Ted Castronova has an interesting post in Terra Nova, titled “The Horde Is Evil”. To summarise shortly, he claims that we cannot wipe out the age-old associations of evil imagery, and thereby to engage in World of Warcraft activities as an Orc or Undead character is not simply an aesthetic choice, but also an ethical one.
I have been doing my fair deal of study of the evil and the demonic imagery (see Demon 2005), and basically I agree with Ted: to adopt some of the clearly ‘chthonic’ (underworld) imagery in a game does mean getting involved with the antisocial or ethical associations these traditions carry with them. The age-old stories, our mythical heritage, is crafted from a human perspective, and creatures who kill, mangle and eat human flesh are the traditional opponents of everything hold as good, acceptable, or indeed, human.
But engaging with stories of evil, or with fantastic game worlds with evil characters, is not the same thing, as exploring such evil in one’s own life. We know the difference, and even if engagements with fictional “evils” become more and more complex as the realities we inhabit become multiple and their ‘reality-values’ relative rather than absolute, we just need to learn how to negotiate the consequences of one’s in-game choices, as much as we need to recognize different contexts of life in other daily arenas. And I know that becoming a Horde or Alliance character is currently by no means a neutral choice for many people: some dislike the other alternative for clear, ethical-aesthetic reasons. (In D&D, these choices in character selection were related to two axis, the good-evil [altruistic-sadistic], and lawful-chaotic [systematic/orderly-hedonistic/associative] ones. The Horde-Alliance dichotomy seems to be carrying the echoes of both axis.)