Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trick or Treat

Every year, I've seen less trick or treaters come to my door: it seems like fear of terrorists and other such "boogeymen" has driven this holiday to nearly a halt. I spent too much of my evening while awaiting children [I was dressed up as Jack Sparrow myself...] online, and saw a dismaying number of people engaged in facebook Mafia and Scrabble. Rather than join them I grabbed a friend and we went trick or treating ourselves. We saw perhaps 20 or 30 other people out during our wanderings through the neighborhood and encountered the rare outpourring of Halloween spirit in the form of a costumed man waiting to chase children out of his yard or a nicely decorated house with moving ghosts in the windows. But mostly these were blips in a generally dismissive scene.

The virtual world holds its counterpart to the more traditional Halloween. It's possible to go "trick or treat" within World of Warcraft: visiting the innkeepers in any town and passing the virtual pumpkins and apple bob my character can possibly get candy or be transformed into a costume for a while representing another race [or even a ghost!]. Sometimes the virtual innkeepers are feeling mischievous, and then my character might end up hopping around helplessly as a frog for a while. The spirit of Halloween even continues in the form of quests, from taking orphan children around the smaller villages to a very high level quest to defeat the Headless Horsemen. I can trick or treat within Facebook, too, visiting friends for Bloodtinis and other such goodies.

Second Life doesn't feel like a place for trick or treating: it's a costume party year round, and I didn't get the sense of much different in the world for Halloween. Perhaps somewhere more was happening, but mostly it felt to me like Halloween is too generic a metaphor for daily Second Life existence to be of much particular interest to the Second Life denizens. The trappings of Halloween, however, seem to be everywhere. I see people dressed as beasts or bunnies or strippers or pimps. In many ways the more wild outfits in Second Life wouldn't be at all out of place in a costume shop. There's even some of the same focuses I've seen in the transformation from children's costumes to "adult" costumes as sex replaces both cute and evil as the defining characteristic and everything from pilot to french maid is recast in objectified extremes.

What is it that's killed Halloween? Is it fear of neighbors as pedophiles and candy as poison? Or is it that we spend so much more time now in virtual masquerade that the real thing has lost its magic?

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