Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The World in WoW, part 1

A week or two back, my friend Sean Collins asked me: Might you ever be interested in blogging what you think about WoW's world and mythos? All I know about it is what I read in the instruction booklet for my nephew's copy of the game and it sounded neat enough, but I was wondering how an experienced gamer and fantasy fan like you think it stacks up.

This is my answer, in as many parts as it takes. :) Before I get started, though, let me give a second thumbs-up to the crew at Blogatelle. We don't always agree, but they continue to do some mighty fine thinking about the world and the place(s) of charactes in it. This series will be the better for many, many conversations I've had with Sean Riley, and for the posts he and others have written.

I should start by talking a little about my preferences in fantasy worlds.

I almost always prefer them big and diverse: the more I get the feeling of layered history and present complexity, the happier I am. I particularly like it when cultures make sense but don't work the way they would if consistently administered by amoral pragmatists (or starry-eyed idealists) with a package of mid-to-late 20th century American middle-class values and prejudices. Thus, for instance, I remain fascinated by M.A.R. Barker's world of Tékumel, by George R.R. Martin's Westeros, by Jacqueline Carey's Terre D'Ange, and of course by Middle Earth, than which there is no whicher.

There is a place in my heart too for compact, focused environments, but it's a different kind of pleasure, and not one that applies here.

It's also important to note that I'm very seldom troubled by occasional gaps and discrepancies, for two reasons. First: Having worked as a contributor to several ongoing game worlds myself, I know that perfect consistency is very hard, and I find that I'd rather have each part be really good even if there's some joinery to do than keep everything perfectly synchronized and lose some nift (that's the noun form for "niftiness", as exposited by the late Britt Daniel, who's been on my mind lately). Second: I'm less than impressed by the perfect harmony of what we know about the real world. Incomplete data, premature speculation, simple misunderstanding, too rigorously applied theory, and a whole lot more things lead to us DOIN IT RONG, as the LOLcat crowd has it. And I don't actually expect a work of fiction to work better than the real world. I like it when things harmonize, but am not shocked or (generally) driven off if there's a bug in the mix somewhere along the line.

So that's what's going on behind my eyes when I look at the Warcraft universe.

I think that the Warcraft universe is really cool. It is big—currently sprawling over parts of two worlds, one of which was actually blown up by evil warlocks—and very diverse. Furthermore, it's post-apocalyptic fantasy, a thing I find fascinating. Pretty much everybody in the world is reeling in the wake of past and present disasters: humanity's gone from seven kingdoms to one (plus a couple hangers-on), the night elves sacrificed their immortality to save the world and now their leaders are playing stupid politics, the dwarves and gnomes are fighting off an invasion of troglodytes that destroyed the gnomes' capital and is interfering with excavations anywhere, the orcs are free from demonic control but had most of their whole damn planet blown up and are in precarious circumstances in their new home, the blood elves had almost their whole population and their key sources of mana stomped down by the Scourge and their heroic leader turned out to be one of the worst bad guys of the moment, the tribe of trolls allied with the orcs is still scrabbling for survival while their rivals keep summoning blood gods and other nuisances, and while some of the Scourge broke free to regain free will and self-control as the Forsaken, they're not getting any less dead.

It is a fascinating glorious mess. It is a fantastically good setting for adventure from the frivolous to the tragic.

And that's the starting point for this series.