Celebrating Halloween in World of Warcraft
I’ll write up something more about this later, but here’s a shot of my character standing dangerously close to the Wicker Man being burned to celebrate Hallow’s End in the online game/time vampire World of Warcraft.
Or I can start writing it now while I’m waiting for trick-or-treaters and blasting the Cure’s Disintegration, which was one of the only appropriate CDs I could reach given that most of them are packed up so my daughter doesn’t rip them off the shelves.
World of Warcraft, like many computer RPGs (particularly MMORPGs) has a long and rich backstory that hardcore players are familiar with, and lots of other folks simply blow off. And like most RPGs, the backstory in WoW is largely original, but also syncretically constructed from a number of real world mythologies and fictional worlds. I’m most interested in how WoW handles the Undead, one of eight races that players can build characters from.
So, the tortured backstory is this. A demonic host invades the war-torn world of Azeroth. They’re badasses, dark to the core. Hell, they raise the dead as an army to ravage their enemies and crush all opposition through both fear and force. These guys are not good news. They even manage to subvert the scion of the kingdom to their dark ways, burn, pillage and feast on the corpses of the fallen. In their wake, a plague of undeath follows, swallowing up families, villages, kingdoms, civilization teeters on the brink of being consumed.
Of course, the tide of battle turns. But then something interesting happens. Some of the undead, after the death of their demonic masters, declare themselves to be free beings, owing alleigance to none but their own, bound by a curse and the plague that’s left them intelligent, though certainly not pelasing to the eye. Instead of being simple flesh-munching zombies, the Undead of WoW, the free Undead (or Forsaken, as they call themselves), are just like us. Only kinda pallid and a little glowy-eyed. They retain their passions, drives, and essential characters.
And they’re kinda pissed at the rest of the world for trying to exterminate them. Granted, most folks don’t know that there’s a difference between Forsaken and the Scourge (the demonic flavor of undeadness, who are mindless eating machines by and large.) Now, the Forsaken know they can’t protect their nascent kingdom (or queendom as the case may be) all by themselves, and have formed an alliance with the Horde (orcs, trolls and tauren, who are sort of minotaur-like folks who have a culture rooted in that of the plains Indians of america). Of course, not even their fellow allies trust them fully. I mean, geez, they’re *dead* for crying out loud. They are not like us.
Only they are.
You’d figure that Blizzard (the makers of WoW, and really it’s unfair of me to talk about them like a giant monolith, when I know for fact that it’s made up of quite literally an army of skilled designers, artists, programmers, testers and the like) would go all out for Halloween. After all, they’ve had harvest festivals, Easter-like Spring celebrations, and Father Winter observances. Halloween should be something special. And indeed it is. Jack-o-lanterns festoon all the capitals, and players can trick or treat at inns and the like (often being temporarily turned into a cat or frog or leper gnome for their trouble). Enchanted confections turn players bigger (and oranger) and apple bobbing draws a big crowd everywhere.
And then there’s the Wicker Man. This gigantic effigy can be found near to the Forsaken capital city (in the ruins of the jewel in the crown of the old kingdom). It’s probably built to a scale of nine or ten meters in height (I’m terrible at guessing this sort of thing), and every night for about two weeks or so, it’s burned in celebration of not only the commemoration of the Forsaken breaking the shackles of their demonic masters, but also to serve as a warning to any who would attempt to enslave or eradicate them again. The Banshee Queen herself appears in spirit, moments before ignition, and the crowd goes wild, firing off all manner of fireworks and spell effects, cheering and frothing in proper celebration
I have to admit, the first time I took in the spectacle, I was moved. Not only because it was visually quite impressive (as you can see above), but because it added something crucial to the lore of the Forsaken and the game in general. These beings started out as the lowest of the low, mindless servants of the hellish thugs that would remake the world in their image. Even after that, the Forsaken were persecuted and exterminated by the humans that would embrace them, but for the plague that’s transformed their bodies.
But the Forsaken have had enough of that. They’re not going quietly into the good night. With the Wicker Man, they’re putting their enemies on notice that the Undead are free beings and never going to serve anyone again. That’s right. Non servaim, bastards.
Of course, the Wicker Man has its origins in Celtic culture, where it was an offering to the gods to ensure a good harvest and remind folks that today’s hero might indeed be tomorrow’s sacrifice, so a little humility might be in order. In WoW, the Wicker Man is a stark warning, blazing against the digital stars hanging in a slate green-black sky: respect us or face our wrath.