Green Jesus of Azeroth: Hero Myths and Fan Based Perceptions of Similarities Between Jesus of Nazareth and the World of Warcraft's 'Thrall'.

Author:Jon, A. Asbjorn
Position:Essay
 
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It would seem that mythological worlds have been built up only to be shattered again, and that new worlds were built from the fragments. (Boas 1898, 18) Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft includes a range of deep intertextual links and borrowings that cover themes such as: popular culture, tributes to historical figures, and, mythological symbols, motifs and archetypal formulas / patterns. In engaging with that highly mythicized content, fans have interpreted and analyzed the role that it plays within the Warcraft plot and mythos, as well as the way that it adds depth to the setting--fleshing-out the creatively crafted cultures within it--, while helping to shape a shared interpretation of the central characters and plot. Among those shared interpretations lays fan based perceptions of similarities between the Warcraft 'hero' and non-player character, Thrall, and Abrahamic mythology's central protagonist, Jesus of Nazareth. Perceived links between Thrall and Jesus have become so widely recognised and openly acknowledged by the fanbase that in unofficial discussions of Warcraft lore Thrall has been renamed 'Green Jesus' (for examples see: Sinarda-Drak'Thul 2015, Orkling-Emerald Dream 2015, Ireken 2014). That use of the 'Green Jesus' name for Thrall is complex, often including negative or derogatory connotations--suggesting that, as a character, Thrall is too powerful and perfect.

Scholarly studies of World of Warcraft, and similar fantasy games, have most often focussed on aspects of: the social interactions between players (Bessiere, Seay, and Kiesler 2007, Williams et al. 2006, Chen 2009), an analysis of gamer subculture (Jon 2010), and, aspects of the broad MMORPG phenomenon (Golub 2010, Smahel, Blinka, and Ledabyl 2008). This paper, however, sets out to explore connections in the tales of Thrall and Jesus, mapping the key overlapping elements that fan-led discussions of the Azeroth mythos and histories have identified, in order to present a case for deeper analysis of the way that the MMORPG blends elements of myth with creative story telling within the clothing of its twenty-first century interactive high fantasy setting through its stable narratives and uses of applied / adapted mythology.

In this way, the stable narratives of this ever-evolving game-world, and their links to folk narrative and mythic elements, are made central--positioning this study in an area of anthropology, game and folklore studies. This area of research is currently underrepresented and is much in need of scholarly attention so that our understanding of the intricacies of this form of applied and adapted mythology might be improved. Recent research into research methodologies for game studies, by Lankoski and Bjork, has suggested that:

formal analysis [might] focus [...] on the different elements of a work, that is, asking questions about the elements that constitute the parts of the work and the role of each element in the composition as a whole. (Lankoski and Bjork 2015a, 24) Further, in keeping with the themes and content of this study, Lankoski and Bjork noted that key sources for this style of analysis might include, and methodologies might mirror: Frazer's comparative study of religion and magic in The Golden Bough (1983), 'Campbell's [significant] monomyth theory' (Lankoski and Bjork 2015a, 24)--as outlined in his text on the Hero Pattern, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1968), and Propp's (1968) analysis of folktale morphology. Those prompts, particularly around Campbell (1968), provide an ideal climate for investigation of the hero pattern within the stable narratives of high fantasy MMORPG games.

The most exhaustive commentary of this particular topic, to date, was presented by Kenzuki, as a 373 word online bulletin board post titled: 'Thrall is Jesus: A Study of the Orcish Messiah'. Kenzuki's discussion piece was posted on the 18th of August 2007 in the 'WarCraft Lore Discussion' section of the Scrolls of Lore Forums (Kenzuki 2007). While Kenzuki was very insightful in the scope of connections presented in that initial analysis, the brevity of it has meant that the suggested similarities were unable to be explained or examined. This discussion will, in part, explore Kenzuki's claims, and provide information about the way they relate to the narratives of Abrahamic mythology.

Many of the concepts and arguments noted by Kenzuki are, based upon the present writer's many years of participant observation in the Warcraft community, theories that predate his post considerably. They are so widely recognised, and openly acknowledged in fan discussions of Warcraft lore, that in 2012 Fenton posted on the official Blizzard Entertainment forums that 'when [as a Warcraft enthusiast] you read the words "Green Jesus" you immediately know what they mean' (Fenton-Dream Killer 2012). As such, several of the directly comparative points that are presented here are based upon collectively fan developed theories, and general conjectures, that are at times espoused - usually with no supporting evidence - within the 'trade chat' live discussions and forums of many World of Warcraft servers / websites.

Discussion will begin with an exploration of myth, and then the way in which similarities between Thrall and Jesus dovetail with what scholars refer to as the Indo-European hero pattern--a similarity not mentioned in fan discussions at all. The hero pattern is a theme that has been discussed by scholars of Folklore and Anthropology for decades now, sparking from the work of significant early studies (Raglan 1934, 1936, Rank 1909) which followed the pattern being proposed in J. G. von Hahn's Sagwissenschaftliche Studien (1876, 340). Initially however, "the [... pattern] made very little stir in scholarly circles. In Germany and on the continent generally it was rarely commented upon" (Taylor 1964, 116). The most important early use of the Formula outside those core studies was by Nutt (1881), who contributed significantly to the way that we now interpret some events within its cycle. Since being adopted by scholars such as the highly influential folklorist Dundes (1976), and anthropologist / religious studies scholar Campbell (1968), the pattern has gained much wider acceptance (Nagler 1974, Connelly and Massie 1989, Olson 1989, Mbele 1982). After identifying the way that core events surrounding Thrall fit with the hero pattern--and the way that Dundes interprets that pattern through Jesus--the specific events recognized by Kenzuki and the fan base will be treated in greater detail.

It is important to recognize, and understand, the connections between Thrall and Jesus as they allow deeper insight into the structure and workings of the stable narratives of the game setting. Through that understanding, we can better see the way that individual narrative elements, across a broad web of stories, have shifted forms from traditional religious associations in the everyday settings to plot motifs within high fantasy digital worlds. That progression illustrates an example of religious folk motifs evolving as shifts take place within society.

Mythic structures

Individual myths, whether modern (such as the myths of Thrall) or traditional (such as the myths of Jesus), are socially and culturally located stories that explain natural and / or social forces. In that way, myths function as tools for their societies, allowing people to engage with a common understanding of the expectations of a society, and the way that society understands built and natural environments. Those environments can include elements that are: geographic, material, sociological, cosmological, or even virtual. Therefore, a strong interrelation exists between myth and constructed social reality (Malinowski 1954)--particularly when a myth is considered as part of a mythos. A mythos, is a set of such myths, which collectively tell the mythic stories of a particular group, society or religion - with mythoi being the plural of mythos. Then, through analysing the aesthetic of a mythos--and the common ideas within it, we might come to "a description of the life, social organisation and religious ideas and practices of a people [...] as it appears in their mythology" (Boas and Tate 1916, 320) in an ethnographic sense--and that 'people' can be applied equally forcefully to both real world geographic communities and subcultural groups formed within virtual spaces (such as the World of Warcraft). Operating inside those mythic stories however, are a series of archetypes:

In abandoning the search for a constantly accurate picture of ethnographic reality in myth, [and focussing on deeper levels of meaning such as those of archetypes and structural patterns,] we gain, on occasions, a means of reaching unconscious categories. (Levi-Strauss 1976, 172-173) Joseph Campbell, extending the work of Carl Jung (1962), explained that "archetypes [...] are the common ideas of myth" (Campbell and Moyers 1991, 60)--or what might be considered mythic building blocks. Those core elements within myths, archetypes, 'are biologically grounded. [...] All over the world, and at different times of human history, these archetypes, or elementary ideas, have appeared in different costumes" (Campbell and Moyers 1991, 60-61)--taking forms that match the needs and aesthetics of the cultures and societies that 'spin them' into mythic stories that construct intangible, cultural, layers of meaning upon all aspects of the human experience and environment. So "the differences in the costumes are [just] the results of environment and historical conditions" (Campbell and Moyers 1991, 61).

As the elementary, and even biological elements of myth, archetypes are thought to be very ancient--perhaps even pre-dating language (Cassirer 1957), which according to Jung exist in their most pure form within a 'collective unconsciousness'. Therefore, myth can be considered "as a 'language' which, properly understood, will tell...

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