Alliance vs. Horde: Why We Love Our Faction
If you play World of Warcraft long enough, you get develop a certain amount of personal association with your character – even in a game with very little character customization, your character is yours.
This can lead to all sorts of interesting developments. For instance, you might vigorously defend the virtues of your hunter against the “Hunterz r on EZ” folks at the official forums. You might also claim to be one of the few players with a true appreciation for the gnome race, a personal connection borne from the struggle against constant /pat harassment.
But we also sometimes find ourselves associating greatly with our character’s faction, either Horde or Alliance. Ask a random player which side has more cantankerous jerks or 1337-speaking children and he’ll likely tell you that it’s the side he doesn’t play.
Faction loyalty is one of the strangest phenomena in the game, in this player’s humble opinion, mostly because it doesn’t really make any sense.
For one, Blizzard doesn’t make you keep the same faction throughout all of your characters. You can make an Alliance toon and a Horde toon, even on the same server. You can switch between them at will.
Also, both factions are, essentially, the same. The differences are mostly cosmetic – unlike some games of yore, the main game experience is no different if you’re an Undead Rogue or a Human Rogue. You have most of the same abilities (with the exception of small-change racial benefits). You have most of the same equipment choices. The primary difference comes in the lore, which many players ignore or simply aren’t interested in learning.
So, what is it about the factions that make us choose one over the other?
While the deeper one gets in the lore, the more diverse the stories become, the pattern of Warcraft quite closely fits the pattern established by Tolkien – Elves, Humans and Dwarves team up to fight the Orcs. This popular fantasy convention strikes a chord of familiarity with lots of new players; I’m sure many of us have felt the lure of playing an arrow-slinging elf when booting up the game for the first time. The Alliance is a choice for some of us because of this connection to well-worn fantasy tropes, but it doesn’t go far enough.
The Alliance is also the home of the ostensible good guys, though as pointed out elsewhere on this site, they’re not entirely good. That’s not an immediately clear distinction, however – one has to follow the lore a little more closely to see the gray blotches. By the time a new player gets that far, he’s already an Alliance sympathizer.
The Horde is a choice for some because the races just look cooler than the Alliance races. Giant cows and hunched-over zombies are aesthetically interesting, especially compared with the stick-up-the-rump Alliance races.
Also, the Horde is the underdog faction, struggling against the Alliance superpowers. They’re protecting and defending their unique cultures against the onslaught of human homogeneousness, clinging to ancient, naturalistic, shamanistic religious beliefs that clash with the comparatively stodgy, Light-worshipping, pseudo-monotheism of the Paladins. Also, the Orcs and Trolls are seeking a certain amount of redemption for past evils – that’s a powerful narrative hook for anybody who likes a good story.
The Horde also attracts those of us who liked Cobra more than the Joes, or the Empire instead of the Rebellion – there’s a pastiche of antihero badness that draws us to movies like Pitch Black and characters like Ashley Williams.
Somewhere in the middle sits those of us who see the good stuff about both factions – play enough on either one, and you find that each has their benefits to a good experience.
Also, we cannot ignore one of the primary instigators for choosing one faction over another – we are lured to the game by a friend and we start playing on their side.
I think Blizzard deserves some amount of praise for encouraging this us vs. them mentality in the execution of the game experience. For one, the factions can’t communicate with each other effectively. Also, those of us on PVP servers can attest to the rage we feel about another damn shadowmelded Night Elf Hunter parked in Stranglethorn Veil, waiting like an unsprung trap for any hapless Horde who wander by. PVP, by its very nature, encourages rivalry and competition with the other side. If you fight against the Other Guy enough, you can’t help but feel a little cantankerous yourself when you get ganked yet again by a snickering, Undead Rogue.
So, gentle reader: What made you pick your faction? What stereotypes do you entertain? Do you ever /pat a gnome? Do you feel badly for it? Do you have a soul?