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Wings Over Atreia: Is the dark side stronger?

Jef Reahard

"Is the dark side stronger?"
"No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive."
"But how am I to know the good side from the bad?"
"You will know...when you are calm, at peace, passive."

- Luke Skywalker and Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

While diminutive Jedi Masters seem pretty sure that the dark side isn't any stronger than the light, I on the other hand, am unconvinced. People have always been obsessed with the dark, whether its gothic architecture, horror films, death metal, or any number of other subcultures that glorify life in the shadows. Hell, even the old cliche about women preferring bad boys is a cliche for a reason.

Looking at online gaming, you can find more evidence of this, whether it's the fact that Warhammer Online's population skewed heavily in favor of the Destruction faction on many servers, or that the scuttlebutt around many The Old Republic fan forums centers on how frakking awesome it will be to dress in black and brandish a red Sith-flavored lightsaber.

Join me after the jump, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.

Aion takes an interesting approach to the notion of 'bad guys' in that the lore writers were very careful to appear neutral about whether the Elyos or the Asmodians are considered the traditional villains. As another famous Jedi Master once opined, the 'truth' depends greatly on one's own point of view. Deciphering the who and why of Aion's two factions, as well as the reasons for players choosing one over the other, first requires some knowledge of the game's back story.

"Someone needs to remember acts like these, for it is through these actions that a rational being can see which of our people are honorable, and which are wicked. I fled and hid, and when I returned to my settlement, I helped bury the dead. Why? I asked. Why would someone do this? It was then that I realized how little I knew of the history of our planet. I started to research what happened so many years ago that would result in the Elyos being at war with those we once considered brothers," reads the Book of the Elyos.

Not to be outdone, the Book of the Asmodians trumpets a seemingly righteous cause, albeit with a bit more jingoistic fanaticism. "Our path is clear: We must destroy the Tower of Light. Then the Aetheric bleed will end, safeguarding the lives of the Asmodian people and simultaneously ending the arrogant tyranny with which the Elyos threaten us. We will not hesitate. We will not stay our blades. We strike with a brutal and irresistible wave of destruction that will finally rid our home of the arrogant and naïve fools that infest our lands," it reads.

Much as in real life, the real story varies depending on who you talk to, with the Asmodian loremasters holding that the sun-cursed Elyos started the whole thing and vice versa. Why then, did the designers associate Asmodians with what is traditionally considered an evil aesthetic (in the form of red eyes, optional horns, and clawed feet), while giving the Elyos an appearance that can only be described as classically beautiful, benevolent, and in many cases angelic?

It seems to me that, however subconsciously, the designers intended the Asmodians to be the 'evil' race in Aion, or at the very least, the aggressors. How else to explain their appearance and the numerous instances of barely contained rage such as the aforementioned lore snippet? Asmodians, from their sneering countenances on down to their shaggy manes (not to mention generous helpings of leather-like clothing options and that cool forward flipping jump) absolutely drip with anti-authoritarian attitude, which probably explains 90% of their popularity. Gamers, despite branching out to include older and more moneyed demographics in recent years, are still quite counter-culture and possessed of a collective rebellious streak that likely prevents easy identification with righteous authority figures such as the Elyos (or Warhammer's aptly named Order faction). And yes, I know, gamers prefer dark, emotionally scarred bad asses, film at eleven. Despite the obvious though, I do feel there's some interesting discussion to be had in terms of why.

However subconsciously, the designers intended the Asmodians to be the 'evil' race in Aion, or at the very least, the aggressors.

I'd love to see some hard data on exactly how many Asmodian avatars have been created across all of Aion's servers, as well as the numbers on Elyos toons. NCsoft has made some very basic percentages available on their website, though they've declined to release exact figures. We also know that they have measures in place to balance the faction populations (i.e. faction choice has been restricted on some servers in the past due to huge numbers of players choosing one side initially). Currently, Asmodians outnumber Elyos on four of the game's fourteen servers, with Elyos holding the upper hand on three servers and the remaining seven showing an even 50/50 split. Asmodian legions outnumber their Elyos counterparts on all fourteen servers, in some cases rather handily. While these numbers are inexact, they do provide something of a snapshot in regard to player preferences.

Not only that, but many players clearly favor the Asmodian aesthetic, even if they rolled Elyos. On my home server (Lumiel), it's a rare sight to run through Sanctum and not see twenty or thirty people decked out in Asmodian-skinned gear. Whether it's from the perceived exclusivity or the fact that the costumes are edgier than native Elyos equipment, there is a definite preference for the darker, sexier, and more seductive Asmodian designs. I'll be quite interested to see if the reverse holds true when I get around to rolling an Asmo alt. l'll be very surprised if Asmodian players are running around in Elyos skins, at least in the same numbers.

Ultimately, society has evolved into an everything-is-permissible melting pot where traditional rules and stereotypes no longer apply. Older notions of good and evil are somewhat blurred (some would say irrelevant), and the bad guys are no longer the bad guys but just folks with a differing point of view. Whether or not this is a good thing is a topic for another column (or, perhaps even another web site), so for now we'll attempt to bring this unwieldy column to a soft landing. In closing, I'm curious as to the reasons for your Aion faction choice, dear readers. Did you roll an Asmo? An Elyos? Why?

Look! Up in the air! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a snarky Daeva! Join Jef Reahard every Monday for news and views from the world of Aion. Whether he's soaring over the battlefield or hunkered down in the trenches, Jef is your combat correspondent in the world of Atreia.

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