Sunday, October 27, 2019

Memories Like A Shroud

Bouncing off Shintar for the second day in a row, I was spurred to write this short post by something she said about the different versions of the Azerothian holiday Hallows End as they express themselves in World of Warcrafts Retail And Classic. Speaking of the latter, Shintar said "I can't help but notice how quaint the celebrations are" and that, I think, is a very good way of putting it.

I live in a world of "quaint" and always have. It's not a word that English people use much but it's a word we often hear used about us and the land we live in. I mentioned William Brown in yesterday's piece and I sometimes wonder whether I grew up in the "real" world or in a story.

As a pre-teen, from about the ages of eight to eleven, I spent much of the time I wasn't in school wandering around the countryside, sometimes alone, sometimes in a gang, trespassing across farmers' fields and being chased off, wading in rivers and falling in, finding stray dogs and following them home, having stone fights that only ended when blood flowed, generally making my own entertainment in a way that would, I assume, draw the immediate attention of social services in these more enlightened times.

When the weather was wet or otherwise inclement I spent my time reading about other children having similar, if more exciting, adventures. When I discovered EverQuest in 1999, at the age of forty,  it was, as I used to say with monotonous predictability, as if the years had rolled back to reveal the virtual equivalent of my own childhood, only with even more violence and magic spells that really worked.

That childhood in itself seems quaint now. I suspect that it seemed quaint to outsiders even at the time. There were other aspects of my environment growing up, ones I don't often bring into conversations about MMORPGs, that were a lot quainter than that.

I did go to garden parties where people did walk about with plates of cucumber sandwiches, talking about the weather. I went to village fetes and fayres, where I played tombola and guessed the number of sweets in a jar. I have seen a raffle drawn in which the top prize was a live piglet. Or maybe that was in a story. I get them muddled up, sometimes.

I definitely went to countless jumble sales where old ladies in duffle coats really did elbow each other in the ribs in the press to grab the best bargain china. I absolutely have seen maypoles on village greens put to actual, unironic use. In all those storms of quaintness, though, I barely remember Halloween figuring at all.

In the United Kingdom there's a widespread belief that Halloween began with the release of Spielberg's "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" in 1982. That, possibly, even probably, did kick-start the previously little-known practice of trick-or-treating but Halloween had been with us on these islands long before that.

My earliest recollection of the festival comes from an Agatha Christie novel. As a quaint English rising teen, naturally my introduction to "adult" literature came via Dame Agatha. I had completely forgotten the title of this non-classic, described in a contemporary review as "a disappointment", but according to Wikipedia it was called simply "Hallowe'en Party". Note the extremely quaint use of apostrophe.

The thing that stuck in my mind about that book wasn't the plot or the characters but the apple bobbing. I remember spending a considerable time trying to work out how it might be done. I think I even put some apples in a bowl of water and tried it for myself. I have a very vague memory of once attending a party at which apples were bobbed for but I may have fabricated that. No, I'm pretty sure it happened.

Undoubtedly, apple bobbing qualifies as "quaint". Pumpkin carving might, too, if it hadn't turned into something every supermarket promotes ferociously for several weeks in the Fall - or "Autumn" as we quaint Britishers have it.

Guild Wars 2 makes a fair old thing of pumpkin carving. There are uncarved pumpkins propped up in doorways and by campfires all over Tyria, just waiting for the tip of your knife. Carve enough and you'll achieve something, allegedly. I used to join in but my carving knife seems to have lost its edge after all these years.

In WoW Classic the pumpkins come pre-carved. They have a much cheerier, cartoonish look than GW2's oddly authentic vegetables. They glow as radioactively orange as the skies of Durotar and the slashes of their mouths leer with an appropriately seasonal frenzy.

Classic also has apple bobbing. For apples. It's so quaint I think I can feel my toes curling. And there's trick or treating, too. Speak to the innkeeper in any Inn and you'll get one or the other. Then wait an hour and do it again. I do.

It all feels so... innocent. Oddly at kilter, perhaps, with the modern world, not to say with WoW Retail and the currently embattled Blizzard. Were gamers and developers really so much less jaded just fifteen years ago?

In GW2 things are very, very different. The decorations are more Michael Myers than Agatha Christie for a start. The whole affair is hosted by a pair of psychopaths whose conversation strains the seams of the game's "Teen" rating.

The centerpiece of Tyria's celebrations each year is one of the genre's most enervatingly mindless grinds, a desperately joyless Benny Hill chase round and around and around the Mad King's Labyrinth in search of an endless torrent of loot. Multiple instances run 24/7 throughout the weeks of the event. Squads circle like hordes of zombies, mowing down skeletons and plastic spiders to scoop up the lucky bags.

It's said you can average thirty gold an hour doing Lab. Some people make their year's earnings there. I can manage about an hour before I feel eternity calling. I don't even know why I do it. I have more than three thousand of the little bags unopened in my bank, several hundred from every year going back to when it first began. And I've opened a lot more than that.

As Shintar says, "MMOs use a seasonal event as an excuse to make people do more of the same stuff they already do all year anyway (usually grind special currencies and cosmetics), but with a "limited time only" urgency message attached just to get you to log in every day." And they do it because it works. It even works on me, a little, and I like to think myself immune to such shenanigans, protected as I am by my Amulet of Quaintness.

I wrote not long ago about the Halloween celebrations in EverQuest II. As usual I think the way things are done in Norrath is the best. There's a wealth of activity without any of the mania. Lots to do but take your time, enjoy yourself, no rush.

It seems like the happy medium between WoW's set decoration and GW2's commercial grindfest. And who could feel more at home at Halloween than a happy medium?

Keep your spirits up, everyone. Happy Halloween!


  1. Great post; great writing. Thanks!

  2. Halloween here in NA is a complete commercialized gong show. And having just returned from down under I was reminded that its not like that in most other places.

    Now that my son is "overage" for it (the age to be tricking, not treating) we turn off all the lights and hide, hoping no one comes to.he door for handouts.

    Wait, am I talking about Halloween?

    1. Lol! Living on a main road, we get very few trick or treaters. Indeed, when the kids were of an age, we used to drive about half a mile to a very nice area with lots of car-safe avenues and take them around the doors there!

  3. We usually get around 50 kids here in my little area of London. I have to admit, I love it. We provide a bowl with both tricks and treats for the kids to choose from. It warms my cold heart lol.

    I too found WoW Classic's Halloween celebrations oddly charming. There's a pumpkin with a witch's hat sitting in the inn that particularly caught my eye.

    1. I haven't spotted the hat-wearing pumpkin. I see a lot of players wearing witch hats, though. I want one!

  4. Two shout-outs in a week, you're going to flood my blog with traffic, hah!

    I guess part of me isn't really surprised at the descriptions of your "quaint" childhood, but another part finds it hard to reconcile the image of young Bhagpuss roaming wild with the MMO explorer of today. People have such interesting stories!

    1. The 1960s, when I was a pre-adolescent child, were very strange in retrospect. At that age most of the things that the 60s are famous for went way over my head and by the time I was a teenager in the early 70s things like Woodstock (which had only happened three or four years earlier) seemed as far off in history as the second world war.

      In fact, WW2 seemed closer in some ways because the city closeest to where I grew up still had plenty of unreconstructed bombsites from the Blitz. We used to drive past them all the time and I was fascinated by the colonies of feral cats that lived in the brush jungle that grew wild there.

      So much about MMORPGs, particularly in the original EverQuest, reminds me of things that actually happened to me back then.

  5. I also guess I had a quaint childhood. I'm just a few years behind you. We were always outside roaming around getting into low-key trouble. Stealing fruit from trees, sometimes to eat, sometimes to throw at each other.

    Halloween was a big deal though. When I was really small my mother would drive me around, but by the time I was 9 or 10 I was joining streams of my peers to move like locusts through neighborhoods filling our sacks with candy and fleeing in terror from older kids who would catch you and smash an egg on your head or spray shaving cream into your mouth. Of course a few years after that, *I* was the older kid tormenting youngsters. If you got caught you'd cuss about it, then move on. When you got home your mom would sigh and send you to the bath.

    There's a family story about one particular Halloween party that my paternal grandparents held (well before my time). There was in fact bobbing for apples and my grandmother (a young woman at the time) decided to 'dunk' one of the male participants, which resulted in a hush falling over the room. Turns out this gentleman was an infamous bootlegger and head of some kind of gang. I should ask my older brother to refresh my memory of this story; he knows all the details. Anyway said bootlegger came up sputtering, then started laughing, and the rest of the room laughed with him and the moment passed. (Bootlegging was rampant in the area I grew up in, apparently. My grandfather used to accept payment for the use of his barn for a night or two, with the understanding that he would not enter it until it had been emptied of whatever illicit materials the gangs were storing there until they could get it loaded onto boats.)


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide