Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Nature of War

In a game like Civilization, most of us have launched a war for the purpose of expanding our nation's territory and power, or to weaken a rival nation. In this, we are following Carl von Clausewitz's observation that "War is merely a continuation of politics." In the context of such a game game, and indeed much of human history, such a strategy of conquest was not considered wrong or immoral.

However, the modern world is moving away from Clausewitz's statement. It is moving towards a view that the only moral war, the only just war, is a defensive war. And this is causing an interesting reaction between game players and developers.

Consider the current plot lines in World of Warcraft. Blizzard wants to heat up the simmering conflict between Alliance and Horde. From a gameplay perspective, war is more interesting than peace. It gives players more things to do. To that end, Blizzard has introduced the characters of Garrosh Hellscream and Varian Wrynn, who are pushing the Horde and Alliance towards a war.

However, these two characters are not very popular with WoW players. I believe that the failure of these characters has more to do with the changing nature of war, than by their actual characteristics. If the only just war is a defensive war, then an aggressive leader is necessarily worse than a leader who is mostly peaceful (for example, Thrall).

As well, whichever faction starts the war is the aggressor, and in the wrong. And Blizzard definitely wants to avoid painting one faction as the bad guy. One of the strengths of WoW is that both the Horde and the Alliance have their good points and bad points.

Other games avoid this in a variety of ways. Often one side is clearly labelled as the bad guys, rendering morality moot. For example, in Warhammer Online, the Chaos faction are the bad guys and clear aggressors. Other games have the war between factions being more of an "eternal war", one that has no real beginning and no real end.

But how do you start a war between two good factions, when starting a war is considered wrong? This would be possible in the times when the Clausewitz dictum held, but I think is all but impossible now.


  1. In this case, you create tensions nearing a boiling point, requiring a leader who will boldly act to defend his people. Then, you create some isolated incident, relatively minor, that causes 1 nation to react to perceived aggression, even if if the other nation's intent was never to start something. Both nations view themselves as acting defensively (1 nation responding to the perceived provocation, the other defending against the perceived over-reation of the other nation). Something kind of like the powder keg in Europe before WWI.

    I think Blizzard is doing a good job of building this up. You have a Horde leader rising who hates the Alliance, and an Alliance leader brutally mistreated by the Horde. This escalates the existing tensions, and makes them more prevalent in everyday gameplay. If the rumors about Cataclysm are true, the Alliance vs. Horde conflict may be something that takes a large role in the game's story, even for PvE servers (new PvE quests that attack Horde areas that won't flag you).

  2. I don't think the playerbase will accept a perception that is different than reality.

    Consider that Wrathgate is the perfect casus belli for the Alliance. The Forsaken outright killed Bolvar Fordragon, and wrecked a serious Alliance attempt to destroy Arthas.

    Yet a significant portion--if not the majority--of the playerbase still thinks Varian is a loose cannon.

    If Wrathgate is not enough to start a real war, than what is?

    Because players play on both sides, reality is known to them, and I think we find it hard to grasp the idea that perception is different from reality. If we know the reality, then Varian/Garrosh should know the reality as well, and stand down.

  3. I think it will work out great if players not only get quests to "help the war along", but also get the opportunity to disrupt the war effort... perhaps by helping out the other faction in some way, or holding up the efforts of over-zealous members of their own faction. After a certain amount of quests in one direction, you would be stopped from doing any in the other chain.

    This would be even better if you had titles as well for completing quest chains, like "the warmonger" or "the diplomat". (Yeah I know diplomat has probably been taken already. :D)

  4. Leaders who send their subjects to die for no good reason are best quickly killed themselves.

    How would we get a good war between Horde and Alliance? I'm not sure. It would have to take more than idiotic leaders and a misunderstanding here or there. Maybe the Legion could manipulate us into conflict. Or make a sub-faction which is excessively aggressive and dangerous, but which is protected by the larger alliance, so a justified defense against the smaller group would lead to a larger overall war.

    Maybe if Thrall had to leave war could happen, since I am afraid that as far as the NPCs are concerned, only he holds them back from war. The bloodcraze seems to be coming back, though I don't know where from.

  5. If MMO-Champion has the lore of the expansion correct, the Horde will be moving a few notches towards "bad guy" status.

    There's always been a bit of a split between the Thrall and Cairne's leadership - mostly noble and concerned with strong self-defense - and the more ruthless self preservation among the Forsaken and Blood Elves. If you had done three factions at WoW's launch, Alliance, Orc+Troll+Tauren Horde, and Forsaken+Blood Elves+Illidan's Naga would have produced three factions with more cohesion than the current Horde.

    Putting Garrosh in charge really would have the effect of moving the faction towards being the aggressors. I do wonder whether that's going to hurt the faction's popularity in the long run.

  6. I think you couldn't be more wrong about why players hate garrosh and wrynn. At least for me, they're incredibly shallow, stereotypical "raaarg! other side bad!" characters. They have no depth, and no charisma to back up their lack of depth. Also, specifically from a horde perspective, I will never be able to get past the entire questline where hellscream is moping around being a little defeatist bitch becuase he's not as great as his father and their people are doomed. You do an entire questline helping them out and at the end of it, he gats even more despondant and whiney becuase it was you that did all the work and not him and oh what a worthless crature he is. Then with no warning wrath comes out and he's all gung-ho rip-roaring kill all alliance with no transition story in between. And Varian wrynn doesn't even have that amount of story (in game) going for him, he just shows up out of nowhere trying to start fights.

    A war between horde and alliance has little to do with modern "moral warfare either, there just has to be strong cause for it. Theres plenty of quests and events in wrath that could lead very easily into a war that would have players going along with it. Wrathgate is the perfect example, a rogue faction within the horde turns on alliance and horde allike, but could have easily been taken as the horde itself starting all out war, and Thrall is forced into a war to protect his people. Both sides are still "right", it's a war cuased by long tensions and misunderstanding with a rogue faction being the instigator bringing it to boil. This scenario wouldn't even need Wrynn and hellscream frothing at the mouth for no reason. But nothing really came of it besides a cool cut scene and romp through undercity.

    You also have the quests in icecrown where a horde force turns on the alliance while they're already engaged with scourge and betrays them, and nothing really comes of that either.

    Fantasy war is not real war, people are willing to accept things that they wouldn't in real life for the purpose of good storytelling, good old suspension of disbelief. But the problem with wrynn and hellscream is it's NOT good storytelling, it's actually very uncharacteristically (of blizzard) BAD storytelling.

    Go back to warcraft 3 and look at Arthas. He starts out a hero and in game goes through a slow demise through the human campeign, and you're shown at each step him falling farther and the reasoning behind the fall. Culling of stratholme case in point, nobody could justify murding a city of innocents, but he is preventing them from becoming scourge (something far worse than death) and so it's an act of mercy in it's own way. Theres a dilemma there where some characters think he's gone too far and some follow him becuase they share his reasons. No black and white, all shades of grey. The most interesting villians have the noblist intentions, and the best heroes are flawed, but do what is right despite these flaws. Wrynn and hellscream are not shades of grey, they are not goood despite their flaws, they are not evil with noble intentions. They are shallow and pathetic and annoying, and their angry-face in game custom models do nothing to help that and only accentuate how shallow they are. I've heard good things about wrynn in the ocmics and that he has much more depth in them, but none of that, NONE, comes through in game.

  7. I actually think this is a place where, if Blizzard wanted, they could set up a conflict as commentary on the real world (something fantasy and sci-fi are designed for). Imagine, for instance, Varian Wrynn becoming absolutely convinced that Thrall is in league with the Burning Legion, or the Defias Brotherhood, or Queen Azshara via the blood elves, or any other dangerous group. Wrynn starts looking obsessively for any evidence at all that Thrall is planning an attack on Stormwind at some point in the future, and he finds some ambiguous evidence that Thrall insists isn't what it looks like, or perhaps even insists is fabricated entirely. Wrynn then jumps on the opportunity to go to war with Orgrimmar to protect his kingdom. Suppose Wrynn and Thrall even try to set up back channels of communication to head off war, but groups within each camp act as provocateurs out of some ulterior agenda, perhaps servants of the Burning Legion or Garrosh Hellscream or the Steamwheedle Cartel who stand to make money selling explosives and siege weaponry.

    One can imagine Azerothian analogs for any of the myriad vectors leading to war in Iraq, or Vietnam, or Afghanistan, or former Yugoslavia, or Chechnya, or Gaza...

  8. I'd just like to say I really, REALLY hope blizz keeps any and all sorts of real-wrold analogies out of warcraft. I like when stories mirror past events to a point, but it's far too political right now, keep it out of my fantasy TYVM

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  10. It will be a war cause by misunderstanding and prejudice.

    They've done a GREAT job of portraying Varian -who has fought long and hard for peace- as an aggressive leader. Varian went to talk peace, and was captured and enslaved by the Horde (Defias initially). DESPITE this he allied with the Horde against Arthas and was betrayed by the Horde 2nd in command in Northrend at the Wrath Gate and lost a personal friend as a result (note: he lost his father to a supposed 'horde ally' as well). Even after this in the 3.1 cinematic, he only FAILED TO BACK DOWN when Garrosh drew his weapons and insulted him. His mistrust for the modern horde is perfectly reasonable, yet the player base hates him despite this.

    Garrosh is an unreasonable aggressor. He is the typical prejudiced, warmongering Orc from Warcraft 1 and 2 -very distinct from Thrall and Saurfang. Despite this (or because of this), he is portrayed as being popular among the Orcs. Unless something is done to change his character in Icecrown, I fully expect him to take over the horde and become VERY aggressive towards the alliance.

    There are rebel humans in Durotar, Dustwallow, and the Barrens who WANT war with the Horde (constant war was somehow the 'good old days' to these guys) and this separate faction of humans will likely give Garrosh the excuse he needs to declare total war on the Alliance.

    Just think of another Wrath Gate scenario reversed. If Garrosh were in Varian's place, he would have layed siege to Ogrimmar, not the Undercity.

    edit: just wanted to say that I agree with those who say that the depth of the Varian Wrynn character is NOT in the game, and that lack of storytelling is one of the prime failures of the WotLK story. I admit that it would be a hard story to tell in-game, but SOME method of conveying that backstory ala the Trall/Garrosh fight would be nice.

  11. You mention WAR, which hurts your point a bit. After all, in WAR the aggressive and unjust side was much more popular.

    Perhaps, this cuts a bit differently than you suppose? Maybe gamers prefer to be part of the aggressors?

  12. even with Garrosh and Varian leading their factions to all out war Thrall is going to be the new guardian mage of tirisfal and could turn Garrosh and varian into a pile of ash with a funny look.

  13. Same formula that's always used: introducethird party with vested interest in weakening one or both factions involved. Arrange for the removal/icapacitation of cool headed voice of reason ie thral via poison or voyage or whatever. This resulting on hot head in good standing with people ie hellscream to be apointed advocate in his place with enough supporters to out vote saurfang the old stead fast or kill off eople who would side with him via basic political intrigue. Arrange misunderstandings / insults to both leaders / peoples of each faction and bobs your uncle war with no real bad guys just idiots. The people cannot be held responsible for their leaders especialy if there are voices of outspoken oposotion to war.

    Sorry for wall of tex crit formatinf on phone isn't easy

  14. Saurfang for Warchief in 2010!

  15. Elladrion's point is further accentuated by the ridiculous Dragon Ball Z-esque haircut they gave Varian. He looks like a caricature of an immature adolescent faux-bad ass.

  16. It's way harder for the factions to be at war now. Why? We've proven we can peacefully co-exist for two expansions now! In both Dalaran and Shattrath we've got major hubs that serve both Horde and Alliance. Heck, we can also grind rep with the same factions and get the same quests. We've got tons of cross faction organizations too! Add to this the fact that we're all united in our desire to defeat the Lich King and we've got a good road to peace.

    On a non-pvp server, the core faction conflicts are set in specific areas with set rules, scoring systems, and generally are opt in. Kind of like a sport.

    If we're going to get behind going to war we have to feel the other faction overstepping their bounds. And it can't be someone telling us about it. The players are going to have to feel it.

    Now, if I were to play through a quest where the night elves were using the Cenarion Circle as a front and are planning a sacrifice of 100 orc children to regain their immortality, then I might start to wonder. (I'm a horde player)

    20 such quests showing that the alliance has always had killing off the horde on the mind; they're just waiting for the Lich King to be taken care of would have me believing it.

  17. I think your off here.

    The player base's coolness toward Garrosh and Varian is completely a failure in story telling. They were almost completely developed off-stage. Think this has nothing to do with current social-political trends.

    And come release time, the war will be ON.

    Wow players will happily jump at any opportunity to hack each other to bits.

  18. I think the best way they can solve this is with a third-party instigator. Someone from a group that would benefit financially from a Horde-Alliance war... that's what I think the goblin race would have been good for. A corrupt group only driven by greed that plants seeds of hatred on both sides of the table, and then causes an incident on one of the sides that is designed in a way to frame the other side.

    It wouldn't really take all that much, IMO. There is already a rivalry between the groups... all it would take is a spark to spiral out of control.