Tuesday, July 08, 2008

For the Horde!

I don't stray into the realm of video games on this blarg often, and for those of you who utterly foreign to that culture, I apologize for the exclusivity of this post. Still, I just had to note this interview with one of the contributors of an academic book on World of Warcraft. One of the things that makes WoW such a rich playground for social/cultural scientists is the division of all the players into 2 separate and warring factions, each themselves consisting of a number of "races." People have written before on the tendency of WoW players to develop real-life loyalty to their faction's brand, often assuming that their faction is composed of more mature or competent people (or that the game designers are biased toward the other faction), but at least one chapter in this book deals with the cultural echoes within the factions themselves, as written into the Warcraft universe.

The money quote:
Can you summarize the thesis of the chapter you contributed to the book?

Essentially: the Alliance and Horde don't represent good versus evil; they represent familiarity/normativity in a white Western context versus a conglomerate of Others, whose Otherness is connected to real-world groups that have historically been subjugated (and are still being subjugated). The rest of the chapter addresses the issues that come along with that, with a focus on the Horde, and with close readings of how each Horde race fits into my model. I argue that Trolls correspond with a kind of Afro-Caribbean Blackness; Tauren with Native Americans/Canadian First Nations peoples; Orcs as a kind of "sink category" into which all sorts of negative stereotypes about Blackness in particular and colonization in general seep; Blood Elves with white drug addicts; and the Undead with an ultimate, Kristevan abjection. All of these categories represent groups who are considered lesser, and are in some way subjugated, by white Western society (with the potential exception of the Undead, although they represent the ultimate Other in a more symbolic sense).

The fly in the ointment, though, is that these aren't direct representations, but are rather essentialised, stereotyped, often racist representations, which in turn may have an impact on the real-world perception of these groups.

Is it odd that I always preferred the Horde?

In case you were wondering, US servers sport more Alliance players than Horde, while EU servers are almost 2:1 Horde to Alliance. Far and away the most popular Horde race is the Blood Elves (which is also the only physically attractive Horde race), and the least popular are the Trolls and Orcs.

No comments: