Thursday, 13 August 2015

Never Seen Rambo : WoW

Eliot Lefebvre of Massively OP really doesn't like WoW's Cataclysm expansion. Observing that "Cataclysm is without a doubt my least favorite expansion for the game", he goes on to give as one of his main objections the overuse of callbacks to contemporary pop culture. Eliot wishes it might be ..."possible to go back to a world without so many zones devoted to making pop cultural references that were dated a year before launch, including an otherwise compelling story in Westfall choked with CSI nods."

It's an interesting point. The last expansion, Warlords of Draenor and the forthcoming Legion both play very heavily on Warcraft's extensive lore. Judging by the excitement in some quarters there are plenty of people who take that kind of thing very seriously.

It's perhaps surprising, then, that WoW is probably as well-known for its willingness to call on icons of modern kitsch for a cheap laugh as it is to play the serious lore card. The two approaches would seem to be sand and oil yet they appear to have mixed quite nicely all these years.

It probably helps that WoW is a kitsch icon in its own right. When you're playing in a world that provides humorous backstory for characters in some of television's most successful and popular comedy shows it goes some way towards squaring that circle. And anyway, when I came late to World of Warcraft, I came half-expecting an interface between the high renaissance and last week's TV Guide.

That's not quite what I got and reading Eliot's comments I realized why. I just don't get most of the references.

My knowledge of popular culture is good, even excellent, in part. I can give chapter and verse on quite a few musical trends right across the last half century and not only from the days when I actually used to go to see music live, either. My visits to the cinema may be few and far between these days but I keep myself very much up to speed from a variety of critical sources. As for modern fiction of most kinds, popular, serious, children's, teen or adult, well I kind of have to know what's going on there - it's my job.

What I haven't done for more than a decade and a half is watch television. I stopped doing that when I started playing Everquest. Oh, I watch the occasional series on YouTube, usually a few years late, and I know the names of some of the bigger, more talked-about shows because, well, I talk to people. But I have very little idea what happens in those shows, what the characters are called, any of the tropes or memes or catchphrases they generate.

So, when I wandered into Westfall and stumbled over the corpse of Old Blanchy, no CSI alarms went off in my head. I could see that I was involved in a detective story and a murder case, of course, but my frame of reference was Sherlock Holmes not...whoever's in CSI. I don't even know what CSI stands for without looking it up.

It's not just television cues I miss. I also haven't watched a whole slew of key geek/nerd movies or listened to the appropriate heavy metal albums. I'm great on the films of John Hughes or Francois Truffaut but not so hot on those of Stallone or Steven Seagal. I could just about pick Slipknot out of a line-up (well, you'd think so...) and I can hum a couple of Rammstein's catchier numbers  but most days I'm more likely to be typing these posts to Israeli dreampop or Lana del Rey.

That's why, although I did, eventually, realize that John J Keeshan was Rambo, it wasn't until I'd already gotten all of his old team back together. I had had the nagging feeling there was something oddly familiar about the set-up for a while but it took a long time for the penny finally to drop. And even then it raised nothing more than a wry smile because I've never seen Rambo.


The very references that set some people's teeth on edge just go straight over my head and the few that I get make very little impact. Even Harris Pilton made me smile. Once.

So no, I don't mind a few pop culture references sprinkled on my MMOs. Provided it's smart and clever and witty and not blindingly obvious and clunkingly embarrassing. Like when some pillock thought it would be such a wheeze to add an NPC called Tavid Dennant to EQ.

What's more I expect it from WoW. If and when I get around to leveling a character through Cataclysm I'll be looking out for these little Easter Eggs and enjoying the ones I spot. I'm betting I'll miss most of them.

Which is probably lucky for me.

14 comments:

  1. While I completely understand that for you, exploring the world is the main part of the game, I would highly recommend buying the newest expansion and taking the free level 90. I've just come back to WoW after many, many years, and I've found the 90+ level content ace so far. I haven't read any guides, etc., and I am loving wandering around the world and happening upon random situations/quests. And the linear quests that are there have a fantastic, engaging storyline. Just an opinion for you :)

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    1. That is a definite possibility although I am more leaning towards buying the Legion expansion and getting a free level 100. Not sure I can make enough time right this side of Christmas to make buying/subbing worthwhile. Next spring might be a different story though.

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  2. The prime example in my mind is the Cataclysm zone of Uldum. Half the zone is a fantastic story of a civil war between two factions of a race aware of their old purpose from the titans and their curse of flesh. The other half of the zone is one long Indiana Jones snooze fest.

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    1. I was trying to place Uldum then and having no luck, which isn't surprising now I look it up and find it wasn't in the game when I was playing. I'd forgotten that Cataclysm added new zones as well as revamping old ones.

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  3. I all kinds of love you for this post. I'm consistently mocked for not having seen the big pop culture movies and shows that everybody else keeps referencing and I miss a lot of these references. We can be pop culture hermits together! :p

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    1. I blame MMOs. I was pretty much on top of things until they came along!

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    2. Well, I think with WoW you get a bit of a break. Pop culture references are frozen about 10 years ago! One of the dances is the Macarena.

      (Whereas in GW2, the human dance is the Shuffle from the LMFAO video, current when the game was in development).

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  4. I enjoy references, Guild Wars was good for a funny pop-culture reference and I often got some of them, some I had to look up as they got lost in translation to the UK.

    City of had some references that made me chuckle, but I think I'm naturally cursed to remember the most silly plot details and quotes from films/shows.

    Yet I couldn't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday so it balances out :/

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    1. I only really did Prophecies and Eye of the North and I can't remember much in the way of out-of-game jokes or references but then that's probably because they whizzed straight past. GW2 really doesn't seem to have much along those lines - apart, of course, from Super Adventure Box, which may just be the biggest Inappropriate In-Joke of all time.

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  5. I actually quite enjoyed the whole Rambo plot in Redridge. It is one zone that I think Cataclysm actually improved. Previously it was sort of a bridge zone with some more or less random quests and a couple of short story lines.

    The downside of the zone is that it is very much a solo experience, to the point that other people being on the same quest stage as you is annoying.

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    1. Yes, I never liked Redridge. I know I only played for six months but I did several zones multiple times including that one and it was always a bit of a slog. I notice they seem to have tightened up a lot of the legacy quests in Cataclysm to require fewer items etc. The whole thing seems slicker than I remember.

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  6. Working in various arts fields, I'm always leery of pop references that are likely to have a short shelf life or, of course, leave some people in the cold at critical points they need to understand. It's fun, but risky -- sometimes even riskier than the "regular" art parts. Otherwise, yeah, I'm much like you in that plenty flies right by me while the bits I get may provoke a very short smile.

    On the other hand, I really like npcs and mobs named after staff devs, even if they end up gone later. That reminds me... is Windstalker now seriously dangerous in the TLE?

    On point: I can't even think about playing WoW. That look... You provided a good word for me: kitsch

    (You think Odd Nerdum has have played kitschy WoW?)

    -- 7rlsy

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    1. Windstalker was dangerous on TLE for about a week I think. Who was named after whom there, though? I know Windstalker the dev was around early on in EQ's life but Windstalker the NPC was there first. It was Cros Treewind who used to get me most of the time anyway.

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