The First World War changed the fundamental nature of war. After World War One, war was no longer an exercise between good and evil. This clear line was blurred and war became more of an exercise between good and also good or evil and also evil. In her essay, “‘Never Such Innocence Again’: War and Histories in World of Warcraft,” Esther MacCallum-Stewart argues that specific, fundamental aspects of World of Warcraft mirror World War One. She sets this argument up deceptively. She first establishes that “going to war” is not a choice that the player gets to make. Whether a player chooses to play on a “truce realm” or a “player versus player realm,” he ultimately must engage in some form of fighting; this is the nature of the game. MacCallum-Stewart then establishes that a player must choose which side he wishes to fight on, the Horde or the Alliance. From here, MacCallum-Stewart engages the underlying narrative of World of Warcraft. In her descriptions of the Horde and the Alliance, she challenges the assumption that the Alliance is “the good side” and the Horde is “the evil side.” She delves into the backstory of each, taken from the narrative of the game, and reveals that both sides have muddy histories that make it unclear as to who is good and who is evil. Both sides, she argues, have positive and negative qualities; the Alliance is progressive but ecologically destructive and the Horde is rudimentary but seem to love nature and promote collectivism.
After this, MacCallum-Stewart notes a shift in the games narrative towards a truce. Earlier games, she writes, focused on the direct conflict between the Horde and the Alliance. Newer versions, however, focus instead on the joint struggles of the Horde and the Alliance. MacCallum-Stewart notes the Burning Legion, a centrally shared enemy, as one source of this truce focus.
All of this discussion about the relationship between the Horde and the Alliance serves to raise the question: who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? This specific question, MacCallum-Stewart argues, was central to World War One and is central to World of Warcraft. By establishing that neither side is definitively good nor evil, she begins to draw specific parallels between World War One and World of Warcraft.
The parallels MacCallum-Stewart begins to draw center on technology. The Horde uses zeppelins, a significant form of transportation during the World War One era, and in the past, the Alliance used biplanes, another significant technological advancement during World War One. Both of these technologies, MacCallum writes, are examples of “technology outstripping need.” She argues that this use of unneeded technologies is exactly what caused the end of innocence that is associated with World War One. In the game, these technologies serve as another example that neither side is good nor evil, and in World War One, these technologies serve as the end of clearly defined ideologies in war. “The game counterposes ‘old’ war – chivalric, medieval, fought with sword and bow and arrows, and united against an evil enemy,” MacCallum writes, “with ‘new’ war – devious and fought with modern weapons against a justified, empathic enemy.” In World War One, who was good and who was evil became unclear. This same situation, MacCallum-Stewart argues, is the very center of World of Warcraft. “World of Warcraft,” she writes, “questions the discrepancy between good and evil, suggesting not only that both sides are equal, but that they are equal in being wrong.”
Everyone is wrong. No part of war is right. This is what MacCallum-Stewart argues is true in World of Warcraft and, it seems, in real life wars. I cannot personally agree or disagree with her because I myself am torn on the ideology of war. Given this, however, I am going to accept MacCallum-Stewart’s argument for the moment and assume that she is right. I am going to assume that in a war between two sides, or between multiple sides, no one is entirely right and no one is entirely wrong; I am going to assume that in war, there is neither a good side nor an evil side.
If this is true, this raises interesting questions on an individual level, that is, on the level of the individual player or soldier. If the overarching ideals of war are foggy, why do soldiers agree to fight? If neither the Horde nor the Alliance are good, why do players choose sides? It seems then, that war and Warcraft come down to personal ideologies. If a soldier knew he was agreeing to fight for the side that was considered by a majority to be evil, would he agree to fight? If a player knew he was going to play for the side that was considered by a majority to be evil, would he agree to play? Even here, that I had to write “considered by a majority” to denote a side as evil argues that choosing to engage in a war, whether real or fictional, comes down to personal ideology. A player or a soldier will only agree to engage in playing or fighting if he is personally convicted by a cause, No longer are there nobel causes to fight for; there are only personal causes that one may believe himself are nobel.
This only furthers to muddy the waters; if fighting in a war comes down to personal ideology, how are wars fought at all? Are any of these ideologies right? Or is everyone involved deluded by their own personal convictions? MacCallum-Stewart only argues, through the lense of World War One, that the waters have been muddied in World of Warcraft, but does not offer any solutions.