Overthinking It: Bread and Circuses

Welcome to Overthinking It – a column where Fussypants delves entirely too deep into something not nearly as nuanced as she’s interpreting it to be!  What follows is undoubtedly a fine collection of speculation, assumptions, and general tin-foil hattery. Today, we tackle a divisive subject: the potential impetus behind the current Battle for Azeroth expansion.

Why are the Horde and Alliance fighting once more?  This seems to be one of the quintessential questions of the current expansion – after all the destruction suffered in the string of past expansions, one would think that the collective peoples of Azeroth would like to just sit down and take a break for a moment.  But instead, we’re up and at it again, waging major campaigns against densely populated cities like there’s no tomorrow. And, with the state the planet itself is in, there may very well be no tomorrow.

There’s a lot of possible answers to this question of ‘why’.  According to Blizzard, it’s due to deeply ingrained animosity mixed with the advent of Azerite.  Talk to Blizzard detractors and it’s because the company has “lost all it’s creative juices and just keeps rehashing the same ol’ garbage for the fanbois to lap up” (no, I’m not a particular fan of this explanation).  Ask Taran Zhu and it’s because the leaves fall. Or something like that. I don’t particularly love any of these answers. So, I’m going to logic out my own.

Why are the Horde and Alliance fighting in Battle for Azeroth? One word answer: Food.

When questing through Kul’Tiras for the first time, I stumbled upon a most interesting grey item.  The Old Sailor’s Almanac wasn’t the most lucrative piece of vendor trash, worth only about 5 gold, but the riches it had were in words instead.  The flavor text of the item read “Decades of meticulous notes about the weather, tides, and navigation rendered useless by the Cataclysm.” The first time I saw this, I chuckled at the obvious surface humor.  Haha, obsolescence, amirite? But then I began to think deeper. This almanac hinted at a more serious problem than I first imagined.  

We all know about Deathwing’s rampages across Azeroth, whether we were burned directly or we quested through the altered zones.  The Barrens rendered in two. Hyjal burning. The Wetlands somehow even more wet. The Insane Earthwarden wreaked immense damage on the physical features of the world but, apparently, he also did a number on the physical cycles.  Wind patterns, ocean currents, temperatures, rainfall.  This last item is key.

In a world such as Azeroth, just as is the case in our real world, farmers, ranchers, hunters and gatherers of every kind rely on the steady and predictable cycles of nature in order to produce food.  We plant corn in the spring and apple trees in the fall. We grow barley up north and rice down south. We tend to our animals based off their rhythms, which are in turn driven by nature. Any massive disruption in these cycles can cause a cascading effect of food production failure.  Crops fail, animals die, and people starve.

When Deathwing burst free from his lair, he didn’t just cause the Stonewall Dam to fall, he disrupted something as fundamental as the weather.  That, undoubtedly, resulted in droughts and flooding which would drastically alter how everyone on Azeroth eats. Even if this effect is only temporary (and the evidence points to it being a permanent shift), a change this big would have a ripple effect outwards. 

Now, you might be saying something along the lines of “Deathwing might have ruined some farmland but he probably also created new fertile areas, right?”  You probably are correct in this assumption, but if anything, this makes the problem even worse.  Firstly, there is an issue of infrastructure.  Regions that, traditionally, have been farming hubs typically have a lot of processes built up over time that aid in that – roads, irrigation systems, the like.  These new fertile regions won’t have these things built up, which means that even though food production potential is there, it’s going to take a hot second before farmers can move in, settle, and access that.

However, there’s an even more pressing issue – much of Azeroth is contested territory.  The Horde and Alliance claim only nominal control over these regions, and they’re often pressed right up against territory of the enemy faction.  It’s a patchwork of blue and red out there and now each side is trying to consolidate.

In a way, this problem is similar to that posed by the appearance of Azerite.  We’re talking about valuable resources which have popped up in unexpected, isolated, or contested areas, which will obviously resort in a massive scramble to gather and hold.  However, there’s a critical difference between Azerite and arable farmland. Azerite is a strong military advantage. It helps immensely in warfare and could give one side the edge in battle over the other.  Arable farmland however, is vital.  If there is no food then there is no army, no matter how strong their weaponry is.  What’s more, this extends far past just the battlefield; this impacts almost every single aspect of life for every single individual of your faction.  Everyone eats after all (except maybe the Forsaken, so they’ve got a leg up here I suppose).

Image courtesy of Reddit

Let’s break this down even further.  Pretend you’re Anduin Wrynn, King of Stormwind and leader of the Alliance.  You’ve very recently assumed the throne over a very large and very diverse confederation and you want to do everything you can to ensure your people are contented with your reign.  You know the price of unrest – your mother’s death can attest to that – and you also have a pretty good idea of what causes the kind of unrest that leads your people into rebellion.  On the surface, money. People want to be able to support their families and not be thrown into abject poverty. But even simpler than that, food. People want to eat. It’s not from your universe but you’re likely familiar with the idea behind the phrase “bread and circuses”.  Bread in particular in this case.

Speaking of bread, you’re very worried about this commodity.  Westfall, the breadbasket of Stormwind, your capital city, has been suffering from drought-like conditions pretty much ever since the Cataclysm.  That’s been a lot of years now, so you’ve likely worked through much of your grain stores in the interim. Now that you’ve finally finished up fighting off the Burning Legion, this has become the most pressing issue on your agenda.  You need a new breadbasket, and fast.  

Unfortunately, so does the Horde.  While their Forsaken members may not need to eat as much, or even at all, the other citizens of the Horde definitely do.  If you’re Sylvanas Windrunner and you’re already having problems with unrest, you certainly don’t want to add to that fire by adding in a famine.  A few individual leaders dissenting is one thing, but every member of the Horde outside of your specific faction?  That’s just the kind of thing that took Garrosh Hellscream down.

Let’s say, in this scenario, there are a few WoW zones that become particularly fertile regions.  These are zones with plentiful resources. Zones with lots of good soil and water. Zones without major polluting influences like the Scourge or the Legion.  Zones adjacent to major transportation hubs. Let’s choose, for example, Darkshore and Arathi Highlands. And gee, wouldn’t you know, these two zones are already warfronts!

Some of you might be asking, where exactly does the Azerite fit in with all of it?  The resource is too important a factor to be a complete non-issue in the considerations of the Horde and Alliance.  I would generally agree with you. You remember how earlier I mentioned the idea of bread and circuses?  Azerite is our circus, folks.

Think about it this way.  The armies of the Horde and Alliance are gearing up for a big war for arable land and they need a new recruitment drive.  They previously just used the classic “Enlist to protect your families!” with the whole Burning Legion thing and now they need a new angle.  Unfortunately, while food is an important part of a happy populace, it doesn’t make as good as a motivating cry unless your people are already starving (and there’s been little evidence I could find which points to that being the case).  If you offer food as the reason people should go to war and lay down their lives, they’re going to scoff at you and walk away.  It just doesn’t seem that dire yet, even if it is. Your citizens see their own personal little picture, not the overarching big one.

What you need is something more dangerous, more exciting, and more explosive.  You need a new threat which merits response even when people are tired and war weary.  Enter Azerite.  A glittery material literally oozing from the world’s pore (enjoy this imagery) with the potential to save your life or end it.  And look, the enemy might get it first!  Now that’s a good recruitment pitch.  That’s a good circus.

While the Horde and Alliance may have their official rhetoric about the volatile new threat of Azerite, the mineral merely acts as a reason to go to war rather than the underlying cause.  The Horde and Alliance fight because of food.  The two factions battle it out because they need reliable breadbaskets to feed their people if they hope to do anything in the future, and that anything even includes eventually making peace.  Both sides are vulnerable right now, and in that vulnerability, they’re frantically scrambling for basic resources.  The current war may be complicated, with dozens of moving parts and conflicting players but the motivating factor is quite simple.  Folks need to eat. 

Or, ya know, maybe I’m just adding way too much realism to my video games.  But hey, it’s a fun thought experiment!

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2 thoughts on “Overthinking It: Bread and Circuses

  1. Makes sense. All around the pyramid are people starving that you can give some gold to for them to eat. I’ve helped about 6 or 7 hoping some dialog would trigger. But nada.

    • I haven’t played Horde-side at all this expansion (I know, it’s terrible!) so I hadn’t heard about this but hey! More evidence! The bread is the key!

      /dons tin foil hat

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