans (Scarlet Crusade, Defias), Dwarves (Dark Iron), Elves (read the lore and shudder), and even the silly little gnomes (weapons of mass destruction, anyone?).

WoW is simply a bad choice for an example, especially if you don't know the story as an experiencer-type player would (optimizers don't care either way, they just want WotF). A 3-year-old's fear is not a good measurement, either; many young children are as terrified of clowns as they are of skeletons.

I don't play my Horde characters because I want to be evil, or because I believe they are evil. I play them because (aside from my guild being there) I like the physically imposing models (yes, I'm short IRL), I like the quicker BG queues, and I particularly like the fact that I've met far fewer asshats on the Horde side. Evil doesn't come into it.

182.

in regards to wow I think both alliance and horde are evil. They both subsist on the destruction of the other. They both seek rewards that are based on the destruction of the other.

I find your argument tainted by your own perceptions. Given a modern example to illustrate.

We as westerners think aboriginal tribes in africa are 'stupid' because they can not read or write. Aboriginal tribes think we are 'stupid' because we can not remember anything and write it all down.

183.

Peter Edelmann>I don't know whether or not to take this as an expression of moral relativism, or whether we simply have differing understandings of personal growth and self-actualization.

I don't see it as relativism; the evil person would be self-deluding if they didn't think they were evil. Of course, most evil people probably are self-deluding.

>The various stages of the Hero's Journey are framed in terms of a hero who moves from darkness into light.

Yes, but that's darkness in the sense of self-knowledge. By shining a light on their internal make-up, they are brought to a greater understanding of who they are, and are better able to be who they are.

>The heroes of mythology do not go through the stages of self-reflection and struggle to end up like Hanibal Lecter [fill in your own embodiment of evil as desired], regardless how much "finesse" they might bring to it.

That's right, they don't, but why would they? Only evil or completely psychopathic people are going to identify with such a hero enough to want to pass the story from generation to generation, and most people aren't that evil. If they were, society wouldn't have evolved the way it has.

Heroes in myth are there because the people who hear the myth identify with them, and at some deep level sense that they are being confronted with similar patterns of being as the hero. People aren't going to want to hear a story about someone who was evil and yet still completed the journey, because that doesn't resonate with them - it only resonates with evil people.

>In rereading your "Hero's Journey" section in DVW and in the course of our discussion, it is becoming clearer to me that your engagement with Campbell and the monomyth are perhaps more superficial than I thought

That is almost certainly true. My book was the first occasion upon which I wrote about Campbell; I hadn't done so prior to that.

>it seems to me you are using it more as a rough outline that parallels player progression, not only leaving the journey secularized and gutted of its mythic resonance, but also attenuating its transformative nature.

I'm trying to use it to give a theoretical underpinning to player progression. It may be that it's just a happy coincidence, but I see too many parallels between what Campbell says is going on and what I understand is going on for this to be completely true.

The journey as I describe it is secularised because the hero's journey is a secular object. Campbell treats religious stories as just more myth, which is good. Anyone who can talk about Buddha and the Frog Prince in the same breath has my vote!

I focus on the transformative nature of the journey because that's why it's useful for virtual worlds. It may be that by not regarding the rest of it (and there's a LOT of baggage that it's accumulated over the years) I'm painting a false picture. If that's the case, OK, well hopefully someone can paint the true picture instead.

All I want from this is better virtual worlds. If it turns out Campbell doesn't justify my player types model, well, hopefully in proving this we'll get a better theory instead.

>While the original description clearly describes a journey towards a form of enlightenment/renewal (Campbell's examples alude, inter alia, to atonement with God), your application to VWs has no moral or self-actualizing element at all.

I don't see that Campbell alludes to "God" for moral reasons; I see that he does it because "the father" is the most powerful determining force in the hero's life and in many examples that turns out to be a deity. It doesn't have to be a deity, and in many cases it isn't. Sometimes, it's just a (literal) father, for example. It may be my own atheism coming through here, though, because I really do read all those stories of gods as if they were on a par with fairy stories and other folklore; I don't see a need for a deity to justify morality.

So you're right about the secular thing, but I'm really not getting my point across if it seems I'm not in tune with the self-actualisation part of the Atonement step. That, for me, is the element that clinches the hero's journey as applying to virtual worlds. I say that because I have seen someone transform before my (virtual) eyes: really, over the course of about 4 seconds I watched someone go through that atonement step, being hit by the realisation that what they wanted to become so they could defeat it, they already were. If it weren't for the self-realisation effect of the hero's journey, I'd be much more sanguine about its application to virtual worlds.

>The atonement with the father (the designer) essentially takes place when the game mechanics have been mastered

That's a precondition, yes, but it's not the only one. It's necessary, but not sufficient.

>However, at that point I wonder how much depth the "Hero's Journey" can offer as an analytical or explanatory tool for VWs.

It could be a dead end, you're right. I think it has enough going for it, though, that in determining why it's a dead end (if indeed it is one), we're going to learn more about why players find these worlds so engaging and compelling, and thus be able to design ones that better help them do whatever it is they're doing.

Personally, I think the hero's journey is a good explanation given our current understanding of what's happening in players' heads, but I'm quite prepared to believe it has only limited application and that we may need to find (or construct) a better model for the process. Put it this way: at least we're looking at possible psychological and philosophical bases now, which we weren't before, so that alone must be an advance on where we were 5 years ago.

Richard

184.

the reason they don't have a myth is because they're not of human level sentience

And if they were, I wouldn't be surprised to see myths appear. Granted, we have no working definition for sentience and no progression of degrees for it, so maybe the appearance of myth is precisely what it is that manifests upon a human-level sentience.

Re: Using Campbell's Hero's Journey as an analogy to Player Growth via MMOGs

I think it's a very useful analogy, on some level, somehow. Figuring those two vague ideas out would be a good idea, because Peter's suggested without contest that Richard's treatment was superficial. When I read DVW, that was my reason for starting Campbell, so I never read the DVW with any understanding of Campbell. It simply kind of festered while I immersed myself in an understanding of myth via Campbell (who has NO talent for being eloquent, I might add).

Regarding the "Atonement with the Father" phase in specific, I think I ought to say with some certainty that "The Father" is not necessarily God, but may be. Campbell seems instead to be talking about an Ogre Father: in other words, a paternal, but enemied, figure. In the world of the myth, everything gets charged with superhumanity, so the nurturing mother becomes the Goddess, the disciplining father becomes the Ogre, the hero becomes the Heroic Adventurer. I'm not a strong enough student of myth to actually come out with examples supporting my understanding, but that's my reading.

The first thing that needs to be done is a re-analysis on a case-by-case basis. I don't think the Hero's Journey should apply face value to all MMORPGs in the same way, unless all MMORPGs are the same in the critical aspects. Hopefully, this is untrue, or the professed lack of innovation lamented is not merely true, nor rampant, but something like a death rattle. The most important thing of concern, probably, doesn't have to do with gameplay mechanics, but social mechanics and social progression.

Newbie Treatment, initial familiarizing, increasing social interaction, achieving prowess in terms of social standing (reputation, leadership positions, economic positions, go-to guy, etc.), and decisions to leave the game or stay in halfway or whatnot.

185.

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

Me, too. The difference here is that the MMO is a fiction where I get to choose how much it matters and the lifeboat is for real. If you find MMOs to be like RL or training for RL then yes, that would be an awful prospect. I don't happen to. Magic circle, etc., see most of Richard's posts above.

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

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

I did. If you know the way out, let me know. I would point out that I consider myself judgable and fallible and able to be convinced by strong good arguments and new information, unlike your basic morally certain whackjobs who stop listening.

On the other hand, how many people have died because of moral relativism and how many from moral certainty? You'd think the former, but it's the latter that's as close to true evil as we get (Nazis, Fundamentalist whackos, Rwanda, Serbia, Armenia, and ahem, the Scarelet Crusade which both sides fight). I'd rather deal with the complicated and debatable parameters of a world with many viewpoints than the Platonic idealism and undebatable certainty that leads to good times like ethnic cleansing, the mixture of politics and religion, etc., etc.

186.

Fwiw, I don't think the Horde is evil. I think Ted is personally bothered by the some aspects of the Undead, and I don't fault him for that reaction at all, but I don't think that 1) the Horde is a representation of evil, or 2) that choosing to play a Horde character is an evil choice, or 3) that playing an evil character in a game (or reading about one in a book) is evil. (And also, fwiw, without becoming a relativist (I'm not) I think evil means different things to different people at different times.)

Anyhoo, that's all been said before. I think it's worth following the trackback to Raph's post, which plays off this question and resonates a lot more with me. Raph says the "kill 10 humanoids" *structure* of most Diku-MUD style MMOG is, if not evil, a significant problem that game designers could & should overcome. But that claim is probably worth a new post/thread.

http://www.raphkoster.com/?p=232

187.

This is still bothering me. Even after some sleep.

But more importantly, all you have to do is look at the values expressed by the cultures, and it should be apparent which sets of values are worthy of praise.

Maybe it's because I don't play on RP servers, but to me the culture isn't the lore, per se, but it's the player community and the actions they take in-game. The exact same options for these actions are open to the Horde and the Alliance players. They tend to act very similarly, with (in my experience) a small but significant weighting of asshats towards the Alliance side. The values expressed by the cultures? The same in both cases: Kill mobs, get phat lewtz. Help out your buddies. Red is dead. Those values -- the ones the players live, not the ones some designer wrote up about the faction -- are the game culture.

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

I've already ranted about how incorrect this is, and plenty of other people have pointed it out as well. Yet it continues to bother me. The whole premise of the post that started this discussion is that the Horde is evil, and for people who play Horde characters, "deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act." However, the only solid "proof" that the Horde is evil is this statement; the other two elements, skeletons frightening a small child and the fact that similar characters have been portrayed as evil in other fiction, do not hold water. The "proof" that the Horde characters as portrayed in World of Warcraft are evil is their lack of children and charity -- yet they have both. That tears apart the entire premise of this discussion. How can we discuss players choosing to play "wicked" characters, and hence committing a "wicked act" by doing so, when they are not in fact making any such choice because neither faction is presented or played as good or evil?

Orcs, on the other hand, value warfare and power.

Remind me again who is standing at the entrance to Stormwind? It wouldn't be, oh, a military officer, would it? And, um, those statues of dwarves at the Ironforge gate ... I don't seem to remember them holding bouquets of flowers.

I remember one of my first quests as an Alliance newbie: to slaughter little kobold miners, sentient creatures who had never done me any wrong, for their candles that some merchant wanted to sell. "You no take candle!" they cried as they died under my spells. I was a hired murderer and thief. Explain again how the Alliance is the good guys?

If valuing warfare and power is evil, is the president of the United States evil? He has initiated two wars and wields a great amount of military power, and does not seem ashamed to do either. Yet I doubt you will find any except a few extremists who would consider him actually evil. For that matter, look at the United States as a whole: We glorify the Revolutionary War. We put up monuments on the battlefields where notable victories took place. We praise our warriors and laud the sacrifice of those who died in battle. We give our children toy soldiers, toy guns, entire toy armies to play with. Is today's American culture evil because of this?

Looking at orcs vs. humans again, the pre-WoW orcs acted in an evil fashion because they were under the control of a supernatural force, one that very few had any hope of resisting. Humans, on the other hand, made evil choices on their own: everything from Admiral Proudmoore's treachery to the Scarlet Crusade's hate and intolerance. This isn't a matter of moral relativism. Seizing a child as a slave, raising him as a gladiator, forcing him to fight for you, is an unquestionably evil act. Admiral Proudmoore's breaking of the orc/alliance pact, turning on his own daughter when she opposed him, is another good example. Or let's go all the way back to the fall of Prince Arthas: he became willing to use any means, however foul, to achieve his ends, and wound up as a being of evil exceeding any orc, solely through his own choices. For that matter, the Alliance's "noble" paladins were concentration camp guards.

So this whole discussion is a house of cards. The thesis is predicated on the idea that the Horde is evil, and therefore choosing to play a Horde character is in some manner an evil act on the part of a player. If the Horde is not evil, and I think I and others have proved that fairly conclusively, both in lore and in actual in-game culture, then playing a Horde character is not evil. In that case, the players are not committing a "wicked act" by choosing to play a Horde character. So this whole dicussion about the deep psychological basis of our choices of faction is utterly moot, because we're not making the good vs. evil choice in the first place.

That's why I keep going on about the specifics of the WoW examples: the whole premise of the post is that there is a choice between good and evil to be made, and if there isn't such a choice, the whole thing falls apart.

City of Villains, the Empire in SWG, the Axis in WW2 Online, and many other examples, might actually present some such choice. They might be worthy topics of discussion. Why does someone want to play a super-villain, for instance? But WoW is the wrong example, and when the example is invalid, so are any conclusions drawn from it.

Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone, time for me to hit the road for the weekend.

188.

Wanderer provided an excellent summary of the "Horde isn't evil" argument above. I'd like to add another point (forgive me if it's already been mentioned; I tried to read or skim all the comments but it's likely I missed some things): Regardless of whether the Horde is "evil" according to some external cultural definition, isn't the more important question how the player perceives the choice he or she is making? If the player choosing to play Horde doesn't think the faction (or a race they're playing within it) is evil, how can the OP's arguement be valid?

There may well be "deep ethical significance to what Terra Novans do in-game" [OP], but if said players perceive themselves as playing, for example, "good" Orcs, how can their choice of character reflect poorly on their integrity? As others have noted above, how one conducts herself in the gamespace is a much more significant reflection of her real-life values than character choice, at least in WoW.

189.

really all you have to do is read the storyline, the orcs were never really that evil or blood thirsty, they were under the control of a demon for a long time, Mannoroth. you should play warcraft 3 campaign and follow the storyline. the orcs are spiritual beings warlocks werent a part of the orcs until Mannoroth corrupted them, only orc magic users were shaman who communicate with the environment....not exactly evil. tauren only joined the horde because thrall and his band of orcs that first landed in the barrens saved the tauren from the centaurs. taurens are actually pretty good. trolls arent exactly friendly but they just liked to be left alone they dont like anyone. the tribe that joined the horde were almost to the point of extinction, they only joined in hopes of rebuilding. undead in WoW are the ones that sylvanas freed, but they are still evil =p just they arent the same ones that arthas still has control over.

maybe someone already said all this but i scrolled down through the 1000000 posts and didnt see any jump out at me that said this.

190.

Michael Chui>And if they [animals] were, I wouldn't be surprised to see myths appear.

Me neither. Furthermore, they may have a different structure to human myths, because the underlying psychology could be different.

>Re: Using Campbell's Hero's Journey as an analogy to Player Growth via MMOGs
>I think it's a very useful analogy, on some level, somehow.

This is where we part company. I feel it's more than an analogy: it's an explanation.

>When I read DVW, that was my reason for starting Campbell, so I never read the DVW with any understanding of Campbell.

I'm pleased that DVW persuaded you to look at Campbell, even if ultimately you don't feel the monomyth fits the player experience.

>(who has NO talent for being eloquent, I might add).

You can say that again! "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" is a difficult read not only because of the subject matter but because of the way it's discussed. It's second in rank only to some of the papers on feminism I've read for its impenetrability.

>I think I ought to say with some certainty that "The Father" is not necessarily God, but may be.

Yes, I agree. A lot of these stories do have some kind of deity as the father figure. Personally, I'm more inclined to believe that the notion of deities arose from the monomyth than the other way round, though, which may explain my low enthusiasm for using the monomyth to support the idea that morals hail from a higher power.

>Campbell seems instead to be talking about an Ogre Father: in other words, a paternal, but enemied, figure.

Yes, although the point is that this figure is artificially enemied because actually it is the hero. It's the enemy because it's that part of the hero that the hero doesn't realise they have.

>In the world of the myth, everything gets charged with superhumanity, so the nurturing mother becomes the Goddess, the disciplining father becomes the Ogre, the hero becomes the Heroic Adventurer.

Yes, but remember that these are only tokens for what's actually going on psychologically. The nurturing mother becomes the goddess because the nurturing mother herself would be too close to reality to serve as a symbol. This way, identifiable but supercharged, she can better represent the hero's dependence.

>The first thing that needs to be done is a re-analysis on a case-by-case basis. I don't think the Hero's Journey should apply face value to all MMORPGs in the same way, unless all MMORPGs are the same in the critical aspects.

It doesn't apply so overtly to virtual worlds that aren't game-like, such as SL. People can go on a journey in such a world, but the world itself doesn't structure that journey.

As for other virtual worlds, well we're seeing a gradual shift to partial myth. There are few historical myths that follow the entire hero's journey; most are composed of fragments of the myth that make up individual episodes. We're seeing that with virtual worlds now. Why explore when you can read a web site?

Also, not every player plays virtual worlds for hero's journey reasons. I wouldn't claim farmers are on such a journey, for example. People can also play virtual worlds as games for reasons that don't match the hero's journey. You can play WoW as if it were Morrowind, for example, and you won't be going on a hero's journey any more than you would be in Morrowind. You can just about play it as if it were Counterstrike and you probably won't gain as much as if you were playing Counterstrike itself.

This is missing what virtual worlds can deliver that other forms of computer game can't. To me, the difference is the hero's journey. Play a virtual world as a virtual world, rather than a solo RPG or FPS or whatever, and you can go on a hero's journey. Don't, and you'll only accomplish it with great difficulty.

>The most important thing of concern, probably, doesn't have to do with gameplay mechanics, but social mechanics and social progression.

Yes, but WHY does it have to do with that? What is it that's important about these things? Why is it somehow more compelling when dealt with in a gaming context than if it's just a regular chatroom environment?

Richard

191.

It would be impossible to bring summarizing closure to such a long thread, as Mark Wallace requested, but he asked how I responded to it. Well, I didn't find most of the arguments compelling. One set of reasons was technical - the arguments were weak. Three repeated problems:

- many people ignored a concession I made, which was that playing an evil character for an instrumental reason (to advance a story, etc.) was just fine. I made that concession, yet many commenters attacked my argument through the counterargument that someone might play evil to explore evil, to have an evil part in a story, etc. But I'm talking about evil as self-expression. The many comments that said evil was OK to play for some reason other than self-expression were just wide of the mark.

- many people used an argument strategy that's generally invalid in social analysis: to deploy isolated counter-examples. Over the years, I think I've spent more time correcting students on this one than on any other bit of flawed social reasoning. The way it works is, someone asserts a social generality: "NBA players are taller than average Americans." And the counterargument goes "But Brandon Heazly of the Bullets is only 5'8", while my brother is over 6'3"." As you can see, that proves nothing about the general relationship between NBA player height and American height. Single counter-examples are effective only in the context of mathemetical or proofs. Well, with people, we're never in the position to assert laws with universal application. So the dozens of comments that isolated this or that aspect of dwarves and orcs within the WoW lore, that showed that dwarves could be bad or orcs could be good, were wide of the mark. Yes, an average American *can be* taller than an NBA player. But the proposition is not "All NBA players are taller than all Americans," hence the counterexample means nothing. Here, the proposition was not "All Alliance races and players always make better moral choices than all Horde races and players." Yet that is the only proposition to which these examples of Human failing and Tauren nature-love applies. You would have had to argue in general, about the general nature of the orc/troll/undead/tauren culture. But few people did that.

- Many people improperly deployed argument-to-the-absurd, a technique that goes "If you say cats are nice, then that would mean that bengal tigers are nice, which would mean that it is nice to devour village children, which would be absurd." That works because bengal tigers are cats who eat children, and the original proposition said "cats", not "house cats". So, my argument was extended into absurdity - "you're saying that all people who play Horde are evil people, and we know they are not." Well, this trick only works if the extension is proper. And if you note, I did not argue that horde players are evil people, nor that they are more likely to do bad things that alliance. (Though I do think they are generally less mature, that is not my point here). There are no grounds in my argument to make the extension. All I said was, the act of choosing a horde (=evil) avatar requires some justification in ways that choosing an alliance avatar does not. "Joining the Ted Bundy fan club requires justification in ways that joining the Bill Cosby fan club does not." That proposition does not have the implication that members of the Ted Bundy fan club do bad things or that they are evil (only the god-guy knows who is evil anyway). So the repeated efforts to connect what I was saying to some crazy, zealous moral stupidity were wide of the mark.

But more deeply, the commenters and I missed one another on another dimension, not a technical one, that is most important in the end. A private communication made me realize this. I'm a person who for better or worse believes in a creator spirit and right and wrong as universal absolutes and all that. That makes a difference. It implies that there could be such a thing as a divinely inspired word, and that the word and the thing it attaches to might not be completely fungible by human society. It might be, in my world of madness, that a big white-haired god guy decided that there would be demon creatures and that english-speakers would name them orc, and that anybody trying to mess with the label, applying it to good things, would fail. In Blizzard v. white-haired god guy, blizzard loses; orc remains evil. that thought, which is a faith, not an argument, runs around in the background of my post. it's also a concept that sensible 21st century people largely reject, the moreso the more educated they are. and the product of that rejection runs through the thread - the point repeatedly made that blizzard's lore makes orcs OK. I can see that, sure. Except I am not sure god wants it that way, and i doubt orcs will ever be seen as noble creatures. so, while it's a difference in personal faith views, it ends up making a huge practical difference in avatar choice. if you felt in your gut that the big game developer in the sky has loaded symbols like 'orc' and green-skinned, fanged characters generally with normative meaning meant to warn people away from the glamour of evil, well, it would be tough to don those symbols as self-expression. It would require some justification. And this by itself unravels the counter-argument of who cares. In my world of insanity, there's a big puffy pink cloud of gas out there in the cosmos, and it does care, and that matters to me. /shrug

Now, having created this mess, I will in thoroughly cowardly fashion back out of it and abandon my original position. Not because my mind has changed about the two points I made - horde is still a group that ought to reform itself before making claims against the alliance, and it's a (modest) strike against one's integrity to choose horde just for the hell of it. but i am going to play horde, an undead priest in fact, as my main character. i've argued that that choice needs justification. here it is.

1. People over principle. It so happens that a group of people I care about has chosen horde/pvp. I'd like it if they would have me as their friend. I really wish they hadn't chosen horde/pvp, but they did. In playing with them, I've experienced some of the worst moments i've had while gaming. two days ago, for example, i was duel-spammed by a character named 'Lickmypink'. Then, a fellow invited me to run an instance; after joining him, he said the party wasn't put together; he said 'stay here and get a party. I am going to WSG for awhile. Message me when the group's ready'. soon after, i was waiting for the blimp with my pet panda, and some guy came up and did the dance emote so as to appear to be fucking my panda in the ass. such things generally do not happen on my beloved RP servers. RP players are much better behaved, more friendly, kind, decent, and have more integrity than your run of the mill PVPer. so much for the human community of horde/pvp; then the horde aspect, last night i was in undercity overhearing the experiments conducted on captured humans, and it reminded me too much of the beheadings we've all seen too much of, of late. On the whole, I don't like it, not one little bit. And yet - people whom i consider friends have chosen this as their preferred environment for gaming. Consequently I lose some respect for them (and they for me, sure), but still, what's a friendship worth?

I was watching King Lear two nights ago. King Lear is the best thing I've encountered at getting the reader into the mindset that surely descends when we are on our deathbeds. Only then will we really understand what is important. And then it will be too late to change anything. A fellow I know told me that he has had the terrible privilege of being with hundreds and hundreds of people in their dying moments, and he reports that the one thing they talk about is their relationships. That's where their regret lies. King Lear puts you in that moment. As the feeling settled in, it became clear to me that it's more important to connect to your friends than to play in a superior game environment.

I've also been wracking my brain to come up with a backstory for my characters that would let me be more comfortable doing the things that horde characters do. Also, importantly, i want a story that i can explain to audiences and reporters and (when he is older) my son. "Why are you playing this green-skinned fanged monster/zombie/cow?" The easy thing (as I've been told a million times in this thread) is just to say "well, these guys are not really evil." That's not credible to me, and I predict wouldn't be credible to a reasonably intelligent and sensitive audience out there. That answer would smack to them of immaturity, I'm sure. So carrying the evil along - what is my spirit doing invigorating a zombie? I thought of two good antecedents, the ghost of hamlet's father, and scrooge's marley. both are terrifying, threatening, and apparently capable of driving those who see them mad. they assert authority over the living. are they good spirits? i don't think so. certainly not marley. and the older hamlet is come not to make his son feel better but to charge him with a terrible burden. both are trapped. one element of their agony is an inability to directly affect the course of human affairs. another involves suffering - they are being punished. they desire release, and don't find it. instead, they walk the earth, incapable of doing anything other than terrifying and rendering insane those humans they encounter.

i could see this as the basis for an evil undead character. for my sins (and i have my share of course), i have been sent to hell. the Undercity is a portal through which we ghosts walk. We come to the earth and do evil not because we want to, but because we have to; it is our punishment that we can no longer do good. orcs and trolls (essentially, devils) are fitting as our companions in this horrifying journey. The Tauren are corrupted beasts in this reading; vendo. In pvp, my characters will seek to dominate the living, because that's our task - to show ourselves to the living and try to show them what horrible fate awaits them if they do not change their ways. And if (when) the good people kill me, I will take it as all ghosts should do - release. But then my torture will begin again, of course, as each death only sends me back up out of the grave. That's the life of a ghost, and a proper relationship between his evil and the goodness of the living.

This works as a public story too - like Marley, my story would be a cautionary one. "Be careful in virtual worlds, or your comrades will draw you down a path of the hero's journey that you may not like. It happened to me - don't let it happen to you." It amply demonstrates the power of sociality in virtual spaces, doesn't it? I would do anything to have a guild of friends on an RP server, but now look at my sorrowful, skeletal face and see how trapped one can become in social cyberspace. The net is strong.

So I have a character backstory that does not toss evil out the window, and a justification in friendship for choosing an evil character. I think on those grounds I can play horde. I would rather play in a place where people on your own side don't rape your panda, but I suppose the answer there is level 60 + /duel.

192.

"Then when we look at WoW, it seems to me obvious that the Horde races are on the whole evil. 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')."

The reference for the 9th century use of the word 'orc' stems from its use in the poem Beowulf. However Beowulf itself stems from extensions of Nordic-Germanic mythologies. I would have to take issue with the poster's idea that orcs, trolls, and giants are necessarily evil. Many mythologies set up moral rules based on who the current leadership is, and not inherent goodness or rightness of that leadership. It was accepted in much of the ancient world that gods were cruel and malicious due to power that they had. This was used to justify the harshness of current life.

Fantasy "evil" creatures such as orcs can probably be reasonably drawn from derivation of the elves of darkness, aka Svartalfar (rel. döckálfar, duergar). The poster apparently feels that checking back to the 9th century is sufficient to establish the "evilness" of orcs. I think if we trace back further to the origins of orcs, we can find the rather grey moral muddle of the Norse-Germanic mythological system which distinguishes the "good" and "evil" sides simply by location and appearance rather than by moral stature and integrity which is incidentally much the same set up as WoW. The poster is using a false proof to support his argument that the Horde is evil. The ancester orc is not considered evil because it is inherent. The ancestor orc is considered evil, because it opposes the current order. And if you oppose a corrupt and evil government, is rebellion evil?

193.

Ted wrote:

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

All I can say is that I hope I'm never trapped in a lifeboat with a group of moral objectivists who might believe, unquestioningly, things like, "Black people are evil" or "Jews must be slaughtered to a man" or "Gay people will burn in hell."

--matt

194.

Those saying that the Horde is evil because the Holocaust is evil will be surprised to find out that it was the Alliance that put surviving orcs in interment camps at the end of the second war. There's one near the ruins of Dalaran.

195.

Well.

Powerful posts - especially those looking beyond the play to the underlying structures... Ted and Richard, especially, thanks, I'll think long and hard about the points you raise. I'd only offer one bit of an insight: that these experiments do serve our personal Hero's Journey in the sense that they help differentiate evil from cultural prejudice... claiming the self from the society. Certainly the Horde (mostly) presents itself in that light: a post-modern version of the demonic, if you would. And our experiences of all of these elements - and our discussions about them - do help us understand this wildly complex moral space we inhabit - online and not.

196.

Dr. Castronova-- I read your book Synthetic Worlds this weekend and noticed that you omitted a notion of religion, and thus it seemed only natural that you would bring it up here.

And bingo, in your Monday post you explain you are looking for higher meaning from the WoW-- the "backstory" to your characters. I wonder if the backstories would have more strength if the games and characters reflected real-world peoples and histories.

I note also in your Monday post you introduce the point that choosing PvP is a moral choice. That seems to be an easier case to demonstrate, as you started doing. You could test this by surveying the WoW race/class/shard for patterns of who partakes in various malicious acts from humping pets all the way up to conducting experiments on captured humans. btw, I see that Nick Yee has covered the personality of characters on Everquest.

197.

That's a completely fascinating point of view Ted (referring to your most recent post now). I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't relate to some of your theological premises for morality as you've expressed them. I do have to say that just imagining that a fellow horde player is carrying that mental baggage (good luck acting out your theory that you are bound to do only evil!) is completely horrifying to me.

Should we meet on the (non-PvP server) road, I'll have you know I am just a happy rasta troll who likes to eat dwarfs. You may insist on seeing me as a devil; but such are the fantasies of which the dark delusions of schizophrenics are made. I see your proposal as an exploration of how the search for fantastic moralities - good and evil embodied as powerful fantasy creatures, devils, angels, goblins and unicorns - if engaged too seriously invites us to create for ourselves a world of fear, loathing, and righteousness in which we can lose ourselves if we do not maintain perspective.

198.

Posted anywhere else, this "article" would've been rightfully called trolling, the thread locked, and the offender hopefully banned. Thicken your skin and lead your child by example - your reactions have a great influence on how he grows up.

And to Michael, the one who posted about how "evil" players can be, it's the problem children who always, always loom large in our memories. The people who are nice, quiet and don't make waves don't stick in one's memory like the troublemakers do. Just think of all the screaming children that you've come across while in a store and compare how readily they come to mind versus a quiet, happy child.

199.

Thanks for the follow-up, Ted. It spells things out nicely for your point of view. It is also consistent with what I wrote way, way up there, which goes for you, me and everyone else who plays: we each make our own meanings in these spaces.

Yet to play well together we have to acknowledge the meanings that our playmates pick, even if they don't match our own (e.g. agnostic non-RPers).

And now I will go write "no panda raping" into the guild charter.

200.

I'm amazed that so many words can be employed in an argument like this with only a passing acquaintance with facts or definitions...

Take this, for example: "...but it's the latter that's as close to true evil as we get (Nazis, Fundamentalist whackos, Rwanda, Serbia, Armenia, and ahem, the Scarelet Crusade which both sides fight)."

Weren't Serbs and Armenians victims of genocide, by the Nazi-allied Croats and the Ottoman Empire, respectively? Whoever compared them with Nazis is an ignoramus.

No race in WoW is truly "good" or "evil" in its entirety, except perhaps the Forsaken (I mean come on, their grand purpose is to engineer a new plague that would wipe out all life!). Thrall's orcs are not those of Ner'zhul and Gul'dan, nor are the Darkspear trolls the same as the vicious Amani or Gurubashi. The Forsaken are not the Scourge, small solace though that may be to their victims. But only the Tauren have no historical baggage (Alterac, Warsong and the fate of Admiral Proudmoore is what keeps Orcs in conflict with the Alliance).

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