It seems only fitting I should talk about WoW, on this the day of the Blizzcon opening ceremonies, right? Right! (Even if I suspect, along with the rest of the world, the big announcement will be about a new Diablo expansion, and maybe two smaller announcements about Sombra and a new Warcraft movie)(please jesus let it be about the Scourge)
In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: “What each person seeks is to actualize her potential, and this task is made easier when others force us to do our best.” There are two reasons I started playing World of Warcraft back in ought five: first, someone showed me the Leeroy Jenkins video, which I argued on Wednesday makes a good satire of what happens when one person isn’t seeking to actualize their potential, whether PALS 4 LIFE meant to satirize flow or not. secondly, someone posted a video of their guild beating C’thun, a 40-person end boss in Ahn’Qiraj. Watching forty people effortlessly move together around eye beams, tentacles, getting swallowed, getting spit back out again and – most importantly – NOT get devoured by thousands of small dragons really made me sit up and say “I want to do that someday.”
Of course, it was a long time from that initial desire to actually accomplishing anything like a C’thun kill – a road studded with elite yetis (seriously – FUCK that yeti in Dun Morogh), failed guilds, new guilds, new failed guilds. Finally, towards the end of Wrath of the Lich King, I achieved a heroic Lich King kill with the raid alliance I was a backup for. It wasn’t without hiccups of its own – as a back up, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to run the fights compared to the others, so I caused a fair share of raid-wide deaths, prompting more than one “Does this mage even know how to play?” comments.
But when it clicked – it was magic. When the turtle shell kicker dies unexpectedly, and you jump in to kick a turtle shell and save the day – that’s flow. That’s being in the e-zone, as e-sports players say, presumably. When you brag about your pinch-kicking a turtle shell and someone knows exactly what you mean – it feels great. When you counterspell a move half a second before it murders everyone you know? Flow. But it relies on other people also being their best, to bring you up to your own best. And frankly, humans are fallible. They’re not always – not even often – at their best.
Maybe that’s what makes it so magical when it clicks.
(See WoW Insider’s “Open Letter to Jaina Proudmoore” for backstory. Be warned of 5.4 spoilers!)
If it comes as a surprise to anyone that I love ladies behaving badly in Warcraft (and other storytelling mediums), then I invite you to take a gander at my two Blizzard Story contest entries, where I think about Blood Queen Lana’thel and Leyara’s histories, respectively.
It’s hard being Alliance for all your WoW-playing career and having a fascination with villainy, because they tend to either be a part of the Horde (Sylvanas) or quest/dungeon/raid bosses (Keristrasza, Leyara, BQL, ad nauseum). The Blizzard Story contest is, at the moment, defunct, but I had been planning exploring a Sylvanas story after reading Dave Kosak’s short story, Edge of Night, because I did find it very interesting that she wasn’t present at Arthas’ death.
A lot of this is born out of my frustration that women in Warcraft tend to be pushed to their limits by the storylines, and then callously abandoned to their fate (often death, at the hands of us “heroes”) when they’re deemed irredeemable. Keristrasza was captured, abused and forced to be Malygos’ consort after she murdered his previous one, and you have to kill her in the Nexus, an act which the wiki entry for her states “a sad, but necessary end.”
Lana’thel is forced into service for the Lich King when she faced him at Northrend, armed with her former friend’s blade Quel’delar, which she was overwhelmed by Frostmourne, and forced to serve him. (Sensing a theme?) Leyara’s grief and anger at the Horde, and her father-in-law’s madness leads her to ally with the minions of Ragnaros because she doesn’t feel she has anything left to live for (and she doesn’t even make it into the dungeons, you kill her during a quest chain.)
This female madness issue didn’t start with Wrath, nor end in Cata. In Pandaria, where strong emotions are made physically manifest in the Sha, both Suna Silentstrike and Liu Flameheart become infested with Sha, and the players are forced to kill them. It would not be so very telling if not for the fact that Tarah Zhu, leader of the Shado-Pan, is similarly affected, but in the dungeon where you encounter him, all the player needs to do is drive the Sha out of his body, and defeat it.
If that’s the case, why did Suna and Liu have to die? Their grief and doubt – at the loss of a beloved husband, the fear of failing your god – are perfectly reasonable within the context of their stories, which were created by the writers and quest developers. Why do the women of Warcraft only get one chance at redemption, and then only through death?
What’s even more fascinating is that this is a narrative that’s not just played out in the game and supplemental materials, but also in the fan base. Jaina factors into this because like Suna and Leyara, she’s lost loved ones, people she was a leader to. Her story has always been one of courage and of loss. SPOILERS for 5.4 to follow the cut: