On Lore, Culture, and Religion in Azeroth

On Lore, Culture, and Religion in Azeroth

Sometimes when I’m scrolling through MMO Champion’s Blue Tracker I find something that just astounds me. This particular post and blue response have absolutely nothing to do with WoW gameplay, but nonetheless, they weigh in on an issue of great interest to me–the level of detail used to evoke the universe of Warcraft.

Unfortunately, the issue of Warcraft culture is couched in incredibly bigoted and small-minded terms. Let’s take a look at the original player rant:

All races exept gnomes and orcs can be a priest, druid or paladin. Priests and paladins cherish and worship the divine and holy, whilst druids are in contact with the ancient spirits. This of course, is fine. Not all races can have all classes. The thing I reacted against, and so should you all; the lore clearly states the gnomes as the most intelligent of races. They have advanced the furthest in technology, and have a passive racial that gives them more intellect. So, being an atheist, and a slave of Satan gives you a greater mind, eh?

The fact that the “most intelligent” race in WoW does not have a religion is like a stab in the back for me. To me, Blizzards message is “Oh, but intelligent people don’t believe in God”. I am vastly offended by this, and would like to see a change in the lore, where human missionaries convert the gnomes into believing in the divine, thus making them able to create a priest or paladin.

Yes, I am aware that my main character is a gnome, but after finding this shocking discovery I will most certainly reroll. Those little blasphemers will no longer be a part of my life. Any christians out there will and should agree with me.

As a caveat, let me just say that I think the player’s actual complaint about the lack of a gnomish religion is utter crap. As an educated person, I advocate religious tolerance in all situations, for all people. And by “tolerance,” I mean not just “putting up with” many different religious traditions, but celebrating their difference and encouraging dialogue among them. Tolerance includes virtual worlds–whether or not the player is a participant in a particular religion should not affect his or her experience of gameplay, and I think Blizzard does a pretty good job of being religion-neutral. However, even a bigoted post can sometimes bring up an interesting issue.

Blizzard’s response, of course, was to lock the thread. However, in among the dribble and insults, there were some interesting ideas.

One gnome poster, responding to the question of whether gnomes have a religious faith, asked: “How do you know they don’t?”

How indeed. This would have been exactly my response (except that I have sometimes suspected that gnomes might be intended to have things in common with Jewish culture–diaspora, a reputation for intelligence, discrimination in the form of gnome jokes–but that’s a topic for another post). In his misguided way, this hostile poster who calls gnomes “atheist servants of Satan” is actually hinting at a real problem in the World of Warcraft.

The Lore

The issue here is that the way The Lore (capitals intended) is handled conflicts with the nature of gameplay in an MMO. Most of the information that is released to the players about The Lore, either through previous games, graphic novels, novelizations, and Major Lore Quest Chains focuses on the famous figures of Azeroth. It’s not hard to find out something about Arthas, Jaina, Sylvanas, Varian Wrynn, or Medivh. These folks are major players. However, the vast majority of quest content has players interacting with nobodies–level 17 farmers, craftsmen, clerics, and ne’er-do-wells. What I want to know is what the peoples of Azeroth do when they’re not busy being heroic. We get bits and pieces of the history of Azeroth on that small scale–the Darrowshire quests are a very good example of this. However, we really don’t get to learn a darn thing about how Draenai education works, why dwarves tend to go exploring, or what it would be like to go to a troll wedding.

I think someone knows all of this. In fact, I bet the developers have a Big Book of Azerothian Cultural History–well, probably a giant scrapbook or stack of file folders. They would have to if they cared about making coherent quest content–which they certainly do. However, I bet it’s a hodgepodge of information, written by many different people, and I also bet that it doesn’t cover everything.

Maybe gnomes cherish small household gods that are closely associated with the family, like the Roman Larës.

Maybe gnomes get their best ideas while they’re meditating on the nature of life–or mechanical parts–for half an hour a day.

Maybe the gnomes hide their religion from the Big People in order to head off discrimination.

I bet Blizzard knows this, or could use that Big Book to come up with a logical answer.

The Solution

People love the World of Warcraft, and I think they would eat it up if Blizzard released some of their unpublished material on Azerothian culture. What they should do is set up a website for such questions–perhaps a blog–and employ a professional writer to maintain it. And I might mention that if they’re ever hiring this job, I’m applying. I love fantasy and fantasy worlds. Warcraft makes for an interesting universe, but most of The Lore is deadly dull. It focuses on Great Deeds of the Past and tends to be communicated in a very monotonous tone in Blizzard’s official publications. Have you seen some of those sentences? Someone should start charging the writers a 15c fine for each subordinate clause in excess of three. I’d hazard a guess that they didn’t hire a professional fantasy writer to produce their paragraphs about Arthas. Do I think that I could do a better job? Heck yes. And the number one question I would ask myself is–what about the little people? No, not just gnomes. All of those Westfall farmers, Southshore fur traders, and Feathermoon scholars–what makes them tick? That to me is very interesting.