As many of you know, I teach high school, and as the year winds down and summer vacation looms just above the horizon, I have been paying attention to the rituals that happen at this time of the year. Not just the codified rituals and ceremonies that happen with graduation, but those rituals that we all abide by – in order to give our lives some sense of meaning. The rituals that have evolved over time – and were never created or maintained by a larger social structure.
One of my students is an immigrant from Kenya. Keep in mind, she is only 16, bypassed the seventh grade, and is currently carrying a high GPA as a junior in all honors classes. Recently, she and I were talking about yearbooks – and she did not understand them. This got me thinking about the purpose of the yearbook in high school. My student had no need for a yearbook, her memories were held in her head. So, watching the desire and somewhat compulsive need (of other students) to get a certain number of signatures baffled her.
Blizzard knows the importance of rituals and has done a fine job of incorporating familiar versions in the World of Warcraft itself. In fact, I might argue that the developer has done well in reminding us of many rituals in our forgotten past – or those which modern society has deemed “too ritualistic” to have in the open.
The purpose of a ritual, while symbolic, is to give people the opportunity to remember who they are, why they do what they do, and to provide a connection amongst people in a community or culture. To the outsider, these may seem weird or irrational. Some rituals are held onto as a manner of remembrance for our past, even though it may have no meaning in the present – or future. Valentine’s Day, for example, is filled with various rituals: giving candy hearts to jewelry, these rituals are in place to remind us of what it means to love and care for another – though, beneath them, their rites stem from fertility ceremonies.
In the game, through the end of June and in to early July, there is the holiday event, “Midsummer Fire Festival.” The festival occurs in most of the major cities and, subsequently, offers-up celebrations throughout Azeroth. The celebrations include a fire dance, dancing around a maypole, killing a boss, and other fun games to receive buffs and reputation awards. Many of us love this festival when leveling characters, because it’s an easy way to increase experience gained by 10%. At least, I did. The fun part is that the first time I participated in the Midsummer Fire Festival, I had been invited to an actual “real world” Maypole ceremony that year.
Immediately, I saw the parallels.
While we are not certain of the reality of the Maypole ritual, there are hints and evidence that point to its roots in Pagan origins. Dancing around the Firepole in the game, the parallels were quite similar. Both rituals are used to welcome summer, both revolve around the sun and a pole. Both ask us to remember our connections with the land. Of course, in reality this connection has been long forgotten at a conscious level, yet we have some unconscious connection with it. In the game, the Shamans and Druid consistently remind us that we are a part of nature, that our ancestral past means something. Our culture today tends to ignore this importance and only asks us to move forward – yet we hold onto these rituals, while only trivial in many cases, to remember a time long ago when life was more connected, grounded, and peaceful. We may not acknowledge this out loud, but the game does not hide this at all.
In many Latin American countries, the Day of the Dead rituals continue to be a focus of celebration to remember those whom have died. In remembering and celebrating the dead through ritual, we celebrate life. World of Warcraft provides similar celebrations where you can take your character to cemeteries to commemorate heroes that have fallen, along with world wide celebrations in major cities.
I remember wandering about and finding Gary Gygax’s grave. Gygax was one of the founders of Dungeons and Dragons, which helped spur many fantasy and other role playing games. The cemetery where his grave resides is in the Eastern Strand of Hillsbrad Foothills. The headstone was marked with his name, dates, and accomplishments. It was fun seeing that Blizzard paid this honor to one of the people that gave way to the idea that fantasy games could be a fun way to connect with others in reality.
While not celebrated in western society, the Day of the Dead still maintains prominence in many Latin American cultures. As in reality, Day of the Dead follows Halloween, or as it is referred to in the game as Hallow’s End. Hallow’s End has similar rituals as Halloween: trick or treat, pranks, mischief, and others. In the game, once again, we can get buffs or rewards for defeating the boss, which provides good gear for those in pursuit.
The Day of the Dead lasts for two days (November 1st and 2nd) in the game – and in reality. In both, we take time to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have died – which offers an important ritual to remember who we are at a micro and macrocosm level. While many of us go to the grave of a family member on special days, be it a birthday or other significant anniversary, we tend not to use this as an opportunity to gather as a larger community. The game reminds us through the world events that we are one, and that we come from a shared past. That death should be a cause for both remembrance and celebration.
Were it not for rituals, we might lose sense of who we are. We do share a common past, we do share history, and rituals, from Thanksgiving to Independence Day, serving to remind us. Sadly, we have lost sight of the purpose of many of our rituals and go through the motions and use them for other reasons. Blizzard uses rituals in the original manner: to give our lives more meaning in the game. Set in a fantasy realm, these rituals are used to create a greater reality in virtual reality.
As you wander through the world events in Azeroth, what are your favorite rituals?
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