Episode #16 – “Brutality, Atrocity and Violence, Part 1”

Episode #16 – “Brutality, Atrocity and Violence, Part 1”

Oct 22

Our sixteenth episode features Tzufit and Apple Cider in the first part of a two-part episode about the inherent brutality and atrocities present in World of Warcraft and what this means to both the story and players. We look at violent quests, real-life situations being transposed into the game space as well as injury occurring to groups within the game universe.

Due to technical difficulties, there are some brief gaps in the audio of this episode. We apologize for the inconvenience.

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Below the cut is a full transcript of Episode 16, “Brutality, Atrocity and Violence, Part 1.” Many thanks to @IviaRelle for transcribing this episode.

Tzufit:  Welcome again to Justice Points. Today on the show we are going to be talking about instances of brutality and violence in WoW, but more importantly we’re going to be looking at what exactly we mean by brutality and why this is a problem and how it affects us as players when we encounter it in the game.

Apple Cider:  We usually tend to focus on a very specific oppressive quality to the game, and some of the things that we’re going to be talking about aren’t necessarily oppressive although they DEFINITELY have a very huge overlap in a lot of ways. But, they’re all cases where the game has either stepped over a line in terms of showing violence or has mimicked or included a scenario that is very close to real life in origin and may make players uncomfortable approaching that in a world that’s still largely cartoony and a video game as opposed to us all actually being in a full-fledged world war.

Tzufit:  There’s definitely a fine line, and it’s one that Blizzard hasn’t really decided how to deal with yet, between depicting violence in a way that makes sense for the sort of world that we have in Azeroth, where violence is a real thing that people deal with on a day to day basis, versus using it in a way that makes people extremely uncomfortable and can actually take them out of that gaming experience. Part of the reason we decided to talk about this topic this week was because there’s been a lot of discussion around this lately, and we’ll go more in-depth into this later in the show, but lots of people have been looking at Garrosh’s actions, particularly in the Siege of Orgrimmar, and some of the atrocities and violence that you see there, and just asking, is this too much? Has WoW gone too far?

Apple Cider:  I think atrocity is a really good word, other than saying brutality, because atrocity doesn’t always indicate violence, although a lot of times it does, but I feel atrocity tends to broaden the scope up to massive injustices or moments of dehumanization that definitely come with it.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and we certainly see all those things in Siege of Orgrimmar specifically, but also throughout WoW historically we have many, many examples. Surprisingly when we asked people to contribute, and when we asked people to think of a time when a quest or an NPC asked them to do something that made them uncomfortable, we got just a TON of responses.

Apple Cider:  Absolutely, and it makes our job a little bit easier in that we don’t have to sit for hours and hours and research this stuff, but it does make it really sad, because it means that the game is really just chock-a-block with this stuff and I think one of the scariest things about these moments of brutality, violence, and atrocity in the game is that so many times you become so inured to it that you don’t even notice it.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and that was certainly true for me when I was looking through, just trying to think of instances to add to our own list, but then also some of the events that other people brought up, and I would look at someone pointing out a specific quest and I would realize, oh my gosh, yeah, that is HORRIBLE, and we do that all the time!

Apple Cider:  Yeah, there’s just so much stuff in the game that reflects that kind of mentality and it makes you wonder, why is this in the game? Like, Tzufit, you said that World of Warcraft really hasn’t addressed or been consistent with the level of violence and brutality in the game, and I think that’s what lends itself to why it’s so problematic. You either filter it out like background noise, which is not good, or you notice it so aggressively that it does take you out of that immersion. So, if it was consistent it might feel a little more contextual, it might feel a little bit more part of the world, but the fact of the matter is that this is a game that has Goblins and Gnomes being silly, it has tons of pop culture references, but then on top of that it has people getting gored, it has people being trampled, having their rights stripped away, things like that, and in a lot of cases the reason that they’re so dehumanizing or demoralizing is that it apes real life things that people have gone through, and no-one wants to deal with that in a video game

Tzufit:  No, and I think one of the other big problems, too, is that a lot of times it will be done for one of two reasons. They will sometimes choose to include those kind of acts for dramatic and emotional effect, knowing that they’re going to elicit a very specific response from people who go through and do those quest lines. Which, I think we can really talk about if that’s the best way to go about your storytelling. Certainly it’s important for people to have an emotional connection with the media they consume, but at what point is it unfair to your consumers to really play on their emotions in that way? So that’s one possible reason that they do it, is to kind of really hammer home an emotional impact for some of the stuff that you do. The other, that’s also pretty terrible, is that a lot of times it’s done as comedic relief, and really really gross comedic relief.

Apple Cider:  And in both instances it’s really exploitative, it’s really exploitative of people’s emotions, it’s really exploitative of potential real life situations being used as comedic or emotional points, especially because if it’s something that you’ve witnessed or been through in real life, it’s being used as a cheap or contextless event in a video game.

Tzufit:  A lack of gravitas is especially important with Blizzard because when this stuff gets called to the floor for being problematic or gross or any of those things, a lot of times people wave it away because it’s supposedly realistic. Like I said at the start of the show, we’re in a world of war craft, right? We spend a lot of time doing things that relate to the act of war. So, people will kind of give this blanket response or excuse that any violent acts that happen make sense because they’re things that do happen when a war is going on. And, this argument just strikes me as really, really wrong.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, I mean, there are definitely things you do in game that are technically violent but aren’t problematic, and there are things that have occurred in wars or are considered part of the quote-unquote “war experience” that should not be in a video game that isn’t going to treat them with the concern that they deserve, or were really terrible things that maybe shouldn’t be replicated AT ALL.

Tzufit:  Yeah, that’s another great point, you know, is that one of the questions that we have to ask is, is it necessary to have that level of supposed realism in a video game? Is it responsible to have that level of supposed realism in a video game? And again, I’m saying supposed throughout because I think one of the major flaws in that argument, especially when it comes to Blizzard and World of Warcraft, is that they are fundamentally not realistic. You know, they’re absolutely OK with kind of borrowing from lots of different fantasy tropes and all of that, and that’s fine! You can certainly make a story out of whatever you want, except when you get to the point that you’re starting to borrow things that happen IN REAL LIFE to real people that are really problematic.

Apple Cider:  And, like we said with the consistency thing, if you stick something in that’s really realistic, and you go whole-hog with it, then you can make the case that realism is necessary because you’re giving credence to a realistic message. You are, more or less, saying something (positive, negative, whatever), you’re saying something about things that really happen in a very real way. If you put in problematic or violent or brutal elements in a game that also has cartoonishness to it, you are devaluing the message that you could have had by making it completely realistic.

Tzufit:  Yeah, that is a fantastic point, and it absolutely makes sense to say that any act of severely brutal violence or any atrocity that you include in World of Warcraft, you are devaluing that experience for the people who actually HAD to experience it, simply by the act of PUTTING it in World of Warcraft because, like you said, yeah, it is a cartoony game, it is a silly game in a lot of ways. I mean, I know we all want to take it real seriously, but at the end of the day it’s really goofy in a lot of ways, and I think that’s part of what is endearing about it, but it also is certainly why a lot of that stuff has no place there.

Apple Cider:  Yes, exactly. So we’ve talked about a little bit of why we’re interested in this brutality, and we’re interested in talking about why it’s a problem in the game, but there may actually really be moments where your character has to be complicit in the brutality and the violence.

Tzufit:  Yeah, I think that’s absolutely the fundamental aspect of the problem, because especially now when it seems like linear questing is the way of the future, and, you know, is pretty much what we’ve gotten from Cataclysm onward, the issue is that skipping a quest that you don’t want to do now is MUCH more difficult than it used to be, prior to Cataclysm. So a lot of times, if you want to see how a story finishes out, if you want to do a complete quest line, you have to do all the steps in the chain. This is somewhat true of the level 90 zones, but then also the old world that’s been revamped, you will run out of quests if you start skipping things, because it’s just not designed to be a pick and choose kind of system, it really is supposed to be, you follow the line of the quest chain. And so that means that when you get to something you don’t want to do, because it grosses you out or it’s not something your character would do or it’s just really terrible, it can be very difficult to actually skip those things.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, if World of Warcraft had a morality system like Bioware games, the realistic brutalization, demoralization would make a little bit more sense because you could opt out of it and it would mean story elements for your character would be different. That’s one of the ways that video games do get around the whole aspect of doing questionable things as your character is having the ability to make the choices to be a questionable character in a video game or to be a morally right or good character. World of Warcraft doesn’t have that, so when you force characters through, like you said, a linear progression that does include things like that, there’s no choice! It just automatically assumes that your character is going to do these things, unknowingly or not. Maybe your character doesn’t know, maybe that’s a way of handwaving it, but you as the player are always going to know what you’re doing. When it includes such terrible things like aping extreme violence or going so far as slavery and domination, and I mentioned fascism and imperialism too in the show notes, not letting a character wiggle out of that, and having to plow through it anyway, is one of the reasons that World of Warcraft doesn’t deal with these themes very well in the slightest. There’s no back door, there’s no way out of it, and we’ve only seen VERY few instances of a quest having choices AT ALL, let alone choices for quests that may have problematic content in them.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and bringing up Bioware, I think, is a really great example. You know, I spent a fair bit of time playing SWTOR and while it was not perfect by any means, I really liked the way that you were presented with choices throughout that game. And while sometimes both of the choices might be pretty shitty and your character might end up doing things that you didn’t want them to do either way, at least there was always some option, rather than the especially horrible Sith-y one, you know?

Apple Cider:  Exactly, yeah. I mean, even given morality clauses or morality gameplay in a video game, I think in some ways, it still doesn’t excuse really aggressively problematic content, though. There’s definitely some things that even if a character was a quote-unquote “morally grey”, “morally black” or “unethical” person that I still wouldn’t be cool with in a video game, I think.

Tzufit:  Yeah, I think there are still questions about whether it’s appropriate to include that content at all, but I appreciate any system that will allow me to opt out of those things if they do exist.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, there’s some situations in certain contexts that I would really have a problem with, even if they were setting it up to be a choice at all, or a choice that you’re supposed to move away from. And that’s one of the things that feeds into this topic is, what kinds of things really should not be in video games regardless? I mean, I think that kind of goes back to the whole idea that a lot of video games, and even a lot of media in general, falls back on really problematic elements, like Garrosh, which we kind of talked about on the Azeroth Roundtable episode we were on, that problematic content is used CONSTANTLY to give a quick and easy subset of characterization. It’s a flag to say, “This person is really bad, and you know that they’re really bad because they’re calling a woman a bitch,” and it’s lazy.

Tzufit:  Oh yeah, it’s extremely lazy, and when we were on Azerothian Roundtable, specifically what we talked about was the fact that Garrosh calls Sylvanas a bitch in the Silver Pine Forest quest lines, and yeah, it’s supposed to be the very clear and- I can’t remember if it was you that said it, Apple Cider, but it was the moustache-twirling villain at that point. It’s supposed to be very obvious that this is a BAD guy, he’s got a giant neon sign over his head, and you know that he’s a bad guy because he’s doing this and that and the other thing. And, you know, that’s pretty simplistic when you get right down to it.

Apple Cider:  It’s very reductive, and it also sets up a really uncomfortable position, because if you’re using bad things that really happen- you can make a villain that does bad things that does things that don’t necessarily happen in real life. Like, say you have a villain that’s very brutally violent, but doesn’t do it in a way that mimics real life stuff, OK, I can kind of see giving it a pass. But when you have a villain that does really horrible things, and the reason that they’re horrible is because they’re either sexist or racist, or are- you know, things like rape and sexual assault, you’re positioning people in real life and in the video game as quote-unquote “good” if they don’t do those things. You’re saying that ONLY really bad people do those things, and with a lot of cases a lot of good people still do the same stuff. It’s a very murky system that’s setting up very rigid ethics.

Tzufit:  I think it also tends to, especially for a character like Garrosh, it gets you from point A to point, like, Z with absolutely no explanation in between, which is a lot of what people have complained about with Garrosh’s characterization differences from Cataclysm to now, where there isn’t a progression. Garrosh is a jerk but a tolerable one day, and the next day he’s possessed by the Sha of Pride and is just, you know, bent on world domination and destruction. There’s no transition, there’s no explanation, there’s no progression. You just get to the villain thing immediately, and it’s very simple if you just say, “Well, it’s just because he decided to do these specific things, so now he’s EXTRA evil, he’s not just kind of a guy you wouldn’t want to hang out with.”

Apple Cider:  Yeah! And again, that also becomes very reductive because it says that people can only be unethical or evil if they undergo some sort of corruption, and Blizzard does this AAAALLLLLL THEEEE TIIIIMMMEEEE.

Tzufit:  Oh yeah.

Apple Cider:  Garrosh was sort of interesting before the whole Sha stuff in that Garrosh, at least as a villain, was brutal on his own.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and it’s one of the things that makes me sad about the way that that story progressed, because I think you could have made Garrosh a villain without any other external crap that had to get factored into it. Garrosh had a lot of stuff that would explain why he might eventually go down that path. I mean, he was already sort of very paranoid about a lot of things, and very convinced that people were undermining him consistently. He had a lot of questions about his history, about his father. He had LOTS of stuff going on that would have made sense for why he might progress to that next level, but because we didn’t decide to explore ANY of that, and because we just get the, “Well, a Sha did it!” stamp on it, we never get any of the fruits of his characterization.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, it doesn’t ramp up, it becomes a very convenient excuse for why that occurs, when a lot of the stuff that Garrosh does is done in a very realistic way. I mean, here is my problem with Garrosh, and here’s one of the reasons that I think they’re doing interesting things with Sylvanas as a juxtaposition. Understandably, Sylvanas has a kind of broken backstory, but Sylvanas is definitely painted as a person who is evil and morally bankrupt, without being corrupted.

Tzufit:  Oh yeah.

Apple Cider:  She does evil things for her own reasons, whereas Garrosh turns into a fascist, and I do say fascist because he is, he is one – he turns into a fascist overnight and he becomes Sha corrupted, and it really did remove any sort of context or commentary you could have made about the fact that he is being basically a dictator. It’s a pattern that we’ve seen in actual culture, over the past couple of hundred years.

Tzufit:  Part of what we’re doing here is kind of assuming, on our parts, that World of Warcraft and games in general have a responsibility to their audiences to not include this stuff, and I guess maybe we should unpack that or discuss it and see if that really is the case.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, I mean, I think there’s multiple viewpoints you could have about this, and I know it might be pretty obvious from our standpoint what exactly our viewpoint is, but do video games in general have a responsibility, and does World of Warcraft have a responsibility, to not include this content? And I would definitely say no, or a no with a caveat in that if you’re going to include excessively violent or brutal content, you have to create a context to it that is properly grounded and given the proper gravity and commentary that it deserves, and I think Blizzard really lacks that, it really lacks the commentary, it doesn’t say much about ANYTHING that it includes in-game.

Tzufit:  Yeah, Blizzard is extremely guilty of pointing to very many things that are in pop culture or in government or whatever it may be, without actually saying anything of meaning whatsoever about them. And I completely agree with you about the context and the establishment for if you are going to choose to include that type of content in your game, but I would also say that, if you choose to do that, there should still be some way to opt out of it. Now, I know that’s really problematic in a game like WoW where the lore is on a very big scale, and kind of, all of us experience the same lore, so I don’t know how you could possibly do it in that sort of situation. But obviously, when you’re talking about something that actually, you know, an MMO that gives you choices about which quest you want to do next, in that kind of case it would be much easier to implement and make a lot more sense.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, it’s easier to kind of give an ethical stance on the things that you’re including in your video game if it allows more contextual choices from the characters. Blizzard, yeah, doesn’t really have the position to do that, but on the other hand, it makes really interesting stories out of other emotional content. It makes you feel things in an emotional way. Why not about political issues or certain issues that they’re pulling almost whole-cloth from real life? Why not an emotional message about them? I think Blizzard does shy away from politicizing too much, and I understand that, but if you’re including things that have a political charge to them, and I know we’re going to talk about one thing in particular later on in the show, that being a quest from the Cataclysm pre-event, you cannot stand to not make a political message about it or to include some context. You’re ripping something that has a political gravity to it that you can’t ignore, or else you are pretty terrible including it in a video game.

Tzufit:  This reminds me a lot of the conversation that we had when we did the sex and sexuality episode, because it’s kind of the reverse problem. So, if you’re going to include sex in the game, and the only ways that you include sex in the game are very problematic, and you include those sorts of things with no discussion of, sort of, consensual sex, or sex within a relationship, or sex that leads to children without just the children appearing out of thin air, then there’s a problem there because you’re being very selective about what you’re willing to show, and it just comes across as very disingenuous. I think the same is true when it comes to showing examples of severe violence and brutality because you’re making a statement just by including that in the game, and if you don’t contextualize what you include, then yeah, you’re doing the same thing as you are when it comes to putting a bunch of dragon rape in the game. You’re making a statement by excluding sex that’s between consenting adults or sex that’s within a relationship. Like, not including that is a statement. Not including queer characters is a statement. And including brutality is also a statement.

Apple Cider:  It also comes off as [MISSING AUDIO] that’s not always a fair assumption, because video games are a fantastical medium, and it’s not always real, but if you’re including things that tend to border on the realistic, without any commentary, without any context, as we’ve sort of nailed over again and again, is that, you do come off as condoning it because you’re not including positive sexual behavior, which makes those instances stand out a lot more, as well. Especially when they get very excessively terrible.

Tzufit:  Yeah, it’s funny because, like I said, we ended up with a lot more examples of this than I expected, but the few that came to my mind immediately truly did come to mind immediately, because they’re the quests that I don’t like doing, they’re the quests that I usually try NOT to do unless I sort of forget about it along the way until I come up on it and it’s like, “Oh, shit, I have to do this again!” So, they do absolutely stick with you, and they sort of frame your experience of that zone or that quest line.  That’s what the quest designers were going for, I would guess. It always bothers me, too, to think that the vast majority of our characters, the characters that we actually play, if they did all the things that NPCs ask them to do in game? I mean, we’re just talking about a whole civilization full of pretty terrible people, or at best people who don’t really think at all about the actions they’re being asked to take.

Apple Cider:  They’re essentially sociopathic mercenaries, if we want to be realistic about it. I mean, if you look at your characters, and not from a role-play aspect where you kind of handwave away what you do and don’t do, if you just were an outside observer of what our characters do, the world hails them as heroes, but in the interim, your character is basically somebody that has absolutely no problem killing whatever it takes to get pieces of gold.

Tzufit:  Or precious XP.

Apple Cider:  Exactly! There’s no accountability, or very little accountability, and the accountability that does come seems to usually result in glorious accolades for your characters.

Tzufit:  Yeah, there are a few very rare instances I can think of where your character kind of gets tricked by someone along the way, and then that gets called to their attention. There’s a quest in the Night Elf starting area like that, where a satyr tricks you into killing a whole bunch of wildlife, and a Night Elf says, “Did you just do everything that that satyr just told you to do? Well that’s kind of a problem.” And there’s a similar one to that in Hellfire Peninsula at the Draenei Temple out there, where a couple of the Draenei are bent on revenge for one of their friends who was killed by one of the Orcs out there, and they send you out to kill a whole bunch of the Orcs and take their prayer beads, and when you bring those back, the Draenei commander is like, “This is not how we do things.” So there are a few instances of that, but it’s definitely rare.

Apple Cider:  It’s interesting because you actually see more of the side of that quest if you do Horde. I did that quest line as my Horde mage, and I was actually very appalled because you do get the whole context of why that quest is so problematic, because it wasn’t even the Orcs that killed the Draenei.  Another storyline, and I know that this has gotten made fun of in even some webcomics, that in the Drakuru storyline you basically go to a Troll that’s in a cage and become his blood brother and then start doing all sorts of things for him, no questions asked! None. None whatsoever.

Tzufit:  Your character has got to be the most unobservant person, or alternatively just does not care at all about what they’re doing to make it all the way through the Drakuru story without having any idea that something’s up.

Apple Cider:   That questline in particular was a really good wakeup call to many of the players that quest lines do not always end in happy stories, because I remember doing that quest and feeling so betrayed that I had been complicit in doing something really terrible, which is wipe out the entire Drakkari tribe, you wipe out the entire clinging remnants of the tribe.

Tzufit:  Yeah, you kill an entire civilization of Trolls so that the Lich King can have an even bigger army. WAY TO GO YOU! I think that that quest, and I certainly couldn’t say this without actually speaking to the person who wrote that quest line, but I wonder to what extent it is an interesting commentary on the way that players do tend to just kind of roll through quests without really necessarily reading the quest text, or paying a lot of attention to their surroundings and the things that they’re doing. You could certainly roll to the end of that quest line and get to the end and realize, oh my god, you know, everything you’ve done has been horrible! The outcome is TERRIBLE! So, you know, again, I certainly have no idea if that’s intentional but it would be kind of interesting if it were.

Apple Cider:  I have a feeling that maybe that was an attempt at making that kind of commentary about player characters, and that sort of gives a very clear example of, well if they can make that kind of message about what the players are doing in relation to the world around them, why can’t they make that kind of message in relation to some of the things that they stick in the game? I think that just happens to be that the consistency across their quest designers is not always the same. Some quest designers seem to have a kind of clear goal in mind but a lot of the things that happen in game are either background or window-dressing for other things, or are simply put into the game without context because I don’t think the quest designer considers the whole impact of what they’re doing.

Tzufit:  I think that’s certainly possible depending on the person, and I think also it’s probably viewed as much safer, much less inflammatory, to sort of put a commentary or a joke in about the fact that players don’t necessarily pay attention to the content they’re consuming, versus actually trying to say something about violence or about rape or about brutality.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, it just makes me sad that some of the stuff is still in the game though, because knowing that there are people that make this game that maybe necessarily don’t consider the full weight of what they’re doing, in particular to something like putting in so much rape content, it’s scary. It’s really scary.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and it certainly lessens your experience of the game, it makes you want to play the game less.

Apple Cider:  Yeah. So, we’ve kind of given a very strong background as to why this is kind of an important topic, and what kinds of things we’re looking at. Now, how about we actually talk about some of the specific examples in the game?

Tzufit:  Well, let me tell you what! Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, we have a LOT of them.

Apple Cider:  (Laughing)

Tzufit:  And we’ll start out, since we talked about it, you know, at the beginning of the show here, specifically with Siege of Orgrimmar, and we should also point out that Apple Cider recently made a post on her personal blog, which is applecidermage.com, looking at some of the specific instances of really awful stuff that you see as you go through the Siege of Orgrimmar raid instance.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, I was really taken aback because I haven’t done Siege of Orgrimmar in total yet, not even on Flex, because obviously it’s not open completely, but I’m also kind of more of a casual raider now, so I can’t see everything just quite yet. So, it was a shock to me, surprisingly, when a friend of ours on Twitter, @snack_road, posted a screenshot of some trash that you come across when you first get into the actual city of Orgrimmar in the Siege of Orgrimmar raid instance. And I posted pictures of those on my blog. The screenshot that he posted was of two women on chains that are being on leashes by a very large Kor’kron Orc, and they’re fighting each other. They are fist fighting.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and they are labeled as Theramore Survivors, and these are, as Apple Cider said, when you first come into Orgrimmar, it’s the trash before Dark Shaman. There are lots of people in cages, Horde and Alliance alike, and then you do come upon these people who are being forced to fight, basically. They do spawn as either, it seems like they’re always a matched-gender pair, so it’s either two men or two women, but I have seen them both ways. So you have that, and you also have, on the two large pillars that are on either side of the door as you come through Orgrimmar, to your right as you look when you come in you will find a Darkspear Troll woman who is chained up to the pillar there, with several arrows through her body, and if you look to your left you will find a Theramore Citizen. Both of these are corpses, if you click on them. The Theramore Citizen, who’s human, again, arrows, knives, etcetera, throughout her body, and each of these corpses have been tied up to the pillars there, as you come into Orgrimmar.

Apple Cider:  I actually found that part the most gross, out of all the screenshots that I saw, because not only is it excessively violent, it’s EXTREMELY misogynistic. It doesn’t make sense, outside of the Darkspear rebellion woman, and (sigh) there’s something really gut-turning about those screenshots. I mean, you can probably guess why, but I’m looking at them now, even, on my blog and (sigh) just the fact that there’s arrows sticking out of them, and might I actually add that there’s three or four arrows, and two of the arrows, or one of the arrows on both corpses, are sticking out of their chest.

Tzufit:  Yeah, I noticed that as well.

Apple Cider:  Like, their boobs and breastbone and stuff, and it’s like, I don’t know, it just reminds me of that scene from Game of Thrones last season with the consort being tied up to the bed and shot through with bolts from a crossbow. And it was brutally violent then and it’s brutally violent now that these two women, one of whom shouldn’t even be there because we were told in Tides of War that all the Theramore refugees were taken safely to Gadgetzan, I believe?

Tzufit:  Yes, that’s right.

Apple Cider:  How did they end up here? How did they end up in Orgrimmar? And not only that, did they get kidnapped and then taken to Orgrimmar and then used as live target practice, or dead target practice? We don’t know! We have no idea, but the fact that they’re tied there… it’s so gross and so- (Sigh) I don’t know, I’m at a loss for words, which is terrible because this is a podcast, but I’m at a loss for words because it is that- vile, it’s that- because the thing is that this has happened in real life. This sort of thing, hanging bodies, corpses, having them being used as target practice, and then on top of that the two women or the two men on chains fighting each other, that stuff has actually really happened in real life. This is not even something that happened a thousand years ago, this is stuff that’s happened within the last one to three hundred years.

Tzufit:  And it’s so unnecessary, to tell the story that they’re trying to tell here. We get it! Orgrimmar has been completely taken over by the Kor’kron. Garrosh is terrible. We are well aware! You have gotten that into our brains! We got it! 100%, not a problem! We don’t need this on top of it, you know? It’s like, know when you’ve made your point! We don’t need any more information about this, particularly information that’s just going to make people feel terrible when they see it.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, the, in particular, I should note that the brutalization of women’s bodies has a fairly potent historical track to it, and is what makes this even more sort of galling, I mean, honestly, anybody hanging from there and having arrows shot through them is gross but the fact that this seems to be something that fantasy and historical sources tell us is a trope that is used in quite a lot of places with women’s bodies being used as target practice or a way to scare people off or is used as a way of proving how brutal you are is something that gets overused and it’s extremely unethical and it’s extremely disgusting to have it in a fictional video games. It’s somebody making a choice to do that, it’s somebody making a choice to take a model and to stick them up on a pole and presume that they’re dead and then put arrows through them. That’s a choice that somebody at Blizzard said hey, this is a good idea, let’s do this.

Tzufit:  I have to say, too, that I logged on to one of my Horde characters the other day for completely unrelated reasons, but I had logged her out in Orgrimmar. This was the first time I had been in Orgrimmar since the patch, and a lot of stuff is going on in the non-instanced version of Orgrimmar, too. The city that the Horde is actually IN right now, there are Kor’kron EVERYWHERE, Garrosh is still in his throne room, the Dark Shamans who you fight in the raid are, you know, hanging around in the middle of Orgrimmar. And the worst part for me, I walked into the bank building and the character I was on was a female Goblin, and you walk into the bank which was pretty much run by Goblins in the past, and there are a bunch of Kor’kron guards in there, and there is one Goblin who is being held by the neck by a Kor’kron guard, there’s another Goblin who’s kind of cowering in front of a different guard, and- again we keep using this phrase because it’s so true, it took me completely out of the game because I instantly put myself in my character’s shoes of like, a Goblin walking into a room where all of these other Goblins are being completely brutalized ,and thought, why the hell would anyone be here right now? Why- you know, it just, it was very- like I said, it took me out of that moment and it made me want to get the hell out of the city right now.

Apple Cider:  The game has actually included a lot of stuff like that as kind of, like, they’ve built the foundation since the beginning of the game that I always thought was really questionable. How the factions treat races that they don’t particularly like. Like, Gnomes have a small section of Ironforge but the worst people out of everybody has unilaterally been, I think, the Goblins. The Goblins got a legit slum, they got a legit slum as part of the Orgrimmar city, and I think we’ll discuss this more when we get to cataclysm stuff, but the Horde lately, in the game’s history, has just been building on one thing on top of the other. Not that the Alliance is better, because the Alliance has done plenty of messed up shit, but this Garrosh stuff is capping off a line of increasingly gross things, of tormenting, torturing, segregating, discriminating against members of the Horde. Garrosh, like I said he started out a pretty OK wannabe leader, and then he quickly moved into being fascist. I mean, did anybody read tides of war and not say, oh, well they’re just making Garrosh into like, Hitler version two, because he’s sending his secret police out in the middle of the night to execute random citizens that don’t fall in line. And you see stuff like this in the raid, and Tzufit got me a screenshot of this, but there’s like, warlocks that are hanging from the walls on fire, and so you- I mean they definitely made Garrosh to be, very early on, interested in using surveillance against his own citizens, sowing distrust and paranoia among all of the races of the Horde against all the other races of the Horde that weren’t Orcs, using excessive military force inside the city, slowly becoming more and more xenophobic toward anybody but his most trusted advisors and cronies. I mean, they’ve been setting this up for a long time, and it’s just progressively gotten more and more graphic. Even in the 5.4 trailer, he intimates about a possible future where people that don’t fall in line will be hung from the gates of Orgrimmar with spikes sticking through them, and you actually see it.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and it is, it’s just very obvious and painted with very broad strokes this comparison from Garrosh to any fascist leader, essentially, but yeah I think specifically they’re going for Hitler, which is just SO wrong and obnoxious and lazy, I mean, I hate to keep saying lazy in that it’s lazy storytelling, because I realize that that comes across as very condescending, but you can do something ELSE here! You know, there are so many other ways that you can make it clear that this is a bad guy without just lifting straight from examples of history that are still extremely troublesome to lots and lots of people.

Apple Cider:  Mm-hmm! It’s, when you use real life examples like that in your video game to say that this person is evil, like we said before, it rings really hollow and it’s really offensive. The fact that Garrosh was basically aping every paranoid dictator, while convenient and a way to illustrate shorthand very quickly what kind of person Garrosh was turning out to be, and he was evil, the problem is that you’re still inserting it into a video game and you’re basically telling your audience that this is a character, not something that actually happens in real life, and that is not fair. It’s not fair because it does happen.

Tzufit:  It trivializes the experience for the people who actually did have to live under that type of leadership.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, and that’s still going on today, so, I mean, it’s (chuckles) really not a good thing to do. I’ve just been so overwhelmed with how much 5.4 has very quickly fallen back on this stuff that they’ve been building for most of Pandaria, but the fact that they went so out and out graphic is just mind blowing. When the rest of Pandaria has had some really good writing and some really good content, when it concerns Garrosh, they’ve just gone in a completely opposite direction that makes me really uncomfortable.

Tzufit:  And of course really where we first got the idea of where Garrosh was going and where the Pandaria story might end up, starts in Tides of War and then, you know, makes its way into the game as well with the bombing of Theramore. Which is another thing in and of itself that, (chuckles) you know, we’re talking about a weapon, a bomb, that is going to be used to wipe a city and all of its inhabitants, off the map. And there’s no question that Garrosh is perfectly OK with everyone in the city dying too, in fact that’s part of the point, it’s supposed to be a big surprise, there’s no warning given, the idea is we will level the city and take everyone with it

Apple Cider:  And it’s obviously done within the confines of the Warcraft universe and in a very Warcraftian way, but there’s a lot of elements of the Theramore bombings that sort of fall under the purview of the brutalization thing because how the rest of the story was handled. Garrosh’s utter contempt and hatred for Jaina, his ongoing paranoia and distrust of the rest of the Horde, the fact that he felt like bombing a city that, while it did have an active navy and was one of the only Alliance outposts in Kalimdor with military presence. The point being is that Garrosh’s bombing of Theramore was so motivated by hatred and spite and wanting to wipe out innocent civilians is what takes the bombing of Theramore from a strategic military strike on up to gratuitous genocide.

Tzufit:  Yeah, that’s a pretty good point too, because while you understand why it’s important for Garrosh from a strategic point to get rid of Theramore, Theramore had been there for years, and Jaina had been there for years, and she had very specifically been working for peace that entire time. The idea that Jaina was just going to be OK with any plan that Varian could have come up with that would involve using Theramore as a base of operations to attack Orgrimmar is just straight up laughable.

Apple Cider:  Yeah. there was so much weirdness about the Theramore bombing and I understand that it was, from a story point, supposed to really show Garrosh’s progression from attempting to be a middling successful leader to a straight up tyrant, but along the way they really again did that whole A to Z thing and just went from Garrosh being self-conscious and incompetent and potentially a great leader straight into just a fascist overnight, which made it really annoying. And what made the whole Theramore thing more- not- it was confusing, is a good word.

Tzufit:  Theramore and the bombing of Theramore is actually one of the things that we get a decent amount of context for, one of the things that is treated with a pretty significant amount of gravity in the Tides of War book. And I think unfortunately because that happens in a book and not in the game so many people, first of all, didn’t even understand what was happening when they went to do the Theramore scenario because they didn’t really get all of the story from the brief cinematic, if they even watched it. But also because that context exists but is not in-game people who didn’t necessarily read the book probably see it as being trivialized as well, because again, you don’t have that setup, you don’t have that back story, you don’t see the way it really affected people

Apple Cider:  And the same could actually be said about what happens later as a result of the Theramore storyline, Jaina’s scourging of Dalaran, which is also a very brutal, violent event from an Alliance leader.

Tzufit:  Yeah, and if you don’t really have the full backstory of why she would want to do that, why she thinks it’s necessary, then yeah, it’s just you going through a portal and killing all of the elves in Dalaran, pretty much.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, killing them or rounding them up to stick them in a prison. It’s- that entire storyline is just one sort of brutal thing after another, and it really feels like they’re kind of ramping up the damage. Not that Mists of Pandaria was free from that sort of stuff as an expansion already, but it feels like the story that specifically impacts 5.4, that has been sort of threaded through the rest of the expansion, seems to just keep trying to up the violence and up the brutalization. But, we could also make a very big case for Mists of Pandaria as an expansion in general.

Tzufit:  Well, I think part of the reason why it seems so unsettling or so sudden is that while Pandaria has some really violent and problematic elements, a lot of those are pretty confined, especially to the Mogu. So, the Pandaren themselves, you don’t experience a ton of violence or brutality from them, you occasionally experience it from Mogu who are doing awful shit to Pandaren, but that’s kind of- the thing is you go through a lot of Pandaria lulled into this false sense of, “Everything’s so pretty, and we’re going to help them farm, and we’re going to raise our Cloud Serpents!” But meanwhile the undercurrent of the primary narrative, from the beginning of Mists of Pandaria with the bombing of Theramore to now, has been much darker, much more violent, absolutely brutal from start to finish.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, I wanna say that they probably have set it up that way because they really did want to give credence to the idea that the Alliance and the Horde are going to infect this beautiful, pristine country with our bloodshed and hatred.

Tzufit:  Yeah, oh, I agree that it’s absolutely intentional, and I think it’s shit. (Laughing)

Apple Cider:  Yes! (Laughing) But I mean, there’s still other isolated things in Pandaria that were really problematic, or had some sort of problematic elements to them, and I know we’ve covered some of the Mogu stuff in the other episodes when we were dealing with things like rape culture or sexism or women NPCs, but there’s a definite air to the Mogu that does feed on this idea of brutalization. The Mogu, in little hints and ways, you definitely get the sense that they’re a race that were pretty much centered around the idea of denigration, domination, brutalization, and violence.

Tzufit:  Yeah, their entire culture is built on that.

Apple Cider:  But, on the other hand, what are some of the other things that we did see in Pandaria that didn’t necessarily have to do with the Mogu but were still unsettling for some of our listeners?

Tzufit:  Well, we had one comment from @liopleurodonic on Twitter, who was a guest on our show a while back for the healers roundtable episode, and Lio said the Sunwalker Dezco quest line was particularly brutal to her, she said “My baby was a preemie, and in such distress, I went under for the C-section, there was not enough time for epi to work. As soon as I hit the Dezco hub in Krasarang, I was furious because I could see the outcome coming. It felt cheap. But then, I’m sure if my kid or I had died from it, it would have been great for my husband’s strength of character or whatever.”

Apple Cider:  I honestly really like this comment because it hinges- or, it doesn’t hinge, but it illuminates something we actually might be talking about in a future episode, with how World of Warcraft handles mothers in specific, but as somebody who didn’t do the Horde quest line yet, and I’ve only read about it because I only did Alliance up until that point, I was really unsettled by the fact that they had yet another woman in Pandaria, who isn’t even as strongly characterized as Dezco who goes on to have a fatherhood story on the website. This mother, she dies in childbirth, which is like, a confluence of every trope that women have gone through in the Blizzard story universe. Being a mother, being off to the side, being a tool of another man’s characterization, and on top of that she died. But, with babies!

Tzufit:  Don’t forget the babies.

Apple Cider:  And this is also a really good example of brutalization that doesn’t necessarily have to do with violence so much, but a denigration and a very kind of- gruesome context to something that does happen in real life, but is put in the story in such a way that it’s extremely problematic due to the decharacterization of the woman who actually dies in childbirth.

Tzufit:  Yeah, again, it’s just- as we’ve been saying all along, it’s throwing in those real life elements without- knowing that they’re going to have an emotional impact, and throwing them in specifically for that impact, but not ever affording them the respect or the gravity that they NEED if you’re going to talk about them as real events that people actually experience.

Apple Cider:  Yeah. We actually- going back to Theramore for just a second, we actually had somebody on Twitter, @Shizukera, who actually wrote to us about the nuking of Theramore, and she said, “The nuking of Theramore hit me hard, even though it was mainly depicted out of game” because she has a lot of feelings about weapons of mass destruction. Again, the bombing of Theramore, like Tzufit just said about the Dezco storyline, it has shades of real life stuff, and that’s why it’s going to bother people.

Tzufit:  And then, one other kind of, backtracking a little bit, regarding the Siege of Orgrimmar, we had a tweet from @geekyenthusiast who said “The patch trailer had bodies dangling from the spires of Orgrimmar. It really shocked me!”

Apple Cider:  Yeah, these are just kind of the width of some of the comments we got, and as we kind of worked our way backwards through the other expansions, you do get a sense of the things that really bother people- very greatly. And that’s one of the ways that this sort of violence, brutalization, is so problematic is because, yeah, it does affect many different people in many different ways, and the things that we as hosts might not notice are things that our listeners notice, or things that people in general are going to notice and feel emotionally impacted by, and not in a good way.

Tzufit:  And then, finally, the last tweet that we had regarding the Mists of Pandaria content specifically, was from @zaralynda who again was commenting on the Mogu, she said that the Golden Lotus story quest in which the Mogu say, “Let the men have their way with her!” she said, “Oh my god! What? It was like an electric shock.” So again, just this feeling of completely removing the immersion of the game experience.

Apple Cider:  Yeah, I actually didn’t notice it the first time that I did it, but I noticed it the second time around when I did it on my Shaman. It’s that sort of stuff that, you may not catch the first time, or you might hear about it from other people that play the game, and it just kind of- it does, it shocks you. It kind of jolts you out of, again, that immersion. Some of the other comments that we’re going to cover in sort of our going through the expansions is actually not necessarily violence but tends to integrate political or real life denigration from an oppressive standpoint, and involves that in the game content. Which is a little bit different than, say, extremely gruesome violence. It often has to do with how we portray certain groups of people in a very realistic way compared to real life. We don’t see it as much in Mists of Pandaria, although you could make a very genuine comparison to a lot of the things that happen in Orgrimmar with the Trolls and the Goblins in particular being forced into slums and ghettos and being tossed out of their faction, and being treated like shit, as a definite parallel to things that we have, as Americans, done. A lot of the other content that I’m actually referring to is very Western- and American-specific but follows that same sort of thread. Now, there was something that we did notice, or one of my guild mates noticed, that is actually kind of interesting and sort of got me thinking down the road of, what sort of politically relevant stuff has Blizzard stuck into the game? And it’s interesting- you go to your farm, and this is the last place I’d expect this sort of stuff, but you go to Halfhill and Farmer Yoon actually has advice for the occupied seeds on your farm, and he goes on to talk about how occupied seeds are basically vermin that are sitting around sort of fat and lazy, expecting farmers to just plant these vegetables so they can eat them, and that’s what they are. And he goes on to say that his grandpa used to call them squatters because they’d just expect the vegetables to be handed them, or that they’ve been there the entire time, and they don’t understand that it actually comes from farmers. Now, a lot of people are saying, well, what’s the problem with that? You could definitely make a case for the fact that this is a very subtle “Occupy Wall Street/those no-good, money-grubbing, socialist, welfare sort of mentality” sort of comment.

Tzufit:  Yeah, as I said to you when we were discussing this prior to the show, if it weren’t for the word “squatters” being used in there, I don’t know that I necessarily would have had that reaction to it? But I can certainly see, because that is in there, you know, how that interpretation makes sense.

Apple Cider:  Yeah. There’s a lot of weird stuff like that that is political that we see through the expansions, and the one big one that I really want to hit on again came from my guild mate, Bee, who is a wonderful regular contributor to some of the things that we talk about on the show, I should give her full props. The Cataclysm pre-events tend to be remembered because they had- they, you know- they were trying to be a sort of less abrupt version of what happened prior to Wrath, but they had, you know, elemental invasion, you’re weeding out Twilight Cultists, and things like that. The context for this quest in particular would have made sense if it hadn’t such really real-life overtones that bothered me. And this is kind of one of the other things that have a problem when they- I have a problem when they make their way into the game, is that Blizzard is sticking in things that really happened to real people, either in a brutal, violent way or in a very oppressive way, and in this case racism and xenophobia. In the Cataclysm pre-events there was a quest called Show Me Your Papers. If anybody has no idea what this is referring to, “show me your papers” is a reference to the fact that in history, this is something that has been done in our country, especially, but in any other countries where there is a sort of totalitarian government. You are required to show identification in order to cross borders into certain countries, or to go certain places. It’s very much a strong dystopic idea that’s been used in a lot of books that handle things like dystopias, but the fact of the matter is that you are in the position, as the player, to quote-unquote “weed out” people that may be coming into the city and are potential Twilight Cultists. But, for the most part, the people you’re really keeping out of Stormwind are people that live IN STORMWIND, they’re already Stormwind citizens, these are Stormwind citizen models, and you have to basically act as a guard keeping quote-unquote “suspicious people” out of the city by searching them. This is something that King Wrynn proclaims to you. You read his proclamation at the gates in front of this throng of people that are trying to get into the city because there’s an elemental invasion going on and there’s Twilight cultists all around that are trying to feed on the fear of people, and recruit them. But, there’s this throng of people outside of Stormwind and you have to actually act as a border guard for the city and the quest description goes as such:

After your work in dealing with the Twilight’s Hammer cult, Captain Anton recommended you for a delicate assignment. My men recently discovered a group of cultists attempting to sneak into the city. The flow of traffic into Stormwind has come to a halt. The king has decreed that all visitors must be searched before they can enter the gates. Take this copy of his proclamation and read it to the people assembled at the front gates, then assist the guards there in searching those who wish to enter.”

Apple Cider:  You basically go around all of these citizens and try to find five people and see if they have proper identification or anything suspicious in their bags. You’re basically aping every, like, TSA, border patrol, immigration agent that we have in this country. And I, like- my guild mate Bee brought this up because she said it made her feel really uncomfortable and that it definitely had shades of how we actually act and talk about things like immigration and naturalization and very dystopic identification requirements in order to prove that you’re really a part of the country that you’re coming into or live in. The ideas about providing identification is surrounding this idea that you don’t have a place unless you are officially recognized by the ruling organization in charge.

Tzufit:  And it’s really difficult in that situation, specifically, with what’s going on in Cataclysm. I mean, we’re talking about the fact that there are Cultists EVERYWHERE. If you remember what was going on in Elwynn Forest at the time, there’s basically Cultists setting up camp, you know, less than a mile down the road! And in the cities themselves, there are Elements everywhere, just completely wrecking the place, so understandably people are going to try to flock to the safest place that they can find. And the fact that we’re making it harder for them to get in there, it’s just- yeah, it felt really, pretty awful.

Apple Cider:  The fact that you’re casting suspicion at Stormwind citizens for being Cultists is a really heavy-handed and pretty gross metaphor that seems actually pretty supportive and puts your player in a supportive position that- you cannot trust anybody, even people that actually LIVE in the city, and that you’re going to disenfranchise people just trying to run to safety, by requiring people to show identification and be searched. So basically, the quest is pretty gross and for all of the context around it, it- like we said before, it’s- I feel it’s politically motivated, but it doesn’t really do any sort of critical analysis and even seems to be supportive of real-world issues which is why I’m so bothered by it.

Tzufit:  Yeah, it’s really not the best idea to toss something like that out there without either finding a way to talk about it or- you know, you can’t just toss it out because it really trivializes the subject, and that’s not something you want to do with this.

Apple Cider:  Absolutely.

Apple Cider:  Stay tuned for next week as we go over part two!

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