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.