I don’t know much about dancing. In fact I’m a terrible dancer — ask my wife. But here’s the thing: I like to watch other people dance and so do lots of other people. Look at the popularity of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars as one example of how popular dancing as a spectator sport is in our culture. So what does this have to do with dancing in WoW and how did Blizzard miss a big opportunity?
The truth is Blizzard missed the mark with their implementation of dancing. Sure the dances are very well done from an artistic standpoint but from the perspective of a player — dancing takes zero skill and there is no opportunity for mastery (remember that “easy to learn, hard to master” slogan?) All one has to do is simply type /dance and they are dancing like a professionally trained dancer in a MTV video.
While dancing was quite novel when WoW was first released — you could often see someone dancing near a mailbox in most major towns and cities — for the most these days people rarely dance. The question is why?
Well I’ve partly answered that question: it takes no skill. Why should anyone bother to get excited about seeing someone dancing in WoW when all they did was type /dance? In the same light, how many music enthusiasts would pay hundreds of dollars to go to Carnegie Hall and see someone turn on the switch of a player piano and hear a recital of Mozart? None.
The main reason for the lack of dancing players is that the novelty has worn off. It’s just pure MMO fluff and cotton candy that is part of the famous Blizzard polish. But when you consider the resources that Blizzard must have spent on implementing dancing it’s a real shame they didn’t utilize its full potential as a meaningful activity and mode of expression in it’s own right.
What Dancing Could and Should Have Been
Dancing could have been an amazing feature in WoW. Imagine for a moment if the player had access to various dance moves that were linked to various keys on your keyboard. Instead of canned dances that are choreographed by the Blizzard artists and 3D modelers, *you* the player would be the puppet master of your own avatar. Press this key and your avatar does this dance move, press another key and your characters does a completely different dance move. Combine various keystrokes and you, yes you the player — with a little bit of talent and timing — could be the next dancing sensation on the streets of Stormwind!
Imagine a MMO where dancing required skill. Suddenly crowds would start appearing around good dancers in the streets of any city in WoW — much the same way in the early 1980’s that break dancers in New York City would attract crowds on the sidewalk. People love to see talent. It’s such a shame that Blizzard wasted a valuable social gathering opportunity for players.
Dancing could have been like the music system in Lord of the Rings Online where people actually have the temerity to occasionally stop chasing the dragon of levels and loot to gather around and hear people play instruments in Middle-earth.
Good dancers could give special buffs to the spectators around them much like the spirit buffs for sitting around a campfire. Dancers could have special role-playing competitions and events. The possibilities are endless.
Check out this amusing TV feature probably produced about the break dancing phenomena in the 1980’s.
Welcome to the Auto Attack Generation
Dancing is much like other automated features in WoW such as auto attack, crafting and even riding/flying — no skill is required other then simply pressing a button. It’s such a shame that in a genre where there is already a surplus of tedium and repetition that Blizzard could not have required a modicum of skill on the part of players.
The failure of dancing to be meaningful and require any semblance of skill speaks to the design philosophy of Blizzard. With the exception of raiding in WoW (which is really a throwback to the ancient days of EverQuest) concepts like skill and challenge aren’t held in much regard these days.
Even in the imperious age of a WoW dominated MMO industry, I have the sneaking suspicion that deep down players want to be challenged more then they are. It’s just not enough to show up and be entertained by NPCs such as those you see in the various festivals and holidays like the Darkmoon Faire. Players want and need more ways to express themselves within MMOs and virtual worlds.
People like to dance even if it’s the simulated dancing of Dance Dance Revolution. People also like to watch others dance but there has to be some element of skill involved. There’s something genuinely human about valuing and appreciating skill in oneself and in others. Somehow MMO designers who strangely enough cling to the safety of their “game” mentality have abandoned the notion of skill all in the name of accessibility. Dancing in its current incarnation in WoW while seemingly innocuous tells us volumes about the mindset of Blizzard.
The dancing mechanic has become an unfortunate metaphor for how MMOs are created to appeal to casual gamers. Increasingly MMO features are handed out like toys to be played with when instead they should be treated as mechanics for players to earn, learn and master which then form a cohesive bond with concepts of skill, status, community and player expression. By giving them free abilities that they didn’t earn and letting them feel they are mighty heroes or professional dancers is short-sighted and speaks to how Blizzard has really underestimated the creativity and talent of its own community.