Episode #17 – “Brutality, Atrocity and Violence, Part 2”

Episode #17 – “Brutality, Atrocity and Violence, Part 2”

Oct 29

Our seventeenth episode features Tzufit and Apple Cider in the second 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.

Focus is on Wrath, Burning Crusade and Vanilla content (both with Cataclysm revamp and original story.)


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Below the cut is a full transcript of Episode 17, “Brutality, Atrocity and Violence, Part 2.” Many thanks to @IviaRelle for transcribing this episode.

Apple Cider Mage: And welcome to part two of our brutality episode. We’re going to be talking about all of the other expansions that we briefly got into in part 1, which was Mists of Pandaria and Cataclysm. For this episode we’re going to be talking about Wrath of the Lich King, Burning Crusade, and all the way back to Vanilla content. So to start off, Wrath of the Lich King kind of juxtaposed with how Cataclysm was, and I feel that Cataclysm did a lot more things to trivialize and marginalize real life stuff by dragging it into the game and showing brutality in a way that was very true to real life scenarios. I feel like Wrath of the Lich King did a slightly better job of portraying brutality in a way that was still appropriate to the context of the video game, but it didn’t diminish the fact that it was still extremely violent or problematic or way over the line in quite a few places.

Tzufit: Yeah, Wrath of the Lich King is really interesting because there is a lot of violent and terrible stuff going on in Northrend, and yet there are not very many occurrences where that’s really made to feel like a joke or something that is being made light of. It is absolutely something that throughout, you get the sense of the Lich King is terrible, the Scourge are doing terrible things, and we’re on this sort of righteous crusade to end that. It really ends up being pretty effective from a narrative standpoint, and while there’s a lot of really problematic stuff and really difficult stuff to watch and play through, it adds to the narrative more than, I would argue, any of the violence that we see in Cataclysm or even in Mists of Pandaria.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I noticed that a couple of things that we had on the notes actually include at least three instances of torture, and I feel like whenever we want to talk about brutality in World of Warcraft torture is one of the places where people really remember the quest or the scenario where that occurs, because I feel like torture is one of those things that equivocally, across the board, people have an issue with, and this was really present in Wrath.

Tzufit: Yeah, we’ll talk about the one first that most people tend to remember, which is in Borean Tundra, there is a questline where you kidnap this prisoner who’s helping the Blue Dragonflight and all the stuff going on with the Leylines, etcetera etcetera. So the mages in one of the quests hubs in Borean Tundra have you capture a prisoner, bring them back to the quest hub, and you actually end up torturing this person for information.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I had so much problems with that quest because I feel like mages tend to be held up in the Warcraft universe as these very intellectual, pretty even-keeled, not very judgemental groups of people? And here you see people in the Kirin Tor, I believe it’s the Kirin Tor?

Tzufit: It is, that’s right.

Apple Cider Mage: Resorting to actual physical torture? I mean, obviously these are Cultists, but at no point do I feel that really evil people should be tortured in general. So why were the Kirin Tor practicing these really kind of harsh tactics on a Cultist just because they won’t tell you any information that you want? Aren’t there other magical ways of getting the information that you want? Like, I don’t know, using an illusion? We’ve used illusions in other quests to get information by posing as somebody on the other side, what would make it hard to do this in this particular instance?

Tzufit: It’s interesting to me to because in my experience, I’ve always found that some of the players who have the strongest reaction to this questline are people who play mages or people who have mages who they envision as having a particularly close relationship to the Kirin Tor. It matters to them what the Kirin Tor does, they consider themselves members, and so on. So I wonder whether what’s going on there, from the Kirin Tor standpoint is- I mean, the Blue Dragonflight wants humans and all mortal races to completely stop using magic because they’ve seen what we’ve been doing with it and they’re not pleased, so I wonder if from the Kirin Tor’s perspective, they feel that this brutality is justified because Malygos and the Blue Dragonflight are threatening their very core of their existence. Like, everything that they are about will be wiped out if the Blue Dragonflight succeeds. Now, not justifying the decision to do this, but I wonder if that’s where it’s supposed to be coming from.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it’s just- it’s a really hard quest from both the game mechanics, gameplay, and a roleplaying perspective because, yeah, my mage is totally all about the Kirin Tor so seeing them stoop to such brutal and violent means to get the information that they want is really puzzling. And it’s something that I think Blizzard has at least tried to move away from, and I know we’re moving backwards so it’s a little hard to compare things, because we’re actually going backwards in the development, but I actually feel like they did a better job with torture-esque or- what’s the word for it? There’s a certain- I’m having a brain fart moment. There’s a certain term for really excessive violence- But they deal with it better in Cataclysm because if you remember the quest with the harpy that you are basically holding a knife to her throat, you get the option to either let her go and be empathetic, or to, obviously, have her throat slit.

Tzufit: Right, that’s the quest with Thisalee Crow up in Mount Hyjal there.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, which is also my girlfriend by the way.

Tzufit: Yeah, well, we’re gonna fight over that one, so.

Apple Cider Mage: (Laughing) But I feel like that was one of the ways that Blizzard had maybe recognized the fact that a lot of the quests, particularly torture quests that they implemented in earlier expansions, were really bad in that they didn’t give the player any access to a personal choice about whether this was the right thing to do or not.

Tzufit: Yeah, it forces your character to be complacent with what the Kirin Tor is doing there, and if you don’t agree then, well, you don’t do the quest basically, and walk away from it, and you don’t get to finish the story. And I think it’s really important that they started to give you those choices, at least in the instance you’re talking about with the harpy in Cataclysm, because one of the criticisms that people lob at Cataclysm, and I think rightly so, is that the questlines become so linear that you don’t ever really have an option to skip a quest. If you don’t want to do a quest, either because you don’t like the quest or you find what you’re doing in the quest problematic, that’s a lot harder to do post-Cataclysm than it is before because, guess what? You skip that quest and you’re either not going to get the next part of the storyline, or you’re going to run out of quests to do in that area. It’s a much more difficult decision to make post-Cata than it was before.

Apple Cider Mage: I would even say in a lot of places in Wrath that we started to see that happening, and it puts your back against a wall. I know in Borean Tundra, and I think this was part of the Wowhead comment for that quest in particular, is that there’s no way to get around it and still be able to continue that particular storyline and that quest, which is a good chunk of that area of the world.

Tzufit: Oh yeah! I think it’s part of what ends up sending you over to Coldarra, where the Nexus is.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and granted while you can get dungeon quests for Coldarra inside of the Nexus now.

Tzufit: You can NOW!

Apple Cider Mage: You can NOW, but back then you couldn’t and it also wiped out your ability to do any of the outside-dungeon quests. So, yeah, basically Blizzard is not only forcing brutality on you, it’s making your character unable to do any actual quests beyond that point.

Tzufit: Yeah, and of course the other torture quest that came to mind for me when we were talking about this, because this is one that bothers me particularly, is in Dragonblight there’s a WHOLE questline and it’s part of the longer Wrathgate questline where you have to find a book that teaches you how to speak the language of the dead, and eventually you bring that down to this clergyman who’s in the sort of basement prison area underneath the fort in Winterblight there. And he gives this whole sermon and starts using the Light to torture this ghoul who’s in the prison. Now, the first time, just like Apple Cider, you had a reaction because of the way your character interacts with the Kirin Tor, the first time I did this questline was on my Death Knight during Wrath, and walking down there as a Death Knight and kind of having her, you know, mind set in my head as I’m going through and watching- and part of the thing about this questline is, you can’t complete this quest until the preacher gets ALL the way done with his entire sermon, his entire interrogation, his entire torturing of this ghoul. You gotta stand there for, I mean I guess you could go upstairs and you’d be close enough that it would complete, but point is one way or another you’re standing around until he’s done torturing this ghoul. And this bothered the HECK out of me when I first did it!

Apple Cider Mage: Oh yeah, I mean, and this is an Alliance thing. Like, obviously, there are definitely brutal abuses done on the Horde side in different parts of Dragonblight in particular, but this is an Alliance quest, so I feel like a lot of our perspective on some of this stuff is Alliance-heavy but this in particular was part of the Alliance questing for Wrath, you know, as opposed to the Horde part which is… very different. (Laughing)

Tzufit: Yeah, and it’s weird because, you know, I know that obviously you’re not really supposed to have any warm and fuzzy feelings for the Scourge and toward this ghoul, but the way that Blizzard sets up abominations and ghouls as sort of these mindless things that are still driven by- they’re almost like pet dogs or something, the way Blizzard treats them where they kind of want that pat on their head from their master. It’s very much this weird pet thing, almost, and especially, again, playing a Death Knight you get that sense because you- you know, if you choose to spec that way, you have a ghoul running alongside you all the time, so watching this ghoul, who probably has no idea what’s going on and who is obviously in incredible amounts of pain and doesn’t understand why, I mean, I just kind of felt like Blizzard was forcing me to sit there and watch somebody smack a dog around.

Apple Cider Mage: Oh yeah, they definitely have sentience to some degree but they’re under somebody else’s will constantly and they’re also not high-functioning in the slightest. They’re- like you said, they’re pets, and yeah, if you like torturing an animal and torturing a pet- I mean, it obviously functions as a way to kind of see that- I mean, I think in a lot of cases Blizzard definitely tries to reinforce the fact that nobody in World of Warcraft is good. No-one is 100% good. But I feel like they really go over the line a lot of times to reinforce that idea by going in the completely opposite direction. And it’s an interesting counterpoint to have people see the Light as just and virtuous, and there’s a lot of places in every expansion where you definitely see that the Light can be corrupted by viciousness and zealotry and that the Light really is a neutral entity, it’s really a neutral power and it can be wielded in both directions. So, while I feel that this had sort of a nuance to it, it also was very hard to watch, and you get- you know, the fact that it’s in a basement and it feels very much like somebody is tied to a chair and just getting clocked in the face repeatedly because we know that the Light hurts undead very painfully, it- yeah, it just feels like overkill.

Tzufit: Yeah, exactly.

Apple Cider Mage: It’s an interesting part of Dragonblight because from the Horde side the quests that are around the Wrathgate quest chain are not very- the same? They’re very dissimilar because with the Wrathgate chain, it worms its way through alliance side through that base in particular, and people basically being stupid enough to keep a town there on top of a mausoleum that ultimately becomes a Scourge factory. But, with the Horde side, you do a lot more to help all of the undead apothecaries actually create the best version of the plague that eventually ends up killing everybody at Wrathgate!

Tzufit: And see, I have not done those quests from the Horde side- the highest Horde character I’ve ever had only made it to Outland so Wrath and beyond, I have not gotten to see those.

Apple Cider Mage: I actually did Wrath content on multiple characters because I have a level 85 Undead mage, and I did Wrath content when it was- I think either it was slightly relevant or it was just immediately in Cataclysm that I leveled my Undead. And so, doing all those quests multiple times on different Horde characters was really, really weird because you have the quests that are part of the Wrathgate quest chain and you have them basically- getting better ingredients and testing them out. There are definitely places where they test out the plague on people in cages and a lot of the quests that you do as sort of sidebar to that are you going and infiltrating the Scarlet Crusade for- like, I know that Alliance gets one-kill quests to do- Highlord Marchand- no, not Marchand, she’s in Eastern Plaguelands. The high- like, the lady! I forgot what her name is.

Tzufit: Uh… Yeah, the one who’s down in the cathedral there. And I think there’s one other Alliance quest, too, to kill a guy who’s up in the top of a tower, not too far from where Wintergarde Keep is.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. You have those quests as Alliance, because they’re pretty obvious alliance kill targets, but the whole Horde chain around there is out of Venomspite. Venomspite is the Horde camp that’s just directly south of Wintergarde, and you actually go through and are decimating these Scarlet Crusaders. Which, ordinarily, is not that big of a deal because everybody hates Scarlet Crusaders, and they’re generally pretty bad people, also brutal. But the Undead’s purpose is to infiltrate the Scarlet Crusade or the new version of the Scarlet Crusade because they’re-

Tzufit: The Scarlet Onslaught.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, the Scarlet Onslaught. But, they’re basically using them to further perfect the plague that they actually bring to the Wrathgate. So you’re doing some pretty messed up, underhanded stuff and you don’t really get a choice about it if you want to be able to complete the entire zone. So I feel like (laughing) I feel like so many things about Dragonblight in particular are really kind of- Yeah. Also, totally full of brutality and torture, quite a lot of torture.

Tzufit: It’s a depressing zone! It’s a difficult zone to quest through. I mean, like I said, I think the storytelling is very interesting and for the most part very good throughout that zone, but it is absolutely a difficult zone to do, and it sounds like that’s true for either faction.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. And it’s interesting that you said that you did it on a Death Knight, because obviously one of the Death Knight’s first interactions with anybody after being raised as a Death Knight is with Scarlet Onslaught, right before they go to Dragonblight.

Tzufit: Yeah, that’s true.

Apple Cider Mage: And that’s kind of gonna be leading into the fact that that’s one of the third instances that we have of torture, but also the fact that the DK starting area is very brutal ALL on its own.

Tzufit: Yeah, do not do that if you’re having a bad day (laughing) cause geez.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I’ve made a couple of Death Knights just to see that starting area. I haven’t ever really stuck with a Death Knight because, for the most part, it’s not a class that I’m really comfortable with, and it’s a class that I really enjoy playing but man, the DK starting area, I did it in beta and then on live, and (whistles) I mean, I understand that Blizzard has gone on record and said that they are a class that survives on causing other people pain. I mean, if that doesn’t give you first brush that this is not a gentle, happy, warm, fuzzy class in general (laughing) I don’t know what will.

Tzufit: I mean, it is brutal. It is terrible throughout, and I think some of it may be excessive. However, again, just to come back to sort of our theme when it comes to Wrath, the idea of the DK starting area is that you are under complete control of the Lich King. Whatever Arthas tells you to do, you do. There is no question, there is no free will, your will is the Lich King’s will. And so, all of those terrible things that you have to do throughout the DK starting area, EVEN THOUGH you’re doing them to Scarlet Crusaders or about to be Scarlet Onslaughters I guess, it’s all- it fits into what they’re doing thematically. It fits into the story that they’re telling which is the Lich King makes you do terrible things and I think there is absolutely a recognition of that in the zone and- not to jump ahead, because we will certainly be spending some time on the Forsaken later on, but I think to me the difference between a zone like the Death Knight starter zone and a zone like Southshore for example, is that the Death Knight starter zone asks you to do terrible things and asks you to feel terrible about them, whereas the Forsaken ask you to do terrible things and enjoy it. And I think you really get that in the Death Knight starter zone when you have the quest where you go up to where the prisoners are all being kept and there’s a prisoner of every single race in there that can be a Death Knight, and you’re told to go speak to the prisoner who’s of the same race as you and they recount some- it’s different for each race, obviously, but they recount some story about how they knew you before you were a Death Knight, and they ask you to remember who you are and all that sort of stuff, and really appeal to you as a person who still must have some shell of themself inside of what Arthas has turned you into. And it’s an incredibly powerful quest! It’s great as a capstone of everything else that you’ve had to do up to that point, and it really makes you wonder what your character would be feeling and thinking at that point, and gives you a sense of just how much vengeance they’re gonna want on the Lich king when they do eventually break free. So for me, I think that’s what makes the Death Knight starting area successful is that, yeah, everything you do is awful but you are so aware of it throughout, and you are absolutely supposed to feel terrible as you do it.

Apple Cider Mage: It definitely makes a point for Blizzard being able to use brutality in a way that makes sense and drives the story forward. As opposed to not.

Tzufit: Right. (Laughing) As opposed to using it as a joke or just as something really gross. (Laughing)

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it- there’s- that’s what we’ve been talking about this entire time, in both episodes, is that brutality isn’t something that doesn’t always have a place, it’s what you want to do with it contextually that really kind of makes or breaks it. And the part about that quest for the DK starting zone is it’s reflective of a real world brutality, but places it squarely in the game universe in a way that makes sense, in a way that tells the story, in a way that doesn’t trivialize it. I mean, when you’re doing that quest where you see somebody from your home life, and you have to kill them to prove that you’re part of the Death Knight charade or the will of the Lich King, I mean, that’s a hazing ritual. That is a hazing ritual that real life groups do to make sure that you are part of the culture of that group. I mean, it’s an extreme version of it, but we’re talking about tactics that have been used in cults, that have been in used in gangs, that have been used in many many groups psychologically in order to break down, further break down the willpower and the connections that one has to their prior life. The Lich King is just doing it on the excessively brutal level, and I think that’s what makes it so powerful, but it’s a powerfulness that doesn’t detract from the story. However, they also still have you torture somebody as part of the DK starting area. (Laughing)

Tzufit: They do and it’s- that quest is so obnoxious, not only for the torture element but because- kind of like when we were talking about Uldum and the fact that the quest with the Gnomes and the giant ball of light thing, how that just goes on for far too long. the stupid thing with the pokers and the torture in the Death Knight starting area is another one that just goes on for FAR too long. It does not have a guaranteed chance that you’re going to get it on the first person who you use- so, how the quest works is you have to equip these two poker thingies instead of your weapon or weapons, and you fight somebody and every time you hit them with these pokers they will say something, and there is a chance which appears to be an extraordinarily small chance, that they will actually tell you the information that you need. Most of the time they just go, like, “Screw off, I’m not telling you anything, Death Knight,” yadda yadda. But it’s just- it’s- again, it’s something you don’t have a choice about whether or not you’re going to do, and it makes a lot more sense contextually with the Death Knight starting area because you have no choice over anything that you do, but because it’s again torture, torture that goes on for SO LONG, I mean, that quest is so obnoxious that people will, like, unequip every piece of gear except for those things so that they don’t kill people quickly, and then maybe you only have to do it to one NPC but probably not. You know, it’s just- I just cannot get behind why something like that is supposed to be a fun quest.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and I understand that it’s trying to make a point about who the real enemy is, because the Scarlet Crusade do that. That’s what the Scarlet Crusade also does to people, they torture people with red hot pokers, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later when we go over Vanilla stuff, but yeah that’s a tactic of the Scarlet Crusade. So it makes you wonder, like- “Everybody’s going around torturing with red-hot pokers, what the hell? Is this a Thing? Why do I have to keep doing this?”

Tzufit: Yeah. (Laughing)

Apple Cider Mage: So some other things that kind of happened in Wrath that are pretty high on the brutality scale, and this is what I brought up in the notes, is- and this makes sense from the perspective of what we talked about with the Lich King, you do things for the Lich King that have a dramatic impact on YOUR character even, not even as a Death Knight, but just as a regular player character you are frequently the pawn of the Lich King in a way for him to show off, across the entire expansion, that he is all-powerful, that he at any moment could come, could turn you, could raise you as an Undead or as a DK or things like that. And the part that actually really got me in particular was that you make this blood pact with this random Troll in Grizzly Hills and you go on to do this very long, involved quest chain that eventually ends -SPOILER ALERT- where you were basically helping the Lich King the entire time, and you were helping Drakuru the entire time, basically perform genocide on the last remaining remnants of the Drakkari tribe in Northrend.

Tzufit: Yeah, I think we’re allowed to talk about spoilers five years after the fact, right? (Laughing)

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, exactly. (Laughing)

Tzufit: But yeah, the Drakuru questline is really interesting, and as I said in the show notes, I had a long discussion with my boyfriend about this when we were trying to think of examples for the show because I am kind of on the fence with this questline, not that what you end up doing isn’t absolutely terrible, but because you don’t have any idea what Drakuru’s doing until the big reveal in Drak’Tharon. Wait, no? What’s the name of that?

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it’s Drak’Tharon. No Is it?

Tzufit: Drak’Tharon, OK. DTK, I know it’s that’s what it is.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, Drak’Tharon Keep.

Tzufit: And- (Sigh) For me, that is problematic not only because you’re willing to do these terrible things, but because you’re willing to do them with so little information. You find a Troll in a cage AND YOU MAKE A BLOOD PACT WITH HIM, first of all, and THEN he has you going just, ALL OVER THE ZONE killing LOTS and lots of Trolls. And you don’t ever ask any questions about this, you don’t ever seem to have any hesitation about it, your character is just, like, gung-ho, “I am gonna do what this Troll says, we made a blood pact, we are GOOD!” and (laughs) I just- again, in terms of being able to make decisions about who your character is that you’re playing and what they want to do, I have some problems with the questline on that level, too, because this just seems like such an obviously Bad Choice that you’re making.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I think it really was a really good point of Blizzard to include a quest like this because while it is pretty violent and brutal, it actually says a lot more things about the player character. Rather, not you as a player, although it could feed into that because a lot of people did it and then didn’t read the quests or figure out what was really bad about it, but I think it makes a bigger point that one of the most brutal people in World of Warcraft is probably you. You are probably the most violent, brutal person in World of Warcraft. (Laughing) Given everything that we know about what we do as characters.

Tzufit: Yeah, you’re absolutely a mercenary for hire and that’s really terrifying because at the end of the day, our characters have a nominal affiliation with their faction, but other than that, they basically do anything ANYBODY asks them to for money and experience. Another one that is always kind of gut-wrenching for me, and I’ve written a blog post on it because it’s one of my favourite questlines because it is SO emotional but also it is difficult to do, is the Oracle and Frenzyheart stories in Sholazar Basin. Particularly, of course, the Oracles and I’m sorry for those of you who are Frenzyheart fans out there, because I’m an Oracle person and you’re never gonna convince me that the wolf-people are any good, or the dog-people, I forget what they call them. (Laughing) So the Oracles, and particularly this one quest where you’re up in the northeastern area of the zone, and that’s the part of the basin where there’s an avalanche and the Scourge are coming down from Icecrown and they’re screwing everything up. One of the things they’ve done is going to an Oracle village there and just kind of slaughtered everybody in really violent, gross, horrible ways. Like, there are Scourge who have Oracles who are still just barely alive and hanging on who are chained to them, and they’re just dragging these poor Oracles along behind them as they walk, there are Oracles who you talk to and some of them, you’re able to save, some of them have just died. And the number one thing that all of them are saying, the Oracles are a very religious-spiritual group, and they keep saying “We gave the gods shinies, why did they do this to us?” And it is just heartbreaking, every time.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I honestly have a problem with the Oracles-Frenzyheart stuff because it seems like it’s one of those places where Blizzard tries to get around the whole, “We don’t like to hurt children in video games” rule, which would obviously be one of those places where even Blizzard would consider brutality and violence to be WAY over the line, but they get around it I think, sometimes, by including characters- like we talked about before with the Scourge companion, or the little Ghoul, they get around it by using humanoid characters that are childlike or are very limited in some way-

Tzufit: Innocent.

Apple Cider Mage: Innocent, yeah, is a better word for it- or are very immature and they use them that way. And I can’t stand it, because, like- OK, you don’t want ACTUAL children being hurt in the game, OK, well then why are you hurting things like animals and very childlike humanoids anyway?

Tzufit: Yeah, it’s a good point, and I really hadn’t thought of it that way before, but certainly you have the same kind of emotional reaction for the Ghoul and for the Oracles as you would if a child were being hurt, and yeah, I guess it is sort of a way around that self-imposed rule that they have.

Apple Cider Mage: Exactly, and it’s one of the other reasons why we brought up Trial of the Crusader. I mean, on top of the fact that Trial of the Crusader was one of those things about Wrath that made absolutely no sense, for one reason or another, it’s full of killing animals that have no reason to be there other than the fact that they are captured and dragged in chains to the arena.

Tzufit: Yeah, Trial of the Crusader is a really weird thing. I mean, it’s difficult to explain, it’s difficult to understand. I cannot imagine why anyone who’s an intelligent general or military commander would think it was a good idea, but all of that I’m gonna try and set aside (laughing) momentarily, because yeah, the first- so, the beast of Northrend is a little weird because- OK, we kill animals a lot in WoW. We kill ten boars like, every five minutes, but Trial of the Crusader is strange because it’s not like a farmer is saying, “Hey, these bears have been coming in and killing my cows, can you please wipe out the bears for me?” It’s, “Hey, we brought in a Yeti and these big worm dudes and Snowbolds and a Magnataur and we’re gonna kill them for sport,” at worst, I guess, and at best it’s supposed to be in preparation for you going to Icecrown and fighting the Lich King’s forces, cause I’m sure they have so much in common with a Yeti? I just, I cannot follow the logic of why any of Trial of the Crusader makes sense. And I think it’s especially difficult with the first boss that you face in the Beasts of Northrend fight, because the Magnataur, we’ve really got the sense that they’re sentient beings, they have kind of a culture and a society, they have a language. The Yetis and the Jormungar, we can kind of talk about whether or not that’s the case for them, and it probably isn’t, but the Magnataur and the Snobolds, I mean, they have culture, they use tools, they use communication. the Snobolds talk to you, there’s no question that these guys know what’s going on and you’re killing them for bloodsport, basically.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and it’s not like they can run, either. They’re contained in the same circle that you are, and they were dragged in in chains and kept under lock and key and are basically prisoners, so the whole thing about it- and even by the Azerothian standards that we’ve set up, gladiatorial and arena-based combat is not looked on very fondly in both factions.

Tzufit: Right, exactly, I mean look at Varian’s entire story. That’s what set him off, that’s what makes him hate Orcs, is that they forced him to be a gladiator against his will. So, he’s chilling in the audience at faction champs and at Trial of the Crusader, and you’re telling me he’s OK with what’s happening?

Apple Cider Mage: Same with Thrall, yeah.

Tzufit: Yeah, that’s a great point.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, well we’ll get more into the Thrall stuff in the Vanilla stuff, but yeah, there’s nothing about faction champs or Beasts of Northrend in Trial of the Crusader that isn’t just completely off-the-wall and it’s one of the places that doesn’t really emotionally impact people as much, because I think it’s so close to what we do as characters every day in World of Warcraft, but it’s still pretty brutal and it’s still very contextless.

Tzufit: Well, I would also argue that most people just didn’t have a lot of connection with Trial of the Crusader, a lot of people didn’t like that raid because it is a very unusual raid. It was an experiment and it looks like it’s one they’re not gonna repeat any time soon. But personally, I found the fights fun from a raiding perspective, but because there is really not a lot of setup to any of what you’re doing and the setup that is there makes almost no sense whatsoever, I think it’s easy for people to look past that because they’re not even paying attention. It’s just such an anomaly, I guess, in Warcraft. So, next up on our list, we will move out of Wrath of the Lich King and into Burning Crusade, and Burning Crusade was interesting because we didn’t have TOO many examples, and I’m sure that perhaps our listeners will let us know of a few others that they can think of. But part of the thing with Burning Crusade is you spend a lot of time fighting demons and fighting the Burning Legion, so there isn’t really as much opportunity to think about these things, or as much opportunity to include them as maybe there is in an expansion like Wrath of the Lich King, which is kind of deeply personal, the Prince of Lordaeron betrayed us and he’s doing all these terrible things to us now. It’s very much an external villain, rather than an internal one.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, the thing that they- I mean, there were so many things about Outlands and Burning Crusade that were so unequivocally us being good versus bad guys being bad that it was hard to stick in some things that were really grossly brutal or excessively violent. I mean, there’s a couple of things that I could think of, like if you think about-

Tzufit: Oh, Blade’s Edge

Apple Cider Mage: Blade’s Edge is one of those things that I immediately think of from just a visual standpoint, because as we know, obviously they’re black dragons. Noone really likes black dragons, but despite all that, seeing them impaled on rocks like that because of the fact that the Ogres and the Gronns in the area are completely against dragons, so seeing them impaled on spikes is still a little bit bizarre. Which is weird because if you think from player standpoint of how many times we have hung Onyxia and Neltharion’s head with the blood dripping down from it.

Tzufit: It’s a good point, I mean, and Deathwing’s jaw is still hanging out over there.

Apple Cider Mage: (Laughing) It’s not like we have a problem with hanging dragon parts, or affixing it on spikes in our capital cities, but there was something very odd about just seeing whole bodies completely gored on rocks for sport.

Tzufit: Yeah, or as a warning to- I always assumed it was kind of a warning, like, “We have taken out black dragons, don’t mess with us.”

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, there was a couple places where brutality and excessive use of force were present in multiple places, and they usually featured storylines that we already had kind of gone over in either previous or later expansions, such as the Draenei-Orc conflict, we talked about that a little bit when we discussed things like half-breeds in World of Warcraft, and all that that entailed.

Tzufit: Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of brutality that goes back and forth between the Orcs and the Draenei, and- but yeah, as you said, we’ve already covered most of that. The only other thing I would kind of add is that we see a lot of grossness with the Broken throughout Burning Crusade, particularly when they have been enslaved by the Naga, and this happens in various places in Zangarmarsh, in pretty much all of the instances down there, and the thing about it is that you can actually- unless the game bugs out, you can usually kill the Naga NPC who is enslaving the Broken, and the Broken will then run free. Now, the only problem with that is, again, sometimes the game bugs out. Also, in BC when people were leveling and when this was current content, sometimes it was really hard to have a Naga and two Broken slaves fighting you at the same time, and because the Broken slaves had a lot less health, it made more sense to kill them first and then take on the Naga at that point. So there’s kind of, like- “OK, you don’t have to kill them, but at some point you kind of did,” you know?

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. The slavery of the Broken is actually played a lot on some of the stuff that we’re actually going to talk about in Vanilla when we get there in a moment, and that is- again, using concepts that are real-world stuff and transposing them into the game in really problematic ways. Now, the Broken slavery pinged less on that radar for me, even though they were still pretty gross, mostly because in a lot of ways, the game actually lets you let them go free. Especially in the case of the Coilfang dungeons, because a lot of times if you killed the slavemaster first, the slaves would go running free and there was a lot of weird mind-control stuff that I really didn’t like, but a lot of places where Burning Crusade did really amp up the brutality stuff, I feel like Vanilla is where a lot of that stuff either started out that way or (laughing) got a revamp in that direction in Cataclysm. Now this is the interesting thing about Vanilla as an expansion is that, we’re talking about content that was created at the very beginning of the game, so we’re talking about 2003-2004 and then we’re eventually dipping into- you know, at the end of 2004-2005, but then we’re also talking about stuff that crept its way into the game in the Cata revamp as well.

Tzufit: And some things that got blatantly much worse in the Cata revamp.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. But in terms of stuff that’s slavery, one of the things that really bothered me when I initially first started playing World of Warcraft is that at the holdover from either Warcraft 1 or Warcraft 2 is the Human-Orc conflict. I mean, as far as we know, in the story, the Orcs came from Draenor, otherwise known as Outlands, and they came through the portal and there was the whole using the demon blood to amp up the Orcs and that’s where the Horde came from, they came through the portal and it’s a whole big deal. And the Humans then put the Orcs in internment camps… and when I first encountered this in the game I was like, “There’s got to be no way that Blizzard really thought that this was a good idea, to put in-game,” because once again, it’s an issue of putting something that is really really a problem in our actual history as human beings, and particularly as Americans…

Tzufit: Right.

Apple Cider Mage: …in a GAME.

Tzufit: And again (sigh) and I hate to get into semantics with this but just along the lines of what we talked about on our racism episode when we had Renee and Jay on, the idea that Blizzard kind of learned its lesson, maybe, in terms of “We probably shouldn’t call these people Sherpas, so we’re gonna invent a new name for them and call them the Grummels,” I don’t know that it would have- it certainly wouldn’t have completely negated all the problematic stuff that goes on with putting Orcs in internment camps, but SPECIFICALLY calling them INTERNMENT CAMPS is like, A MILLION RED FLAGS! You know?

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, like this is- and then also the fact that you have one of the most prominent characters in the game, Thrall, that’s basically his quote-unquote “slave name” and his name actually means “slave”, that’s actually what his name means. It’s really- it’s deeply connected to real-life stuff that hurt and killed hundreds of thousands of people, if we’re talking about something like the Holocaust, but then we’re also talking about things like the Japanese internment camps in America in World War II. These are really real things that happened to really real people and they were really vicious and monstrous and terrible, so- again, why would you want to put that directly into your game is beyond me. And it carried even into Burning Crusade because of the old Hillsbrad dungeon, which was supposed to be a callback to all of the players that really enjoyed Warcraft 1 and 2, and puts it front-and-center. I mean, you get- you see the remnants of internment camps in old Vanilla content, but it isn’t until the Cata revamp and Burning Crusade that you actually get to see what they looked like.

Tzufit: So another problematic questline that one of our Twitter followers brought up, this was first from @_Rades but then a few other people joined in as well, Rades said that beating Nyxondra unconscious repeatedly to take eggs in the Badlands. Why the eggs were needed was explained and is fine, but the beating felt unnecessary. The quest addresses how horrible taking her eggs is, and the sadness is intended, but you can’t sedate her or magically paralyze her, you have to beat her and three times? It’s a weird one because Rheastrasza is heartbroken about taking the eggs, and mentions parallels to Alexstrasza, etcetera. Very self-aware, which is good, but then it’s so senselessly violent and thuggish. Is it really the ONLY way to get the eggs? And then Narci @druidis4fite points out, “Couldn’t we have collected herbs and made a sleeping potion for her?” and Rades says again, “She’s shackled in place via magic shell, there’s no sleep spell available, or magically move her ten yards away so we can just GO GET THE EGGS without the need to pummel her.” Maybe so we had something to do in the quest, but then again, we’ve stayed out of Harrison Jones’s way.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, it was a- that was a really weird quest, particularly because it was one of the quests that got booted in the Cata revamp, so you would have thought that after everything that Blizzard has tried to tell us about the dragons- I mean, I get it, they’re trying to make a point about that particular story which is Wrathion’s story, as you find out in Mists of Pandaria. They’re trying to make a point that even the quote-unquote “good dragons” are not always good. I mean, I get that. I get the point of that, but they’re basically placing the character as, again, the bludgeon (laughing) of the storyline. We go in and we think that it’s OK to just completely brutalize and beat the crap out of this mother dragon just to get her eggs, in what is, yeah, a reversal of the black dragonflight with the red dragonflight. Feels very vengeful, even if Rheastrasza feels sad about it, and it feels like one of those things that we should have had an alternative way of doing it.

Tzufit: Yeah, and I think your first point makes a lot of sense, too, because it really is- why are we the ones tasked with doing this? I mean, first of all, obviously there’s an alternative. Rades and Narci pointed out very many of them on Twitter, but even aside from that, it really is again our character, like you said, just being the bludgeon without thinking, without having a choice one way or the other. It’s a little frustrating to be put in that situation SO often.

Apple Cider Mage: And it’s that quest that we actually talked about, it’s contingent to that stuff that we talked about in the other episode where we talked about how Dave Kosak made a point that that questline is basically predicated upon the fact that Wrathion’s mother was raped into that position. So this is on top of the fact that she was essentially, I think, raped into creating that clutch in particular, and then we get to beat her up and then we steal her eggs.

Tzufit: Yeah, it’s, uh- It’s pretty horrible all around.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and I don’t think that- I think that they do things like that in the storytelling and because of the fact that it’s all revealed in other places, potentially, or it’s spread out over a long enough time that I don’t think players quite grok the true meaning or purpose until well after, if at all, which… yeah.

Tzufit: And I think also, as we’ve talked about before, a lot of players just go through the game and don’t think of dragons as humanoid sentient beings, and we’ve knocked on that already, so I won’t go into it again, but I think that’s part of why people can just go past a quest like that without thinking about it or without stopping, because it’s just a dragon.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. We also got another reader comment when we brought this topic up, from alternativechat, where she actually talked about, I have a problem with the way that Lillian Voss is treated in Scholomance, the entire place makes me uncomfortable. That was also another thing that made me really not feel great and I- when did that dungeon actually come in as a heroic dungeon- was that Mists of Pandaria?

Tzufit: Yeah, it was with Mists.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. And it continues the storyline that was brought up in Cataclysm with the Lillian Voss. Lillian Voss is the human that turned into an Undead and she was part of the Scarlet Crusade and she was basically exiled from the Scarlet Crusade because obviously she was an Undead and, you know, she was tainted, but she was originally raised by the Scarlet Crusade to be one of their more powerful children. It’s basically intimated that she had powers far beyond anybody in the Scarlet Crusade, and she was being raised to be a weapon. So when the Forsaken killed her and snatched her up as one of their own, she’s tormented by this and eventually goes off the deep end and decides to not only kill the Scarlet Crusade, but also kill the Forsaken. It’s a very weird storyline, especially from the fact that Lillian Voss is actually one of the few pretty noteworthy female NPCs that’s not a faction leader, but is actually somebody that’s part of quests and dungeons. And her story’s very violent and manipulative, but the fact that she’s, at the height of her power, still being used and mind-controlled and controlled by other people is- I don’t know, I really didn’t like it at all.

Tzufit: (Laughing) Yeah, and specifically to what alternativechat was saying, with Scholomance in particular there’s just that whole creepy thing right before you fight Rattlegore where the- is it Darkmaster Gandling who’s just talking about how pretty she is now because she’s a Forsaken, and oh, you should be happy about this blah blah, it’s just like, EEUUGGHH.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, he’s taunting her. He’s taunting her insecurities because that’s one of the things that Lillian Voss talks about when she first gets woken up is the Forsaken and how ugly she is.

Tzufit: She doesn’t want to look at herself, yeah.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. So, I mean, he’s basically tormenting her again and again and she’s already very unstable, very unhinged as a character, with good reason but now she’s not a scared little girl, she’s very much matured and in the way that only Undead could ever really mature, into a very powerful rogue priest.

Tzufit: (Laughing) Yeah.

Apple Cider Mage: And yet she still gets demoralized and dehumanized by various members of the Scarlet Crusade or the Forsaken. Scholomance- again, it hinges on a lot of things I think that came up in some of our earlier episodes where a lot of the brutalization seems to really happen towards women characters.

Tzufit: Yeah, however, the next group that we go into, and this will be probably a significant chunk of the show because there’s a lot to talk about, but this group doesn’t really discriminate about whether you’re male or female, they’re just pretty universally horrible to everyone and everything and of course that is the Forsaken.

Apple Cider Mage: Forsaken make up a good chunk of the Cata revamp, particularly because the Forsaken in particular have acquired quite a lot more land back for the Horde, taking it away from the Alliance, and this bothered me on a player level just because of the fact that Hillsbrad was one of my favourite zones as an Alliance to do when I actually leveled through Vanilla originally. So the fact that it got completely destroyed made me feel really upset, but it’s what they actually did with the questlines in Hillsbrad with the Forsaken and things like the Silverpine starting experience, was really radically off the wall.

Tzufit: Yeah. Silverpine was really the more difficult of the two for me, because having really started playing Horde characters initially, I liked Silverpine, the old Silverpine, it was one of my favourite zones to do, I liked that it was kind of dark and ambient and it was spooky as you walked around and you fought these werewolves, all that kind of stuff. And now, with the Worgen being a playable race and with everything that’s happening in Silverpine in terms of the use of the Val’kyr and expanding the Forsaken territory, it’s a very different storyline than it was before. Now, Southshore and Hillsbrad and what’s happened there- I find (sigh) we’re gonna spend some time on this, obviously, but just again on a player standpoint, I find that a little difficult because Southshore was such a hub of world PVP and that was always kind of the place where those big battles happened, you had the Alliance forming up in Southshore and the Horde forming up in Tarren Mill. And essentially, this is a recognition- and maybe it’s intentional, maybe it’s not, but it’s a recognition that that’s what happened in this zone, was Alliance and Horde fought a lot, and we actually now have a canon answer to what happened. The Horde won.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. They won, and the Forsaken could completely move into the zone as they intended. I mean, if you played an original Vanilla Horde-side, which obviously a lot of Alliance players didn’t because doing dual-faction stuff was hard to do, but I played through a little bit of it before the Cata revamp and I do remember that Hillsbrad on Horde-side was the prelude to the stuff that you did in Arathi Highlands, which was Hints of the New Plague. The motivations for the Hints of the New Plague storyline started in Hillsbrad on both sides, which is you investigating the Forsaken’s original Undead plague.

Tzufit: Right, and interestingly for me I actually played Hillsbrad in Vanilla much more often as a Forsaken or as a Horde player than I did as Alliance. I don’t even know if I did those Alliance Southshore quests ever, but I’ve done the Tarren Mill quests very many times and one of the things that I think is particularly interesting and maybe particularly damning about what happens in Hillsbrad is that the Alliance who are there are farmers. Like, completely, they’re all just farmers. That whole town is just a bunch of people who are just making their living with their farms, staying in their families, staying in their village, and probably sending some of their crops on to wherever the next largest Alliance city is, but for the most part this is not a military outpost, and maybe they’re a threat to the Forsaken just by the fact that they’re that close to Silverpine Forest, which is a major Forsaken area, but it’s not like the war that is happening there is really all that two-sided. It’s pretty clear what’s happening, it’s pretty clear who the aggressors are.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. I mean, the original version in Vanilla was definitely predicated on the Forsaken doing really horrific experiments, and I mean, like, feeding people plagued food after starving them, and feeding the plague to animals, and feeding the plague to literally everybody. It as gross in that way because that was your first encounter with the Forsaken, and I know that they have always been played up to be the kind of extremely unethical, extremely immoral part of the game, especially from the Horde perspective, but the plague stuff that was originally in Hillsbrad pre-Cata got amped up to like 50 in the Cata revamp because now they had absolutely no one to come in and tell them to stop doing it.

Tzufit: Yeah, the Vanilla questlines are completely tame compared to what Hillsbrad is like now. It is- I think snack_road on Twitter summed it up best by saying that problematic feels too weak a phrase. It is a dark zone, it’s totally dissonant, it’s sinister in evil ways, it’s asking how bad do you want to be, and panders to an audience that still tears wings off of flies.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, there’s no part of that zone, whether it be Tarren Mill or the Sludge Fields or New Southshore, as it is a completely washed-out nightmare of hellish proportions, or the revamped mine that includes humanoids that are wrapped up in silk so that they can be spider pets, or the fact that they’re even more bears that have spider eggs growing on them, like there’s nothing about this zone that isn’t evil, sinister, gross or completely violent. Even the Sludge Fields are stylized to look like a prison or a mental ward. There are guard towers at every corner, there are guards patrolling every inch of it and it’s basically all for the purposes of the Forsaken to carry out even MORE new plague experiments to essentially victimize and brutalize what population of Southshore is left.

Tzufit: Yeah, and one- (sigh) part of what we were looking at today as we were preparing for this is cynwise has a series, well has two posts that he wrote on the Forsaken. One covers mostly the starting area and then Silverpine Forest, and then he has an unpublished post that he was working on on Hillsbrad Foothills. And I find interesting- cynwise starts out with the very first quest that you do in Hillsbrad when you come in from Silverpine, which is called Welcome to the Machine, and this is the quest that got really popular during the Cataclysm beta, in particular, because people thought it was so fun and funny and different because this quest actually turns you into a quest giver. So you sit up on this Forsaken mount, you get a little exclamation mark over your head, and the game runs through a couple of NPCs coming up to you and you give them the quests for what they’re supposed to do. Cyn postulates, and I think it makes a lot of sense, that there’s some sort of setting up for the zone that’s happening here. This quest breaks the fourth wall in a way that basically nothing else in WoW does, and I think that it might be a bit of an apology on the part of the quest givers, it’s very clearly a sign that says “Ridiculous things are going to happen in this zone and that’s OK because this is a video game and you know this is a video game because we’re making you a part of the video game in the very first quest that you do for the zone.” So I think that we’re getting giant neon signs that are basically telling us, “You are not supposed to take this seriously,” and, “This is all just gonna be in good fun,” but the problem is that it’s NOT. It’s just terrible throughout, and putting that kind of headline on it, putting that caveat at the beginning to me just makes it even worse.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I could also argue, though, that it is a way of signaling to the player that, “You are just as much a part of the brutality as the video game is,” that you as the character are making just as many of the choices that the game presents you with as anything else, that- I mean, it’s kind of a good place to say that you’re standing at the gate of an actual machine of death, and whether you want to stay in it and do the zone is entirely your choice when you’re actually faced with the monstrosities there. It was an unsettling zone to do, it really was. There is almost no choices independently that you can make except for ONE and it’s not a good one, and there are just so many places where it goes from being just straight up brutal and indicative of the Forsaken to the fact that I don’t think the game really properly understood that many of the things that the quest givers were saying and doing were just straight up offensive.

Tzufit: Yeah, I think- and these will not really necessarily play into brutality so much, specifically, but just- to sort of point the ways in which it’s oblivious, that initial quest is- and Cyn goes into this at length in his post, but you get sort of these very stereotypical players, “players” in quotes, who come up to you when you’re supposed to be an NPC quest giver. There’s a guy who’s decked out in heirlooms who doesn’t know how to play his class, there’s a guy with the Kingslayer title who’s on a really nice mount and he’s just a jerk to you the whole time, and then there’s somebody who’s a complete noob or- something along those lines, and it’s- um, you know, it’s very much making you a part of the in-joke, right? It’s- you’re a good player, here are some bad players, we’re gonna laugh at their expense, and- I don’t know, I don’t like that, I never am fond of anything that has us point and laugh at new players who are just trying to figure out what’s going on in this extremely complicated world.

Apple Cider Mage: And it points out that that’s the first time you meet Johnny Awesome, and Johnny Awesome is the player with the sparkle pony and the heirlooms, and he’s supposed to point out the experienced player who has alts sort of decked out to excess. Johnny Awesome is actually a fixture that comes back later in the zone, same with Kingslayer Orkus who is the stereotypical very high-end raider. Johnny Awesome gets brought up later in the Sludge Fields, which is a horrific place unto itself as we’ve talked about before, but Johnny Awesome, Cynwise postulated, is one of the places where the game actually, unintentionally or intentionally, is making fun of that character for being feminine, despite being a man or expressing themselves as a man. Johnny Awesome is consistently called “girl” and made fun of for crying because they have apparently either killed or injured his sparkle pony.

Tzufit: Yeah, and it’s- (sigh) again, Cynwise does a great job of outlining all of this in his post, but it’s this process of- so, why exactly is Johnny Awesome supposed to be feminine? Because he’s riding on a sparkle pony? Because he’s a Blood Elf? Because he’s emotional about something that’s happened to his mount? Like, it’s just- it’s a series of very offensive things that happen there, which are all capped off by the fact that then these NPCs spend an entire conversation misgendering Johnny Awesome and, like you said, calling him a “girl”, referring to him as “she”, etcetera.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and this is all on top of the fact that the zone and that particular subzone is gross and sort of viciously violent, but then you actually have real-world stuff that seems to be unintentionally there to be- like, I don’t think that they put that in there because they were trying to make a point about feminization as being vulgar and offensive. They were just being offensive.

Tzufit: Yeah, exactly, that’s the thing is that it gets me really angry because I imagine the person who wrote that quest sitting there patting himself on the back thinking, “This is hilarious! Everyone is gonna love it!”

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, they’re making fun of a character that feels empathy towards animals and then making it said that that’s a feminine trait, and then MISGENDERING him on top of that, and also saying that it’s not OK to be feminine or emotional as a man.

Tzufit: And probably some general male Blood Elf stereotypes thrown in there as well, for good measure.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I mean we’ve talked about that before in Cataclysm that seems to be a really weird persistent joke and it’s very offensive on multiple levels. So you have this Johnny Awesome character, and he’s in the middle of this scenario where you basically realize that especially as an Undead player, you have this choice of whether you’re going to participate in this gore-death-torture-pain-violence-fest that’s going on around you. I mean, the Sludge fields are basically where very unhinged Forsaken chemists and apothecaries and other murder-people are basically burying Hillsbrad farmers up to their necks to try and grow them or use them to grow things. Like, I mean, you- I- Tzufit, I know that you have also watched Hannibal, but there was something about this that made me think- or rather, I was reminded of the Hillsbrad zone when I watched that particular episode of Hannibal where the psychopath is burying people and keeping them alive under the ground in order to grow mushrooms.

Tzufit: I had not made that connection at all but now that you say that, I can CERTAINLY see how there’s some similar themes going on there. I think the one thing that we have to say in order to be fair, I guess (laughing) to the Forsaken on some level is that this person, the apothecary who’s in charge of the Sludge Fields, has gone rogue, essentially. He’s not doing something that is condoned by the Forsaken, but- and this is a big but- the Forsaken don’t have a problem with what he’s doing because it’s overly brutal, they could give a shit, they have a problem because they believe that he’s wasting fodder. Like, “Why don’t you just kill these people because then we can raise them and we can have more Forsaken (which is what’s actually important)?” Brutality is only helpful when it serves a purpose.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, as opposed to, “You need to stop torturing these living people so that we can use them as mind-slaves that are Undead for us.” So it’s like, it’s kind of a trade off. Now, this is one of the places where you actually do have a choice, in that in the quest you have a choice to either continue letting them be used as seeds, and you basically get them to pipe down by smacking them over the head with a shovel, or you can use that shovel to mercifully end their lives.

Tzufit: Yeah, so thanks for that one, Blizzard. Appreciate it.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, you can either be a torturous monster or you can be an angel of death with a shovel.

Tzufit: And it’s so interesting too, because I know that part of Cynwise’s post was his point that he has not been able to return to that character since doing that zone, and I talked to Apple Cider about this and I have a Blood Elf rogue who played through all of Silverpine and then all of Hillsbrad, and I have not touched her since I finished that zone either.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, all the characters that have done Hillsbrad I haven’t finished the zone on. I mean, if I had finished the zone, I might have had the same problem. You don’t-

Tzufit: It’s just, there’s something about it that’s like, I- I just don’t- I don’t need to come back to that, you know? And I’m not sure if I finished the complete zone on her or not, but I know I must have gotten well into it because I think I am very familiar with most of the quests in Hillsbrad now, but it’s just like- no desire to log onto that character whatsoever.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, there’s something about it with this story and I think that this is kind of a good capper for what we’ve been talking about this entire time with brutality. There’s such a problem with brutality in World of Warcraft when it has less context or less grounding in why this is useful or purposeful or necessary, it takes you out of your ability to immerse yourself in the game because often times the violence and the dehumanization is SO EXTREME that it makes you not feel like you are playing a video game anymore, it makes you feel just gross and disgusting because you don’t feel like that brutality is contributing to anything meaningful in the game. It is violence for violence’s sake.

Tzufit: And it’s specifically in those questlines where you’re not just witnessing brutality, but your character is complicit in it, is maybe even the sole agent of that brutality, depending on the quest. Those are the ones where it just- if you’re someone who would shy away from that type of violence, then absolutely having to do it in-game is going to completely take you out of any sense of immersion you might have had.

Apple Cider Mage: And on top of the fact that it’s Forsaken and you’re the player character, I also don’t like being complicit in groups or structures in the game that specifically reinforce oppressive attitudes in real life. That was one of the things that really did bother me about the Johnny Awesome thing is that I don’t like to be complicit in the game’s inability to treat real life people as people when, unlike things like when Garrosh calls Sylvanas a bitch I can handwave my character’s participation in the Horde or Garrosh’s horde, I mean, to that end, we killed Garrosh so I feel completely ethically justified in saying that I am not a part of Garrosh’s Horde when he calls Sylvanas a bitch. However, with Johnny Awesome, it’s really hard to extrapolate or- (sigh) words. It’s really hard to completely pull yourself out of participating with the Forsaken that are just basically aping really disgusting things about how we talk about men and women in real life.

Tzufit: Well, and with that quest in particular, because it is very clear whose side you’re on in that quest, you are on the side of the two Forsaken guys who are misgendering Johnny Awesome. You’re not on Johnny Awesome’s side, you are absolutely supposed to see him as the person who is in the wrong or being ridiculous or whatever, and there’s no sympathy for that. There’s not even room for it, you know? You are absolutely there as a Forsaken agent and to you, Johnny Awesome is being ridiculous and effeminate and all of those other things.

Apple Cider Mage: I mean, you were just maybe like twenty quests ago making fun of him because he was the pampered alt stereotype. You’re supposed to not like him, and then they’ve decided to take it and not make some sort of message about why feminization of men is- it basically isn’t trying to make a point about why considering anybody who’s presenting themselves as feminine is bad, it’s just being bad in general, and it takes you on a train ride from making fun of them for very innocuous things that I think that we can all fess up to making fun of other people for, but then just goes straight into beliefs that I would never want to feel or do not feel about actual real people or groups of people. So it’s very underhanded in that way. There’s something about the Forsaken that I’ve always had a problem with, but as a player character I feel like I’ve always had the ability or the choice to insinuate myself as little or as much as I wanted to, but the problem with Hillsbrad is, again, it’s very linear, it’s a good chunk of that part of your leveling experience, potentially, so it never feels like you can really get yourself out of it very cleanly, and that’s one of the reasons that I really don’t like it is because it never really feels like you have a choice in being part of this brutalization. And that’s the problem with the Forsaken in general, is I think the Forsaken is Blizzard’s straw-people to hold up and be gross and violent and brutal all of the time, and then not have to deal with the consequences of its storyline. I mean, the Forsaken I feel like often are Blizzard’s way out of putting more brutal content into the game, because that’s just how they’re supposed to be.

Tzufit: It’s one of the reasons that I really don’t like what’s happened to the Forsaken and with the Forsaken in Cataclysm because I find the Forsaken, as a race, completely fascinating. Some of the first characters that I ever made were Forsaken, the first character I ever roleplayed was Forsaken, but it’s not a race that I would ever feel comfortable with anymore because, let’s face it, you see- the very first questline you do when you roll a new Forsaken is helping reanimate new Forsaken and getting them acclimated to their new life. But let’s be realistic, if you’re in those shoes, you have two options. You can either decide to follow Sylvanas, and if you do that you are essentially accepting everything about Forsaken society and taking that on as a part of yourself. I mean, just because you feel nothing as a Forsaken, which we’re told over and over again that they don’t, doesn’t necessarily mean that you would be OK with the things that they’re doing, but if you’re gonna be a part of Sylvanas’s society, then that’s what they do, that’s who the Forsaken are. Your other option, supposedly, is that you could essentially be an Undead free agent, I guess, but in a world where people see Undead and they assume Scourge, you certainly don’t wanna be a supposed neutral Undead, just kind of wandering around the world. You would get yourself killed immediately.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah. It’s- there are so many things that I love about Forsaken, and yet Blizzard has never really given them as much time to be as nuanced as other races. They seem to be pushing them more and more into the fact that they are always going to be unethical, they’re always going to be callous and brutal and violent and unhinged, rather than give them an additional emotional core that would play up the whole Blizzard neutrality that no-one is really good, no-one is really bad. I don’t think Forsaken have ever really gotten that, and they’re getting less and less of it as the expansions go on. I think Hillsbrad is a really big indication of that. One of the things that we actually brought up in the notes is that- and this is all the way from back in Vanilla, is that if you go to Undercity there’s actually a character called Theresa who is a mind slave, that is her actual title, she is a mind slave of- I  believe he’s an alchemist or an apothecary called Gerard Abernathy, and he is part of the original contingent of original royal apothecary society people that have been torturing and experimenting on people since Vanilla, since the original play. It’s just really- it’s stuff like that that made me not want to play Forsaken for very long, because as much as I think they have this really amazing emotional core and tormented personalities, it’s the underside and the torture and imprisonment and gore and torture porn aspect to them that has never made me stick with them for very long in terms of wanting to roleplay them, because of that aspect. All of my Forsaken characters, I think, have conscientiously objected to being a part of the Forsaken for that reason.

Tzufit: Yeah, I think that’s where it’s really sad and where I feel like there’s a missed opportunity with the Forsaken because I think there could be a lot of interesting grey area for- you know, even if you don’t give them an emotional core, even if they truly are emotionless, I don’t understand why emotionless somehow necessarily means to Blizzard that they’re brutal. that doesn’t have to be the case. I mean, and that’s the thing is that if you are going to play a Forsaken who wants to be a part of Forsaken society, it means that you’re OK with walking around Undercity and seeing somebody’s mind slave that they’ve been experimenting on. And for me, as a player, I just can’t reconcile that and so I don’t play Forsaken anymore, and I think it’s kind of unfortunate because there’s a lot of potential there, and unfortunately Blizzard has been progressing the story but, as you said, they’ve been progressing it in a way that very much- it makes the direction clear (chuckles) you know? We’re not moving toward a place where it makes sense to think of a Forsaken or roleplay a Forsaken that way unless you have pretty different circumstances or a pretty different thought process, OR that person has almost nothing to do with the Forsaken whatsoever.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, I mean, let’s be honest, all of the races at one point or another, with maybe one or two exceptions, have done shitty things. I mean, Humans, Orcs, Trolls, Elves, Gnomes, everybody. But it feels like the Undead have always existed to be the other end of the spectrum from, say, Tauren, Draenei, although Draenei have also got a little bit more of a nuanced underside too. Are they really good, or are they just good in their own perceived way? The Forsaken have always been, nope, they’re BAD, they’re all bad, they’re bad and they’re completely violent and they’re brutal and they don’t feel anything for anybody and it’s gone over the fact that you could maybe empathize with them to completely off the deep end. So, it’s one of those places that I really feel like Blizzard has just completely increasingly amped it up and amped it up and amped it up so it makes me wonder where they’re precisely going with that. The future is not looking bright for the Forsaken, and it’s not looking bright for player characters either. I mean, if Hillsbrad was one thing, what is coming down the line? That is kind of a good place to maybe end our discussion, is- this is stuff that’s been kind of happening over the last five expansions that we’ve dealt with, where does Blizzard go from here?

Tzufit: Yeah, it does seem like they’re painting themselves into a corner a little bit, and maybe that’s true of what they’re doing with Sylvanas and the Valkyr as well, I have no idea, but I don’t see a way that the Forsaken have any more ambiguity (laughs) you know? That’s definitely not the way that we’re moving.

Apple Cider Mage: Yeah, and I think that overall in some ways Blizzard’s gotten better about some of the brutal aspects of their game, or has at least given players a way to mitigate the brutality. The problem is that I think Blizzard does not look critically at what kinds of brutalization and violence that they put into their games, and so until that really happens, I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of content like that that really means something or has a context that teaches a lesson, say, maybe like the DK starting zone, instead of just grossing the players out and pulling them out of the immersive experience of the game.

Tzufit: Yeah, and I think that’s really the thing to take away from the discussion, because with all of the comments that we received on Twitter, and I think, I could be wrong about this, but I think we received more comments about this particular topic than we have about anything else so far, I think that the number one thing we heard from people was this reaction, “It took me out of the game,” and that shouldn’t be a goal. (Laughing) That certainly isn’t a goal. If you’re writing quest text and so on, and writing this story, you want people to be invested and involved in that story, you want them to care about what’s happening and to be a part of what’s going on and when you force them into doing things and into participating in events that they wouldn’t, that they have a lot of problems with, then yes, absolutely, they feel that they’ve been taken out of the game, that immersion is broken for them, and that’s not a positive experience.

Apple Cider Mage: No, and while that stuff seems to happen in very specific areas, there are some things that are just going to either be non-immersive or triggering for a lot of people. I mean, look at the rape content, look at that sort of stuff, but it feels like that sort of brutality and violence across the board can do that to most players. I mean, with the exception of what snack_road was talking about with pandering to the audience that likes to pull the wings off flies, that will never be bothered by stuff like this, when you stick this stuff into the game and pull most people out of it because of the dehumanization and demoralization and torture aspects, things like that, when you pull people out of the game you’re not doing a good job. You are making it harder for your audience to empathize, to sympathize, to relate themselves to their characters and to your world in general, and thats definitely not what you want to do. You don’t want to put things into a story that don’t have a reason and just serve to make it harder to get to the end. So, anyways, that was our very long discussion about brutality and violence in World of Warcraft. We understand, these are two very long episodes, but we felt that it was a topic that really had a lot of meat to it, so thank you very much for listening! And we will see you next week.

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