Thursday, May 18, 2006

Terra Nova: The Horde is Evil

Terra Nova: The Horde is Evil

While I appreciate the questions you've raised here, Mr Castranova, I will admit that I feel that some of your answers definitely leave something to be desired. I want to reply to some of these points. I'm posting on my blog primarily due to the size constraints in the comments column on the article's page.

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.

This in particular is something which I think perhaps should have been given more consideration in the rest of the article. Evil is not a word with a simplistic definition, customarily speaking.

My son (age 3) was afraid of my character. He was afraid of the Undercity. And that's just from the imagery

As a toddler and up until around the age of four, the appearance of the Count from Sesame Street caused me particular consternation when he appeared on the screen. I don't, personally, consider most of the imagery associated with the Forsaken to be substantially more disturbing than the Count was, however. My primary character is actually a Forsaken Mage, and given that my race of choice in Warcraft 3 were also the Scourge, I feel to some degree qualified in answering this point.

I would have joined you in defining the Scourge as "evil"; unreservedly so. My use of them in Warcraft 3 was almost entirely motivated by aesthetic considerations; I will admit to having found Nerubian architecture highly appealing.

The Forsaken, however, are an entirely different matter. Given that the Scourge were completely under the control of Ner'zhul, (and I mean completely, in terms of mental superimposition) I don't feel that it could be effectively argued that individual beings within the Scourge had a large degree of choice regarding their actions. Given that the Forsaken have become divorced from the Scourge, however, their situation is not the same. They can, admittedly, choose to continue behaving in an entirely evil manner, or they can choose to attempt to atone for their earlier actions as members of the Scourge. Thus, I consider the acts of any individual member of the Forsaken to be their responsibility and their responsibility alone; I do not feel that a moral generalisation regarding the whole of Forsaken society is appropriate. An analogy here which you may find comfortable would be to think of people who have been freed from any number of real world groups who employ the use of mind control. The superimposition of a false personality can cause a given individual to behave in ways which they would never consider outside the group's environment, and once removed from said group's environment, their original personality and individual ethical model are free to re-assert themselves.

I think there is another point here that needs to be made about the Undercity, and that is that aesthetic choice does not necessarily go hand in glove with moral position.

While I would not refer to myself as Gothic in the entire, formal sense of the word, I will admit that my own aesthetic taste in some respects perhaps does tend towards that which could be considered disturbing by mainstream standards. I have, I will admit, undergone severe psychological trauma at times in the past, and consider that that factor may have something to do with my own aesthetic predisposition; however, I do not in my own case consider it an indication of my being "evil." As an aside, my younger brother has been very firm friends for a number of years with another teenager who perhaps could be described as Gothic in a definite sense, and whose mother is a practicing Wiccan, as well as having a very dear friend online myself who is also a committed Wiccan. These three individuals are also among the most genuinely altruistic and hospitable people that I have ever known.

The point here is that moral judgements about individuals should not be made, I believe, merely on the basis that the initial external appearance (or certain other sociological choices, such as religion) of said individuals is disturbing to one's own cultural sensibilities. Apart from often being inaccurate, such judgement is also likely to quite rightly be found highly offensive by its' recipient.

If my undead warlock were an extension of myself, something I was pursuing for mere enjoyment, then it ought to be a troubling question for me, sholdn't it? Why am I finding pleasure in expressing myself in a form that frightens 3-year-olds?

There are myriad things in contemporary society which could be found traumatic not only by 3 year olds, but presumably by older people as well. I do not necessarily advocate that a 3 year old should be playing WoW, nor do I feel that the environment should necessarily be one in which a 3 year old could be comfortable. Adulthood brings with it complexities and ambiguities in a great many different forms, and it could also be said that even if you yourself were committed to behaving in an entirely sterile way, you could not legitimately control the behaviour of others such that, in a game like WoW, your 3 year old could entirely avoid seeing things which were likely to upset him. I suspect, for example, that you would not wish for your 3 year old to be able to witness two adults engaging in sex, even if it were occuring in the context of a loveing, monogamous relationship, and an entire absence of any form of deviancy on the part of the two adults concerned. My point is that there is nothing wrong with said adults in that context making love; it is normal, healthy, and indeed essential for the survival of said relationship. However, many of us with young children would also agree that despite it being normal for the adults, it is still likely something that a young child could find disturbing, (or at the very least highly confusing) and hence, not something that the children should be exposed to.

You might then turn around and say that in the context of sex, that's true, but that the analogy doesn't hold for a necromancer. My own answer (and I realise that this would not hold for others) to this would be to say that my own choice of magic-using characters is generally one made entirely based on pragmatism; that is, that it makes a lot of sense to me that a magic-user is going to have a major survival advantage in a partially magically-based environment. It is also true that in a real-world sense, I am not a person with a lot of physical strength, and thus would not mentally approach a fight in the same way as someone who did. My own approach there is based on either avoidance or intellectual problem solving, and I find it much easier to carry that approach over into a game rather than attempt to create a new model for dealing with conflict which is entirely hypothetically based.

A necromancer could be seen as a character who attempts to borrow the physical or melee capability from corpses due to not posessing physical strength himself. Given that he deals with the dead in this manner, it probably makes sense in the minds of Blizzard's artists to associate a certain amount of (perhaps sensationalistic or theatrical in some instances) Gothic imagery with the character.

You might then still say that a necromancer raising the dead in such a manner has connotations which are disturbing; I would agree with regards to my own sensibilities, which is why I do not have a necromancer character myself.

My assertion is that this is a genuine and significant moral issue that everyone who chooses an avatar needs to think about. Morally compulsory.

Again, that depends on whether or not your perspective is based purely on what characteristics that character has available with regards to solving in-game problems, (from an entirely mechanistic/pragmatic point of view) or that you view your avatar as potentially having implications beyond the game itself. I personally do not; in my own mind the game is just that; a game. Using a mage character within the game does not mean that afterwards I'm going to go outside and want (or expect to be able) to throw fireballs at a next door neighbour.

And hence the choice of Undead, by a scholar, as an act of self-expression (rather than study, exploration, serving as a foil, etc.), is questionable from the standpoint of personal integrity.

That's your perspective, and you're completely entitled to it. My perspective is that it is an individual's own choice, and that it also doesn't necessarily reflect on said individual's integrity at all.

In advancing these positions, I am upending a number of apple carts.

You're stating opinions. That in itself I have no problem with. What does somewhat concern me is that your perspective seems to be that your own way of looking at some of these things is the only possible way...and with all due respect, it isn't.

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.

I originally started playing as an Alliance character, and only started my Horde character because all of my local offline friends had Horde characters, and I wouldn't have been able to communicate with them in-game otherwise.

However, as time went on and I read more about the backstory, I actually started viewing the Horde as being a lot more morally desirable than the Alliance, to be honest. The Orcs are shown to have only been behaving in an excessively militaristic fashion in the first two games because of external spiritual influence; influence which, in the context of the game's universe, would have been largely impossible to resist. They were basically enslaved, given the equivalent of temporary genetic engineering, (the bloodlust) and then told that fighting was the only chance they had to end said condition of enslavement.

Once they were freed, however, they started behaving in an entirely different way. They saved both the Tauren and the Trolls from extermination, and their primary goal after that simply became the foundation of their own nation.

On my own server anyway, (Jubei'Thos) Horde characters are close-knit, and we help each other. High level characters actively work to protect lower-level characters from Alliance attacks. We have a number of high level Alliance characters, (mostly elves usually it seems; the race who apparently can do no wrong in many people's eyes) who specifically attack "nursery" areas in a manner which I consider enormously cowardly. Of course in their minds, they're probably mounting attacks against the "unclean, evil Horde." Try being on the Horde side of the fence in such a scenario; you start to see things a bit differently.

Also, in terms of Orcs being monsters, I've never read about a single literary universe which had elves where they were not genocidal, xenophobic, hypocritical snobs who saw themselves as the Master Race; in Dragonlance in particular, they even try to exterminate each other. Ditto for the Humans; They're "civilised" and anyone who is different gets labelled a monster or savage whether they actually are or not.

One more thing: Offline, I'm autistic, and was born early enough (in 1977) that autism wasn't anywhere near as commonplace when I was a child as it is today. I know what it is like to be included in group scenarios purely for comic relief; I also know what it's like to be literally considered non-human. My parents have verbally asked themselves what they did wrong to have given birth to me, and my father once said that if I'd been alive in Germany at the time of the Holocaust, I would have been at the head of the queue being led into the gas chambers, alongside the others who were sent there.

I'm proud of being a member of the Horde, and when I truly think about it, I wouldn't want an Alliance char now. They can have the humans and elves; the "beautiful people." They can have their concentration camps and their belief that they're the exclusive flower of civilisation.

We on the other hand can continue to have our proverbial Big Tent, co-operate with each other, and help each other; we'll have the "freaks," the outcasts and "monsters", the people they don't want.

Loktar Ogar!