Rituals: Marriage

[Most of this was originally written over a month ago, 11/03/2011, as I was making notes to follow-up on some things I’d read about.

At the time, I thought I would have a chance to play Skyrim in the then near future. As of 12/14/2011, I still have not played Skyrim for a single minute and I’m not sure I will before the year gets out either.]

I’ve been thinking about marriage again. As I’ve gotten older, I sometimes think about other ways my life would have gone if I had chosen other options. What if I had gone to that school? What if I had moved there instead of here? What if I had gotten married?

The last question is not one I am or have currently faced. It’s never really been an option. Yet, I find myself thinking about marriage frequently these days. My sister, who is several years younger than I am, is planning on getting married near the end of next year and has been talking to me about her up coming nuptials. She been asking me what I plan to do for next year and where I would be (read: “you will be a part of my wedding, if I have to come get you myself”). After many, many discussions about this upcoming, and yet seemingly already planned ritual, I could not help but to think about video games weddings.

I kept asking myself this simple question: Has there ever been a video game wedding?

I’m not talking about weddings themed as video games. Those happen. One game site or another seems to run a post on the more notable or strange ones a few times a year. I usually look through the pictures, nod and then move on to something else to read. No, what I mean is this: has the player even been able to get married in a video game?

Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is weddings in MMOs (to me anyway). To that end, I found this interesting. I’ve never been a part of the role-playing scene — maybe a future post in that idea! — and so reading about such dedication in arranging such events in games is fascinating. I especially liked the part about avoiding possible griefers and going to exotic locations to hold it.

But that still does not answer my question: Has there ever been a video game wedding, one in which the game mechanics allowed it?

For that, I turned to my good friend Mr. Google. He said:

  • Super Paper Mario: The opening scene between Bowser and Peach. [Reminded me of this post I wrote awhile back.]
  • Dragon Quest V: Chose the girl you marry.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Wedding scene.
  • Fable 2: Marriage via presentation of a ring

Not a very long list, right? Admittedly, I did not spend that much time looking. A few search result pages in maybe; I looked over a few dozen sites. Still, you’d think marriage, and weddings especially, would appear in more games. In fact, one of more notable exceptions are in open world games.

You’d think that in open world games like New Vegas, Fallout 3 and Oblivion, you would have the ability to get married. I mean, I thought it should be possible. After all, many expressions of sexuality are possible — although, yes, not enough options exist — but yet you can’t. Back when I was spending way too much time researching Oblivion lore, I found very few married couples. One of more prominent ones, part of the “The Siren’s Deception” is, as you come to find out, not actually married at all but undercover guards.

I was excited then — maybe intrigued is a better word — to find out that marriage is possible in Skyrim. Not only can you marry people, it seems you can marry “anyone“. Maybe I am alone in this fascination, but that would have been one of the first things I would have done.

As a pacifistic, most of the fighting in these games bores me anyway. I’m way more interested in the social aspects: talking to people and working through solutions instead of slewing all who stand in my way. Yet, I see no one covering this. (Can someone confirm this for me? Is it truly possible to get married to any ‘race’ in Skyrim? And, if so, isn’t that really cool?)

Why might weddings, I wondered, not be a part of more games though?

The answer is, of course, that they can be rather boring from the point of view of interactivity. And they carry social and sometimes even sacred weight in societies. Agency might take a hit if someone had to get hitched. The player might not be as free to spend all night adventuring in the nearby cave system if their husband or wife had to stay home and take care of the kids/pets/house/monsters.

Unless you are one of the two participants, you end up just watching the events. It’s more of a scene than an activity. Given that, what are some ways to make it potently less boring?

For a few ways to increase interactivity, I turn to a post from a few months ago. It’s something I printed out, wrote out notes to and am just now getting around to using: “Interactive Ritual“. From the items highlighted, I’d like to mention a few areas that I would personally like to see more of in games that covers not only weddings and other social rituals too.

Oaths: “The marriage oath, swearing into court, and the presidential inauguration all require the participant to accept or reject the situation, with different consequences either way.”

Why don’t we see more of these? After all, aren’t all Hero Quests (e.g. monomyths) built on the swearing of one person to do something. In legends, men (and women) are always swearing to kill a dude, a dragon or rescue something. Let players makes such a commitment and then, of course, have consequences for how they decide to follow-through with it. (False Urgency is a constant problem in many games, this might be a way to solve that.)

Call-and-Response:  “Common in camp songs and some Christian-type sermons. The leader says one part, and the audience answers theirs or repeat what has just been said.”

Something is missing, in my opinion, from most games: an emphasis on the ritual aspects of cultural systems. Once you begin to think about all the exchanges that happen on a daily basis — waving to people, shaking hands, etc — you quickly realize that all are based in the the call-and-response framework (i.e. transactional communication model). What I’d like to see is more (read: different) rituals that used call-and-response in interesting ways. Other cultures are supposed to be different from our own. Developers, show us more of that!

Call-and-Action: “Traditional storytelling that has the audience do actions in certain parts would fall here, as well as children’s finger plays. Singing with actions, like jump-rope rhymes and clapping songs might also go here. If you say/do the wrong thing everyone else will probably keep going or stop.”

What if — as I can easily imagine doing — you moved in the wrong way during a ritual? What would the result be? Haven’t you seen episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation or other science fiction shows? Characters getting rituals wrong can often be more entertaining to watch. What if players got those same rituals wrong though? One of my most common complaints about science fiction and fantasy games (and books) of late is that their worlds are not that alien. Developers (and writers!), construct your worlds in interesting ways. Show us complex yet meaningful rituals. Present call-and-action rituals where something is required of us. Make us, as players, live in your worlds instead of just visiting for a few hours at a time.

11 thoughts on “Rituals: Marriage

  1. Heh, marriage is absolutely rampant in the Sims games. It carries elements of ritual and an event involving other members of the community – you throw a party, it can go well or badly, etc. And the marriage state is significant afterwards, as it affects your romantic relationships and such. Come to think of it, given all your interests, why haven’t you played any Sims?

    • I’ve traditionally not been much of a PC game player. For a very long time, all I had was a Pentium 1 computer and I did all my gaming on consoles. I basically missed most of the PC games of the 90’s and into the early 00’s. I’ve tried to go back to play several things (Half-Life last year, Planescape: Torment some earlier this year) but I often get frustrated with older UI or game mechanics.

      Most older games want you to play for longer stretches of time too. I can’t always do that and often end up re-playing sections that extend for longer than a couple hours — I really like the Persona games, for example, but they can be absolutely terrible at giving you places to stop playing.

      After talking with you about emulating some of the mechanics from The Sims in Mouthwash, I’ve added it to my backlog. That and its squeal. I’m interested in playing them but, you know, time. I’ll get to them at some point in the next few weeks.

      • Gotcha. The Sims might be easier to get into than others, given some of the reasons you mention. The UI is meant to be quite accessible, you can save anytime so jumping in and out is easy, and they’re not graphics-intensive (although they do hit memory and processor pretty hard). I’d actually recommend skipping straight to Sims 3 or at least Sims 2. The storytelling aspect of Sims 1 is much more limited than the subsequent games, so it would probably be less interesting for you.

  2. Hmmm! Thanks for the link/discussion. I guess I feel like games have their unique rituals (like loading/saving, talking to people, reloading, etc. depending on genre).

    I’d like to see more unique (made-up or historical) cultural rituals in games, but I wonder if it would get boring to wave to everyone? Or maybe it would become a habit that enriches play.

    • One of my favorite shows is Farscape. As the show got into its later seasons, there was increased usage of in-world terms and slang. I loved that knowledge of their “world” was required on the part of the audience to figure out what they were talking about. For example, in order to understand if I, as an audience member, should be worried about a character being gone for “an arn”, I needed to know what that meant (it’s about an hour).

      Battlestar Galactica, to mention another science fiction show, did a similar thing too. To end many of the sermon-like messages Admiral Adama would give, he would say “So say we all.” The crew, then, would shout back “So say we all!” in response.

      Many games have rich lexicons. The Mass Effect and Dragon Age mythologies have a large number of proper nouns to memorize just to go between places and interact with people. But yet, at least in my opinion, there is very little ritual space explored. One of the better examples, in my time with Mass Effect 2, was Grunt’s Rite of Passage. (Note: I’ve spent only a few hours with Dragon Age: Origins. There might be great examples I’ve just not seen yet.)

      It need not all be just waving to people. It could be, as you noted in your(?) original post, any manner of various communication styles built into rituals.

  3. I’m surprised no one here’s mentioned Fable 3, in which you could not only choose to get married or not, and if so to whom, but where, and for how much (resulting in either a cheap wedding, an average one, or an expensive one). You also had to choose a ring and a home for your new family. The wedding ceremony itself is more of a scene than an activity, but you do get to plan for it. And dressing up in Fable 3 is fun.

    Speaking of Fable…there are oaths (of a sort) in the first game, known as Heroic Boasts, which in game terms means you willingly take a handicap so as to gain some extra gold should you succeed (e.g. killing a bandit leader using just your fists). Also central in the first half of Fable 3 are the oaths (more like signed contracts) you make with the leaders that help you during the Albion revolution. Honoring those oaths (or not) becomes an important part of the second half of the game.

    On call-and-response, don’t forget the Quarians have ‘Keelah Se’lai’, heard at the end of Tali’s trial, and the Templars have the conspiratorial phrase ‘May the Father of Understanding guide us’ in Assassin’s Creed II.

    I’d love to see a game where some rituals were completely optional, but involved some player participation, and rewarded players who did it right, i.e. who were really invested in the game’s lore.

    • In my own defense, I didn’t play Fable and have yet to get to Assassin’s Creed 2, so I couldn’t talk about them. However, I am glad you mentioned the phrase “Keelah Se’lai’” from the Mass Effect games.

      I’m not sure how familiar you are with the idea of linguistic determinism from your own history getting a BA, but it would seem to me that most games, including the Mass Effect series, endorse that idea fully in a few instances, but then ignore it completely in others.

      I’ve always had problems with everyone in Space speaking English. It’s a highly angelo-centric idea that everyone (i.e. all species) should be speaking English. While it might make sense from a user/player perspective — as a developer, you want the player to understand what is going on — but not from an international or even galactic one.

      Having nearly all races speak English (especially to Humans) makes makes the case that 1) America takes over as the cultural hegemony in the future and 2) For reasons not covered, species cannot use their native languages around humans.

      Now, yes, you do hear bits and pieces of other languages from time to time, but not nearly enough for my own tastes. In fact, as far as I can remember, no reason is given for this highly dominant, nearly exclusive use, of English such as a universal translator (Star Trek) or even translator microbes (Farscape) found in other mythologies.

      If you accept that linguistic determinism plays a role in the Mass Effect universe, as untranslated phrases like “Keelah Se’lai’” points at, then you must also allow for the fact that there might not be a one-to-one cultural translation between ideas expressed in one language and those expressed in another. In fact, there might not be a way to express certain thought patterns exclusive to a species at all in either another language or even to another species — they might be too alien.

      This is, by the way, one of the reasons I enjoy the Elcor so much. They have emotional tags for their speech. Oh, and the Hanar! Their linguistic constructions are incredibly fascinating as it mirrors their (supposed) cultural evolution — indefinite participle phrases!

      Hmm. That turned into a very long comment. Sorry about that.

      • Actually, at one point in the Thane romance there’s a throwaway comment about Shepard’s translator that suggests there are universal translators. I took this to mean everyone’s speaking their own language and the omni-tools translate. This would also explain why species without mouths (like the Hanar) are apparently able to speak English, but it does get a little confusing if you think about it too hard in relation to the Elcor!

        • Hmm. That is very interesting. I have not followed the Thane romance option in my own playthroughs of Mass Effect 2 — I’ve played through it twice, one full paragon and one full renegade. Still, I’m not happy about that justification. I mean, yes, it works… I guess.

          Since I know from your tweets that you are a fan of Star Trek, what do you think about the use of a universal translator? Have you ever thought it might be a writer’s crutch? (As a writer of fantasy and science fiction myself, I often think about such devices and how they might be helpful — and harmful.) If the omni-tools funciton in this way, and I’m not saying they don’t, it creates an interesting narrative situation though.

          If a tool is translating what Shepard is “hearing”, then it is, in fact, also translating for the player too — Shepard rarely responds without player input. Perhaps it is just my own writing tendencies, but I cannot help but to think of ways to mutate or even pollute that relationship. What if, for example, someone were to hack the omni-tool and Shepard only “heard” what they wanted him to “hear”?

          Something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time is how much we, as gamers, trust what we see in the video, hear from audio and read via text on the screen. We assume it is all trustworthy and honest. What if it wasn’t though? Could we tell the difference? And, more importantly, would it matter? (As a great example of a scene that plays with this idea, look at the Little Sister segment in BioShock 2: YouTube video, jump to 2:50. Note that before you go to that link, it is a spoiler for towards the end of the game too.)

  4. The universal translator might be a writer’s crutch, but it’s a classic convention for a reason. The alternative, as seen a lot in Star Wars (Chewbacca and Han Solo, R2-D2 and C3-P0, Nien Nunb and Lando) has the first character speaking their native language, and the second one speaking in English, thus letting the audience know by context what was said. However, such communication loses a lot of nuance, and it would also require every race to have its own language.

    On the other hand, the BioWare game Jade Empire included the conlang (constructed language) Tho Fan created specifically for that game: as the characters spoke in it, the subtitles gave the translation. The segments spoken in Tho Fan didn’t correspond to the written text, but it did give the game a rather exotic, otherworldly feel. Plus, there was no possibility of misunderstanding, because most people in Jade Empire, including the player characters, understood Tho Fan.

    Lastly, I always thought the Hanar were telepathic, which is how they could speak without mouths or other orifices. The fact that their voices echoed also led me to think that they spoke directly into the minds of sentients.

    • It was bothering me so, once I got a chance, I looked it up. We are both wrong. The Hanar, according to this:

      “…communicate using sophisticated patterns of bioluminescence—which other species need machine assistance to translate (though many drell apply genetic modification to their eyes in order to perceive higher frequency flashes which allows them to understand the hanar)—and speak with scrupulous precision and extreme politeness. Most hanar take offense at improper language, and must take special courses to unlearn this tendency if they expect to deal with other species.”

      It seems then that Line was right, in a way. In order to communicate with the Hanar, some form of translation is occurring — most probably from the omni-tool. However, this also means that, as I mentioned before, the omni-tool (an in-game device) is translating for both Shepard and the player. Am I alone in seeing this as an interesting way to construct story/quest: that the translation be “wrong” or even tampered with?

      I also still see no reason not to A) make more light of the fact that not everyone in the galaxy speaks English and B) highlight the ‘speech’ of other races. We do not necessarily need, as players, to ‘hear’ all the languages, but I would like a greater emphasis on their cultures, practices and, to bring this back to my original point, rituals.

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