Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Know Your Lore: What does not kill us

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.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack-Up"

While I make no claim to being even a second-rate intelligence, I am occasionally capable of holding opposed ideas. I wrote last week that the destruction of the Vale was going to happen. That it was necessary, to end the reign of the Sha of Pride over Pandaria itself and the stagnation it allowed to fester in the heart of the island continent for over ten thousand years. I still believe that to be true.

But something can be necessary and still be horrific, and moreover, still someone's fault. What happened in Pandaria, the escalation of the Horde and Alliance conflict that led to the Vale's destruction, may have been necessary. That doesn't excuse us for having helped make it happen, for failing to find a better way. For failing to even try to find a better way.

One of the arguments advanced after the Siege of Orgrimmar is over is the concept that the Alliance and Horde strengthen one another, that if one side were to utterly win and destroy the other, it would be weakened for the loss of that which it tests itself against. To this I make a counter response - there are many ways to strengthen one another.

The Horde and the Alliance have ever only found one - to wage war upon one another - and it sweeps with the scythe of destruction. If one is to say that each is the stronger for having endured it, it is a strength palliated by periods of weakness, like a man or woman enduring a long illness or a poisoning. You may well indeed be stronger for it, but what good is that strength if it is always spend fighting the same malady? The Alliance and Horde grow stronger only to again hurl that strength against one another, and crush not only each other but everything that gets in their way. Wrathion may well be wrong - it may not be the best path to pick a side and propel them to a pyrrhic victory over the other - but this pointless conflict between the Horde and Alliance makes each side stronger for no purpose but to continue the conflict. It is not strength at all, as Xuen points out, but power. In order for it to be strength it must be used for a better end.

Always you speak. Never do you listen! You ignore the lessons of Pandaria!
You see, there is balance in all things. Wisdom etched in our very fur: Black and white, Darkness and light.
When the last emperor hid our land from the rest of the world, he also preserved the homeland of our ancient enemy, the mantid. Why did he do this?
He did so to keep the land whole. Living with the mantid for ten thousand years has made us both STRONG.
So it is with your Alliance and your Horde. They are not strong despite one another; they are strong BECAUSE of one another.
You mistake your greatest strength for weakness. Do you see this?
- Tong the Fixer to Wrathion, Judgment of the Black Princ

Now, I said that the Horde and Alliance have ever only found one way to strengthen one another, and that through conflict with each other. I said this because they've never willingly joined forces - the Third War, you might cite, or the Might of Kalimdor. The Third War was ultimately imposed upon them by the meddling of Medivh, and while the Might of Kalimdor was a brief shining moment of cooperation between the two factions, it was motivated by the machinations of the Cenarion Circle and Bronze Dragonflight in the face of the menace of C'thun and the rising Silithid menace, marshalled and directed by the Qiraji. But, too, cooperation between Horde and Alliance, although fleeting, are not in of themselves the only other option to all-out war between them.

We've had fits and starts towards other kinds of relationships between them. The trade between the Horde and Alliance that was suspended during the Cataclysm, for one - it benefited both sides without implying anything like a joint venture or a cooperative union. The Alliance and the Horde do not, in fact, have to like one another. They do not have to form some gigantic Alliance-Horde military, or become one entity, or even engage in regular conferences. Simple economic exchange between the two factions did more to keep relations on an even keel before the Cataclysm than anything else.

In order to discover how else the two factions could potentially benefit one another, of course, we'd need them to explore these possibilities. They would at least need to talk long enough to get some ideas of what they want from one another. It has been this utter failure to look for any other path that has led to the Vale's destruction, and that collective guilt rests on all our heads (admittedly, not equally so - it's fair to point the finger more at the Horde than the Alliance in this regard).

I find myself neither agreeing with Wrathion nor wholly with Tong. Frankly, why does he believe the Horde would fall into line so easily? Why does Wrathion say "the rest of the Horde would have caved eventually, and what is eventually to a black dragon? Can we trust his perspective? He talks about the casualties in trying to take Thunder Bluff, when as many have pointed out, Lordaeron is by far the tougher nut to crack, with an army of fanatically loyal undead and the means to make more of them through the Val'kyr that serve Sylvanas. Assuming Wrathion is even correct that the Alliance would in time be triumphant, how long would it take, how many lives would it cost, and what shape would this victorious Alliance be in afterwards? Wrathion seems to me to be totally underestimating how awful this war would be, if waged to its ultimate conclusion.

But Tong's statement about the Horde and Alliance seems fraught with difficulty to me. As I've said before, what good is strength if it is constantly utilized against one another? If the Horde is strong, it is a strength we've seen to be fragile - the bonds of loyalty between the Horde's people are tenuous and frayed, a bundle of sticks tied with rotten twine, easily snapped apart. And if the Alliance is strong, it is a strength that does not act until compelled to - the strength of a herd that does not pull in tandem, which fights to scatter and stand alone, which must be cajoled and cudgeled to act in its own best interests. A wise man once said that perfectly symmetrical violence never solved anything, and in this case, the strength of each of these factions is wasted effort, two great beasts butting heads endlessly.

However, I accept Tong's basic idea that the Horde and Alliance do not, should not need to be made into one, that Azeroth doesn't require a one-world power standing astride its continents. While I question some of his assumptions - have the mantid and the pandaren really made one another strong, trapped in their pocket of stagnation for ten thousand years - I do accept that there are always more ways to achieve an end than simple annihilation of your opposition. There are middle paths to find, compromises to be reached, if you have the courage to reach them.

It's long past time for these two to find something else to do, if I may be frank. Each has become more like the other - the Horde is now, at last, an Alliance of independent peoples coming together under a single leader for the good of all, while the Alliance has found a singular unity and strength under the leadership of a battlefield general, forged in war - it's time for them to explore ways to strengthen themselves that leave that strength available to be used. Xuen has spoken - "Strength used in the service of others is twice as powerful as strength spent on one's foes." It's long past time to imitate the action of the tiger.

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.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr