It’s no secret to anybody who knows me well that I have A Thing For Dragons™. “It has dragons in it” has gotten me to try just about anything, even if I then ended up tossing it at the wall in disgust (hello, “Eragon”).
World of Warcraft has dragons, and moreover, it has dragon mounts. Great, right?
Well, yes. It’s fun to ride around on a dragon. It makes you feel heroic.
But is it ethical?
Okay, okay, stop laughing and bear with me.
Dragons in World of Warcraft – at least normal dragons from the major flights – are intelligent, not just part of the wildlife. They think, they talk, they have feelings, they can have power well beyond that of members of playable races…
…and despite this, it seems to be the case that we’re using at least some of the drakes we ride against their will, turning intelligent creatures into little more than beasts of burden.
It is a major point of Warcraft lore that the enslaving of Alexstrasza and the red dragonflight by the Dragonmaw Clan, and the forced use of drakes and dragons as war mounts, was a heinous, horrible act.
And yet it seems to be perfectly fine for players to do the same thing – at least to “evil” dragons.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Some of the drakes you can ride join you out of their own free will. The questline to obtain a Netherwing drake, for instance, makes it abundantly clear that they are joining you out of gratitude for the help you have provided to their flight:
It is an honor to meet you, <name>. We have all been keeping a close eye on your adventures and are grateful for all that you have done for the Netherwing Dragonflight.
If you choose me as your compatriot, I will fly you to the ends of this world and back. Whatever it is that you ask of me, I will do my best to comply.
(Although you can then return to Netherwing Ledge and purchase all other colors of Netherwing drake from Drake Dealer Hurlunk, one could simply argue you’re paying the dumb orcs some gold to free the remaining drakes they still have enslaved. So that works out.)
Similarly, although the Bronze Drake is technically a drop, you can make an excellent case that the drake would choose to join you because you saved a member of the Bronze flight. The Red Drake likely joins you willingly as well: although you have to spend gold to purchase one, doing so requires you to be exalted with the Wyrmrest Accord, the dragon faction par excellence. (Plus, you know, Alexstrasza is standing right there and I doubt she would be pleased with a random mortal grabbing one of her drakes and going “okay, you’re my mount now”. The last guy who did that, she had as a snack.)
(As a side note, this makes me wonder why there’s no rideable green drake in the game yet. The Guardians of Hyjal faction would’ve been a perfect place for one, considering Ysera is taking an active role there. Either that, or the Avengers of Hyjal, using Marks of the World Tree as currency to purchase it.)
Not all drakes fare quite so well.
The Blue, Azure, Black, Twilight and Onyxian drakes are obtained by very violent methods; the Black dragonflight is vicious, destructive, corrupted, insane and generally evil; the Blue dragonflight is on the wrong side of the Nexus War (and, going by the original method of acquiring the Blue and Azure drakes, you would have just killed their leader). At best, these drakes are insane, feral, more beast than anything else; at worst, they’re fully sentient, just your enemy. Either way, you’re essentially enslaving them.
(Yes, I’m aware it could be the one nice or non-hostile drake wanting to join you, but it’s extremely unlikely.)
The Albino Drake is another case of a dragon that’s considered little more than livestock. Consider the letter that accompanies it, sent by Mei Francis, a seller of exotic mounts:
I couldn’t help but to notice how good you are with the livestock. With all of the activity around here, business has been better than ever for me.
I don’t suppose you’d mind looking after this Albino Drake for me? I simply don’t have enough spare minutes in the day to care for all of these animals.
“You’re good with animals, please care for this particular one, I haven’t got the time.” Okay then!
There are even more clear-cut cases of “see pretty drake, beat it to within an inch of its life, then slap a saddle on it and enslave it as your mount”, but they all belong to dragon breeds that either have been confirmed by in-game lore as being essentially beasts (Time-Lost Proto-Drake) or as far as we’ve seen haven’t displayed any sign of higher thought, such as stone dragons (Aeonaxx, Slabhide) or storm dragons (Altairus). So we can’t really be certain.
Either way, much as I love drakes and I love riding them… it makes me uneasy.
(And don’t get me started on whelp vanity pets. As much as I love them, they all originally were, and some of them still are, drops from whelps of the same dragonflight found in the game world. So essentially what you’re doing is killing a bunch of dragon kids, then finding one that’s still alive despite the beating and taking it for a pet. Nice, very nice. How very heroic of you.)
It just feels like Blizzard originally introduced drake mounts in the game to give players something amazing and heroic to ride beyond the default gryphons and wyverns (the Netherwing drakes were the very first drake mounts introduced), because it would feel great to have a dragon call you a hero and decide to accompany you in your further adventurers – but that has long since fallen by the wayside, and they just add drake mounts wherever because hey, dragons are cool, right? And it makes me a bit sad, because it did feel great to have a dragon want to come with me… and now they’re just another mount, found or bought pretty much everywhere.