The long-awaited patch 4.2 was released last Tuesday for World of Warcraft, and I, like millions of other Azerothians out there, eagerly scrambled to my computer, ready to gobble up the new content. Immediately, I was greeted with a new quest chain based on the adventures of Thrall, the noble, green-skinned orc who has recently committed himself to restoring world peace. It seems that Thrall has finally found a worthy mate. After a lengthy quest chain, players are invited to bear witness to the in-game nuptials between Thrall and Aggra in the idyllic forest of Mount Hyjal.
The wedding is short and sweet, and players receive an excellent piece of armour after completing the entire quest chain, which makes the endeavour worthwhile. But the whole storyline had me wondering why the nuptials were taking place to begin with. In a land where magic reigns—where mages can teleport across the continent at a moment’s notice, players are regularly resurrected by priests, and monstrous creatures roam freely— I find it strange that select human institutions, such as weddings, have made the jump to the virtual world. The inclusion of marriage in World of Warcraft is likely intended to make the game more relatable, especially when some playable races, such as the draenei, are so physically foreign. But why marriage? And why for Thrall in particular?
I suppose my surprise over the Thrall storyline is related to my affinity for another of Warcraft’s couples: Jaina Proudmoore and Arthas Menethil. These two humans were romantically linked before Arthas succumbed to the dark side and became the Lich King, the leader of the undead. The end-game content for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion sees Jaina trying to track down Arthas in the Icecrown Citadel. The storyline is riddled with cheesy voice-overs and dialogue, and has been labelled silly and inane by hard-core players.
But if the Jaina/Arthas pairing is considered sappy, then where does that leave Thrall and Aggra? My impression is that players’ aversion to Jaina/Arthas has a lot to do with the fact they are human. Thrall, on the other hand, embodies many characteristics of the noble savage—strong, noble, and impossibly cultured. Unlike many of Warcraft’s human characters, Thrall is not obsessed with power or control. While the hubris of Prince Arthas ultimately led to his downfall, Thrall has defied the stereotype of the savage, and has become more of an idealized human in Warcraft than the human characters themselves.
The same can be said for Aggra, Thrall’s mate. Aggra is everything in-game which Jaina Proudmoore is not. While Aggra is the calm, loyal presence who rescues Thrall from evil’s grasp, Jaina’s in-game portrayal often borders on embarrassing. She is sappy, emotional, and perpetually haunted by her failure to stop Arthas from becoming the Lich King. On the other hand, Aggra’s passion for Thrall is palpable, but controlled.
Blizzard has imbued both Thrall and Aggra with the most endearing characteristics of humankind, leaving negative characteristics, such as excessive sentimentality, by the wayside. The selection of a relationship-heavy storyline for these two characters demonstrates that marriage continues to be idealized as the most civilized of the world’s institutions.
Romantic relationships are often criticized in video games, particularly when they compromise a character’s physical prowess. However, when it comes to Thrall, marriage is not a sappy plot device, but a way to advance his status as the game’s most sophisticated character. Overall, the nuptials add infinitely to the game’s ‘noble savage’ storyline, which continues to be at the core of Warcraft’s latest expansion.