So hey, everyone may be totally immortal right now in World of Warcraft. That seems like a thing we should examine now, huh?
I freely admit that this week I just mostly feel like being a little silly and don’t have something serious to pick at. So as is often the case in that situation, I decided to start picking at a thread that starts from the fact that you wind up bodily in the Shadowlands along with a portal directly leading between Oribos and your faction’s capital city. And that… leads some places.
To really pick this apart, of course, we also need to discuss diegesis and the correlation between that and the game world we inhabit. So it’s going to get a little bit meta, but I promise you that when it’s all done, you will… well, possibly share my view that “someone did not think through these implications when the expansion was greenlit.”
Diegesis, as a word, simply means a narrative or a plot within a medium. However, the term and the adjectival form of diegetic means something else. We state that something is diegetic if it “actually” exists within the world of the story and non-diegetic if it isn’t.
Using WoW as an example for understandable reason, we know that the game’s soundtrack is non-diegetic. There is not actual movement playing from nowhere in the middle of Stormwind. Similarly, logging out is non-diegetic; your Draenei Priest does not vanish into nothingness only to reappear in the same place a few hours later. That makes sense, right?
Now, there would have been an opportunity to make venturing bodily into the Shadowlands either non-diegetic or at least vaguely so. If you had traveled there and had no means of getting back except via an undiscussed portal, it’d be easy to say that the portal is not diegetic. Once you’re through, you don’t go back out until the expansion is over.
But that’s not what happened. Bolvar specifically has portals opened. People come through to Oribos after you arrive. There is explicit travel back and forth between the Shadowlands and Azeroth.
So let’s talk about Draka.
One of the things that got a lot of people’s attention in the little animated short with Draka before the launch was that she seemed to be dealing with the Burning Legion, and that definitely implies that she isn’t a metaphysical construct. But the actual experience of leveling makes it even more clear. Draka, by all accounts, is flesh and blood. Everyone in Maldraxxus seems to be physically present. There is nothing preventing Draka from heading to Oribos and then deciding to walk through the portal to Orgrimmar.
Sure, right now there’s an obvious reason to keep her there: The whole conflict at the heart of the expansion takes priority right now. But once that problem is solved, what’s to prevent people from heading through the portals? Writer fiat, mostly, but that still leaves questions and issues.
So let’s say Draka decides to go through the portal and step into Orgrimmar. Can she die? It seems as if people can die in Maldraxxus (it’s a plot point at one point), so that would seem to answer rather decisively that she can. But she didn’t die in the Shadowlands in that situation. Her soul was not in its resting place, it was on Azeroth. Does her soul go back to the Arbiter to be judged once again? It seems logical, right?
But let’s assume that there is something preventing beings from the Shadowlands from leaving. For whatever reason, what makes these worlds physically present doesn’t go the other way. That would seem to contradict things like Draka dealing with the Burning Legion, but whatever. Let’s just pretend that for a moment.
What prevents people from Azeroth from going back and forth?
Again, you can’t pretend that this is non-diegetic and thus not worth worrying about because people literally do that. We’ve watched it happen in the game’s actual story. And because the game gives you that option, you have to acknowledge that there’s no actual burden to going and talking to these people other than knowing where they happened to end up. In other words, the only problem right now is that the Jailer is a problem – once that’s done, the afterlife is a physically present realm that provides an eternal playground.
Draka doesn’t have to go to Orgrimmar to have people go to her. For that matter, there are no doubt mages and warriors and the like with far more experience than anyone could accumulate in one mortal lifetime. All of them are just hanging out in the afterlife, easily accessible to pass on lessons otherwise lost. And that’s not even getting into things like spies who died before bringing back vital information.
And all of that is, again, assuming that there’s something preventing Shadowlands beings from returning to the world, which we know is not the case. There’s nothing preventing back-and-forth travel, which means that someone who died and wound up in Maldraxxus can just come back through and keep on living all over again, albeit with a bit less of a healthy pallor.
The obvious rejoinder is that this is a direct result of Sylvanas breaking the veil between worlds, and that’s a plausible excuse… but that’s an excuse for why you could go the first time. It doesn’t even slightly change the fact that the afterlife is, demonstrably, a set of physical places with physical boundaries for people to explore. Heck, even look at the reaction to the player character derping around.
Is everyone surprised to see a mortal? Yes. But not “this has never happened ever” surprised, just “this is highly unusual.” Think of it this way: It’s more surprising to people that you got out of the Maw than the fact that you’re a mortal in the realms of the dead. That part is unusual but not half a patch on escaping the Maw.
Ultimately, making the realms of death physical spaces you can meander around in has far-reaching implications for the game world. Or at least, it would if I thought that any of this has been considered in this much depth by the developers.
I don’t mean that entirely as a dig. The point here is that we’re not supposed to think so deeply about what’s going on with the metaphysics of this realm and what it means to have people roaming the Shadowlands. It exists this way because it allows you to have weird ethereal zones and bring back lore characters and so forth, not because you’re supposed to deeply interrogate how this metaphysical revelation might affect the longer term.
But it’s also fun pulling at the threads of what those implications might be because the fact that everyone is now theoretically immortal might be worth pondering and answering at some point. And since that portal is likely to be hanging around well after this expansion… yeah, it seems like “conquering death forever” is the sort of thing that might need need to be actively addressed.