Before I start, can we do something of a thought experiment? Before you keep reading, I just want everyone to think to themselves the answer to this question: are the Horde evil?
Interestingly, I think that of those of you who primarily play Alliance would be inclined to say, “Yes.”, while those who primarily play Horde would be inclined to say, “No.” I don’t know what fence-sitters would do – perhaps hover in the air indeterminately until they are forced to keep reading and pick a side.
What this basically comes down to, however, is essentially the point of my post today. My sentiment can be summed up with one sentence: Everyone is the hero of their own story.
It may be easier to explain my point if I use a non-World of Warcraft example. In a society where women are treated as second-class citizens, there’s a man we’ll call Joe Bloggs who has just gotten married. When his wife does not act as he thinks she ought, he seeks advice from another man and is advised to beat her to encourage her to act appropriately.
Now, in today’s society, we’d consider that to be abominable behaviour. Further, I think we’d describe a man who beats his wife to get her to act appropriately as a bad person, if not an evil one. However, if Joe Bloggs takes this advice, he doesn’t think he’s a bad person for it, and society doesn’t think he’s a bad person. Is he a bad person? Well, from my perspective, yes. But he doesn’t think he is.
Much the same thing applies to World of Warcraft. The Alliance – and, possibly, the players of the characters in question – will think that my magic-addicted blood elf rogue and her drunk of a warlock brother are essentially bad people, but the two blood elfs won’t see themselves as being bad people.
What does this mean to roleplay? A lot, in my opinion. Something that a lot of people do inadvertantly when playing a ‘bad’ character is Kicking the Dog – or worse, Raping the Dog. (For those who don’t like to follow links or don’t want to get off track; kicking the dog is an action that ‘proves’ that the character is scummy by doing something needlessly cruel, while raping the dog is an action that tries to show the character is evil by doing something unrepentingly cruel, unnecessary and extreme). That is, a lot of people try to show that their character is a bad person by having them do something bad just for the sake of doing something bad.
This comes across as unrealistic a lot of the time, as no one (or very few people) do hrrible things just for the sake of doing horrible things. Everyone is the hero of their own story – they think they’re doing the right thing, or at least, not too bad a thing, even if no one else agrees. If they didn’t think it was acceptable or justifiable, they probably wouldn’t do it.
But wait, I hear you cry. Sometimes people do things that they know are bad – they steal, they lie, they cheat on their partners.
Well, yes, people do. But they don’t do them for no reason at all. No one goes to a store and thinks, “I’m going to shoplift, because I’m an evil bastard.” They shoplift because they want to look cool to their friends, or because they really want the item and can’t afford it, or to spite the corporate conglomerate. They know it’s wrong, but they still have some justification for their behaviour that makes them choose that line of action as opposed to some other. They won’t look at what they’re doing and think, “Wow, I sure am evil.” They might think, “Oh, that was not a good thing to do.”, but they still have some reason for wanting to do it.