Posted by: Sean | October 3, 2008

Theme Week Draenei: Tales of Refuge

We never had any way to know. The great corruptor, Sargeras, came to our leaders. He did not come to us.

So when Velen spoke, none of us knew what to think. Kil’jaeden and Archimonde, two of our greatest sorcerers and leaders, spoke out against him. Had Velen gone mad? Had he been ousted by the other two and was now attempting to build his own empire?

None of us knew. And all of us chose. Not all of us chose the same.

I had a friend. Sarza. She could not believe that I would give up everything, to flee a world in peace and splendor. Her words were so logical, so precise. “Two of them say we are fine, one says we are in danger. Two, and one.”

So logical. So precise. So wrong.

I miss Sarza every day. I do not know what happened to her. I can only guess.

This post has been the hardest post I think I’ve ever had to make here at Blogatelle. I’ve tried four times now to write it, this is my fifth attempt. Arcanya, correctly, noted that my previous attempt at trying to explore the Draenei was a little lore thin, and this is true. It was more about them as a concept, rather than their actual history.

Because their actual history is that of refugees. How do I write about that, in any substantive form, without belittling the causes of actual refugees worldwide?

When she was about 16 war hit Albania. There were a lot of troubles and the government gave orders for people to stay inside. Bullets were fired into their apartment on the 3rd floor and they would lie on the floor 24 hours a day. So Denada went to Kosovo for a safer life, but two years later war broke out again when Serbia began ethnic cleansing against the Albanian Kosovars. – Source

Habib fled Afghanistan in need of medical attention for injuries received during a beating by the Taliban. He was 16. Source.

Full of fear, I went to the police station the next morning. They did not hurt me physically, but I had to endure hours of interrogation and accusations. After that visit I was asked to come to the police station many more times. I went, but nobody would let me come inside… This was an intentional manipulation to scare me and keep me worried. It worked very well. – Source

I’m not going to go into the full story of the Draenei here. WoWWiki does an excellent job of it. Read their pages on Draenei, Eredar, Argus, and Velen. David Bowers will, I am certain, do an excellent job of giving a concise description of their lore, far better than I could.

When the Naaru helped us, it was shameful and beautiful all at once. We had taken such pride in ourselves. Been so convinced of our skill and talent. Yet here we were, pawns in a game between two forces greater than we could ever imagine.

In some nights, I slept and shook, feeling more helpless than I had ever done before. We lived in paradise. Now it was gone. We had been our own masters. Now we fled for our lives along paths we did not choose, from enemies we could not hope to defeat. But we lived, and that life was sweeter than any honey.

I want to try and capture a sense of what it means to be ejected from your life, to be hunted and sleep not knowing if you’re going to be woken by the rising sun or soldiers. To know that even if you somehow manage to find safety from your hunters, that you’ll only be throwing yourself into the mercy of another group.

In the end he only brought two things with him: music by Djordje Balasevic, one of former Yugoslavia’s most loved performers, and The Blooming of the Pumpkins by A. Mihajlovic, a book about an immigrant in Sweden. – Source

What did the draenei manage to take with them? A small holographic crystal that contained the only pictures of a loved one they had left, the only memory of them they’ve carried with them over hundreds of years? What did they leave behind? Who did they leave behind? How many draenei were sacrificed because they couldn’t keep up, because they were wounded, because they were afflicted by the fel taint, and the draenei didn’t know if it would spread or not? What feverish attempts were made to cure it by loved ones?

I remember the fields in Draenor – the rolling hills in which I walked and painted. We didn’t have much to do with the orcs; but there was one there I saw now and again. She gathered food there, I think. Every now and again I would wave to her, and she would hesitate every time before waving back.

I never spoke to her. I did not know how.

There are elements of the story of the draenei that fit the refugee experience, and some that don’t. Again, this presents me with a dilemma; do I mention the horrible confusion between immigrants and refugees, the way the systems leave people with no ability to know where they stand? The refugee camps? One of the major differences is that the draenei left en masse, a forced migration, where so many refugees leave isolated and in small groups, terrified of discovery. The draenei’s story is meant to evoke biblical parallels (it’s not a coincidence that Exodar and Exodus are very similar words) whereas there is no sense or guiding being to help refugees along.

You feel like a yoyo – everybody can play with your life and you are dependent on somebody else’s decision. – Source

But still. There’s a lot that is similar, and again, I think this is intentional. And yet at the same time, I don’t pretend that I can do any more than touch on it, as I have here. I’m not a refugee; hell, I’m an upper-middle class white man who’s gotten pretty much every advantage society can give, and I know it. I’ve barely scratched the surface, barely talked about children born in exile (which may well apply to many draenei born on Draenor) or the inability to communicate, the way that even children who never even knew their parent’s homelands can feel estranged from them, or the way that some refugees never manage to integrate at all; racism and resentment (both toward or from them in various cases) combining to keep them from fulfillment.

I left Azuremyst Island for the first time today, away from the Exodar, across the seas on a boat these elves built. They are a strange people; and I can see the fear in their eyes too often whenever I speak of our magic and our home. They do not share our values. And yet, they have accepted us.

I hope I can make this world a better world. I hope I can live up to the duties of the Light and the Naaru, and to the faith of our new elven allies.

But I do not hope to make this home. I have had too many homes to now have a home.

I don’t want to advocate playing draenei as emotional wrecks. I don’t want to imply refugees are. I don’t want to presume anything absolute on a topic as touchy as this, and I’m terrified of being disrespectful to the topic in every word I type. I don’t want to be preachy and I’m almost certain I’ve managed to be.

What I do want to say is that the draenei have, and should have, a deep and abiding sadness. It may be open and near the surface, hidden behind false smiles, or it may genuinely be overpowered by drive and faith, or even joy in new things. As people, the draenei are each unique and should be played that way.

What I do want to say is: Do the research. Find out about the real world parallels. Ideally, build this into your character and find ways to take real action in the real world as well.


  1. A beautiful post. It will definitely get me thinking. I think part of the problem here, however, is one of scale. I doubt that any Draenei currently alive can remember their homeworld. Many probably thought of Draenor (or Outland, if you prefer) as their home. Not that it makes the loss any less tragic, particularly when you take into account their interactions with those few who were left behind to see their world shattered and ruined by the same people who slaughtered so many of their people.

  2. Excellent post, Sean, but keep this one away from the emo-roleplayers, would you?

    We’ve already got enough people who think their characters should have a deep and abiding sadness. I fear for the world should they discover that there’s a race with it already built in. O_o

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