“Without honor, we have nothing.” — Varok Saurfang
Over the course of the last few weeks, World of Warcraft players have watched a struggle between key leaders of the Horde as they have helped or hindered the advance of Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner, undead leader of the Horde. Her honorless actions bring into question what it truly means to be a member of the Horde. Foiling her, Varok Saurfang upholds the honor of his people while holding on to the Horde of the past. Together, they serve as symbols of two types of experiences playing World of Warcraft: toxic selfishness or community-driven honor.
Over the last few weeks, Sylvanas has burned Teldrassil, home to the night elves, and she has also destroyed the former capital of Lordaeron where she reigned as the Banshee Queen of the Forsaken. Saurfang has questioned her tactics every step of the way, and he abandons her in favor of preserving his honor. Thus, the Horde is faced with a dilemma: do they stand up for honor or submit to the current Warchief’s leadership? This question reflects the dilemma that players have faced over the years as the game has changed.
In a way, Sylvanas is the typical toxic character. Her interactions throughout the previous expansion (World of Warcraft: Legion) and continuing in Battle for Azeroth show a single-minded desire for her goals to succeed. For many players, the raid group or dungeon party does not matter; only the player’s goal does. This reminded me of the time I joined a dungeon party through WoW’s matchmaking queue. Throughout the entire dungeon, I raced to follow the group’s tank while they pulled mob after mob, even to the point that they started a boss fight without my character or the group’s healer in the room. This locked us out of the fight. The player’s response: “You should keep up.” They offered no apology. They were in the dungeon to finish it quickly, so they raced through it. What they wanted mattered more than the group. The same attitude is seen among players who deviate from established strategy in a PvP Battleground. I can’t tell you how many times my team has lost a battleground because someone decided to do their own thing. Any attempt to redirect is met without apology or shame. This “do what I want” mentality permeates gaming culture. It’s why some players choose to pervert a children’s game like Roblox. It’s an attitude I’ve seen in WoW’s chat features for some time.We must consider whether the actions we take in game reflect a sense of honor or if we contribute to the growth in toxicity among online gaming.
In contrast to Sylvanas, Saurfang’s morality and honor reflect the better aspects of gaming culture. At the beginning of the “War of Thorns” questline, Saurfang seems ready to follow his warchief’s commands. However, he questions his own honor in a confrontation with two night elf leaders. Then, when Sylvanas burns Teldrassil, he questions her honor. He almost runs off to fight the assembled Alliance armies at Lordaeron alone, seeking a warrior’s death, but he comes back and attempts to guide Sylvanas. He urges Horde warriors to consider their faction mates while Sylvanas indiscriminately kills soldiers on the field with the Blight.
Along with Saurfang, I remember a time when Azeroth and its community were much different. Certainly, toxicity has existed since the game launched, but the levels have steadily increased over the years. In fact, Blizzard has restructured their servers so that all players on any server can opt out of player-versus-player combat while questing. This change comes after several years of incessant ganking (that is, targeting and killing defenseless players), making the lower-level experience impossible. Another example of the different way people interacted and built relationships involves my first guild, New Age Xel Nagga. The guild message of the day for the last 10 years has been, “Kept alive in loving memory of Voltarspc.” Voltarspc was the guild’s leader until he passed away a decade ago. Still, his guild lives on and remembers him. I remember him. Fast forward to Cataclysm, when I joined another guild and made friendships that I still maintain to this day. In fact, one of my good friends from that era just resubscribed to the game, and we’ve reconnected. These connections and this community reflects the honor and commitment of the Horde that Saurfang remembers. They’re the reason I play WoW.
I have hope that Blizzard will make changes in WoW to improve the toxicity of its player base. The problem is that most often the toxic players receive the attention while the “Saurfangs” remain hidden. In a world where we will have to wait for the different end-game content before we know how the characters change with the story, Saurfang-like players take small steps to internalize the story and show their participation in it. One such step involved players removing their shoulder armor (mirroring Saurfang’s actions in the Old Soldier short) as a way to stand with the High Overlord in opposition of the Warchief. Actions such as these impact the game’s community and demonstrate another way to play the game. It seems Blizzard has also recognized the need for a more unified community, and has implemented a cross-server community feature in this newest expansion. In BFA, Blizzard wants WoW to return to its roots. Communities and honor are the keys to restoring the “good ol’ days,” which I believe Blizzard is emphasizing with its storyline.
I am interested to see how Saurfang develops as a character in the coming expansion, and I hope that he will continue to instill in players a desire for honor and community. I do not think WoW will survive if every player becomes like Sylvanas, at least not in a form I or others would want to play. However, Saurfang reminds players that honor matters. People matter. I only hope we can follow his example.