When my 13-year-old brother bought World of Warcraft for me last Christmas, I knew how badly he wanted me to try it.

I had played RPGs before, but WoW was my first MMORPG. It didn’t take much for me to get caught up in the camaraderie of so many people in the same world at the same time. I didn’t care if they were Horde or Alliance – we were all playing the game together.

Skip ahead two months. With a crazy gleam in my eye, I chased down a low-level Hordeling in Southshore on my epic mount, hell-bent on mercilessly nuking him to the nearest graveyard. We had never crossed paths before that moment. He hadn’t threatened or attacked me. In fact, he was innocently questing when I rode up to drop him like a bad nun’s habit.

I stood over his body emoting: /fart, /spit, lol, lol, lol. I wanted the bastard to really feel how much I hated him. He looked grotesque. He smelled bad – in my mind, at least. And his worst crime of all: He was a low-down, dirty, no-good Horde.

Then I noticed something in my chat window. Right before crumpling to the ground, he had managed to type “/beg,” pleading with me not to kill him. My callous laughter gave way to a single, penetrating flashback to when I, like the Horde at my feet, was Level 20. I was having a great time questing, but got manhandled by every high-level Horde I encountered.

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I’m not normally a violent or vindictive man – in real life, that is. Where did I go wrong? Before I could answer myself, three high-level Horde crested a nearby hill, and I spent the next few minutes trying very hard not to die.

But the question didn’t go away. What happened to the wide-eyed, friendly gamer I used to be? I remembered countless hours of peaceful questing. I also recalled spending far less time dying at the hands of passing Horde. How could these relatively few bad experiences have affected me so deeply?

One theory that came to mind was what I like to call the “circle of bastards,” or COB. It’s a modified version of “what goes around comes around.” High-level Horde beat up on me when I was new, and now, months later, I take out my resentment on Horde newbies.

Making “COB salads” explains a lot of behaviors in WoW, but there are many other causes. The Horde and Alliance look different. They’re unable to communicate with each other – when they try to chat, each player can only see gibberish. Their territories are close together, and they have to “share” scarce resources.

What’s worse, according to the in-game history of WoW, the Alliance are invaders and persecutors. The gameplay reflects this: Alliance players are cliquish and rarely form groups that last longer than a specific quest or raid. Horde players, in a show of solidarity in the face of opposition, tend to form social bonds that are tighter, more widespread and longer-lasting.

Maybe I wasn’t simply a bloodthirsty killer. Sure, I played the way I felt like playing – but perhaps it was the way I was lead to play? Your initial faction choice certainly dictates how you experience the game, but does your personality determine your faction? And if not, can your faction change your personality?

I recall a time when I was waiting for a haircut and struck up a conversation with the guy next to me. Somehow World of Warcraft came up, and I felt a brief moment of excitement at finding a fellow player. But I quickly became suspicious.

“What do you play?” I asked

“Alliance. I’ve got a 70 paladin.”

There was an immediate rush of relief, followed by a curious sense of guilt. What would have happened if he’d said Horde – or worse, Undead Rogue? We wouldn’t have started fist-fighting or cussing each other out, but would we have kept talking? Would I have become self-righteous? Would he have become petty and malicious?

An experienced gamer and WoW veteran I know named Livret once met a Horde player on a ride home from the airport with his mother in law, her friend and her friend’s 20-year-old son, the latter of which Livret soon found out was the leader of a prominent Horde guild. Almost immediately, they began comparing stats, gear and raid accomplishments. The young man ranted about the Alliance and raved about how the Horde, his gear and his guild were superior. Then he made the mistake of bashing Livret’s guild.

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“If I can’t beat him in WoW,” Livret must have thought, “I’ll beat him in real life.” It soon became known to everyone in the car that Livret was an accomplished professional with a beautiful wife, while the 20-year-old was a college dropout and single. “I ganked him in real life,” Livret exclaimed. “It was great!”

An Alliance friend of mine named Moonstears started playing WoW in college. One day she discovered that a friend of hers played too, but for the opposing faction. It didn’t bother her at all; she was a newbie at the time and happy just to know more players. But when he introduced her to some of his Horde friends that gathered each day between classes, they gave her a frosty reception. She tried to stay positive and asked for advice, but only got insults in return.

These were normal people. They had friends outside of WoW, but Moonstears wouldn’t be one of them. Hatred had crossed over from the game to real life, but why?

Subconsciously, maybe players know that even though they play the same game, they can never actually play with their new friend. Perhaps they assume that since their enemies are so nasty and violent in the game, they must be equally unpleasant in real life. Since almost all interactions with the opposing faction are hostile, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the whole faction is morally corrupt, in both the game and the real world.

If you haven’t already noticed, all the anecdotes and perspectives I’ve mentioned are from the Alliance point of view. I simply couldn’t find any Horde players to talk to, in WoW or real life. I suppose that in itself says a lot about how World of Warcraft has affected me.

Actually, I do know one Horde…

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Soon after my girlfriend and I began dating, I convinced her to play World of Warcraft. In a matter of weeks, she has become the most bloodthirsty, brutal Horde-hunting player I have ever met. We’ve talked about my theories behind Horde and Alliance hostilities, but the “why” doesn’t matter to her. She just wants to kill as many Horde as possible.

Her brother has three Level 70 Horde characters. He was pretty serious when he told his sister that she couldn’t play Alliance – or date them. But he also used to pull on her pigtails when they were growing up. In my girlfriend’s case, the source of her Horde hostility – in the game and real life – could be that simple.

He’s Horde, we’ve never met in person and I’m dating his sister. Thanksgiving is going to be rough.

George Page is a pen for hire when not writing short stories or blogging at tgapgeorge.blogspot.com. His first videogame was on a floppy disk the size of a bread plate and involved moving a cursor around. He’s been infatuated and mesmerized ever since.

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