For the most part, I’ve always considered World of Warcraft a pretty lighthearted game when compared to other titles. The graphics are bright and almost cartoonish, there’s tons of hidden jokes, and if you’ve spent any time with trade chat enabled, you’ll understand why I’m rounding off my list with it. It’s really hard to find yourself completely depressed while playing, excepting awful PUGs where the tank is trying to do his thing in unsocketed, unenchanted PvP gear. Simply put, the atmosphere just doesn’t allow it… unless you know where to look.
Bust out those tissues, kiddies (no, put the lotion away, we’re not doing that one yet). You’re going to need them.
5. In-Game Memorials
You’ve probably noticed a few oddities dotting the landscape of Azeroth while questing. A seemingly random gravestone in Hillsbrad is covered in flowers, compared to the plain grey slabs surrounding it. At the top of an otherwise unassuming hill in The Barrens is an intricate shrine where an Orc warrior appears to lie sleeping. I’m here to tell you that he isn’t sleeping. He’s dead. After watching this touching video compiled by player Avendesora on the Thunderhorn server, I’m pretty sure any flicker of happiness you might have once felt will have joined him, too.
Lots of forums have “you laugh, you lose” threads. This video is sort of like that, except it’s more “You cry. Everyone loses.”
I’m not meaning to be insensitive or say that this video should never have been made. The memorials are insanely touching and people should know the stories behind them. I must have done the Crusader Bridenbrad questline twenty times in my entire Warcraft career without ever giving it much thought. About thirty seconds into the explanation, I started weeping like a little girl and continued to do so through the end of the video. I challenge anyone to make it through one viewing without at least getting a lump in their throat.
While the deaths themselves are tragic, they’re not people that most of us knew, so why are we all sitting here sniffling and hugging our cats? Memorials like this force us to confront one very troubling question: if we died, how would our loved ones react? We start to wonder if we’d get some sort of memorial ourselves, whether in-game or out, or if we’d just get a halfhearted “meh, that sucks” from the people we know. It’s a sobering thought, and when it pops up next to such an outpouring of love, we start to imagine the pain and grief that those responsible must be feeling, which we then project onto our own friends and family by imagining their heartbreak.
Not to mention that one of those featured was a 12-year-old kid who died of cancer, and that is completely not right that anyone should be able to get that sick, let alone a freaking kid.
To Bradford C. Bridenbecker, Anthony Ray Stark, Jesse Morales, the unnamed player immortalized by Captain Armando Ossex, Michel Koiter, Dak Krause, and Ezra Chatterton, rest in peace. You may be gone, but your stories live on not only for the people who knew and loved you, but also for millions of others who have visited your memorials.
4. Leza Dawnchaser
After the mists surrounding the strange land of Pandaria lifted, a member of the Dawnchaser clan, Leza, had a vision of a land so beautiful that she insisted Dezco (her husband) and their people follow her to make their homes there. Dezco resisted at first due to the fact that Leza also happened to be super-pregnant, but she wouldn’t back down and he had no choice but to acquiesce to her wishes.
When we first come across Leza, she’s already gone into labor on the floor of a tent in the Krasarang Wilds, but the delivery is being extremely difficult. Dezco sends us to defeat the mogu forces in the area with the help of Kang Bramblestaff, leading us to the legendary Pools of Youth, whose waters can supposedly restore life. Kang encourages us to take a bit back to Leza in the hopes that it will ease her distress. Upon returning to a very worried Dezco, we are rewarded with a cutscene where he goes into the tent and offers her a drink of the magical water.
So at this point I’m sitting here all excited because yay, tauren babies, and then the cutscene goes on to show Leza collapse mid-push, prompting Dezco to frantically try and heal her. Fade to black.
NO, WORLD OF WARCRAFT, THESE ARE THE DAWNCHASERS, NOT THE SOPRANOS. UNFADE. PEOPLE DO NOT DIE IN CHILDBIRTH IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT SO EVERYTHING TURNS OUT OK, RIGHT?
Everything turns out awful and sad and messed up.
The good news is that both babies are okay. The bad news is that the camera now focuses on Leza’s birthing mat, empty except for a bundle of flowers. Outside the tent, her body lies wrapped in a winding sheet atop a funeral pyre.
For added tears, Alliance players are treated to a questline where they learn that the Pools of Youth actually drain the life from whoever drinks it in order to restore the life of another, meaning that Kang Bramblestaff is a freaking moron who should have listened a little harder to his mother’s bedtime stories because he missed the crucial detail of “THIS WATER WILL STRAIGHT UP KILL YOU” when recounting them to convince us to give the water to Leza. Congratulations, Player! You’re partially responsible for the death of a new mother, leaving her husband alone in a strange land to raise two infants by himself!
Bonus Lore Conjecture: Maybe Kang Bramblestaff wasn’t such an idiot after all. Maybe he was tired of these strangers invading the land of his people, bringing with them the Sha, and decided to take matters into his own hands. Kill the Dawnchaser chieftain’s wife, and the whole clan might be so heartbroken that they’d go right back to wherever they came from. One less filthy tauren in the world, am I right?
I think I just made the whole thing worse.
3. The Wrathgate
Since Cataclysm, I haven’t been able to get the Wrathgate cinematic to play past the first 30 seconds within the game. I’m wondering if this has something to do with the removal of the follow-up quest, my beloved Battle for the Undercity, but at least the whole thing’s on YouTube in glorious HD.
Joss Wheedon could learn a thing or two from the team behind this very epic questline on how to kill everything and everyone the audience has ever loved. By this point you’re pretty damn attached to Bolvar Fordragon and Saurfang the Younger. And why not? They’re formidable allies in the battle against the Lich King. They are the Cool Kids on the first day of high school who have offered to take your nerdy, awkward self under their wing.
For a split second, you really believe that their combined forces might just be enough to survive their confrontation with Arthas. Obviously they aren’t going to kill him, because that’s our job in Icecrown Citadel, but they’ll escape to fight another day, right?
Oh, Saurfang’s down. Well, that’s okay, Arthas just shattered his weapon. He’ll be fine. He’ll… oh my God, did Arthas just steal his freaking soul? It’s like watching Mufasa die all over again. GET UP, SAURFANG! GET U… no, dammit, he’s gone. At least we still have Fordragon!
…And then Putriss shows up to take a giant Scourged crap all over your dreams.
It’s almost Shakespearean in the way that things go from bad to worse with no survivors. I’m pretty sure King Lear had a lower body count than the Wrathgate battle. This was the first time in World of Warcraft where the respective good guys didn’t win.
Seriously, did we really need the slow-motion shot of Fordragon gazing up at the sky, seeing the cavalry coming in but knowing that it’s too late for him? Knife through the freaking heart, or what’s left of it.
2. Lilian Voss’s Daddy Issues
High Priest Benedictus Voss of the Scarlet Crusade chose to dedicate the childhood of his only daughter, Lilian, to turning her into a super-soldier against the plague. While other children were playing tag in the streets, Lilian was learning how to fight with weapons, magic… anything she could possibly learn.
Unfortunately, Death is pretty much impervious to axes and polearms, and Lilian dies (at what age is unclear, but her extreme emotional immaturity and dependence on her father leads me to believe she was probably no older than 13), only to be raised in Tirisfal Glades by the Val’kyr working with the Forsaken. Rather than allowing herself to be initiated into the ranks of the Forsaken, the very thing she had been trained in life to destroy, she refuses to accept her fate and piteously calls out for her father to come rescue her. Novice Elreth, a Forsaken NPC, hands her a mirror and instructs her to look at her reflection, because clearly the undead are known for their sympathetic natures. Of course, Lilian is completely freaked out and runs off crying to find her dear old crazy religious zealot dad.
Grief-stricken undead children are pretty bad at not getting caught by the Scarlet Crusade, which is exactly what happens to Lilian. Throughout her ordeal, she holds steadfast to her belief that her father will save her, insisting that her captors bring the High Priest to her so that he can clear up the “misunderstanding.” They tell her that her beloved father has ordered her execution. In a fit of rage, Lilian conjures up the magical abilities she trained in as a child to free herself from her cage by turning into purple flames and kill the guards, then runs off into the night.
There is no sign of Lilian for quite some time, other than the mysterious mass-murders of Scarlet Crusaders all appearing to have been killed in the same grisly fashion. Players finally catch her in the act, so to speak, and are told to escort her to the tower where Benedictus resides so that she may confront him. It goes about as well as you’d expect. She strangles him and throws his body from the top of the tower, then heads off for parts unknown.
It becomes pretty apparent, however, that this frightened, heartbroken little girl has taken on a solo mission to eradicate the Scarlet Crusade from the face of Azeroth. She shows up in disguise as a questgiver for the Scarlet Monastery dungeon, instructing players to destroy the remaining Scarlet forces within. While questing in the Western Plaguelands, players will encounter a Scarlet Crusade camp engulfed in purple flames, seemingly implying that Lilian was responsible for its destruction.
Upon reaching Scholomance, we find that Lilian has managed to fight her own way in, only to be captured by Darkmaster Gandling (after he taunts her by telling her how “beautiful” she is in a manner that is either cruel or creepy, depending on how old you imagine Lilian to have been before her death) and forced to fight against us. After we defeat her, she begs us to let her die alone, and the tragic tale of the High Priest’s daughter comes to an end.
So let’s recap this perfect cycle of the effects of abuse here:
- Completely isolated by her father from other children while growing up
- Forced to do terrible things, such as murder, by her father
- Becomes dependent on and attached to her father, in total denial of anything that might indicate he doesn’t feel the same for her
- Betrayed by her father, who also attempts to have her killed
- Flips out and kills him, then a bunch of other people
- Engages in destructive behavior and puts herself into dangerous situations
1. Chen Stormstout: Alcoholic and Unfit Parent
You probably know Chen Stormstout as the delightfully drunken Pandaren who wanders around in an eternal pub crawl searching for the perfect beer. On the surface, this doesn’t seem so bad. I mean, most of us went to college, so we’ve pretty much lived like a Stormstout for at least four years of our lives.
But imagine your wasted college-age self stumbling from bar to bar, through unfamiliar parts of town filled with potential dangers… with a six-year-old kid for whose health and well-being you are completely responsible for. Child services would be snatching that kid up before you could say “show me the DNA test.”
Well, Pandaria doesn’t have social workers, meaning that Chen’s niece Li Li is going to be with him for a long, long time, assuming he doesn’t fall off of a cliff or choke on his own vomit in the meantime.
“It’s just a game,” you might argue. “No one’s getting hurt. Stop taking it so seriously!” Of course someone’s getting hurt — Li Li. The effects of her uncle’s constant drinking may not manifest themselves physically, but given the rough, sarcastic demeanor apparent in her lines throughout the game, being forced to act as the adult in this dysfunctional relationship has hardened her, potentially for life, unless Pandarens have mastered the art of intensive therapy sessions.
Through the World of Warcraft novels and supplementary short stories, we learn that Li Li’s mother is dead, but her father is still alive and well. At the beginning, Uncle Chen exists for her primarily through the letters he sends her during his travels, undoubtedly exaggerating how amazing his life is as drunks are prone to do. She romanticizes the idea of having a world traveler for an uncle, since she is too young and immature to read between the lines and see that he’s basically a panda hobo, and begins to act out herself by imitating his wandering. Li Li’s father disapproves of her desire to be like Chen — and probably is the only voice of reason in this whole messed up scenario — but somehow ends up letting her join Chen on his sojourn through Pandaria (as far as I know, the lore does not fully explain how this came to pass).
So now we have Chen in charge of Li Li, though he is completely unfit to take care of himself, much less a child. Li Li’s quotes throughout the game paint a compelling and heartbreaking picture of the way that her uncle’s rampant and culturally normalized alcoholism has ruined her childhood :
- “Hey, you dumb old uncle! You left me behind!” In his drunken state, Chen has apparently wandered off, leaving Li Li to fend for herself in an unfamiliar land (it’s established early on that Chen is from the Wandering Isles, not Pandaria itself).
- “Can we buy something? I’m hungry.” Chen is almost certainly too busy drinking to do anything like cook for his niece, and based on the fact that he offers to trade some of his liquor stash for a place to sleep for the night, he’s blown all of their money on booze.
- “Chen, I think I know why you like it here so much.” Not ‘Uncle Chen.’ Chen. It isn’t surprising, though. How is Li Li supposed to look up to and respect her uncle, the drunk homeless guy?
- “I can’t believe he left me with the weird mud guy.” Are we sure Chen’s last name is Stormstout and not Anthony? He’s just dropping his niece off with a weird hillbilly dude he met on the road like five minutes ago? There is no way this won’t end in a Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode.
- “I can’t wait until I’m older, so I can finally find out what beer tastes like.” Children of alcoholics often grow up to be alcoholics themselves, sometimes because of genetics, but most of the time because kids learn how to be an adult from the adults around them. Chen is already Li Li’s role model, and through the properties of monkey-see-monkey-do that all kids engage in as the grow up, the seeds are already in place for Li Li to end up just like her uncle.
- “I guess what I’m saying is… thanks.” Li Li has developed a cold exterior out of necessity, a type of armor to prevent the true horror of her uncle’s illness from completely destroying her. As a result, basic social interactions requiring any form of emotional input are difficult for her, paving the way for a lifetime of short and potentially damaging relationships when she is older.
- “If beer gets you off your butt, then… sure. Let’s go find you some beer.” Now Li Li finds herself having to bargain with her uncle to get him to take care of her, realizing that beer is more important to him than spending time with his beloved niece. The tone that the voice actress uses here is one of defeat and resignation.
- “There’s a whole big valley waiting for us, but you’re too focused on the bottom of that mug to see it.” Chen is effectively blocking out the world in favor of drinking. His day starts with a beer, and ends with a beer. He likely neglects not only Li Li, but also his own health.
- “You’re way cooler than Uncle Chen.” The player is spending time with Li Li, taking her around to do quests and all of the other things that Chen is too wasted to do, leading her to develop what could potentially be an unhealthy attachment to a complete stranger just for showing her attention. Move over, Lilian, we’re going to need some more room on that pole for when Li Li turns legal.
Not enough proof? How about the quest that Li Li sends us on, Yellow and Red Make Orange, where she instructs us to bring back animal blood as part of a scheme to torture small creatures called virmen, promising that “this can only end in comedy”? A study on serial killers conducted by several behavioral specialists recounted in this article states:
More often than not, serial killers come from troubled or broken homes. They are usually abandoned by their fathers… Many times there is a family history of mental illness, alcoholism and criminal behavior. They are often the victims of psychological, sexual or physical abuse (or any combination of the three). This abuse can result in lasting feelings of intimidation, embarrassment and helplessness. They grow up resenting their absent/abusive fathers and tend to transfer these feelings to other/all men … They tend to become very misanthropic and antisocial.
Many serial killers exhibit signs of mental problems as children … Children or adolescents who take pleasure in hurting other living things may be in need of psychological help. For some it is a passing phase that is looked back upon with shame and regret. For others who continue to enjoy such behavior and show no remorse for it, it can be a serious problem. The viciousness and violence increase over time and are eventually directed at human beings. Animals are merely practice for such people.
Jesus. I need a drink.