Monday, September 27, 2010


Have you ever been to a Masquerade ball? I would not attempt to compare a Halloween party to an old fashioned Masquerade ball, the latter drips with elegance and beauty, while the former is simply another excuse for people to dress up like a pregnant nun and get sloshed.

At a Masquerade it's required for everyone to come ingognito, in other words to wear some fashionable, elegant mask that is intended to hide their true identity. Now if you throw a Masquerade party for/with close friends, you'll probably know who is behind each mask without too much effort. Even if you cannot deduce identities by sight, a short verbal exchange and some well thought out questions will reveal the true identity of your party guest.

Now imagine that one of your friends brings a date, somebody you don't think you have met before, but you can't say for sure because, well, you don't know who's behind the mask. Is the person beautiful or plain looking? Do they have freckles? How about a birth mark or other defining feature hidden somewhere behind the mask? Are these the kind of questions that you'll be asking yourself when you see them walking in the front door, or will you be wondering about the nature of your friend's date. Is this person kind? Is he/she smart? What qualities attracted my friend to this person?

World of Warcraft is a giant Masquerade Ball/Party. In the melodious words of Andrew Lloyd Webber:

Masquerade! Every face a different shade...Masquerade! Look around - there's another mask behind you!
Masquerade! Burning glances, turning heads...Masquerade! Stop and stare at the sea of smiles around you!

We, all of us, show up to this party in WoW completely ingognito. Nobody can help but see the masks that we put on to play. Some of us put on elaborate masks and some try to keep it simple so that they don't stand out.

There are those that frolic to the trade chat channels and spin gems of countless colors into their masks that they will hope to make themselves sparkle and shine more brightly above everyone else. There is the introvert who puts on a flesh colored cloth for a mask, with holes for eyes to see and nose to breathe, and never wishes to be noticed by anybody. There are some who show up with no mask at all, but are handed the mask that they are told will help them to fit into the party, they take that mask and begin to mingle in the manner they were taught.

So many masks, so many shiny things to grab out attention.

Masquerade! Grinning yellows, spinning reds...Masquerade! Take your fill - let the spectacle astound you!
Flash of Mauve, Splash of puce, Fool and king, Ghoul and goose, Green and black, Queen and priest, Trace of rouge, Face of beast...FACES!
Drink it in, drink it up, till you've drowned in the the sound!

You may not have another chance to interact with any of these masks. Look around, see all the kinds that populate this game world. Run in a PUG, make an attempt to lift the mask from their faces to see what they are hiding. Sometimes you don't even have to try, for some will be willing to show their true selves without asking. Others will hide their face, hide their soul at all costs, however, which makes lifting the mask a near impossible task.

For me, the mask is not as interesting as the story behind the masks, however, and is something I try and make a point of here at my little blog. But our stories are our own, and what right do I have to even ask you to remove your mask and present your true self to me and all the others you play with? Your mask is your friend, it's your protection against unwanted attention and unwanted persecution.

Masquerade! Paper faces on parade...Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you!
Masquerade! Leering satyrs, peering eyes...Masquerade! Run and hide - but a face will still pursue you!

Unless you play WoW completely alone, there is no running from those that would want you to join their Masquerade ball. Some face, some mask will continue to ask you to join a guild, jump into raiding, do end-game PvP, become a Loremaster or World Explorer. There's always some masked person or thing that wants you to join them in their own little Masquerade, but you have the power to take that mask off or put on one that others think will be good for you. Even with this power, however, it does not mean that you can escape into the crowd and be forgotten. Somebody, something will always be either trying to take off your mask or handing you another to wear that's a better "fit" or "design" than the one you have on.

Masquerade! Seething shadows breathing lies...Masquerade! You can fool any friend who ever knew you!

In all the masks that we wear as online gamers, of all the designs and gems and frills and lace, you must decide on what you want to wear to the party. And once you get there, you must decide whether to take it off of try and fool everyone into believing that you are something that you are not.

One thing I enjoyed about my guild was that there was a time (when I was more active with them) that I felt comfortable enough to take my mask off and show everyone who I really was. Then I could put on whatever mask I wanted to and enjoy the game out in the world any way that I wanted to. It created an intimacy from human connections, from the real stories behind the masks of my guildies, that made coming back and coming back to the game more and more inviting. I honestly don't know what the future of guilds will be, whether there will be more larger guilds or if the smaller ones will fight their revolution, keep their masks on and refuse to put on the masks apparently being handed out by Blizzard. I don't speculate because it won't affect me. I know what mask I want to wear in Cataclysm, do you?

If not, then all I have to say is this:

FACES!...Take your turn, take a ride on the merry-go an inhuman race!

I hope to see you all at the party, but hope to see you all wearing whatever mask makes you feel comfortable. May the Masquerade begin!

p.s. Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorites. I always found the character of the Phantom to be pitiable, singing at the very end:

Masquerade! Paper faces on parade...Masquerade! Hide your face, so the world will never find you!

He was taught to be ashamed of his face, of his deformity, which drove him to madness and to murder. But Christine realized what I love to see while playing online games, that is there was a story behind both the mask and the face, a story of a life ruined by ill treatment and cruelity. He was taught to be ashamed of his face, Christine taught him that he didn't. Don't be afraid to lift your mask every now and then, you may just find someone who understands who you. You've got a story, go ahead and share it...not with everyone, but with someone.


Syl said...

A beautiful post :)
and this is indeed one of the big pros about online worlds, isn't it - we start with equal chances a lot more than in the real world. each of us can chose how he looks like and what he wants to show of himself and let others know.

you can hide if that makes you feel safer or you can actually show others who you really are without some of the restrictions or fears that might hold you back otherwise. it's why some friendships we make in wow have the potential to be as strong or even stronger than those we form with rl friends. you can connect on a very deep level as much as you can run into people that play roles and wear masks.

Gronthe said...

@ Syl: "Each of us can choose how he looks like and what he wants to show of himself and let others know."

Growing up I was always reminded, as I am now as an adult, how important physical appearances are. "A beautiful woman can get anything she wants" is something most of us believes or at least has been told. While the 400 pound dude or gal is given funny looks as they get on the bus and people place their bags in the seat next to them because they don't want that HUGE person sitting next to them, 'the seat isn't big enough for me and him'.

All the horrible prejudices that come from people seeing what we look like are done away with online, and that can be a good thing, because as people take off their masks (by choice) and let their true selves be seen, we make judgements based on their inner character not outward appearances.

I have not found a real friendship yet online; I got close once but I think that I held back once I realized that the person opening up to me was a teenage girl, while I was a 30+ something married guy. That knowledge made me change how I interacted.

Syl said...

It can be a treacherous road for certain, just like you experienced. then again I often wonder about the 'right' and 'wrong' of what society and propriety dictates anyway - you were friends before you knew her age and your shared thoughts and interests were all that mattered. isn't that how it should be? yet once we know about factors like sex or age, things change and become awkward, maybe for no good reason at all.

It certainly depends on situation and what sort of friendship it is, but I think the most harmless and virtuous friendship can be ruined by some of today's social labels (and paranoia) and that is a sad thing really.

And I do indeed think one big step-up is the loss of physical aspects in online worlds; of course physical attraction matters too (when it's also about sexual relationships, at least) but it's nice to meet the person before meeting the looks imo - we tend to miss a lot by judging looks in the real world and games force us to get to know people. this is not only nice for 'the 400 pound dude' but the 'sexy chick' as well, just as you said - neither is easy to be in a normative and superficial world.

Gronthe said...

@ Syl: Superficial world indeed!