The Witches of Drustvar

I’ve played in World of Warcraft (WoW) since before its formal beginning; that is, I played in WoW beta test in 2004.

When you start either a Human or a Dwarf character in WoW, you quickly learn about flying between the Human capital of Stormwind and the Dwarf capital of Ironforge. Your character flies on the back of a gryphon from one city to another. You get to see the landscape as you travel above zones that, at the start of your character’s adventures in the game, are too dangerous for you to enter. One of those zones is the Burning Steppes, and within the Burning Steppes is a site called the Altar of Storms.

In the first WoW beta test, as I flew over the Altar of Storms, I saw a giant pentacle inscribed on the ground. As a Wiccan, I couldn’t help but be curious. During the beta test I never got to a high enough level to visit the location.

The full World of Warcraft was released in November 2004. When I took the gryphon between Stormwind and Ironforge, I saw the pentacle in the Altar of Storms was gone. It was replaced by a more abstract design. I never knew the reason for the change. Did anyone complain? I don’t know.

That was the only connection between World of Warcraft and Wicca over the years I played the game… until now.

In August 2018 Blizzard Entertainment released the latest expansion to World of Warcraft, Battle For Azeroth. One of the new zones added to the game is Drustvar. In Drustvar, there are witches.

The entire zone has general autumnal/Halloween feel to it, and these witches follow suit. They are entirely evil. They form an organization called the Heartsbane Coven. Their goal is to terrorize the people of Drustvar through curses and magic. They generally take one of two forms: a classic bent-over Halloween witch (vaguely resembling Laurie Cabot on a bad hair day), or an ethereal beautiful-but-deadly creature.

When your character interacts with these witches, they will always attack and try to kill your avatar. They say phrases like “The Coven will slay you all!” The non-player characters (NPCs) in Drustvar, like the NPCs throughout World of Warcraft, have random phrases they say when you click on them; in Drustvar, these phrases include “Death to the coven!” or “Death to all witches!”

I’m part of a community of gamers who play WoW. I was warned by one of them about Drustvar before I sent my character there. In context of the game, a player has no choice but to send their character to Drustvar and encounter these witches, since there are some long-term goals that can only be realized by doing so.

You can guess that, as a Wiccan and a Witch, this bothers me.

It’s not as if the designers of WoW are isolated from the world in some way. There are tons of pop culture references throughout the game. I wouldn’t expect them to know about Wicca explicitly, but they’d certainly know about Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In today’s media culture, it’s hard to avoid knowing that Witchcraft is a “thing” and that some people take it seriously.

If the WoW designers knew this, they ignored it. They went full-on “Satanic panic”. They reinforced that message with frequent anti-witch sentiments when you click your mouse on a character in Drustvar.

There nothing much that can be done. I’m certainly not the only Wiccan who plays World of Warcraft (there’s at least a couple in my gaming community), but I get the impression that our reaction is to put up with it.

I’m also aware that there many other similar issues associated with marginalized groups that deserve more attention than a computer game: gender discrimination, racial inequality, LGBTQ+ acceptance, believing assault survivors, and so on. The Witches of Drustvar are meaningless compared to the real-world violence and discrimination experienced by millions in this country and throughout the nations that play World of Warcraft.

So I can whine, but that’s it. It’s less than a first-world problem. Is there such a thing as a zeroth-world problem?

In case you’re wondering, I have not yet sent my Orc character through the zone of Nazmir to encounter the loa Bwonsamdi. I understand he gets fairer treatment than the witches do. Perhaps he deserves it!