In defense of insanity

| Thursday, December 22, 2011
Blizzard's writers have a standard way of making new bad guys: take some good guys and make them go insane. Violin: bad guys. This method is criticized for being lazy and formulaic. I disagree. The nature of the Warcraft universe requires that any true enemies be either innately evil or have been corrupted/gone insane.

Look at it in context. Within the real world greed is a powerful driver. It pushes people to do stupid or evil things. But how powerful can greed really be, in the Warcraft universe? In the real world, greed can get you killed. That's nothing in Warcraft. In that universe, greed can get you tortured for all eternity, and I don't mean "I read in a book that if I am greedy I'll get tortured for all eternity", I mean that you have literally seen demons and magic and know quite well that eternal torture is a strong possibility.

When there are forces that seek to unmake reality itself, everyone is on the same side. This idea first came to me from the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card, my number one writer for veiled homophobic writing. In the series the hero is in a fight against the Unmaker, a being who seeks to unmake everything, somewhat reminiscent of the Burning Legion. A wise old man tells Alvin that even Satan, the obvious enemy of God, would on his side in this, because Satan wants to rule something. Even evil hates chaos.

From this perspective, we can see how it makes no sense at all to ally with the Burning Legion. There is no reason to trust the demons. Given their propensity for cruelty, it is not hard to imagine them turning on all their allies and destroying them as well. Any alliance is merely putting off the day of personal horribleness while increasing the chances of it coming. It would be like guaranteeing you won't get cancer today by taking a drug that doubles you risk of cancer tomorrow.

One cannot ally with chaos, one can only join chaos. Think of when you see a protest. The protestors are thinking of a cause, a reason. You may disagree with them, but odds are, they are sane. Now contrast that with a riot, of broken windows and arson and police being attacked. Are those people thinking or considering the costs and benefits of throwing a rock through a window? No. They are chaotic. They are, temporarily, uncontrolled, inhuman, and insane.

Think of Kael'thas, who had once sacrificed everything to protect his people, and who then joined the Legion. It could be nothing less than corruption of his very nature, insanity. There is no future for his people in the Legion. Similarly, the Lich King could not be just an angry prince who went a bit too far. He had to be corrupted because only that would allow him to turn against his father, kingdom, and the very world. Merely being a little less empathetic and a little more fanatical would not do the trick. The Scarlet Crusade is another group which is not merely extremist, but entirely out-of-touch with reality. They would not otherwise attack anyone on sight as Scourge (note that I did not say "possible" or "suspected").

Beside the enemies, think of our own actions. When the world is at risk of ceasing to exist, are we going to quibble over small matters? We may argue strategy or tactics, but when there is a demonic army coming, it's not so important whether there is a troll standing over there. We're not going to go raid Stormwind just because Varian talked some smack while Deathwing is cataclysmizing the world.

On the other hand, there is also the "really stupid, short-minded idiot" method, of making someone a threat to the world not because they are evil or in league with evil, but because their sheer stupidity is threatening survival: for example, Garrosh and other orcs who kept picking fights during the campaign in Icecrown. I wouldn't call them evil, but we'd definitely have been better off killing them before they could do any more damage.

Either way, we're not likely to be flying off to a raid against a reasonable person with whom we have a legitimate disagreement.


Syl said...

Tangentially, this topic is quite central in the last batman movie, the Dark Knight - it's what makes the character of the Joker so inherently dark in my eyes. Alfred brings this up to Bruce Wayne in the scene about the bandit in Burma that acted unpredictably, without seeming logic or motive, throwing his spoils away. as for the answer why: "Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

It's the most horrible villain you can create really; one that we cannot begin to comprehend, one that is so inhumane in his thinking that it's almost fascinating. we are indeed not made for chaos.
the Joker on the other hand, promotes a world without rules as the only sensible world - which clearly marks him as an insane character. insanity of that degree is limitless and hence rather intriguing for storytelling.

Kring said...

> The Scarlet Crusade is another group which is not
> merely extremist, but entirely out-of-touch with
> reality. They would not otherwise attack anyone on
> sight as Scourge.

They are on a War Against Scourge.

Klepsacovic said...

@Syl: Good connection there.

@Kring: That would explain why they are so mad about the "Andorhal Necropolis"

Azuriel said...

Although you have mounted a heroic defense, you are investing a meaning and nuance into WoW's villainy that simply does not exist. Look at Malygos: he legitimately believed that mortal magic users were far too dangerous to leave running around, which is actually true given how many times mortals have tried summoning the Burning Legion. Look at Zul'jin: he has a legitimate grievance against both the Alliance (who attacked before) and the Horde (who he considers race traitors by accepting the Blood Elves). These villains prove that Blizzard can create conflict without the crutch of insanity.

And that's the problem with buying into Blizzard's insanity defense: it's a crutch. Yes, the Joker was a chilling, compelling character precisely due to his insanity. But now imagine that every single villain in Batman is equally insane in the same way, for the same reasons. It "works," but it's more often than not an excuse for lazy writing about why we're killing Lore characters with whom we otherwise had no problems with.

Want to know the difference between a dark, twisted setting where the whispers of the Old Gods taint the minds of mortals and immortals alike, and a Fischer Price EZ-Bake Villain Maker? There isn't one. The former only avoids the latter by making the setting compelling and believable, which WoW largely does not (at least not in a context of instant and total insanity).

We can have perfectly rational conflicts with Quilboars, murlocs, and centaur. Why not with with everyone else? Because insanity is easier and requires no explanation or complicated political machinations.

Klepsacovic said...

The Quillboar eventually joined the Scourge. The murlocs are being driven by the naga. Only the centaur are acting on their own and I'd put them in the "stupid enough to be dangerous" category right there with Garrosh and the other ones who are busy fighting over the scraps of the world before it has been saved.

My point is that when we're facing annihilation of everything, any conflict is irrational and stupid.

At risk of politicizing it, I think Obama is doing a sub-par job, but there are worse forces out there and nitpicking over every little problem is an easy way to lose the more important battles. It's not a perfect analogy, since I'm lining up representative democracy and a war for the existence of reality, but I'm far too tired tonight to make rational arguments. Oh shit, I think that makes me the next raid boss. :P

Azuriel said...

Right. But it's not irrational to disagree with how said annihilation is prevented. Even if everyone IRL agreed that Global Warming was true and man-made, what would be the best way to go about stopping it? Especially when/if it comes down to two mutually exclusive options?

And I actually disagree with you about Arthas. Sure, there is some level of corruption going on with Frostmourne, Ner'zhul, and so on. But in the same Wiki page that goes on about Arthas' "madness" and "casting aside his soul," you can read about how the Scourge is a legitimate threat against the Burning Legion.

So, ask yourself your own question. When the world is facing the annihilation of everything, why fight the Scourge? We should have been pooling our strength, right?

But, nope, people just go insane and that's the end of it. Zero nuance or interesting dilemmas. Even Illidan's narrative is completely ruined for no particular reason - he "goes mad" after his defeat with Arthas, despite his actions in Outland making perfect sense as someone looking for a way out of a deal made with the devil. Even the irony of the Betrayer being betrayed by Kael'thas (for the same reasons no less!) is completely swept under the rug of 511-character quest logs.

Ugh. All this wasted potential sacrificed on the altar of one-dimensional insanity explanations gives me gas. We could have had Dune-level plots with all the pieces the writers had to work with. But nooooo~

Klepsacovic said...

"Scourge is a legitimate threat against the Burning Legion" The Scourge is a threat but is it a better alternative? Imagine a "nice" Scourge, which rather than actively killing people to make them undead, instead gave people the option to be reanimated to continue the fight or to be reborn as undead. This nice Scourge would be a powerful ally. But the actual Scourge is forceful, imposing undeath on those who do not wish for it.

Maybe the Scourge itself is just the "insane" model all over again. Nehr'zhul was twisted (insane) and made into the Lich King, but he broke free (not insane?), and still remained an active threat to Azeroth, perhaps to fight the Legion, but with unsound methods. I might make him an exception; beings of that level of power can be expected to follow different rules, as they have some chance of actually winning. Think of it as Lucifer's rebellion against God vs. an angry teenager who refuses to go to Mass.

I might need to make another post about Outland and how I think it was a disaster, not as a game expansion, but as a decision by the in-game leaders. We took our eyes off the Scourge to go romping around on some already-wrecked planet. Ultimately, did we gain anything? The Orcs and draenei got a history lesson and we killed Illidan who, until we arrived, sounded as if he was doing a decent job fending off the Legion.

Ephemeron said...

Ah yes, "Burning Legion". The all-conquering army of murderous demons, allegedly waiting in the Twisting Nether. We have dismissed that claim.

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