December 26th, 2005

First off, a belated Merry Christmas, a continuing Happy Hanukah, and a general Have a Nice Holiday to all. Here’s to hoping your days are full of sweet, sweet presents.

A few months back, around Halloween time, we talked about holidays in games. Since we’re all a little sobered up (and hung over) from holiday cheer, now seems as good a time as any to bring up those questions again.

In general, I’m fascinated by the idea of ritual time (holidays) in game space, and if anyone has any thoughts on the topic, please feel free to share. What I’m wondering at the moment though is exactly which holidays are being represented in virtual worlds.

Wandering Second Life recently, I was stumbling across cardboard elves and tinsly trees that hacked up snow everywhere couple minutes. Never though did I find a Menorah, or, I don’t know, a giant festive latke. I admit, I’m not sure what the markers of a good Kwanza celebration are, or even what Wiccan holiday falls this time of year (There must be something, considering Saturnalia used to be December 25th, before Jesus was born and ruined the party.), but from the best I could tell, everything was Christmas cheer, right down to the slut-tastic — God, I love Second Life — Santa lingerie.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think virtual missionaries have taken over cyberspace. I know perfectly well that there are people of all sorts of religious and ethnic backgrounds playing Second Life. And, of course, there’s a chance I’ve simply missed their decorations, that their decorations have been subtle, or that, by the numbers, I’m just a whole lot less likely to see their decorations than I am to run into my fiftieth gingerbread house. Also, I’m attracted to shiny things. That might have something to do with it.

But my guess is that self-representation is a factor here too. In game space, you can recreate yourself any way you want, and you can choose what you display about yourself to the world. When, in real life, you’re not a part of the socially dominant religion, there’s often a certain dissatisfaction (I would even go so far as to say a masochism) with yourself. Certainly, this applies to many different religions. Personally, growing up Jewish, even in a very Jewish area, I knew it was embarassing not to fit in, with Christmas, with Easter, with all of it.

Despite the fact that individuality flourishes in other aspects of virtual worlds — think infinite possibilities for avatars, back stories, festishes — maybe, when we recreate ourselves, we blanket ourselves with mainstream religion.

Or maybe all of this has very little to do with religion itself. As in real life, players in virtual worlds may or may not be religious. Perhaps the decorations we see are merely reflections of mainstream culture, a culture based on the economics and aesthetics rather than the holiness of the Christmas.

Tags: Blog

23 Responses to “The Twinkle of Holiday Latkes”

  1. Brummbar Says:

    “I admit, I'm not sure what the markers of a good Kwanza celebration are…”

    That’s ok. The people who celebrate it don’t know, either…

  2. James Schend Says:

    “Ritual time?” Give me a break. You can be intelligent without being intellectual, you know.

  3. MD² Says:

    If it’s the ritualistic aspect of celebrations that interest you, try maybe looking a things through thinkers like Ôgyu Sorai. If christmas indeed is a ritual, it is not necesarily a religious experience. It has no more relation to the spiritual except for the shaping of the mold in which it may, or may not, later exist, than any other ritual.

    Not so sure about the masochistic aspect of being among the dominated. It does exist, it’s part of what makes the whole domination possible, but I think it’s by necessity a phenomenon more centered around lower middle class (real dominated with no hope of climbing the social ladder make necessity virtue and take pride in their differences. Lower middle classes, with still hope of better future [i.e of getting included in the domineering] , tend to be adhee more strictly than any other class to the rules of the dominating class (to the the detriment of their own. Look on the linguistic level).

    “Give me a break. You can be intelligent without being intellectual, you know.”

    Yes, but if it feels more confortable to you being intellectual, why would impose yourself any other way of doing things on your own private grounds ?

  4. Kelly A Says:

    For me, in game (MMOG) representations of holidays are, at their best, a great “freebie” that the game designers give me. Its a virtual “event” that just happens to tie in with a real world one. I enjoy the themed content on that basis.

    I can refer to a specific example from the main MMOG I’m playing at the moment: EQ2. Norrathians in EverQuest 2 doesn’t celebrate Christmas, they celebrate Frostfell. It has gift giving, and hats that sort of look like Santa hats, and decorated trees. But there is no “Christ” in Norrath, no monotheist religion, and no three wise men.

    In “real” life, I think its far too “politically correct” to fuss over whether to call this the “Christmas Season” or the “non-denominational winter celebration period”. People will (and should) call it whatever they and their family feel is right for the season, and respect other people’s right to call it something else and not get their noses bent out of joint. A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and it can get far too silly any other way.

    But in a game, I think the developers need to be conscious of the virtual world they have created, and the fact that the players in that world would can’t personally choose to call the holiday something else if the game *world* forces a name on it for them.

    The right thing to do, in my opinion, is to create a holiday consistent with the mythos and society of the game world. Its reasonable to assume that any human-like society would have some seasonal celebrations or holy days…the game designers can create those to occur roughly concurrent with real life holidays and have a “shared” celebration or event.

    Why would Norrathians call their winter holiday “Christmas”? Same for World of Warcraft. Maybe Dark Age of Camelot (set in mythical Arthurian England) could call it Christmas: a quick look on the net tells me that December 25th was generally decreed “Christmas” sometime in 4th or 5th century, so that could work. But we go back to the problem that in a virtual world, the players can’t always choose to honour a different belief: they are stuck with the options the developer gives them.

    From what I’ve heard, Second Life gives the players more flexibility to create their own symbols. Why couldn’t someone craft a menorah? Or whatever symbolic objects you might need for a Wiccan celebration? So one player could be celebrating one way, and another some different way, but everyone could agree that the period of celebration is between certain dates…that seems ideal to me.

    As to why, given the choice to do whatever they want, most folks go with Christian symbolism…I don’t know. I’m agnostic, yet I celebrate Christmas in the real world. If I were to guess, I’d imagine its like in real life- you walk down the street on December 25th, and you see all the decorated houses. The reality is that maybe only 40% of the people decorate their houses, and maybe only a fraction of those are practicing Christians in any real sense of the word. I suspect that the same applies in virtual worlds as well

  5. Bonnie Says:

    Hey James, perhaps you’re misunderstanding the term. It’s not like a stuffy euphemism for holidays, it’s a phrase that has a particular meaning outside of simply “holidays.” It’s any time set apart as special, or somehow different, from the calendar year, because these moments don’t move in a normal, everyday sphere, but a “ritual” sphere, a sphere of tradition and abnormal time. Think about how life (in some senses) stops on holidays, or about how we think a day like Christmas should “feel different” than other days. It’s that feeling that I’m talking about, not just the days themselves.

    (Plus 1) What’s wrong with being intellectual? and 2) You know what silliness goes on here. You can’t pretend we’re 100% intellectual blather :-)).

    MD^2, that same above explanation might help clarify with your first comment too. Also, I do think there’s a ritual within Christmas: the cultural rituals that surround it, even if they aren’t spiritual. With the masochism, I hear you about conforming in hopes of changing social status, but I’m speaking on a simpler level about putting yourself down as a way to deal with not fitting in. Being proud to be different, as cliche as it’s become, isn’t easy. Another way to deal is to look down on yourself, even degrade yourself, even just for a laugh.

    Kelly, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. It’s interesting that you mention holidays that are put together to fit a specific virtual world since, as you bring up earlier, putting holidays in games is often a way to link virtual worlds to real worlds – both in time and thought.

  6. James Schend Says:

    >Yes, but if it feels more confortable to you being intellectual,
    >why would impose yourself any other way of doing things on
    >your own private grounds?

    Because the entire point of writing something like this is to convince me, the reader, to put thought in it, and saying silly things like that distracts me completely from that message and makes me think, instead, “what the hell does that mean?”

    Being “intellectual” to me is using a lot of words where few, or one, will suffice to sound smart. Typing something like “ritual time (holidays)” when you could just type “holidays,” for instance, would fit that definition. Especially when the concept of “ritual time” isn’t defined or even fleshed out in the article itself. If “ritual time” isn’t important enough to define, why bother using the term at all?

    Sorry to be grumpy. I’m surrounded by “businesspeople” who like to make this grand proclaimations spanning several pages that always sum up (if you can even get through them) to, “the south parking lot is off-limits to staff.”

  7. Bonnie Says:

    Hi again, James. I understand your grumpiness, no worries. You’re right, I should have either defined the term or left it out. I hope the definition I’ve provided for you in my comment above is helpful. Thanks!

  8. MD² Says:

    James, yours is the very point I was addressing with my comment: this a blog, a form of writing I consider private. Had it been professional writing, I’d agree with you, but you don’t have to impose yourself the constraint of the professional world in your private life if you do not want to. Or so I think.

    Rituals:formal processes by which riches and status are distributed among a community.
    I like this definition, if not only because it generally causes people to pause for a minute.

    Bonnie, two comments:
    First, of course there’s a ritual in christmas. I was just re-inforcing the point of your last sentence, that’s all.
    Second: what is “putting yourself down as a way to deal with not fitting in” if not the interiorized process of “conforming in hopes of changing social status” ?

    NB: I hope I do not sound aggresive here, that’s not the point at all.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    No worries, MD^2, you don’t sound aggressive, just interested :-). While sometimes I like to agree with you and hide behind the “it’s my blog” excuse, I do intend for it to be read and, hopefully, understood by others, which is why I agree with James on this. Next time I’ll define my funky terms (This one, since I had used it before on the site, I thought might fly, but, like a four-sided triangle, I see it’s not so).

    “Rituals:formal processes by which riches and status are distributed among a community”

    Could you explain that a bit further, MD^2?

  10. Brummbar Says:

    So my daily bathing and toothbrushing ritual has socioeconomic significance?

  11. MD² Says:

    “So my daily bathing and toothbrushing ritual has socioeconomic significance? ”

    It may, though in that case I think your use of the term ritual is only a stretching the “formal” part of the definition to render the habitus you have.

    But if indeed it was a ritual, it would clearly be status distributor: it would be founding three communities, one of the clean, who respect the daily ritual, one of the dirty who do not do so daily, and one of the pathologic, who do so more than once a day.
    As a ritual, its frequency shows you what, in your society, is considered being hygienic, what is not, and what is overkill. Whether it really is the most hygienic solution offered isn’t the problem.

    Bonnie: we came to this definition of ritual with a friend while discussing the Chinese Legists and people like Sorai. We wanted a definition of ritual that would hold its ground from before the time ritual and law separated themselves functionally to our time where they seem highly separated. That’s what we agreed on. I don’t claim it’s the best one, but I do think it makes a useful tool.

  12. Bonnie Says:

    MD^2, interesting way to look at it, though I would caution that it’s only one way to see ritual (nowadays at least), and that other definitions should be allowed to exist simultaneously with it. Also, I think things get complicated when the word “ritual” takes on so many, often idiomatic, meanings – but perhaps it is applicable to all.

  13. Brummbar Says:

    Or perhaps I just know and desire the benefits of clean teeth and skin? Nah. It couldn’t be that simple; no room for Maussian jargon, for one thing. :)

  14. MD² Says:

    Don’t worry, as I said, I don’t claim that’s the best definition around. I do think it’s a minimal definition underlining the common aspects of all form of rituals, whether religious or secular, moral or legal, but it’s only my point of view, and I’m just a nobody student of little academic worth. :)

  15. Bonnie Says:

    Boys, boys, play nice. There’s room for lots of viewpoints to co-exist at once, even about something as important as teeth.

  16. Brummbar Says:

    An incisive point, Bonnie.

  17. MD² Says:

    Strange, when I posted my previous comment Brummbar’s hadn’t been displayed yet. :?

    My previous post was answering Bonnie’s, and it was made tongue in cheek with the previous “putting yourself down as a way to deal with not fitting in” in mind.

    As for Brummbar’s: well, you know, I hardly ever claim to be right, I don’t value my opinions enough for that, but I do love to try to present things in a light that will provoke thoughts.
    Sorry if I fail.

    I was more thinking of Erwin Goffman’s work than Mauss’… actualy had competely zapped Mauss. Thanks for bringing him back.

  18. Bonnie Says:

    Ah, yes, putting yourself down to fit in. Well done indeed :-).

  19. Brummbar Says:

    Clearly this entire thread was a trap to provoke MD2 and I into fighting.

    Nice try, Bonnie… or should I say, Herr Doktor von Bonnie!*

    *Respect to anyone who can identify this joke reference.

  20. Bonnie Says:

    Rocky Horror Picture Show?

  21. Brummbar Says:

    Well done. Having seen the damned thing over 100 times, it’s always nice to have someone else pick up the joke…

    “Whatever happened… to Stevie Case?
    That silicone, oversized frame…
    As she posed proudly bare,
    How I just couldn’t care.
    ‘Cause I wanted her to make a good game…”

  22. Bonnie Says:

    I had that (real) song stuck in my head for hours after seeing King Kong. It’s harder than you might think to find appropriate moments to shout out in public, “Give yourself over to absolute pleasure!” :-).

  23. Brummbar Says:

    Church always worked for me. Or standing on line at the DMV.

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