For the first time since 2011, I didn't pre-order the new Blizzard game/expansion and am not playing it at launch, or likely ever.
There are several reasons, of course. One is financial and storage space reality; between jobs for this long, I can't justify dumping $80 on a box and then another $13/month in lump sums. Instead I've been turning to F2P games like Warframe (which is frankly amazing and worth a separate post).
Two is community; Blizzard's mealy-mouthed both-sides rhetoric during a Certain Event In 2014 started me down a path of self-discovery, and when I came back to WoW briefly this year, I was frankly shocked at the level of toxicity I'd allowed myself to internalize, accept, and even encourage, because it's literally always been like this. (I could write *another* post on the amazingly friendly communities I've found on dying or coasting games, conversely, like WildStar or The Lord of the Rings Online.)
Number three was the false equivocation of the Alliance and Horde. And I think it's actually a key part of number two, and something that Blizzard has quietly attempted to jettison responsibility for over their nearly three decades of existence. Let me dive into that.
The immediate context and article summary: I have been a Horde player since Warcraft 3, in 2003. (Go orcs. Whee.) For most of WoW's lifespan (2004-present), the Alliance and Horde have been played as pretty much equal, and every single expansion has also followed the formula of "new area discovered > Horde and Alliance fight for dominance of it > Bigger threat is revealed to already control the area > Horde and Alliance heroes, but not faction leaders, temporarily set aside differences to eradicate said threat > rinse and repeat". (Vanilla is a bit of a different beast, but this is more or less an accurate summary of Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Legion, and predictably Battle for Azeroth. We don't fucking talk about Warlords of Draenor, which took a giant shit all over 20 years of worldbuilding.)
So, naturally, this time we raise the stakes even more by burning down one of the opposing faction's cities. Except, like, this is a huge fucking deal. This isn't just "oh, we're having land-grab contests". This is "we are literally attempting genocide on one of the other faction's major players". And someone has to strike first, because this shit never happens simultaneously. This time it happens to be the Horde.
Well, about that; here's a brief history of Horde leadership in Warcraft:
What's the Alliance done, meanwhile? Basically nothing. When the Alliance loses a faction leader, it's because they're making a heroic sacrifice to protect their people, or typically all of Azeroth (Bolvar, Varian). When the Horde loses one, it's because they show immensely poor judgment (Thrall) or because we had to kill them ourselves (Garrosh, Grom, Gul'dan). The Horde is not liked because of this. In fact, it tends to attract bloodthirsty players who love to play up the faction conflict for lulz. (Check the PVP leaderboards and you'll see.)
Okay. That's the fictional history. Meanwhile, in the real world, something even worse than Warlords of Draenor happened in 2014. I am of course referring to the idiotic tantrum known as GamerGate, which basically launched the alt-right as a meaningful political presence and confirmed that the AAA game industry is utterly and completely spineless and will not so much as glance askew at sexist, racist, transphobic Nazi garbage as long as such people give them any money at all, because the entire industry is built on catering to the fantasies of the most privileged fucking people on the planet.
A quick rundown for those of you lucky enough to not have a clue what I am talking about: a disgruntled ex-boyfriend of an indie game developer claimed without evidence that the developer had slept with a reviewer in order to get a positive score for her game. This spiraled into an entire culture war, with the nascent alt-right's claims basically boiling down to "game journalists are untrustworthy because diversity is bad", and "harassment against people we don't like specifically is justified from first principles upon which we will not elaborate because we can't or our entire worldview will collapse". I will not explain further because this whole episode is garbage and has now had much worse consequences that we need to deal with, like Nazis marching in the streets of the US.
Over the course of the next two years or so, this became a completely inescapable part of being a dev, a player, or even remotely fucking adjacent to games. Editorial opinion was largely limited to sites like Polygon and Kotaku responding to the surface accusation of "games journalism is corrupt!" with "lol no actually" and completely, probably wilfully, ignoring the underlying current of sexism, racism, and transphobia in the whole mess. (We'll never know just how many voices were outright silenced as a result; those that survived either did so by having a narrative they could sell to the press, like Anna Anthropy and Brianna Wu, or were effectively made pariahs, like Liz Ryerson. Indie games is a fucking mess right now.)
A lot of AAA companies came out to say "well, we think there is blame on both sides", because their self-fulfilling marketing prophecies (or "market research", if you will, and I won't) show that one group pays their bills and the other is on the right side of history, and making money now is a lot easier. I was still a bit of an asshole at this point, but then Mike Fucking Morhaime of all people had the balls to get up on stage at BlizzCon 2016, which I watched on my PC on the floor in my underheated apartment because I paid for a silly e-ticket, and spout exactly that bullshit to an audience of thousands. And I had a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment with the game industry. This wasn't just PR being cowards. This was a genuine belief running through everyone who hadn't already been forced out of the industry for not being sufficiently in-groupy. (See ArenaNet and Riot Games just this year for more fallout.) Blizzard, who have spent huge amounts of effort and money to equalize their heroes and villains, may indeed not actually be able to tell good from evil anymore as a company. The Horde I've gone into. The Zerg, from StarCraft, formerly an all-consuming hive mind, got retconned in an incredibly ballsy "ohhh but see they were RIGHT ALL ALONG" failure in 2010. I also loudly complained when the same thing was done to Illidan Stormrage in Legion. Reaper of Souls firmly positioned the Angels of the High Heavens as having no better claim to the moral high ground than the Evils of the Burning Hells. Certainly Blizzard is not the biggest offender -- that honor goes to people like the Escapist who actively threw their lot in with gators -- but their naked betrayal of anything good in society hit me more personally than most.
This diatribe was prompted as my response to the author of a RockPaperShotgun article about the escalating war crimes in World of Warcraft, but a shorter reply might be: consider that Blizzard might genuinely not understand the concerns their players are voicing. Consider that they are, in fact, that banally evil.
No new areas were discovered in Cataclysm, we just fought over what we already had. The rest still holds. ↩