Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Time for that Love Thang

Ah, February.

The time when a young man's fancy turns to college basketball.* Bitter rivalries in league games are played out throughout the month as teams jockey for position for the upcoming conference tournaments in early March.  The NCAA Tournament is on the horizon, and who gets in and who is left out becomes watercooler topic #1.

What, you were expecting something else?

Oh, THAT.  With three kids in the house, Valentine's Day does NOT mean love and kisses, it means cards. Lots and lots of Valentine's Day cards. And the "who is going with who" and "who sent who an anonymous Valentine's Day card" drama.  Certainly not romance.

If there's one event that seems out of touch with your standard MMO fare, it's the Valentine's Day events.

You could make arguments about the global appeal of festivals surrounding the Summer and Winter, Harvest and the New Year, and even the Spring and Brewing (another Harvest Festival, really), and I'd only point out the Western origins of most of them.  Still, most cultures do have festivals covering topics such as those listed above.** But Valentine's Day is so much a holiday rooted in Western Civilization that any reference to it in a Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO unintentionally breaks the fourth wall.

That's doesn't mean that it's not possible for another society to have a holiday based on love and courtship, but a lot of cultures do tend to combine Spring festivals with fertility rites.*** Festivals grounded in sexual desire and a big fat party (/cough Spring Break /cough) are distinctly different than the modern Valentine's Day, yet we see the latter in MMOs (Brewfest) as opposed to the former.

You won't be seeing this sort of art out  of the official
Love is in the Air material,  but it makes
for inspired fan art.****   (From Wowhead.)

WoW's Love is in the Air event doesn't change much at all from year to year. Much like the modern Valentine's Day, you're sent scurrying around for cards and candy for different people.  There's also the everpresent questline to defeat the purveyors of the "love sickness". But that's pretty much it. Kind of cute, kind of harmless, and right in line with the expectations my kids had when passing Valentine's Day cards around at school.*****

And it is soon forgotten.

It's too bad, really, because WoW is so caught up with chasing the next expac that events like this are on autopilot. I'd argue that a Valentine's Day festival really doesn't fit in with what they're trying to do with WoW (as far as squeaky clean image goes), but if you're going to do it, make it different than something my kids do on February 14th. Make it an Azerothian event, something that you don't just put a thin veneer on and call it good enough.

Hallow's End, while keeping a lot of the modern trappings of Halloween, is Azeroth's. The Midsummer Fire Festival is Azeroth's. Love is in the Air, not so much.

Now that I think about it, a lot of what I think of the Valentine's Day problem is simply that Blizzard never bothers to show us the parts of Azeroth that festivals like Love is in the Air and Noblegarden are about: love, marriage, spring renewal. They just don't exist in Azeroth. Oh, they could, but they don't.  The middle school humor surrounding the occasional marriage/courting questline (the Troll one in Zangarmarsh, for example) deflects any reality behind the curtain. Aggra and Thrall's questline in Cataclysm (4.2) is distinctive because it shows Aggra's devotion to Thrall; it is the outlier in the World of Warcraft game.

Blizzard does get into love and marriage, but not in the game itself. You have to hunt down the novels and comics to find those topics, but they are distinctly separate from the actual game.

But it doesn't have to be.

Ironically enough, one MMO that integrates love/marriage into the game story is SWTOR. Bioware has had plenty of practice in integrating relationships into storylines, dating back to Baldur's Gate II, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they did it in their MMO. Even so, it's mostly an interaction with your companion(s) where the questlines come into play. Yes, you can flirt with NPCs --and that does have an impact on relationships with your companions-- but it's not at the same level as companion interaction.

Could Blizzard incorporate a SWTOR-esque interaction in WoW? Only surrounding a questline, such as the Goblin intro story, and even then their options are limited. And to be honest, I doubt they'd even try, since they've already got a formula (raiding and PvP) that makes them money.

Therefore, if love/marriage/romance is going to be injected into a world such as Azeroth, it would have to be done by the players.

And now that I think about it, relying upon the players to fill that void is both blessing and curse. While you may have true RP interactions like that found between Vidyala and Vosskah, you also get... Goldshire.

In the end, I guess the best thing to do in this situation is to just carry on as you were, with the MMO version Valentine's Day festivities pretty much optional.

*"And woman's!" my wife called from the other room.  She grew up in Louisville, and the UofL Cardinals ("GO CARDS!") are in her blood.  As is horse racing, but that's another post.

**Brewfest is kind of the outlier here, but if you acknowledge it is more a harvest festival than anything else, then yeah, it fits.

***But not found in MMOs such as WoW very much, since they avoid the topics of sex and fertility like it was some plague, going with the squeaky clean version of Noblegarden and Love is in the Air instead.

****As someone who can sew, I'd like to point out that the open heart makes for a problem with the rest of the front of that outfit. The top would need stiffer support material built in or the heart covered in mesh to support the top edge properly. What? Never heard of a guy who can sew?

*****I'd even argue that the "love sickness" questline could have originated in discussion among boys about "girl cooties", but there's no proof of that. ;-)

EtA: Updated the pic from a link, as that pic may disappear.


  1. "And woman's!" my wife called from the other room.

    Are you reading your posts out loud to her as you write them? :D

    1. I read that quip out loud, but not the whole thing. Given that she was watching the University of Wisconsin vs. Michigan State at the time I wrote that, she snorted.

  2. I totally forgot what I was going to say about the holiday because I am SO impressed. I don't think I've ever met a man that can sew, I certainly don't live with one, lol. No wonder your wife wanted you as her Valentine!

    1. As I tell my son, sewing with a sewing machine is like using power tools: use your noodle and don't try too hard. And respect the machinery, too: the first time my grandmother showed me how to sew on her 1940's era Singer, I promptly had a needle plunge through my thumbnail. (And yes, that @#$@-ing hurts!)

      But my mom taught me to sew as well as cook and clean; she didn't want me to not know how to do stuff like that. Unfortunately, she went a bit overboard on the domestic stuff, because she gave me a portable iron for my wife and I to use "on our honeymoon". My wife was NOT amused, saying "if she thinks you and I are going to be ironing on our honeymoon, she's in for a surprise."