Alliance and Horde Culture

Every time I switch factions in World of WarCraft, even for just a moment, I am completely surprised at the difference between the two. I don’t mean the actual aesthetic appeal of being a human versus an Orc, or how the questlines of both factions this time around are almost identical – rather, it seems two very different cultures emerged out of each framework. Whichever one you feel a dedication towards tells you a lot about yourself as a person, given you’ll be spending your time with this people for a long, long time (I must have hit the one year mark in terms of total time played – pray for me). Playing the game for eight years provides me with enough anecdotal evidence, I think, to say some constructive.

I’ll start with my preferred faction, the Horde. For whatever reason, most of the Horde players seem like college student age or above. Opinionated people from diverse walks of life all congregated around The Barrens’ and its General Chat, which introduced you straight out to the Horde mentality: super serious or super crass. Lately, with the rise of Garrisons, Trade Chat became the new Barrens’ chat (as it did in prior expansions), but that thing is filled with conversations almost 24 hours a day. Every time I log on just to get materials for crafting, I always see something like “Was Hitler really a bad person” or “Obama is an idiot” or “Our educational system is broken” or “debate about atheism versus religion”. Seriously, the fun never ends when you play Horde. Nobody seems to have any predilection to censor themselves once they realize that WoW makes them completely anonymous, and so they will just reveal their true selves. It doesn’t matter how reprehensible or weird; people on Horde are like a giant group of adult misfits. It’s fitting, given that’s how Blizzard has portrayed the Horde recently in its story lore.

Of course, that fun also leads to some heated differences of opinion, and a high standards of performance. See, you’ve got two kinds of people on Horde: the achievers and the complainers. Horde seems to think that World of WarCraft is a merit-based system, and so any wipes/failures in any content will almost always result in the blame-game. Someone will post healing meters (as if those meant anything), or damage meters, or tell the tank to go <blank> himself due to a perceived wrong. Then, if you’re the person in question, you had better make a case for the group keeping you. Or, you could just strike back with the same venom and fervor, if not moreso, to get them off your back. I suppose one must show that they are the biggest dog in the yard, so to speak. After that, everyone just works their hardest because “they have things to do” or “you are wasting my time”. There’s real incentive for these people to play well and fast, not just for public ridicule but for their own time management (assuming they hit the upper register of the age range, anyway, which they tend to do).

horde or alliance

When the game itself says we are focused and/or monstrous, I think that’s pretty accurate.

The Alliance, on the other hand, seem content to just play the game and have fun. If you had to make a real-world comparison, Alliance would be like the people who call for “tolerance” in every situation – it’s just a game, after all. Nobody ever gets mad at each other, and people just do their jobs. Rather than assume the strategy for people to follow (which, in Horde, always leads to wipes and the blame game), somebody almost always explains something complicated in advance. This saves the entire group both time and hassle, making us much more efficient. If things go bad, nobody gets angry; they just re-explain problematic stuff, and try again.

Even the trade chat staggers me with its friendliness. Everyone talks about the game, rather than Brian Williams constructing the Eiffel Tower out of steel and brawn. Everyone plays the game, talks casually about the game, and talks only about the game. I can imagine this arising from two factors: young kids play Alliance, and thus have zero interest in any conversations outside the game, or they are adults who just want to escape from the real world for a few hours in Azeroth. In a way, you could consider it a bit boring. Personalities never clash, and people don’t often jump into gigantic fits of rage over trivial things. At least outside of a guild context, there’s literally no drama.

Alliance even plays with teamwork and strategy without saying a single word, a concept I find hilariously foreign. Alliance just wins the majority of PvP situations, since they actually, without prompting, heal people up so they can continue fighting. Seriously, props to the healers on Alliance, because there’s no way a Windwalker Monk should survive without any PvP gear on and 3 people beating on him like he’s a pinata. But, I kid you not, this thing happens regularly. Healers don’t just decide you are a fine casualty, or just yell at the strangers who are causing the game to implode: they just work together and move onto the next challenge. They are coordinated without trying, and I have no idea why.

Simply put, Horde and Alliance appear like two entirely different cultures. New converts to either adopt the ethos of either one, and often find the other side just plain weird by comparison. As for me, I just like Horde. It is, for lack of better terminology, exciting. You never know when you’ll see a naked blood elf jumping up and down on a mailbox screaming WHITE POWER WHITE POWER for no apparent reason. Alliance has its fair share of weirdos (a black Human player named Willie Horton, for example – go look at Wikipedia), but usually they’re role-playing rather than reigniting real-world racial tensions. I don’t know if I want to live and breathe within that kind of digital culture, really.

The unreality of Alliance just doesn’t suit me all that well, I suppose. I like to see what people really think and feel; the more independently-focused mindset of Horde brings that out without fail. You meet similar people to your own personality type, and I think that’s why I never really connected with any Alliance character I’ve played. The atmosphere of one faction over the other will not appeal to all kinds of people. There is, of course, the danger that either one might transform you to something you don’t want to be – bad company corrupts good morals – but I am willing to take that risk. After all, God places everyone in a position where they can do the most good if they let then; these are my people in the virtual world, I suppose. The trick is not conforming to that world.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
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  • DigitalNomad

    Horde more genuine, Alliance more fake? From the info you cite, it is unclear whether players in each faction find themselves pressured to conform to a style of behavior by a coincidentally generated culture, or whether something about the story line or visual aesthetic of the factions sorts out different types of people. Also, what is your source of info on faction ages, if you don’t mind my asking? The behaviors attributed to Horde in your article seem sophomoric at eldest. I had always deduced, from bg queue times, that horde were scarcest during school hours.

  • DigitalNomad

    Actually, I googled it and we are both wrong, according to “The Daedalus Project”, a statistical study of WOW players:
    >There is a statistically significant, but substantively trivial, age
    difference. Players who prefer
    >Horde characters (M = 27.5, SD = 8.0)
    tend to be slightly younger than players who prefer
    >Alliance characters
    (M = 28.7, SD = 8.6).

    • Zachery Oliver

      This was most written from personal experience having played the game 9 or so years, so I was not trying to make exact statements. Rather, this is the general “feel” of both factions in my long experience playing both. Now, whether or not the ages actually match up is less the issue at hand than it is people conforming to a certain cultural norms.

      Honestly, I kinda doubt the lore has an effect on most of the people playing giant bull people (like me!) or humans. Probably that is more individual in its character I suspect.

      • DigitalNomad

        Yes, the issue at hand is whether the people are peer pressured into norms after their faction choice or whether a pre-existing difference in people causes them to choose different factions; in effect, to self-sort. You came down on one side of this question without seeming to realize that there was a question. Whether it is the lore, or the appearance, or the name, or something else that might cause this sorting in any individual case is beside the point.
        Some (like me) come to this game from a history of playing Blizzard RTSs. While there may have developed a bit of cultural peer pressure in that environment from the old Battlenet chat lobby or the conventions, there was little scope for such a dynamic prior to WOW. In Warcraft 3 there was a substantial difference in how each race played. In Warcraft 2 there were only minor differences. (never played WC1). In the Warcraft2 storyline, the Horde were aggressors, pure and simple, and weren’t even that big on honor yet.
        In Warcraft 3, the Orcs became good guys and the undead were baddies.
        In WOW, the factions were reshuffled into Horde and Alliance, with the bad guys from 2 and 3 both placed in the Horde. In WOW lore, the storyline shifted from good vs evil, factionwise, to “moral equivalence”, yet is it not a certain sort of people who are fond of “moral equivalence” as a analysis principle of history, etc.? For me, choosing Alliance was partly a protest to the moral equivalence storyline. I am not much of a role player, but in gaming I have always sought to “role play morality”: as much as possible to do good and refrain from evil within the virtual world. I have dropped lucrative quests for this reason. I chose a paladin as my 1st character partly because I wanted to be a paladin in the mythical/historical/fantasy sense, a holy soldier who cultivates might to uphold the right in an evil world. I find stories with no good, or at least innocent, characters to be uninteresting.

        Please don’t take this a personal criticism of your faction choice. I don’t know the answer to “What Would Jesus Roll?” (If anyone wants to make this last phrase into a T-shirt, my royalties are reasonable)

        • Zachery Oliver

          Oh, I’m not offended at all. I think it’s interesting that you protest to the idea of two factions who are, for all intents and purposes, two sides of a different coin. I guess you could call it “moral equivalence”, but I’d say they were doing this since WCIII, at the very earliest. Orcs were evil and then were retconned into good turned evil, sure, but that makes them far more interesting from a lore perspective (as you might be able to tell, WoW got me into its story eventually). And I don’t think we could consider any of the Horde factions “bad” – they came from bad origins (especially trolls, since most of them are crazy), but it’s more a ragtag group of misfits trying to survive against those that don’t understand them (at least it was like that in early WoW). That’s why the Blood Elves join, and the Goblins for that matter.

          The Undead/Scourge storyline, on the other hand, is pretty fascinating. Are they still evil after being freed from the Lich King? So far, that’s proven to be true. They will have to deal with Sylvanas being pretty crazy at some point, I imagine. They sided with the Horde less for altruistic reasons and more along the lines of a “surrounded on all sides” kind of deal. That, I think, makes them very interesting; it’s unfortunate that zero lore has to do with them in both the prior expansion and the next one. They will have to deal with this at some point, I gather.

          All this difference and strangeness is what continues to attract me to Horde, aside from the basic aesthetic appeal of gigantic shoulderpads. Complexity is interesting; straight good/evil has been done in WoW several times, and only really changed been challenged once (Mists of Pandaria, which had the most fascinating story they’ve told I think). The Alliance has been doing the same things too, though (Worgen and all that), so I do understand what you mean.