James Wallis levels with you

n00b World Reorder, part 4

(This is the fourth part of an ongoing series of skientific infestigations into the physics, chemistry and biology of Azeroth, the world known as ‘of Warcraft’. This will probably be gibberish unless you have read part 1, part 2 and part 3 first.)

The ecology of Azeroth, part 2

The strangest aspect of the animal life (and some parts of the plant life) of Azeroth is its physical nature. This section is based on the following observable phenomena:

  • Fauna (and mobile flora) cannot pass through physical objects such as rocks, walls, etc.
  • Fauna (including members of the PC races) can pass through other creatures and certain plants as if they were not there.
  • Carried objects including weapons can pass through creatures without effect except during specific moments when the item’s carrier is in combat with the creature in question. These objects include a combatant’s native weapons such as fangs, claws or fists. Objects fired from a bow or gun can pass through a creature not in combat with the firer, to then strike and wound the intended combatant.
  • Spirit creatures including ghosts cannot pass through walls, rocks, etc. but can be hit with any weapon, and can carry solid objects including coins and cloth. In other words spirit creatures are as corporeal as any other creature on the World of Warcraft, except for their partial transparency (though they still cast shadows—see below). This is not true of the spirit-forms of the PC races, who cannot harm or be harmed in the time between the death of their corporeal body and their resurrection, but which are also blocked by physical objects.
  • All animate creatures can recover from life-threatening wounds to full health in minutes, and return to their regular activities as if nothing had happened.
  • All animate creatures including spirits cast a shadow that is not influenced by the position of the sun or moon, other light-sources or other observable phenomena. Instead it always lies at their feet, as if they were being illuminated by a single point-source a short distance above their centre of gravity.

Based on these observations, we might hypothesise that there are two forms of matter on Azeroth. The first is ‘physical matter’, comprising almost all inanimate objects from mountains to fenceposts, major plant-life, and weapons. It is non-reactive, cannot be destroyed, and is essentially inert. The second is ‘animate matter’: if something on Azeroth moves or can be moved then it is made of animate matter, and conversely if it is not made of animate matter then it cannot move. Thus all living creatures, ambulatory plants, small vegetation, some small objects, ghosts and other spirit-based beings are all comprised of animate matter. Animate matter has a much lower molecular density than inanimate matter, and so any two objects made of animate matter can occupy the same physical space or pass through each other without interference or displacement.

However, this theory requires too many special cases and exceptions to be plausible. For example, it does not explain how weapons normally can pass through living beings without harming them outside a combat situation, but immediately combat starts will cause injury and death. Nor does it explain the movement of large pieces of Goblin engineering seen in Gadgetzan and Everlook, or zeppelins and ships which all move but appear to be made of physical matter. Besides, it does not fit any known theory of the way that the universe works, and there is another hypothesis that does, for a certain select value of ‘theory’.

Azeroth is a world in which all living creatures repeatedly retread the same paths to perform a small set of the same actions, often fighting and killing (or being killed by) adversaries that they have killed (or been killed by) many times before. Some have a wider range of actions than others, but none are able to break free and do what we would think of as ‘normal’ actions, either for animals—eating, breeding, dying of old age—or for intelligent humanoids—having a meal with friends, spending time with family, finding a partner, raising children, or retiring. We do not know why the animals do this; but the intelligent humanoids do it because they believe there is some kind of goal they are heading for, some kind of nebulous reward: power, reknown, perhaps an escape of some kind, a need not to participate in these actions any more.

When one combines these observations with the above notes on the fluid nature of living beings on Azeroth (their abilities to pass through some solid objects, for example) it becomes clear that there are parallels for this kind of existence in our universe, though one not properly understood or even recognised by most scientists. Nonetheless, in most cultures this state of being would be called an ‘afterlife’, and the people inhabiting it ‘ghosts’, trapped in a purgatorial netherworld where they must endlessly repeat the same actions, even if those actions include repeatedly dying.

This hypothesis fits well with many of the observable phenomena on Azeroth. It explains, for example, how in combat a sword can clearly be seen to bisect an opponent’s torso without cutting them in half or even leaving a visible wound. The only plausible explanation is that these beings are trapped in a spirit-based half-life of performing actions and missions that have been done a million times before, endless repetitions of violence and endless, meaningless deaths. Some conventional theories of such things would classify this as ‘Hell’.

We cannot hypothesise why this should be, or if there is any way for the inhabitants of Azeroth to escape from their situation.

(To be concluded, eventually in part 5)

Categorised as: game design | geophysics | mmorpg | world of warcraft


  1. […] (Click here to read part 4 of ‘n00b World Reorder’) […]

  2. Prelimar says:

    …wait a minute… are you saying… i’m dead…???

  3. james says:

    I would be happy to hear any alternate theories.

  4. William Holmes says:

    Interesting fact, the ‘weapons pass through people unless they’re in combat’ works the other way, certain abilities can cause the swings of swords and various attacks to be mistimed, indeed, if a warrior knows what he is doing he can unleash a deadly attack which strikes the enemy in front of him, and simultainiously hits 3 other enemies around him as well, without his weapon ever actually touching any of them.

    Basically, not only can weapons pass through people and not hurt them, but people can be hurt without weapons actually coming anywhere near them.

    This is also observable with certain spells and ranged attacks where the projectile in question will impact and then the target will suffer damage up to a second before or after the actual moment of impact. Possibly this could be contributed to the time distortions (or lag) but that doesn’t explain how a single swing of a sword can simultainiously injure multiple opponants without ever actually touching any of them.

  5. james says:

    Oh, good observation! That would seem to point to a psychosomatic cause of ‘damage’, similar to the pain felt/not felt in hypnotic trances. This has implications for the nature of ‘death’ in Azeroth; perhaps those who have been killed only believe that they have sustained enough damage to die… though it doesn’t explain how they immediately teleport to the nearest graveyard.

    Please continue this most interesting line of research, Dr Holmes.

  6. Enade says:

    Hmmmm this does sound like hell, also there seems to be some sort of… issue if you are going to apply that to quite a few of the humanoid, sentinent or partailly sentinent races. Quite a few of the things that are done involve gathering various body parts (ears, heads, fingers, even pelts) How do they respawn with all of their body parts intact if I have one of their body parts in my bags? very strange….

  7. William Holmes says:

    Well we already know PC’s have access to a Hearthstone, an object that, after a short while, teleports the holder to a preset location. It’s possible that there is a second ‘deathstone’ that characters have which activates when they ‘die’ and immediately teleports them to the nearest graveyard.

    Possibly there could also be some sort of quantum interferance resulting in a wormhole, although how this would occur is beyond me.

    Hell, maybe the whole thing is a hallucination.

    Enade also made a good point with the body parts. Often monsters will die and yet not have vital parts on them. I have witnessed boars missing kidneys, livers, intestines and even heads and hooves, despite the beasts apparant health outside of being slain.

    Frankly, i think the only sensible explanation is that the entire world is a matrixesque simulation, this would explain many things, up to and including the death teleport and phantasmal weapons. It also explains how Onyxia can appear despite the fact i am currently holding her head (good catche Enade).

    However, this jumps the gun somewhat and, as explanations go, is rather too neat, which makes me suspicious of it. More research is needed i suspect.

  8. james says:

    For those still following the debate here, I urge you to sign up to the Azeroth Science mailing list, where at present we are planning a group expedition to the edge of the world, and possibly the bottom of the Great Sea as well.

  9. Ilusien says:

    My theory for injuries and death is that when a weapon hits a target, it hits their soul, decreasing their “Health” Souls regenerate quickly which explains the being able to get up and run off after a fierce battle or bad fall. Both the creatures in battle must ‘agree’ to be able to do damage with their weapons.

    I also find it odd that, when swimming you come across dark, or fatigue water, if you enter that waters you eventually get fatigued and lose health, however, if you leave the fatigue whater and enter the ordinary water, you will recover swiftly.

    Aparently there are ruins at the bottom of the sea at different points, somewhere to the east of tanaris below A very large amount of fatigue water are ruins of some sort, however only “Game masters” can reach that area.

    The ability to create portals also confuses me.

  10. Abranca says:

    Does time exist in Azeroth? You can see towers burning, but they burn forever without ever burning down. The only places that has been destroyed by fire are those in a permanent state of being destroyed, like the inn at the border of Dustwallow Marsh and The Barrens.

    On the other hand, if there is no time, how could something burn, producing flames? Is seems to me these ever burning objects are caught in an endless time interval, however short (just a few seconds or less), that repeats itself from the start over and over again.

    Living beings, like your character, seem not affected by the existence of these repeating time intervals. They can move, walk around, buy goods et cetera in a progress of time that resembles the linear passing of time, like on Earth.

    On the other hand, my oldest character, Abranca, exists in this realm for almost three years now. She was born somewhere in November 2005. However, she had not grown older one day. Even her hair seems not to be growing.

    My suggestion is that Azeroth knows three distinct modalities of time.
    A. No time. This applies to your character’s hair.
    B. Short, repeating time intervals. This applies to the ever burning towers.
    C. Normal time. This applies to e.g. your character’s actions.

    Apparently an entity on Azeroth might be eternally caught in one of these three modalities of time. Or, as with your character, different aspects of one entity might belong to different time modalities. So this entity lives in three modalities of time at, eh, the same time.

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