Religion and quests that make you go hmmh

naaruangels

Icecrown features some of the smartest and most advanced storytelling in WoW, or any MMO I’ve seen. The storylines are personal, they’re epic, and they interact with both the greats and the big bads in Warcraft. There is phasing, flashback sequences, insights and revelations – yes it’s all wrapped up in kill 10 rats but it represents an extraordinary effort to stretch that quest paradigm as far as it will go.

But there’s one quest in particular that draws out a response from me.

The storyline begins when the head of the Argent Crusade (an organisation influenced heavily by paladins) sends you to find out what happened to one of his men. And when you do find him, the man is grieviously wounded and sick with the scourge plague – which will turn him into a scourge zombie after he dies.

When you report this, the Argent Crusade take a ‘no man left behind’ approach. The guy is a noble fighter who risked his own life to save others, surely some power in Azeroth can save him! And so you head off on a quest to speak with the most powerful good-aligned beings in the game world to see if any of them can help. And in between you take their messages and aid back to the fallen hero, and every time he thanks you and asks you to leave him where he fell so he at least can’t infect anyone else.

Finally  you speak to the Naaru who are the personifications of light in the game. And you are told that they can’t cure the plague but they will guide his soul after death so that he won’t be remade as a zombie. So the hero dies and the Naaru appear, as in this screenshot. His spirit drifts upwards towards them in a pillar of light.

I was impressed, but coldly furious. Why do they only do this for the best of the paladins and after a personal intervention and plea? The whole of Icecrown is full of brave soldiers who died for the light and got reborn as zombies, maybe the Naaru could pull their collective fingers out just a little bit more and do something for them also. I was moved by it also, but still … the sense of outrage at the unfairness lingers. Especially since my character is a forsaken warrior and no naaru ever came to save her from undeath! (Admittedly there would not be much of a game if they had.) In a sense  this questline is probably the most noble thing Spinks has ever done in her entire unlife — running all round the world to try to save a complete stranger from the fate that she befell herself.

If nothing else, it makes you think. And I believe it was key to the design here that when you act for the Argent Crusade, your character shows some nobility of spirit (until you get to the tournament at least.) It’s intended to shine a light in the moral greyness of Northrend.

I’m inclined to  immerse myself in the gameworld anyway, given half a chance, but I was surprised  by how strong a reaction I had to that storyline. It is perhaps the most overtly religiously influenced experience in the game, but it doesn’t really reflect  my religion. I suspect  that I balked at some of the assumptions without really noticing what was going on. The Light is a sort of Christianity with the numbers filed off (standard paladin fare, really) and I wonder whether people would react differently to that questline depending on RL beliefs and culture.

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31 thoughts on “Religion and quests that make you go hmmh

  1. What I find kind of interesting is how short a shrift the Shamans get in that quest, especially since every other group seems to get a visit, and indeed in general beyond an occasional ‘Hey elemental dude, cleanse this’.

    Given that the whole animist shaman thing is meant to be one of uniting factors behind the less mutated sections of the horde, it’s odd that the Trolls belief system apparently consists mostly of delicious god flavoured snacks and raid bosses, the orcish branch of the shamans seems to consist of Thrall and the Tauren’s seem to be more about the druids than anything. We’ve never really had a major shaman type hook beyond the barely used earthen ring and it’s a little wierd.

  2. It’s true that they really haven’t done much with shamanism. And Outland should have been all about the shamans really. Is there a big shamanic type figure aside from the elemental lords? Thrall is very powerful but he’s not really on the scale of a minor god.

    Hopefully Cataclysm will have more of a shamanic focus.

  3. This guy was 1.) HUMAN 2.) ALLIANCE 3.) PALADIN.
    Spinks is 1.) UNDEAD 2.) HORDE 3.) WARRIOR.

    I detect three things that tell me that you won’t get a hero’s funeral! :)

    • I’m not 100% sure that he was a paladin and not a warrior actually. Don’t really know enough about the argent crusade but it used to be part of the lore that paladins never got zombified by the plague (hence why no forsaken paladins). They might have gone soft on that in Wrath though, I know I’ve seen undead crusaders who healed in Icecrown,

      And for the rest. before she died she was a human native of lordaeron — so human and alliance!

  4. P.S.: Weird looking beings wannabe good guys beings of pure light – eeks. No wonder I turned away from the light and played a Warlock!

  5. Nope, the elemental lords are pretty much the only thing resembling deities, and even those are different for each planet. With the addition of the elemental planes, shamans can join the trolls in killing their own pantheon.

    Troll belief system initially had Voodoo elements as well, but those have been pushed into the background since Zul’Aman, where the steal-your-gods-powers-in-desperation motif first started. Troll mythos also has connections to the Old Gods, the elemental lords and the Aqir, because they were the only flesh-and-blood humanoids around at that time.

  6. Maybe it cost the Naaru a lot of power to protect Bridenbrand in death. So they couldn’t do it for everyone, but were moved by his story and your efforts.

  7. Interesting. I found that quest to be very moving — a rare experience in WoW. It’s been a while since my character did that quest so I forgot some of the details.

    I find that most MMOs really don’t have much traditional religion in them or even respect for it. The popular culture that plays video games is most likely non-religious as are more of the designers.

    When you do see religion it’s often a negative aspect of it taken from Hollywood such as the fanaticism of the Scarlet Crusade.

    The truth is that the portrayal of religion in a MMO like WoW is laughable. How can you take the Light seriously when they welcome warlocks and death knights with open arms in their Cathedrals?

    • Agreed. I’m happiest when devs shy away from religion, since all they can seem to do is parody or mock it.

      I’ve never seen The Light or the Naaru as “gods” or even particularly religious. It’s just another powerful faction. *shrug*

      • Pen and paper games had similar issues. RL religion is a fascinating and powerful source of imagery, folklore and myth but if you actually use it then you risk offending people. They tended to pick the safer route (apart from edgier games or French ones — in In Nomine they had some fun mocking the catholic church.)

  8. I actually disliked the quest for its religious overtones, or rather, my reaction at the end was something along the lines of: What, he dies anyway and we’re supposed to be happy just because he “goes to heaven”? It didn’t feel very rewarding to me after all the running around I had done to save him.

    Also, back when I did this quest he really was lying in the middle of nowhere. Bit odd the way he’s now dying right outside the premises of the Argent Tournament really.

  9. In the quest you mention, you just do “the right thing”. No-one is being harmed. These religions in game are all about “helping” and they don’t oppress or slay people who believe differently. So it’s not that hard to help them or ask them for help.

    There are other quests I have more problem with: I do have RL beliefs which don’t match the fact that you have to torture a prisoner in the amber tower. That quest really sucks, for me.

    Or the sons of hodir quest chain where you have to slain a slave in the mine to gain some trust with the rulers of the mine. The slave only wanted to free them from the oppression.

      • Is the scarlet crusade is a religion? Or are they just zealots?

        But what I meant was, the Naaru don’t care if you believe in the light or not. They do. But you don’t get questioned or treated as second class citizen in Shattrath if you don’t believe in the light. You’re free to believe in Elune or whatever you prefer.

  10. WoW has a way of surprising allegory, even if they don’t mean it to be. Being as the “light” is pretty much christianity, like you stated, it makes sense that they only save those of their own ilk, who have served the light and been “saved.” Very very similar to RL, Christianity (and just about every other religion as well) only saves those who surrender themselves to their belief system, and only those who serve the ways of that belief system, and only those who ask for intervention (i.e. get “saved”)

    • That’s not an accurate description of Christianity, because one of its theological points is that everyone before “saving” is in the same boat. Everyone needs rescuing. Everyone is infected with a plague and soon to be zombies.

      Problem is according to them some people not only don’t believe they are sick, they may not even believe a rescuer exists at all. You get into the issue of free will, but most christian sects believe that God wont force someone to be rescued against their will. You have to reach out and grab the rope thrown to you.

      Some sects of it believe otherwise. Christian Universalism would believe you may not believe in a rescuer, but when you go under the waves and lose consciousness you wake up safe on a beach being attended to by a lifeguard. Calvinism is closest to what you describe, in which you are at sea drowning and see a boat, but it wont save you unless you are a white person-an “elect” picked on the basis of something that has nothing to do with behavior or equality or what have you.

      Not many christians tend to believe seriously in Calvinist theology imo, and universalism to me is the sanest way to be a christian (its not unitarian universalist, they believe in all the traditional christian beliefs except in that christian salvation applies to all regardless of assent.)

      It’s really complex, and in other religions it gets even worse.

      • also please keep in mind that the white person analogy is just that, an analogy. It was the closest offhand I could think of to contrast to the idea of an “elect.” TBH religious theology is often arcane and hard to analogize, no offense.

  11. The problem with WoW’s religious background is that it has a multitude of different religions that are all ‘real’.

    So we have the Twilight gods or Old Ones, a pseudo Cthuloid race of gods (Yog Saron = Yog Sathoth?).

    The we have the Titans, obviously taken from Greek theology.

    Following that we have ‘the Light’ and presumably its opposite in ‘Darkness/Shadow’, and these are related to a more traditional good vs evil ethos with Light = good and Dark = bad, and of course Holy warriors vs Demons.

    Mixed in with that we have some Norse religion with the Valkyrie connection (Valkurs etc) and that is again meshed into the Titans with Thorim and Hodir.

    Then we have the shamanistic Earth Mother set up as well as the Elven Elune to consider.

    Finally we have the dragons who are the guardians of Azeroth and they have the ability to even alter time if needs be.

    Did I miss any out? So, how do all these different beliefs all manage to co-exist in the same time and space, and on the same planet, and yet be completely separate from each other?

    • Well my local Rabbi and Cathloic minister seem to get on fine. They have tea regularly with the local Buddhists and Imman as well. Others not so much.

      Sounds like the real world to me….

    • Titans are probably not gods (see wowwiki.com). They seam to be more powerful, at least they won over and imprisoned them on Azeroth.

      Can dragons alter the time? I doubt it, or why would they need our help in the caverns of time? They can watch over it and travel through it but I doubt that they can alter it.

    • Trolls worship a variety of animal spirits, a worship which apparently consists of eating them to become raid bosses.

      The orcs engage in some mixture of ancestor worship and elemental worship.

      Though the moral position of the shadow is a lil’ weird. It was originally positioned as the Undeads reaction to the light forsaking them but since shadow types also pop up Alliance side, heck knows what’s up there.

    • It helps that their respective targets of worship are much more visible than the gods of our world. They don’t have to go off feelings and the occasional miracle. They have gods who they can see and talk to face to face. I use the word “god” loosely, since the only real god in WoW is Elune, but there are plenty of other beings with far more than enough power to attract worship worthy of a god.

      @Kring: The whole idea of CoT is that the Bronze dragons, who can alter time, are in conflict with the Infinite flight who are also altering time. The Bronze try to keep things as they are, so their alteration of time isn’t as obvious to us.

      • The are the old gods. And the cultists worship them. :-)

        If you can travel and alter the time. And you are fighting another race who can also travel and alter time… why on earth do you need *me*?

        If you can travel time you can pick about everybody who every lived on earth – why pick me?

        And by picking me to mess with forces in the past you already change the future because the last time, when no-one tried changed the past, I didn’t have to save the past and therefore the future will be different this time and therefore they changed the future by preserving the past… *confused*

  12. I was reminded of this post today, while doing my Argent Tournament dailies. There’s now two seperate quests there that have a similar themes – in particular, you read the last rites to slaughtered Tuskarr villagers allowing them to ascend, and in a similar manner, you return to the field of a previous battle and bless the spirits there, again granting them eternal rest.

    Perhaps it’s not that this particular crusader was special in the way you think – just that extreme measures were needed to preserve this particular individual’s soul in a “let no-one be lost to the Light” kind of way.

    • Doing that quest to give last rites to the Tuskarr villagers really grated with me – I don’t know what religion Tuskarrs are but I’m fairly certain it doesn’t involve “the Light”, so running around “saving” them seemed very wrong to me.

  13. Pingback: Theology and MMO’s « Loving the game and hating people at the same time

    • That’s really interesting, thanks for posting.

      As an aside, I’m Jewish (albeit not v religious these days) so I wasn’t brought up in a religion that either believes that everyone is damned and needs to be saved, or that only people of the same faith as me get a pass into heaven (as far as it goes, we believe people will be judged on their deeds not their beliefs). I think this is where the disconnect comes.

      But it is still interesting to toy with some of these ideas in a game.

      • Interesting inasmuch as it’s treated with respect and thoughfulness. If it’s just another poor caricature or lampooning of religion, it’s annoying and banal. Sadly, the latter is far too common.

  14. I’ve been thinking about this post a bit more, and I believe that you are making a theological mistake. You are conflating the Naaru with the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Naaru are not all-knowing or all-powerful. They’ve been captured and enslaved (M’uru) and have been turned to the dark side and defeated in combat by mortals.

    To flip the question on it’s head, why didn’t you save Bridenbrand? At this point in the game, you are one of the most powerful champions in the world. You’ve defeated Onyxia, Nefarian, an old god in C’Thun, and even Illidan, who the Naaru were fighting against. And yet, despite your power, you cannot save Bridenbrand because you are not that powerful, or you were not there when your aid could have been of use. Your power, vast as it is, has limits.

    The Naaru are similar beings, and have never been presented as more than that. Their power may be more than yours, but it is still bounded.

    Thus, it is unfair to complain about what they could have or have not done. If you had been present at the battle where Bridenbrand was infected, maybe you could have prevented it. Your character is certainly powerful enough. But there is a difference between an omnipotent being and a being who’s power is bounded. And it is unfair to complain that a limited being does not act like an omnipotent one.

  15. Pingback: A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year! Best of 2009. « Welcome to Spinksville!

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