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Know Your Lore: The limits of perspective

Matthew Rossi

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Last week we talked about wild speculation. But since then, Anne and I each talked about our characters and the way they view the Warchief of the Horde, Garrosh Hellscream, and that got me thinking about the perspective we as players have versus the perspective the characters in the game have. It's easy for me as a player to be uncomfortable with things that my character would not be, and vice versa, because as a player I have access to sources of information no one in the world of Azeroth does.

Garrosh Hellscream has intelligence reports. Varian Wrynn has spies. But neither of them can go to a bookstore and pick up Tides of War and get to read scenes from inside their opposite number's war councils. Neither of them can go play a character inside the opposite faction. Players of the game have the ability to achieve a much broader perspective than anyone within that setting, and draw parallels to a real world history none of these characters can be aware of. Garrosh Hellscream doesn't know he's fictional. And frankly I wouldn't recommend telling him, dude has a temper.

The lore of the game, the story, is always predicated upon the fact that the people within that story act according to their own motivations, and none of them are omniscient. We know that Garona didn't want to kill Llane Wrynn but that Shadow Council conditioning and torture, combined with what she saw within Karazhan, left her convinced she had no choice. We know that, but Varian Wrynn doesn't know that. He only knows that an orc that his father trusted cut out his father's heart. He knows that because he saw it, and it's easy for us to know that not all orcs are like that. Try and imagine it from his perspective, and you understand why he believes what he believes. The same goes for Jaina, or Arthas, or any of the big names of the Warcraft setting - they're limited to their own perspective. They can't know what we know.

It's easy for us as players to lose sight of this. Sometimes, the game itself seems to cause this - it was hard for me as a player in Cataclysm to divorce the events of the worgen starting area and what I saw leveling my new paladin through Silverpine, Ashenvale and STonetalon from what the leaders of each faction were doing, and what my characters would know about. I know I found it extremely difficult to understand why Malfurion Stormrage and Cenarius would work with a member of the Horde as I played my tauren through Hyjal, even with Hamuul Runetotem standing right there like the best grandpa a shu'halo could ask for. The Horde were firebombing Malfurion's people. The whole reason Leyara joined the Druids of the Flame is her anguish over the death of her daughter at Horde hands. It wasn't until I stepped back and thought about what I'd seen in Darkshore and Ashenvale when leveling my worgen that I realized Malfurion went straight to Hyjal after Darkshore.

Granted, he probably would have chosen to work with anyone who would help him save Hyjal, but the fact of the matter is, after discovering that Azshara was trying to distract him away from Nordrassil, he flew off to Hyjal and left Darkshore's fate in the hands of a young worgen who had no idea what was going on up the mountainside. As powerful and wise as Malfurion is, he is neither omniscient nor all powerful - when Tyrande fell into the rivers and was presumed dead during their sojourn to the Eastern Kingdoms, Malfurion didn't know she was alive. Just because I saw what the Horde was doing in Ashenvale doesn't mean he did. With the forces of the Firelord burning all in their path he had plenty to distract him.

I see what you can't

Another example is the way the forsaken are perceived. To the average human, especially survivors of the plague who fled before Arthas could kill them, there's no way to tell the forsaken from the Scourge. We as players have the benefit of being able to roll a forsaken and see how their world looks from their eyes. We can experience their devotion to Sylvanas, their undead existence, hear from the quest givers how the val'kyr raise them. To a native of Gilneas, none of that means anything. All they know is that an army of walking corpses breached their wall, sailed into their lands, unleashed plague and death on them and murdered their prince. The forsaken, acting exactly as the Scourge did before them, have spread out of the former Lordaeron and expanded across Alterac, Gilneas and Arathi. It's easy for a Horde player to argue from a position of having seen the quests and explored the differences between the forsaken and the Scourge, but try telling that to someone who had her family turned to slime by them. Sky Admiral Rogers' entire family died at Southshore. Why would she care about treating the Horde any better, when they unleashed walking corpses to liquify her loved ones?

The many faces of a life

Running through the Dominance Offensive quests, I realized that as a player, I have many perspectives on Garrosh that my character wouldn't have. I've been playing a Horde warrior since vanilla, but my orc wouldn't have been active during the Might of Kalimdor, and so he didn't see what my tauren did - he didn't see Saurfang leading a combined Horde/Alliance military force. My orc didn't see the Wrathgate, my tauren did. My orc never had to deal with a petulant orc standing by the fire in Garadar, ignoring all efforts to aid his people, but my tauren had his efforts thrown back into his face multiple times by Garrosh Hellscream. My orc has only seen Garrosh as a successful leader in Northrend, and as Warchief since the Cataclysm, but my tauren bled for those victories in Northrend, and was one of those standing atop the Frozen Throne when Arthas was beaten. My tauren saw Horde forces fight side by side with the Alliance, and saw those days end, but they're not even stories to my orc.

To many Horde players, Varian Wrynn is a bigot who hates them for no reason, because they don't know (and don't care) what his reasons are - they remember standing in the Crusader's Coliseum and being called pigs and beasts and animals by Varian. As far as they were concerned, they'd done nothing to him and here he was hurling slurs and insults at them. Even if they were aware that Varian's father had been killed by Garona and his city burned by the Horde in the Second War, they don't see those events as connected to them. But to Varian, there's an unbroken line of descent between the Horde of the Second War and the modern Horde. Why wouldn't there be? The same Orgrim Doomhammer who Thrall named Orgrimmar after is the one who burned Stormwind and tried to kill Varian and everyone Varian knew or had ever met when Varian was a child. It would be like asking Batman to deal with someone who lived in Chillaria, or inviting Superman to planet Lexor. (There actually was a planet Lexor. No, serious, and they all loved Luthor there too.) It's easy for us, having read Lord of the Clans, to understand why young Thrall should revere Orgrim Doomhammer, but it's a bit much to ask the guy who saw his entire life get destroyed because of the man to trust people who do.

These differences in perspective come up everywhere in the game. Lor'themar Theron blames all humans for the actions of Garithos, and frankly it's hard to imagine why he wouldn't, even though Garithos was a minor functionary whose only claim to authority at the time Kael'thas joined forces with him was the fact that he was the only one left in Lordaeron. In essence, everyone better than him was killed trying to save their people. Meanwhile, Garithos' anti-elf bigotry was born in part out of the High Elves disdain for, racism towards, and willingness to abandon humanity to the Horde before the orcs made common cause with Zul'jin and attacked them - in essence, Lor'themar is blaming all humans for the racism of one human who learned his racism from Lor'themar's people in the first place. To Zul'jin, the Horde betrayed him and his people by allowing the Blood Elves, the ancient enemies of the Amani trolls, to join them. And considering that Zul'jin was allies with Orgrim Doomhammer, Thrall can in fact be seen as having betrayed an old ally to join with a new one.

As we go further into the future war, we'll see more of this. The Sunreavers, now a part of the Horde, seek vengeance on Jaina and the Kirin Tor for their ouster from Dalaran. Jaina ousted them because she saw them as traitors for working with the Horde in the first place. Each side believes in its actions. And however we view their actions, we have the benefit of being able to see them from angles they can't.

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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