Normally, I’m advocating for stuff to get added to the game: I’d love High Elves as a playable race for the Alliance, and for Ogres to get added on for the Horde. I’m all for expanding the free-to-play options in the game to make it accessible to a wider audience.
But I’m telling you, I really don’t ever want the Naga added as a playable race.
When I originally wrote this post, it was back when “The Dark Below” hadn’t been debunked as a WoW expansion yet. Now with the new filing about “Eye of Azshara” all of this discussion is getting dredged up again, and since I never really got around to pubbing this post before, I figured it was worth getting up since the arguments are all still valid.
But let’s get this out of the way first: if there are playable naga, it doesn’t mean I break up with the game. It just means I probably don’t do their starting experience.
Exhibits A and B. SNAKE DUDES. WITH SNAKE ASSES.
Here’s why Naga should never be playable:
- They’re a race of snake-dudes all beholden to their Queen Azshara, and have pretty much been characterized as evil, bloodthirsty bastards in every appearance they’ve made in the franchise. Yeah, Lady Vashj was playing bass for Illidan and Kael’thas in their emo cover band back in WC3, but it was clear from word one that she had ulterior motives then and afterwards. **
- Because they’re snake-dudes, they don’t have legs or feet. So if you look at the equipment slots, there’s no logical place for legs, belts, or boots to go. Yes, a bunch of races (trolls, tauren, worgen, draenei) already ignore the feet slot, since their specific feet/hoof constructs don’t really fit into boots. But because the boot texture is displayable at least partially on the lower leg, this is an acceptable compromise and doesn’t really break suspension of disbelief. Naga would need to ignore three slots instead of one, and there’s just no place for those textures to go. ** Suspension of disbelief is out the window.
- Another note of the equipment slots: aside from the visual distortion of having belt/leg/feet slots, there’s the consideration on the player’s part. “My character doesn’t have legs, so why do I have a legs slot? Why should I have to put something there?” Experienced players are going to say “you put something there for stats” but I can see new players tripping over the concept. It breaks the immersion that a piece of gear that you should be able to equip doesn’t make sense to wear because your character is incapable of wearing it.
- Female Naga have four arms. I know the minute there’s a four-armed playable character, you’re going to get people saying “wait, so I should have two bracer slots, right?” “I can totally dual-wield two-handers, right?” “DUDE FOUR DAGGERS GUYS”
- If you look at every other playable race in the game, you can take off the head, feet, hands, and tail (if there’s a tail) and end up with something that could be human. You can’t do that with the naga. The reason this detail is important is that if a character is meant to be something that the player relates to, a body that’s too far from the human shape isn’t going to accomplish this. Not everyone goes in for treating their characters as a personal avatar, but players who do that are the ones who potentially connect with the game in the deepest way, and making that bond as strong as possible from an art end is clearly a part of Blizzard’s psychological strategy in setting up long-term player retention. Now, admittedly, that inability to relate to the character just means some people don’t pick naga (I don’t play Forsaken characters because I don’t feel like relating to an angry corpse) but I feel like Blizzard’s done a good job of introducing races that are readily relatable for players, in order to make that avatar bond as surefire as possible.
- There aren’t not enough methods to customize how a naga would look; they don’t have hair for styles, they don’t have ears for piercings, and you can’t really alter their faces very dramatically. You’ve got scale color, a secondary color for the fins, eye color (though that’s really small on the male), and maybe different fin “styles” — which goes back to how having their fins poke out of all their armor would continue the whole immersion break.
Can you come up with non-evil naga? Sure. Blizzard did non-evil orcs, did semi-evil elves, did totally chill minotaurs… the part where the naga are all inherently evil is something they can work around if they want to. But I don’t think coming up with that narrative is worth it when the naga themselves are as monstrous and inhuman in countenance as they are. Can you art a way out of all of these issues, including how monstrous the naga look? Yeah, I think that’s doable, but if you do that, are they still the naga?
When I’ve had this discussion with friends and colleagues in the past, the response I get from people who are jazzed about the naga is that all the equipment slot shenanigans aren’t an immersion break for them. I understand that for some folks, stuff like that doesn’t kick you out of the game. For me, though, coming out of playing tabletop D&D, the paperdoll on your character sheet being a map of your equipped gear is a big part of the character fantasy, and half that equipment being superfluous on a naga just doesn’t compute for me. I’m willing to buy “this chestpiece will magically vary in dimension based on the race and gender of your character, and it’ll even look tattered if you’re undead because reasons” but when you say “this pair of pants is now a big mail sock because snakes can’t wear pants” I’m just NOPE.
When it comes down to it, I think introducing the naga as a playable race would also setting a bad precedent, since it opens the door for other non-bipedal races to become playable races. People have talked about the centaur, dryads, keepers of the grove, dragonkin, tol’vir, nerubians… basically any race that’s ever expressed sentience has been floated as a possibility. Largely speaking, aside from all the same problems I listed above about paperdoll dissonance and avatar potential, I don’t think a ton of value gets added to the game when a race gets shuffled in and then has zero relevance after the starting experience is completed. That’s an argument to not add any new races ever, and I get why Blizzard will likely continue to add races as expansion features, but I also feel like it makes it much easier on Blizzard to focus on races that don’t require a ton of handwaving to make functional as playable entities and have greater avatar potential.
I get it. Some people want to play snake dudes. I am not one of those people. I think adding snake dudes to the playable roster would be a misstep. However, I would likely still buy the game if I’m still interested in playing it, and I don’t see my interest going away.
I can probably talk a great deal more about the potential behind this “Eye of Azshara” expansion, but I’m loath to spend my limited resources on it when we’ll have proof of its (non-)existence in a few days. Stay tuned.
**: Granted, those motives basically never got revealed and came to nothing when Vashj’s plot in Burning Crusade boiled down “hoard all the water on this shattered world” and she got shanked in the neck by a 25s team.
**: Yes, I know, the engine is built to allow leg textures to work on some naga mobs so they have more costume options. I still feel like this places an illogical constraint on the artists to come up with armor that looks believable on player characters.