As I was commenting the other day on WoW Insider, one of the commenters, called Catriona Shadowleaf disagreed with me. As I concluded that it is not likely we would come to understanding I decided to make a rather lengthy post here talking about it. We disagreed on the nature of crime in World of Warcraft and how this affects our characters in the game. I claimed that we do not murder, while Catriona disagreed with simply labelling it as another kill. I tend to tie the crime on authority, while Catriona seems to tie it to morality.
The argument that it is not moral to kill a living sentient being would in normal circumstances make much sense. In normal circumstances I myself agree with it. But as it is, these are not the normal circumstances. This is because killing is something our characters do on a pretty regular basis and do not seem to suffer by any means because of it. In pretty much any sense our characters are by and far amoral. Prime motivator of their actions in most of the situations seems to be personal gain. Our characters are in that aspect very similar to conquistadors, or by some stretch of imagination crusaders.
Silent leges inter arma. - In times of war, laws are silent. (Cicero)I concluded there is no point in calling every kill a crime. I need to note here that when I talk about kill, I have in mind homicide. With the fact that it does not mean only humans, but any sentient being there is in Warcraft. Trolls, Elves, Dragons, Orcs, Gnomes, Forsaken and all the rest fall in this category. So, what kill is a crime then? Murder for one. And the next question that needs to be answered is, how do we differentiate between the two?
Murder is a crime because the supreme authority, in our case Alliance or Horde, or their supreme commanders say so. Homicide in general is not a crime, because there are circumstances. The easiest one to find is being at war, thus killing your enemies, or those that your commanding officers declare your enemies is not a crime. What we need to clarify here is that, all murders are homicide, but not every homicide is a murder.
Auctoritas non veritas facit legem - Authority, not truth, makes law. (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan II,26).It all comes down what the State, in our case the each faction, recognises for a crime. Killing hundreds of Alliance members if you belong to Horde in time of war is not a crime. Killing one in time of peace is. This is shown with Thrall when he executes a band of orcs that attacked, I think but am not certain anymore, Theramore civilians. Same probably goes for Alliance, although they do appear from my point of view that might be slightly biased to go a bit softer on their own criminals when the Horde is involved. No hard evidence, just a hunch.
That is not to say that Horde law system (if there is one) is better than the one Alliance has. It is just a simpler system that ensures there are no qualms and debates. Problems are solved immediately, efficiently, and with plain brutality. Alliance on the other hand probably loves to debate if one is guilty or not. Horde in many cases has martial law which is strict and unforgiving making sure that everyone falls in line.
This way of laws is even contrasted in the final cinematic of Siege of Orgrimmar. Thrall wants to execute Garrosh on the spot, Varian want a lengthy trial. Horde wants no loose ends. Alliance wants satisfaction, to see the one who is guilty suffer for it. It is interesting to think of it in this way. A faction that appears to be far more savage is content with swift execution, while the civilised and "enlightened" faction wants justice. This also shows what justice means for each side. Justice for Horde is to be punished for your actions. Justice for Alliance is for victims to witness the suffering of one who made them suffer.
To get back on the crime itself. There is a philosophical thought experiment that asks: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" At first sight this might seem to have no connection to what we are talking about right now. But we need to consider that not all the killing we do is against the opposite faction. If we leave our direct enemies that threaten our factions aside, we are still left with a decent amount of groups and organisations that we helped in eradicating while not answering to anyone for it.
That is, because neither the Horde or Alliance can or want to sanction us. It is not because we are too dangerous. It is because they do not have time to deal with it, until it is a problem big enough that needs to be dealt with. All those Amani we killed in Zul'Aman can cry to none but their own leaders for all the killing we did in our first search of the old artifacts and trinkets. If the killing we do does not affect any of the two factions, they do not much care for it in the first place. And if it affects them, they care only if we kill the wrong side. Something we are unable to do because of the game mechanics. You can never attack your own allies, no matter how much you might try.
For example if a Horde soldier kills Alliance soldiers he will not be prosecuted for it by the Horde. But, if Alliance gets their hands on him, they might very well decide to put him on trial. Horde, in 9 out of 10 cases will just execute the Alliance soldier at the spot if there is no immediate gain from leaving him alive, such as extracting information, or using him to spread the plague among the Alliance.
What this shows, is that each faction sanctions their own side. Horde might not welcome an Alliance mass-murderer into Orgrimmar after they hear he is a serial killer wanted in Stormwind, but they will not put him on trial either. They might execute him because of espionage, but they will not go out of their way to apprehend this man who committed such heinous crime, against someone else but them. It all comes down to jurisdiction. Both factions wish to sanction their own criminals, and neither wishes anything in particular to have with the criminals of the opposing faction. The chaos they might be making serves them well.
At the end of the day our characters might be doing so much killing that their hands turn red for the rest of their days. But it changes nothing. As long as their actions are approved by their respective factions they are safe from any kind of repercussions from their own faction. In practical terms, they have a licence to kill. Our characters, as long as they act in scope of their duties have Absolute Immunity. The closest we ever come to losing this immunity, was when the Horde rebelled against Garrosh. Had the rebellion fell, we would all be crucified.
Our Absolute Immunity exists only because Azeroth is as fractioned as it is. We can run rampant only because there is none that would be willing to keep us in check. We can only assume and hope this is so because while we do run rampant in our rampage we do more good than bad. Even if most of our good deeds are done by accident and unwittingly. And we tend to clear after our own mess.