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Old 02-06-2018, 07:13 PM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Angry Night Elves and the Player Experience, Or: How not to write an MMO

I have often struggled with condensing my thoughts in a way that clearly presents the assumptions I’m using and that goes beyond how I personally feel. What follows is my attempt to correct that both with respect to the Night Elves, and with regard to player motivations in an MMORPG generally.

With that said…

Imagine that you’re playing the sequel to a video game that had a character you really connected with. In this sequel, that character’s previous flaws have been maximally inflated and other characters in the story think they’re a joke. This character has arbitrarily lost or forgotten about much of what made them great in the first place, and on top of this, you could be a peerless savant in mastering this title’s gameplay, but no matter how well you played, the character you’re playing would still lose, lose humiliatingly, and lose just about every time they were onscreen.

Would you play that game? Would you pay $180 per year to play that game?

First, frameworks

Scott Rigby is a Ph.D. in clinical and social psychology and has summarized three human psychological needs that video games, ideally, address. They are as follows: [1]

- Competence (We control the situation)
- Autonomy (We control our own actions)
- Relatedness (We feel like we matter to others)

This should be obvious to anyone who has ever played a video game. So we’ll start here, noting the through-line of player choice.

Next let’s add the Mimesis effect, or the tendency of a role-playing game player to role-play in a manner consistent with their role, whether that role is chosen or assigned (this effect is stronger if chosen) [2]. In World of Warcraft, roles come from the character selection screen. The Mimesis effect suggests that regardless of the reasons for choosing that role, the player will mold their behavior to it. Linking that concept to Rigby’s framework: this chosen role becomes important to a player’s enjoyment of the game.

Finally, motivations to play an online game are, among other factors, tied to a game’s story [3]. It follows that the story is a core element of game quality. It is not reasonable therefore, to offer as a defense to a poor story, the suggestion to disengage from it and focus on mechanics. The poor story still hurts the quality of the experience. As far as it relates to the story for an individual race: the race in part defines the role. That role therefore will be partially informed by the race’s history and current lore.

We now have a useful set of rules to evaluate effects on the player experience. The player’s needs are filled when they can feel competent, autonomous, and meaningful in the role of their choosing, and that story has a material impact on the fulfillment of those needs.

Now, is this being done in the story for a typical Night Elf player?

No, now let me count the ways.

Night Elf motivations are not fairly presented.

In the Vault of the Wardens, there is some banter between a Warden and a Demon Hunter. Each side passionately defends their position, laying plain their motivations so that we may better identify with the characters. This is a wonderful exception to an unfortunate rule: the Night Elves’ motivations are not fairly presented, and instead are often used to demonstrate the “wrong” opinion.

To provide the Horde’s motivation for war, the Orcs were said to need lumber and food to feed their starving population. The Night Elven position, meanwhile, was weakly presented as “the Horde hates beauty” (Stonetalon Mountains). The Leyara questline would later demonize other of the Night Elves’ motives for their investment in the faction war, having Malfurion display what appeared to be a cold, dismissive attitude towards the suffering of his own people.

More recently we have the Nightborne. The Night Elves have always had strong opinions about the use of arcane magic, and plenty of reasons to be mistrustful. These reasons, however, are reduced to simple bigotry in the current game. The Nightborne and the Blood Elves chastise the Night Elves, but the Night Elves aren’t allowed to offer a serious counterpoint.

Tyrande as a character has come to personify this problem. Her job in “A Little Patience” was to be wrong and to be corrected by Varian. Infamous and often criticized lines from this scenario would later become her greetings to the player. Val’sharah carries on the presentation of her recklessness causing problems until the end of the zone, and in Suramar, she drives the Nightborne into the Horde. Tyrande’s prior flaws have been magnified to the point where she seems to only exist in the story to be wrong. Her often-grating voice acting, which has her repeatedly shouting rash and impetuous things, only reinforces this. It’s no wonder so many Night Elf players have lost faith in this character.

To clarify, Night Elves don’t have to be “right”, but for players to be motivated, their reasons for doing things do have to be fairly presented.

Night Elves are generally incompetent

In Warcraft III there were four, roughly equal, playable factions. They are now represented primarily by Humans, Orcs, Forsaken, and the Night Elves. Each of these factions in subsequent content have either retained or increased their power and prestige.

Except for the Night Elves, who normally lose their engagements and whose “victories”, usually defined as “not losing as much as we could have”, are usually pushed off screen or downplayed.

In Mists of Pandaria, the Night Elves were to blame for most of the Alliance’s reversals, culminating in a moment when the leader of a “crack team” of Night Elves – who had been easily swept aside by the Horde player and a blademaster – reveals the location of the Divine Bell. This allows the Horde player to successfully infiltrate Darnassus and steal it. The Night Elves’ victories against the Horde during MOP are generally not presented. To this day there is popular misconception about who retained Ashenvale Forest after the last war with the Horde because of story decisions like these.

The problem isn’t just losing, though. In contrast to situations like the Fall of Lordaeron – where the Horde are shown to be competent in defeat – when the Night Elves lose, they lose humiliatingly. At present, media relating to the Burning of Teldrassil show members of the Horde striding triumphantly through the wreckage of a battlefield on the shores of Darkshore, before the next image strikingly shows Teldrassil aflame. The contrast in presentation could not be more evident when comparing this moment to when Sylvanas destroys an Alliance siege tower and rallies her troops with a banshee scream variant of “For the Horde!”. This treatment is unfair, but common, and it’s why the Night Elves are not respected as a competent fighting force.

Loss, and losing is not by itself a problem. Protagonists suffer reversals all of the time, and these can enhance the quality of their stories. As Franklyn Delano Roosevelt once remarked: “the harder the sacrifice, the more glorious the triumph”. The problem is that there is no triumph, no reason to expect triumph, and nothing the player can do to change this. So much then, for Rigby’s pillar of competence.

The Night Elves have lost much of their identity

Malfurion Stormrage, Tyrande Whisperwind’s husband and technically the co-leader of the Night Elves is at the same time, the leader of the Cenarion Circle. In filling this role, he often appears to not care about the playable faction, to the point where, infamously, his NPC stands motionless during Horde raids on his wife. Malfurion is generally presented as the more level headed of the Night Elven leaders, but as a neutral faction leader, he is inaccessible to the playable faction, as are most druids and the Night Elves’ natural allies from Warcraft III.

Druidism and the connection to nature firmly underlined who the Night Elves were, what motivated them, and why they were not to be crossed. The playable faction’s constructive loss of it deprives them of meaning, purpose, competence, distinctiveness, and motivation. Druidism formed the core of what the Night Elves were presented as, but most Night Elven druids have only a technical relation to the playable race, and often are not shown to care about what happens to it.

What remains of their identity: that of a savage, strong-willed matriarchal society has been twisted into a menagerie of negative gender stereotypes. Tyrande doesn’t inspire or motivate, she nags and berates. The Night Elves’ naturalism does not translate to savagery, but to a sort of gentle flower culture. Grom called the Night Elves “perfect warriors”, Garrosh regards them as “mewling”. I wouldn’t call this intentional sexism, as most other presentations of women in Warcraft don’t have these problems, but the Night Elves do.

Finally, while not a Night Elf specific problem, the Night Elves are also simultaneously shoved into human tabards and made to fit into roles that don’t suit them. I understand that they are trying to show Night Elf commitment to the Alliance, but that could have been done in a way that highlights the race’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, and provided commentary on how their culture would interact with others. Blizzard chose a method that once again weakens the Night Elves’ identity, and diminishes the meaning of the player’s choice in role.

What then about Battle for Azeroth?

At the time I’m writing this, BfA marketing materials and developer interviews [4] suggest that the Night Elves will lose Teldrassil, Darkshore, and Ashenvale, representing a final and comprehensive defeat, the end of their civilization, and the end of their reason for existing – all as a parity move for the human conquest of Capital City, in Lordaeron.

If Blizzard expects to sell Battle for Azeroth to Night Elf players, this is asking for a lot of unearned trust. I performed an analysis that, in consideration of an event’s relative impact and age, computed the probability that post-Vanilla Night Elf content will satisfy a typical Night Elf player, on an overall basis and when initial spoilers of future content suggest that they will not. Respectively, I arrived at odds of 28.94% and 7.51%. [5] I must disclaim this analysis because it is influenced by my own bias – my critics will disagree with my weights and assumptions. But, I would challenge them to, after performing a parallel analysis, sincerely argue in favor of materially different odds. At its highest, I would suggest an error rate of fifteen percent, which does not change the conclusion that the Night Elf player cannot reasonably expect good content out of Blizzard, especially when available spoilers are telling them to brace for the worst.

With Teldrassil itself gone, I would go further in that conclusion: the Night Elves are dead. Their death is the spectacular culmination of a development strategy that sought to provide a player experience not simply contrary but adverse to the fundamental underlying psychology of why people play video games at all. It is a comprehensive case study of what NOT to do in an MMO.

Conclusion

While I have attempted to take a more clinical approach with this, my motivation to research, draft, and edit this came obviously from a deep feeling of betrayal. I’ve been a Warcraft fan for over fifteen years, over half of my life. Night Elves brought me into the franchise, and my belief that they’d never be portrayed well again took me out. I didn’t want to leave, and I would have paid that subscription fee again in a heartbeat if I turned out to be wrong. With Battle for Azeroth, it appears, unfortunately, that I wasn’t.

The Night Elven experience violates all three pillars of Rigby’s framework. It attacks competence directly by presenting an incompetent race as the role it asks the player to take. It erodes autonomy by attacking the identity of that role, fusing and subordinating it with other roles. It also diminishes relatedness by presenting Night Elf motivations as the “wrong” opinion within the overall story.

That story helps to inform the role. According to the Mimesis effect, players, regardless of their reasons for assuming it, will usually assume and naturally play that role. It is also not reasonable to disregard the impact of the story on the overall game, as a game’s story has been demonstrated to have a significant effect on player motivations to play. In the case of the Night Elves, avoidable decisions in the game’s story give reasons for Night Elf players to disengage from the franchise, as I had.

On the off chance that someone from Blizzard may read this: I still hope, even though I shouldn’t, that I’m wrong about Battle for Azeroth. I hope that one day if I were to ask “why should I buy your game?”, you will be able to point me to treatment better than what I’ve seen – not in a tweet or in a developer interview – but by being able to point me to content that I will enjoy. But I don’t understand, at this moment, why you believe this is fun.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.teachthought.com/learnin...y-video-games/

[2] https://ciigar.csc.ncsu.edu/files/bi...esisEffect.pdf

[3] http://web.csulb.edu/journals/jecr/i...083/paper4.pdf

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/hnewman.../#65f3b34736cd

See comments on land disputes with the Trolls and Tauren.

[5] http://www.scrollsoflore.com/forums/...9&postcount=68
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Old 02-07-2018, 01:36 AM
Fraznak Fraznak is offline

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A night elf laughed at me for living inside a volcano. Well, at least I don't have to worry about my mountain burning down now do I?! What, too soon?
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Old 02-07-2018, 07:35 AM
Krainz Krainz is offline

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Old 02-07-2018, 08:26 AM
Rhllor Rhllor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kyalin V. Raintree View Post
I have often struggled with condensing my thoughts in a way that clearly presents the assumptions I’m using and that goes beyond how I personally feel. What follows is my attempt to correct that both with respect to the Night Elves, and with regard to player motivations in an MMORPG generally.

With that said…

Imagine that you’re playing the sequel to a video game that had a character you really connected with. In this sequel, that character’s previous flaws have been maximally inflated and other characters in the story think they’re a joke. This character has arbitrarily lost or forgotten about much of what made them great in the first place, and on top of this, you could be a peerless savant in mastering this title’s gameplay, but no matter how well you played, the character you’re playing would still lose, lose humiliatingly, and lose just about every time they were onscreen.
even now the blood elf players are confused and sad about what happened with kael, many still ask that they bring him back!
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Old 02-07-2018, 09:11 AM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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Kael'thas being a villain was totally suitable from where The Frozen Throne left off. If it's jarring, then that just shows Blood Elves should have never been playable to begin with without remaking them (which happened anyway considering how whitewashed they were in Burning Crusade).
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Old 02-07-2018, 09:23 AM
Krainz Krainz is offline

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You should make a Reddit post if you want to be heard.
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Old 02-07-2018, 09:31 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Originally Posted by Cacofonix View Post
Kael'thas being a villain was totally suitable from where The Frozen Throne left off. If it's jarring, then that just shows Blood Elves should have never been playable to begin with without remaking them (which happened anyway considering how whitewashed they were in Burning Crusade).
I'm not entirely sure of that. The last we saw of Kael, he was helping Illidan destroy the Lich King, who in turn was being strongarmed by the Legion. Kael could have gone in many other directions after that point.

I part company with Rhilor at the point of bringing him back though, mostly because I don't like how messy it would be to get players to forget the prior presentation (I have lingering issues of that shade with Maiev, even if she's probably my favorite character - ditto with the idea of trying to "redeem" Tyrande and Malfurion), but also because I think Blood Elves have seen good leadership in his wake and that, therefore, a figure like Kael is no longer needed.
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Old 02-07-2018, 09:47 AM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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Illidan in Warcraft 3 to The Burning Crusade was a villain who just happened to have a soft spot for his brother and Tyrande. He hardly had anything forcing him to serve one of the top demon lords of the army that just tried to genocide his homeworld. Kael'thas being the leader of a bunch of demon devourers who quickly pledges himself to a demon lord who can get his fix doesn't make him look good.

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Old 02-07-2018, 09:54 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Originally Posted by Cacofonix View Post
Illidan in Warcraft 3 to The Burning Crusade was a villain who just happened to have a soft spot for his brother and Tyrande. He hardly had anything forcing him to serve one of the top demon lords of the army that just tried to genocide his homeworld. Kael'thas being the leader of a bunch of demon devourers who quickly pledges himself to a demon lord who can get his fix doesn't make him look good.
We're of the same mind on Illidan. I'm not sure I agree about Kael through WC3 though. He was a desperate guy trying to do right by his people, and as I said, could have gone in many other directions after that.
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Old 02-07-2018, 10:08 AM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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I don't see anywhere else for the Blood Elves as established in TFT to go after TFT that isn't them joining Illidan's posse as part of a demonic Legion of Doom that's an enemy to both factions (Alliance is out of the question, Horde has Greenskins and Zombies that have both invaded Quel'thalas at some point with the second one doing genocide). "As established" means they wouldn't have gotten the reconstruction they did in TBC to fit them into a player faction as a more traditional respectable elf (see the lack of demon magic with its use blamed on a small club).

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Old 02-07-2018, 11:43 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Originally Posted by Cacofonix View Post
I don't see anywhere else for the Blood Elves as established in TFT to go after TFT that isn't them joining Illidan's posse as part of a demonic Legion of Doom that's an enemy to both factions (Alliance is out of the question, Horde has Greenskins and Zombies that have both invaded Quel'thalas at some point with the second one doing genocide). "As established" means they wouldn't have gotten the reconstruction they did in TBC to fit them into a player faction as a more traditional respectable elf (see the lack of demon magic with its use blamed on a small club).
We'll have to agree to disagree on that then. Kael did leave Illidan's side, and Illidan in turn had left the legion. I personally don't see a reason why Kael necessarily had to join the Legion afterward, but I also don't have anything new to say in regard to that particular point.

In relation to this thread though, the question of whether the Blood Elves should have been playable doesn't apply. They ARE playable, they do have fans (a LOT of fans), and as far as this discussion is concerned, I think it is worth talking about what impact that's had on those fans.

(As a note going forward: the framework is more important to me than the rest. The rest you already know)
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Old 02-07-2018, 07:24 PM
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Burning of Teldressil

Wisps are dangerous only in large numbers, can we kill enough them Warchief?
Not enough to matter. But we can disperse them.
Saurfang, take some of our troops and go into Felwood. Find or make path over the mountain into Darkshore, but leave the siege weapons under my command.
We will squeeze Malfurion from both sides.
How many smugglers do you know, Blightcaller?
I beg your pardon?
I am not so naive to believe that Everlook gets all of its cargo via ship routes from Azshara. There has to be a hidden route somewhere through Felwood.
Most smugglers will not want the attention of the high overlord, but I do know of somebody who is more loyal to the horde than their profits.
Then it is decided. Saurfang, Nathanos - you are to leave at once.
$n, let's keep the remainder of Malfurion's army busy.

Anything for the Warchief. I will gather the guards to clear the docks immediately. Lok'tar, friend.
Two hundred soldiers with the Warchief, you say? I will prepare the outpost for her arrival.
The Warchief needs rations and lodging for at least two hundred soldiers. The will arrive momentarily.
We must make room for the arrival of the Warchief's fleet. Can you clear the docks?
Commander, the Warchief asks that you prepare your outpost for an incoming army of at least two hundred.

I said I'd do anything to avenge Teldrassil. Pretending to be a troll, evidently, is anything. Here's my report.
http://www.wowhead.com/news=281635/b...-text-spoilers

Malfurion is the leader of night elves army
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Old 02-07-2018, 07:43 PM
Insane Guy of Doom Insane Guy of Doom is offline

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There's also this line, presumably spoken by Anduin:

Unknown_Male: Brothers and sisters of the Alliance, hear me now!
Unknown_Male: We are standing the precipice of glory!
Unknown_Male: Today, we will claim our victory over the Eastern Kingdoms and take back that which has been stolen from us so long ago.
Unknown_Male: We stand as one in solidarity for those who were lost at the battle for Teldrassil - for the families who have lost their homelands.
Unknown_Male: With this act of war, it is clear that we must fight for the survival of our next hundred generations.
Unknown_Male: FOR THE ALLIANCE!
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Old 02-07-2018, 07:59 PM
Rhllor Rhllor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Insane Guy of Doom View Post
There's also this line, presumably spoken by Anduin:

Unknown_Male: Brothers and sisters of the Alliance, hear me now!
Unknown_Male: We are standing the precipice of glory!
Unknown_Male: Today, we will claim our victory over the Eastern Kingdoms and take back that which has been stolen from us so long ago.
??????????????????
Unknown_Male: We stand as one in solidarity for those who were lost at the battle for Teldrassil - for the families who have lost their homelands.
Unknown_Male: With this act of war, it is clear that we must fight for the survival of our next hundred generations.
Unknown_Male: FOR THE ALLIANCE!
since when lordaeron belonged to the humans of stormwind? or the dwarfs ??? or the draenei ?? or the gnomes ???

lordaeron is the homeland of the forsaken that is their land !!!
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Old 02-07-2018, 08:03 PM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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This is looking closer and closer to exactly what I feared.
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Old 02-07-2018, 08:10 PM
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lordaeron is the homeland of the forsaken that is their land !!!
Nuh-uh, the Forsaken stole it from the Scourge. Those ungrateful traitors lost all claim to their former homeland when they turned against the rightful king of Lordaeron and chose to follow a foreign interloper instead.
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Old 02-07-2018, 08:18 PM
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Nuh-uh, the Forsaken stole it from the Scourge. Those ungrateful traitors lost all claim to their former homeland when they turned against the rightful king of Lordaeron and chose to follow a foreign interloper instead.
arthas betrayed lordaeron when he killed his father.
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Old 02-07-2018, 08:25 PM
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arthas betrayed lordaeron when he killed his father.
And the Forsaken betrayed it when they killed all those Lordaeron-born Scarlet Crusaders. Oops.

Also, I'm being facetious.
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Old 02-07-2018, 08:31 PM
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And the Forsaken betrayed it when they killed all those Lordaeron-born Scarlet Crusaders. Oops.

Also, I'm being facetious.
Are you referring to that group of fanatics led by a demon?
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Old 02-07-2018, 08:37 PM
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Are you referring to that group of fanatics led by a demon?
Yes. Who were routinely killed by the group of fanatics led by a banshee (and for a while, also by a demon.)
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Old 02-07-2018, 09:20 PM
Cacofonix Cacofonix is offline

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If the Forsaken are Lordaeron's Undead citizens, then how come they aren't in the Alliance?
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Old 02-07-2018, 09:28 PM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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If the Forsaken are Lordaeron's Undead citizens, then how come they aren't in the Alliance?
Because they're delinquent on their taxes, silly.
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Old 02-09-2018, 06:59 AM
CoDimus the Staunch CoDimus the Staunch is offline

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Well, the Forsaken did murder Garithos after promising that they will give the Alliance the city back, after all. This is however, something conveniently forgotten whenever they claim that the Alliance betrayed them.

But yeah, they totally deserve the land- just ask those puddles of goo in Southshore!
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Old 02-09-2018, 07:46 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Well, the Forsaken did murder Garithos after promising that they will give the Alliance the city back, after all. This is however, something conveniently forgotten whenever they claim that the Alliance betrayed them.

But yeah, they totally deserve the land- just ask those puddles of goo in Southshore!
As an attempt to steer this conversation back onto the tracks....

It IS, first of all, interesting when we see the Mimesis effect in action. We're talking about pixels in a fictional universe that have no bearing on our lives, and yet, here we are. Alliance/Horde argumentation of Lordaeron goes back years, it crops up in every major forum, and I almost have to wonder if the thing has destroyed friendships - all because of identification with a role.

As for how those roles play out. As I've said before, the Fall of Lordaeron I think is how you portray loss right. Both sides are threatening, both sides have something to hold up with pride and both sides lost something. Both sides were shown as competent and relatively in control of the situation, and the underlying weight of the situation was well presented. Based on the leadership and on future spoilers, we also know that something is going to follow this for Forsaken and Human players - chances for glory on both sides.
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Old 02-09-2018, 08:44 AM
CoDimus the Staunch CoDimus the Staunch is offline

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As an attempt to steer this conversation back onto the tracks....

It IS, first of all, interesting when we see the Mimesis effect in action. We're talking about pixels in a fictional universe that have no bearing on our lives, and yet, here we are. Alliance/Horde argumentation of Lordaeron goes back years, it crops up in every major forum, and I almost have to wonder if the thing has destroyed friendships - all because of identification with a role.
Well, to be honest, I would not have posted about Lordaeron at all had the conversation not gone on that track. Part of the reason why I am so passionate about this is because I played as the Alliance extensively during my days of Warcraft III, and that is the Alliance which I am a fan of. Humans, Dwarves, the Light, Dalaran, Lordaeron, the High Elves, etc. And whilst I tend to empathize with you about Blizzard's handling of the Night Elves, I do also feel that the Night Elves lost a lot of what made them unique when they were put into the Alliance. It never felt right to me- neither the Horde nor the Alliance were suitable for them, and I do not think they would have been part of either if Blizzard had not implemented this two-faction idea. But that is old news at this stage.

The problem is that, for whatever reason, Blizzard is finding it difficult to write stories for so many races at the same time. And whilst this Lordaeron conflict works for the Eastern Kingdoms Alliance and it's fans, it does not work for the Night Elves, or their fans, who couldnt care less about a human Kingdom when they are losing most of their favourite race's lands.

But at the risk of sounding rude, I care much more about Lordaeron than I do about the Night Elves. And ultimately, for me, the Alliance will always be the Humans and Dwarves first and foremost. And when I see Human Kingdoms rise again, I like that my favourite race is getting some of it's former glory back, and sadly, some of that glory is at the expense of another race losing its. And I really wish it werent so. Ultimately, something that makes me passionate is not something that would make a Night Elf fan passionate, and vice versa. Blizzard has not been able to please both communities at the same time, because Night Elves were never meant to be a supporting race.
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