Posted by: Jess Riley | January 31, 2009

Theme Week Virtues: Deadly Sins, Holy Virtues

Most of you reading this will be at least passingly familiar with the idea of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride) from early Christian teachings, if for no other reason than that the sins have entered the public consciousness by way of such sources as The Divine Comedy and the movie Se7en.

Lesser known, perhaps, are the seven holy virtues which approximately correlate to the deadly sins; in order, these are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility.

These don’t, on the surface, have much bearing on World of Warcraft; after all, if our characters are abiding by the virtues of any religion, ought it not be the Holy Light, which praises compassion, tenacity and respect above chastity and humility? Short answer: well, probably, yes – depending on what race you are, of course. You don’t see many trolls spouting these virtues, for instance.

That doesn’t mean that we, the players, can’t think about them and how they relate to our characters, though. While I mean no disrespect to those who hold the catechism holy and dear, some aspects of the deadly sins and holy virtues can be adopted into a more general roleplay guide to morality.

No character is going to be completely good or completely evil, and even a generally good or generally evil character is going to have something that they don’t achieve, or which doesn’t quite fit them. Or, in other words: it does not automatically follow that a villain who has problems with pride and wrath will be lustful; a protagonist who is perfectly kind and patient may not be especially chaste. Similarly, someone who is terribly envious may still be very diligent. The best characters are ones that have both obvious flaws and virtues, that interplay to give the appropriate impression for the story.

It’s not a matter of just picking vices and virtues at random and writing them in, either; there are a number of ways you can wrap in both flaws and qualities that seem like perfectly logical extensions of the same character traits. Consider a character who is passionate, devoted to a cause, and has a never-say-die attitude about the things they set their mind to – once they start to do something, they will not stop until they have completed it. This is a praiseworthy attitude to have and keep up, practically a textbook example of diligence. Now, imagine this same character facing problem after problem as they try to achieve their goal, and getting all the more insistent upon completing it prove that they can; passions running so high that they lash out at others around them; angering when they are unable to achieve their goals — a virtually textbook case of something completely different.

Wrath.

It’s easy to see how diligence and wrath can be closely tied together and seem like natural extensions of the same character traits. The same, too, can be said of a number of different traits, dependent on how they are played; pride could match equally well with diligence, if they are so prideful that they will go to any means to ensure that they can keep up their opinion of themselves, but it could be a poor match if they feel they are ‘above’ hard work.

The essential point remains here that the best characters are those with vices and virtues, but also those for whom it feels completely natural to be both of these things at once. In the end, it comes down to this old favourite of mine – realism in your role-play.

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