Silliness in seriousness: Toys in WoW

Quite a decent amount of anecdotal and formal evidence suggests that a lot of the heavy players of WoW play for instrumental and achievement-oriented reasons and that “making progress” is the top reason people play.

So what, I wonder, is the deal with all the “useless” toys?

Lan and her new friend, Peddlefeet.

This has been on my mind recently because we’ve just wrapped up the Valentine’s holiday event in game, and I realised that my main, Lan, didn’t have the little goblin-like flying cupid pet! She may be a Love Fool, but without the pet, what’s the point?

Toys and pets (the decorative kind, not the combat pets that help you fight) are one of the things I adore about this game. This makes me typical among women and among casual players, and probably does not surprise anyone who knows me at all. Others don’t go for the toys. I even know someone who, appallingly, forbids all pets in raids and refuses to get a single one for himself! Madness.

Toys, like the Romantic Picnic basket that puts a clickable umbrella and basket onto the ground to share with others, basically do nothing. They provide fun little animations that make us giggle and sometimes serve as rewards for doing silly extras, like grinding rep with some obscure NPC faction. Mounts are similar: all you really need is the basic mount for functionality, but folks seek out the fancy rare ones to show off and get in the way of the mailbox in Org.

I love the toys because they add silliness to a game that sometimes gets way too serious. I like to remember that we’re there for fun, and that what I share with the folks I hang with is more than hard core coordination of DPS and healz. For all the intense demands players make of each other to “do your job,” there are still the toys to keep it fun once in a while.

Another thing about toys: they are an interesting way to connect with other players. In WoW, avatars have no interpersonal physics. That is, I can’t bump into your avatar like I can in Second Life or did in Sims Online. To interact, I can only use a rather lean set of emotes like /hug, which puts an extremely unsatisfying “Lantanayew hugs Kinx” into chat; or I can /wave, and my avatar waves at you.  ‘K.  w/e.

But toys offer just that little bit more. Sharing a romantic picnic or forcing your avatar to dance with my Piccolo of the Flaming Fire or showing you an endless string of my cool pets is another dimension of sharing something with you. A friend once theorized that people also use their various heals, buffs, and other dramatically animated effects as a way to connect with each other.  And it’s most definitely true that having someone shower me with sparkly Tranquility or surround me with that cool pink paladin spotlight feels like a connection.

So I say, keep those toys coming, Blizzard. Moar petz, moar mountz. Yes plz.

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