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Second-Hand Elf

Videogame designers should embrace the opportunity to give us new worlds, rather than relying on watered-down Tolkien and Lovecraft.

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Very good point, this is what tends to turn me off fantasy in general to an outsider it looks like the same as lord of the rings and I'm not even such a fan of LOTR (But I do LOVE dragon age)

Lets not leave the Elves in Middle-Earth, maybe we should leave them in Ireland. The Tuatha de Danann?

Vault101:
Very good point, this is what tends to turn me off fantasy in general to an outsider it looks like the same as lord of the rings and I'm not even such a fan of LOTR (But I do LOVE dragon age)

Agreed. If I seek a fantastic story, similarity to LOTR turns me off too, though I am a big fan of Fire Emblem (I like that series in spite of it's setting, not because of it -- mostly because it uses monsters sparingly.)

Everyone borrows from somewhere, even Tolkien. That doesnt excuse poor rehashes of existing ideas, but dismissing something because its reused an idea, while holding up a masterpiece that has done just that is foolish.

Theres pleanty of good things that borrow from other places, if its done well it can create some fine works, of which the Lord of The Rings demonstrates well.

Using and imitating are different matters, borrow by all means, but make it your own rather than attempting a homage or a faxcimile, as that will likley fail.

The other thing is to develope your charecters, races and other ideas, even if you don't intend on putting them in. So many IPs are poor because they just cut and copy races, without their own identites.

Yes, but creating a new world that rivals all those Lord of the Rings ripoffs requres time and effort. Developers are intellectually lazy, or under the pressure of deadlines, which makes the ripoff route an obvious path to choose. Human nature does not change (pick the path of least resistance), so the solution is for consumers to stop buying "me too" Lord of the Rings knock-offs.

It was mentioned that Elves in the Elder Scrolls franschise was somehow better than other interpretations of Elves after The Lord of The Rings, from what I understand. I haven't played that serie enough to understand what was reffered to, though I have played Dragon Age which was among the "copy/pasting" ones in this article apparently. Why? I found the concept of an oppressed, second-class people to be quite refreshing. It added tension.

Come to think of it, Dragon Age is the first and only real fantasy RPG in a western-medieval setting that I have played so far. But the issues addressed here have been obvious many times over for anyone. One should indeed spend more time on creating a unique setting, that is still recognizable in its own way once you've settled within the world it offers you to experience.

It is disappointing to see games where they're lazy and just go with the whole "Dwarf: scottish accent. Elf: flower protector. Orc: rawr smash. And so on..." thing. It's quite a common business strategy, which is the drawback due to money playing such a huge roll in it. If they make it look like The Lord of the Rings, maybe some clueless consumers will provide with cash should you market it enough.

Jonas Kyratzes:
Videogame designers should embrace the opportunity to give us new worlds, rather than relying on watered-down Tolkien and Lovecraft.

My personal favourite re-imagining of stereotypes in the Elder Scrolls is the case of the Dwemer - Tamriel's 'dwarves' that are in fact a species of subterrainian elf. That was one of the things I loved about Morrowind - the different creatures like Nix Hounds and Kagouti. It was such a shame to see Bethesda go back to Minotaurs and Trolls in Oblivion. Unfortunately, 'generic' sells better than 'creative' because more people recognise (and are therefore more comfortable with) it. Oh well...

It's curious that you included Lovecraft's cosmic beings in the article in the same vein as Tolkien's elves, because there has been an explosion of Cthulhu-esque imagery popping up in the last ten (maybe twenty?) years. Unfortunately, most of those uses miss the whole point of Lovecraft by treating them as yet another beast (yet the so-called "fans" eat it up, because...well, "Hey, look! It's Cthulhu! Yay!").

I'm not against borrowing concepts from other stories, especially if you can bring something unique to it, but it's getting to the point nowadays where it just devalues the original work.

Maybe its because its 1am here at the moment but am I the only one who finds it kinda counter productive to have an article about blame reproductions of tropes and then have pictures of some of the more unique elves they've done in a while (okay fine the dragon age elves are straight from a Game of Thrones style though I would hardly call that standard) but I don't exactly call the race of addicts who depend on feeding thier own addiction in order to defend themselves to be stock standard. Maybe they are supposed to be ironic and Im just too tired to get it but they stuck out so much I felt the article itself was a bit silly.

Let's not forget that the only race Tolkien invented were the Hobbits. The Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and Goblins all came frm Germanic myths. Orcs? Orc or Orch were just Elven words for Goblin. Remember Thorin's sword? Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver. Tolkien never claiemd to have invented them, but he personalized the, fleshed them out with his own history and color. It's ok to use Elves. Just make them unique. Don't make them Tolkien Elves. Deffinately don't make then D&D Elves.

Pugiron:
Let's not forget that the only race Tolkien invented were the Hobbits. The Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and Goblins all came frm Germanic myths. Orcs? Orc or Orch were just Elven words for Goblin. Remember Thorin's sword? Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver. Tolkien never claiemd to have invented them, but he personalized the, fleshed them out with his own history and color. It's ok to use Elves. Just make them unique. Don't make them Tolkien Elves. Deffinately don't make then D&D Elves.

I wish people would keep this much in mind whenever screaming "UNORIGINAL". Though I'd go even a step further...

Not to say that I wouldn't prefer to see a bit more of a diverse array of fantasy worlds...but you know what? I loved the Warcraft universe and its standard tropes just fine during the time of Warcraft RTSes. I liked it, because with Warcraft 3 they decided to spin it into a direction that I was genuinely invested in.

I also ultimately liked the Dragon Age universe, because for all the crying about the many tropes it borrowed (moreso from Thrones as was mentioned before), it also surprised me with things like Broodmothers or Awakening's final decision and actually giving the Darkspawn some context as opposed to just painting them in the style that I saw Orcs presented in LOTR (ala THEY'RE EVIL! PURE MINDLESS EVIL THAT WAS ONCE GOOD!).

For me art is ultimately about exploring something unfamiliar or about exploring familiar themes in a different way. So there is nothing wrong with a universe starting with the familiar. What is wrong, however, is that you don't take that universe somewhere genuinely interesting. And that is something that can only be shown time and again rather than through an in-depth critique of a single example.

So please...withold your thunderous judgements and cries of "YOU STOLE THAT FROM X" next time. It's getting moreso tiresome than the unoriginal approaches you criticize tbh.

I don't know if anyone pointed it out already, but you credited the white haired elf picture wrong. That's from Dragon Age, not Lord of the Rings.

Grouchy Imp:

My personal favourite re-imagining of stereotypes in the Elder Scrolls is the case of the Dwemer - Tamriel's 'dwarves' that are in fact a species of subterrainian elf. That was one of the things I loved about Morrowind - the different creatures like Nix Hounds and Kagouti. It was such a shame to see Bethesda go back to Minotaurs and Trolls in Oblivion. Unfortunately, 'generic' sells better than 'creative' because more people recognise (and are therefore more comfortable with) it. Oh well...

I agree with you that Oblivion was something of a backward step in terms of originality, but it was good to see Bethesda experimenting in the Shivering Isles expansion pack, though that was still nothing next to Morrowind. Your point about 'generic' selling better than 'creative' also stands, but Bethesda have gained such a following through Oblivion and Fallout that whatever they release will sell. With TES V Skyrim they have a real chance to create a unique world in the vein of Morrowind that will also be a commercial success.

On the article itself, its always been the way of art to imitate and improve on what's gone before, be it in music, literature, film or games. Tolkien had his sources and those before him had theirs. Originality isn't about creating something brand new, but fusing older elements together with fresh ideas to make a new mixture.
That said, in today's market-driven world art must sell, which has put something of a premium on creativity. Dragon Age is used in the argument as an example of over-reliance on 'classic fantasy', yet this is a game that not only sold well but received extremely good reviews. Sure, the world wasn't the most original, but it was very well implemented and so people loved it. This is no criticism of reviewers or consumers, since its impossible to tell within a week of release whether any artwork is truly 'great'. In my opinion, Dragon Age will be largely forgotten in the future (I'm talking 50-100+ years from now when there has been time for real critical appreciation), whereas games like Planescape: Torment and Morrowind will be remembered, not because they were 'unique', but because they were 'unique enough', whilst also being supremely well crafted.

Random musings over. Did any of the above make sense?

Rationalization:
Lets not leave the Elves in Middle-Earth, maybe we should leave them in Ireland. The Tuatha de Danann?

Weren't Tolkien's elves based on Norse mythology?

OT: It would be nice to see a fantasy setting with only minor influences of others, but it takes time and dedication to create one that's vibrant and believable.

I remember reading the Sovereign Stone, which also had the Tolkien species of humans/elves/dwarves/orks but significantly different. It's been some time ago, so I had to look some things up on how they were organised. The orks are a seafaring people and engineers, and not evil. They are actually on pretty good terms with the rest. Dwarves are horsemen nomads instead of miners. The elves are political schemers with a dash of east-asian society mixed in.

Speaking of elves, it would be nice to once see them as the evil conquerors with a total alien set of morals, but without all the Drow backstabbing.

jez29:

Grouchy Imp:

My personal favourite re-imagining of stereotypes in the Elder Scrolls is the case of the Dwemer - Tamriel's 'dwarves' that are in fact a species of subterrainian elf. That was one of the things I loved about Morrowind - the different creatures like Nix Hounds and Kagouti. It was such a shame to see Bethesda go back to Minotaurs and Trolls in Oblivion. Unfortunately, 'generic' sells better than 'creative' because more people recognise (and are therefore more comfortable with) it. Oh well...

I agree with you that Oblivion was something of a backward step in terms of originality, but it was good to see Bethesda experimenting in the Shivering Isles expansion pack, though that was still nothing next to Morrowind. Your point about 'generic' selling better than 'creative' also stands, but Bethesda have gained such a following through Oblivion and Fallout that whatever they release will sell. With TES V Skyrim they have a real chance to create a unique world in the vein of Morrowind that will also be a commercial success.

On the article itself, its always been the way of art to imitate and improve on what's gone before, be it in music, literature, film or games. Tolkien had his sources and those before him had theirs. Originality isn't about creating something brand new, but fusing older elements together with fresh ideas to make a new mixture.
That said, in today's market-driven world art must sell, which has put something of a premium on creativity. Dragon Age is used in the argument as an example of over-reliance on 'classic fantasy', yet this is a game that not only sold well but received extremely good reviews. Sure, the world wasn't the most original, but it was very well implemented and so people loved it. This is no criticism of reviewers or consumers, since its impossible to tell within a week of release whether any artwork is truly 'great'. In my opinion, Dragon Age will be largely forgotten in the future (I'm talking 50-100+ years from now when there has been time for real critical appreciation), whereas games like Planescape: Torment and Morrowind will be remembered, not because they were 'unique', but because they were 'unique enough', whilst also being supremely well crafted.

Random musings over. Did any of the above make sense?

It certainly made sense I think. I dunno what game will be 'moreso remembered' in the future, but as I said - it also depends on future iterations of the same universe. Planescape: Torment got only one iteration, but it was unique as heck and fairly well executed too so - it was remembered. DA:O was certainly nowhere near as original, but as I said...it's a matter of time and if they decide to do something interesting with it with DA2 I suppose. Isn't that kinda their whole theme? About 'change' driving it? I say give it a bit of time and judge over time...

Certainly moreso preferrable to the THUNDEROUS JUDGEMENTS that so many like to throw about the internet like they're part of the opposing personal army or as if they're these high-browed intellectuals who have the right to tell everyone else what's best. *sigh*

I think I just cried tears of joy upon realizing that someone else had bothered to read the Silmarillion.

Yelchor:
It was mentioned that Elves in the Elder Scrolls franschise was somehow better than other interpretations of Elves after The Lord of The Rings, from what I understand. I haven't played that serie enough to understand what was reffered to, though I have played Dragon Age which was among the "copy/pasting" ones in this article apparently. Why? I found the concept of an oppressed, second-class people to be quite refreshing. It added tension.

Morrowind was very much a trip through the land of the Dunmer, experiencing their own second-class status. They lost their independence to the Cyrodiilians and now, divided into numerous factions, they squabble and plot against the Empire and each other immersed in their own poverty and impotence while clinging desperately to their old ways.

You saw the tribal Dunmer of the Ashlands, the mighty Telvanni wizards in their giant spiraling fungal towers. Rode giant skittering bugs, their shells partly hollowed out for the driver to sit and manipulate their brains. Saw the halls of Ald'ruhn built beneath the shell of some giant ancient mudcrab and housing the noble but downtrodden House Redoran warriors.

Like the author of this article said, Morrowind wasn't perfect, but it was an extremely good breath of fresh air. From the bonemould armour crafted from the carapaces of Morrowind's bizarre insect creatures to the rusting metal ruins of the extinct Dwemer it was quite a curious adventure.

DannibalG36:
I think I just cried tears of joy upon realizing that someone else had bothered to read the Silmarillion.

I always keep a copy of the Silmarillion on my computer desk for some inspiration when RPGing or crafting new characters and stories.

Whoso hideth or hoardeth a Silmaril, this swear us both brother:
Death we will deal him ere Day's ending, woe unto world's end!

I've always been annoyed that Santa has 'elves'. They're not elves. Will Ferrell is not an Elf. That film should've had Orlando Bloom skipping around NYC, shooting hobos with his bow and saying vague things about the meaning of the countenance of the sky.

But seriously, yes! I think this is partly why they took fantasy elements into sci-fi, so that there is more to play with, but still has the core goodness.

Its an unfortunate sign of the times that the wonderful White Wolf interpretations of the Elves more generally the Fae as a whole is completely overlooked for their cliché vampire obsessed city romps (thank you twilight /sarcasm)

One of the few really bizzare and wonderful interpretations of the traditional Fae, many of them described or shown in images as clearly Elven in apperance, with personalities that can be frivolous, sadistic, alien but allways chaotic.
The Nobles in the Age of Sorrows/Exalted series fit the Elven feel, but feed on dreams and emotions wishing to devour the world - I would have loved to see this type of Elf developed in visual/interactive media, the crazy fun the designers could have with these unpredictable beings shaping and changing reality and using glamour would be awesome. Sadly it looks unlikely.

The 'Elf' described in this article is spot on, but like all things the playable races need to be instantly identifiable and relate to the player, I mean from a design decision if you cant understand your character's motivation or understand the way they think then its hard to play one through satisfyingly in a role playing game, which limits how creative you can get unless your going for a niche crowd.

jez29:

That said, in today's market-driven world art must sell, which has put something of a premium on creativity. Dragon Age is used in the argument as an example of over-reliance on 'classic fantasy', yet this is a game that not only sold well but received extremely good reviews. Sure, the world wasn't the most original, but it was very well implemented and so people loved it. This is no criticism of reviewers or consumers, since its impossible to tell within a week of release whether any artwork is truly 'great'.

This ^^ Definitely true that mass marketing of idea's popularised by Tolkien, DnD and what we now call 'classic' fantasy in the last 20 years have really helped open the genre which is synonymous with RPG, its awesome that the games are big budget and no longer for a limited audiences even if it means that creativity takes a hit in the process.

Examples of oldschool RPG's like Torment, and even Morrowind that were really original were experimental for a small audience that understood the details of the source material and their budget and bar for success was much smaller compared to today's titles so they could afford to take risks perhaps today's developers wont try too.

- Epic fantasy romps are getting good money and audiences at last, slowly people are coming around to the ideas and are ready for something new, someone, somewhere WILL take a risk on originality soon! (eventually!... I hope!)

I'm betting a big reason why games prefer the "pre-made" rendition of their denizens and world details is the fact that coming up with new stuff can scare people off. Loved the Elder Scrolls, but anyone remember getting into that series? Ya it was lots of background that would confuse most people if you tried to explain even the simple concepts. Im guessing developers get scared that if they can't properly induct their player base into their own lore, then they sure the chance of loss of popularity and somewhere down the line sales. If your a gamer well played in a variety of games, then I'm sure you've come across those games where the world is interesting, but it was never presented properly.

This one is debatable. Tolkien's creature names have entered the English lexicon. You may as well chastise people for ripping off Shakespeare by using the words 'bloody' or 'assassin'.

Jumwa:

DannibalG36:
I think I just cried tears of joy upon realizing that someone else had bothered to read the Silmarillion.

I always keep a copy of the Silmarillion on my computer desk for some inspiration when RPGing or crafting new characters and stories.

Whoso hideth or hoardeth a Silmaril, this swear us both brother:
Death we will deal him ere Day's ending, woe unto world's end!

I join ye in this most honorable oath. I was moved when I saw Silmarillion references all over.

The thing to remember about Tolkien is that he didn't just take elves, orcs, dwarves and goblins wholesale from Norse Mythology: he did a lot of alteration, to the point where they cease to be the same things anymore. Look at Norse dwarves, for example: in pre-Christian norse Mythology, sure they dwelled underground, were great craftsmen and smiths, and they loved gold, but they were also the same size as humans, they had pale corpse-like skin, jet black hair, and sunlight is deadly to them. Does that sound anything like Gimli? Compare Norse elves, goblins and the like, and you'll find they have similarities as well as weaknesses.

The truth is, Tolkien's Middle-earth is the "Elder Scrolls" to Norse Mythology: taking some familiar elements, and radicalizing them into something new and exciting. There is a vast gulf of difference between what Tolkien did with Norse mythology, and what later writers have done with Tolkien.

To be frank, I'm sick of fantasy settings that have elves, dwarves, goblins and dragons at all, yet somehow it's gotten to the point where a setting that doesn't have those things or their equivalents it stops being "fantasy" altogether. It's all the more jarring considering there are lots of fantasy worlds that don't adhere to the Standard Fantasy Setting, but because people just want to deal with the comforting and familiar, they aren't willing to take a chance on them, and even argue that it would be impossible. To which I would respond with two words: Planescape Torment.

I'm not necessarily sure that this classes as an 'issue', the fact is that many people enjoy reading about/playing as/watching elves similar to those that originated with Tolkein (or possibly before) and in worlds inspired by his and as long as people continue to enjoy these works then they should continue to be produced. Maybe the multitudes of fantasy worlds that have come from facsimiles of Tolkein's work are not art, but they class as entertainment which is there to be enjoyed. Such stories are selling, in relatively large quantities, so it's obvious that a number of people are still enjoying the fantasy 'archetype'.

Now if you bemoan the lack of 'art' in such creations then you are truly missing the point of their existence (although there may be many who claim that such works are art) and merely need to look towards other authors/producers/games designers that create more original worlds.

Truthfully, I think this article misses a lot of important details, like looking at why things are the way they are. Change for the sake of change is a bad thing usually, and there is little reason to try and "fix" what isn't broken when it appeals to a massive group of people and does so for a lot of reason. Don't misunderstand this as me saying that we shouldn't see anything new in Fantasy, but rather that I don't think Dwarves, Elves, and other things should be "left behind" simply for the sake of change. I will explain in a typical giga-rant format:

1: Perhaps the least important aspect of the issue, but one central to us as gamers is that of something called "Game Balance". One of the reasons why we see a Tolkien-like version of elves, dwarves, hobbits, and similar things throughout fantasy is that they are all on a very human-like level, and all have differant advantages and disadvantage. In the scope of an adventure game it's hard pressed to say one race is outright better than another, as they all have strengths and weaknesses. What's more, it's easy for a video game designer, author, or PnP RPG writer to develop challenges for such characters. The "standard" way of viewing these kinds of things from "Dungeons and Dragons" has endured so long, and inspired so much, is because it works, and works REALLY well. Most of the variations on the theme come from a D&D "subrace" logic where you wind up trading certain abillities for others to create more specialized characters and so on. Leading to like 20 differant subraces of elves which have slightly differant stat variations which depending on the game can involve anything from level penelties, strong class level limits, new powers, or trading one general racial abillity for another to represent a differant enviroment, or supplement a specific character class. It *DOES* get silly, and as far back as "Second Edition AD&D" (AD&D2) they released books with an optional modular system with buying racial abillities off of points and such rather than creating a subrace for everything, though subraces were more popular and you never saw that outside of specific supplements (Player's Option series if I remember).

The thing is that if one was to use more mythological versions of these races, it would be difficult to balance. Giving dwarves the abillities of the "Red" and "Black" dwarves of mythology, or elves a lot of the powers ascribed to the inspiring stories of the Sidhe and such would result in an absolute game balance nightmare if you made them playable. In general such characters are featured as antagonists in the stories they are from, rather than protaganists because they represent an epic challenge to be overcome, or a supporting element, not the focus of the tale.

2: Association is important. Let's be honest, people have been saying "let's toss out the traditional fantasy stuff" for decades. It's not a new or radical idea. The issue of course being "what do we replace it with?". The thing is that what you replace it with has to appeal to the everyman within the marketplace. People can associate with the elves, dwarves, hobbits, and similar things because the characters as presented in a traditional mould are very relatable.

Attempts to develop alternatives have generally lead to pretentious efforts by wanna be Tolkien scholors who releas fantasy novels that are half Glossary, and where there is an alternative word for everything that looks like someone smacked their head into a keyboard half a dozen times. Not to mention the fetish factor inherant in some of this, since it seems to me that a lot of people who create this stuff out of wholecloth invariably have some issues. One series I read (the name eludes me) had a flower on the cover, that turned out to be (when you read it) an alien sex organ, that the author was trying to sell as the ultimate experience. I kid you not.

Of course some attempts have been better than others. This article very much reminds me of the "No Elves" advertising for "Talislantia" which was around for decades. The game was a fantasy world where the selling point was specifically a lack of traditional fantasy races and most of the trappings. It was born of exactly these kinds of attitudes, and truthfully as far as small press games have gone it did fairly well, dying a number of times, only to be resurrected, and then die again. I have no idea what is left the the liscence nowadays. It was really awesome, on a lot of levels, and demonstrates EXACTLY what your talking about, but due to so few people being able to associate with it and a lot of the characters and concepts, it pretty much died out. It has had decent amounts of exposure and advertising within gaming circles as well (ads in things like Dragon Magazine).

It's also important to note that traditional fantasy has an international following. People all through the world know elves, dwarves, knights, dragons, etc... It's one of the big things that demonstrates the influance of global culture. You see it influancing the creative works of places in Asia like Korea and Japan, because like it or not, it inspires a lot of creativity.

You can produce a general sword and sorcery work with a few unique spins of gimmicks and find a global audience if your good. Produce something totally obtuse, and you might get a fan following, but since it's not liable to appeal to nearly everyone, it's just not going to take.

In making such arguments people tend to look very much at the US market and culture, and fail to realize what we think is quaint at times has influanced the rest of the world. Japan for example probably produces more western-style sword and sorcery in their comics, video games, anime, and similar things than they do stuff based on their own culture and history. They absolutly eat it up. Korea isn't quite the same, but it can come close.

Just because your bored with something does not mean the rest of society is, as new fans are coming in every day. Sure there is always going to be a jaded group crying for things like "Talislantia" (which I sort of wish took off more, I don't even have the books anymore either sadly... flood damage) but they are liable to remain a tiny minority overall even when it comes to high quality productions.

3. Finally there is the issue of (dum, dum, de, dum) political correctness, and how stupid we in the US are, which influances the media in general since like it or not we are currently the global trendsetters.

Simply put, the mythologies that have been drawn from and modified for a lot of the current "standard" conventions are all ones from hightly advanced, civilized nations. We don't take things like Greek, Celtic, and Norse mythology, Witches, and the like all that seriously. Heck, despite being the dominant religion of the civilized world, we're even willing to seriously bust on Christianity, and by and large our religious community is enlightened enough to take it without major incidents.

The thing is that once you start going outside of these permissible sources, you start irritating people. You have to walk on eggshells when dealing with Hinduism for example because tons of people practice it, and unlike the Christians they don't generally take a position of tolerance in regards of how their beliefs are used. It's generally okay to do stories like "Spawn" with wars between heaven and hell, teenagers killing the Christian god, how Jesus was a malevolent space alien, or games where a sexed up witch shoots down the hosts of heaven for morally ambigious reasons. Most Christians can look at that and say "it's just fantasy" or even see some legitimate points, because while stylized a lot of the same questions raised there are ones that religious folks have wondered themselves, albiet not in quite so irreverant a way. There are books written about such musing. A lot of other countries temper their freedom of speech with "except about the dominant religion".

Start doing irreverant fantasy about Hindus, Muslims (can't even draw pictures of Mohammad!), or whatever else and not only will there be complaints, but dual standards will cause protests to shut the people doing it down right quick. As a result there are a lot of mythologies that could inspire more fantasy, but will never be used. It's highly unlikely that you will ever see a work about how some Arab in The Middle East thinks Allah is responsible for the condition of the people in that part of the world, loads up with a bunch of guns and occult power, and heads off to kill him for the greater good... or at least not in the forseeable future. Make that Christian and that's pretty much a par for the course plotline nowadays. Make it based on norse mythology, greek mythology, or something similar and that's been going on for a long time. For video games we've seen things like "God Of War" and for books we've seen things like Linda Evans' "Sleipnir" [SP] (where a commando packs up some guns and heads off to shoot Odin to avenge his buddy... like a 'B' action movie but with norse gods in it's set up).

Then of course you have the whole issue of "Indiginous Peoples" which is to say comparitively primitive peoples who for whatever reason never developed and wound up being conquered. Such mythologies can be used, but only in very specific, politically correct ways. This of course fuels stereotypes, and prevents the exploration of a lot of concepts. If say you were to take Native American or Aboriginal culture and do something other than the "wise and benevolent shaman" or have someone shoot a traditional monster, or some kind of "guilt horror" piece about dead indians killing people to avenge wrongs on cursed burial land or whatever, your going to slot people off.

If say someone was to write a story in the vein of some of the "Witch Hunt" fiction portrays inquisitors as misunderstood good guys since the witches were real, and using dangerous magic to try and kill and enslave everyone, where say the Colonists and settlers ran into real magic using Native Americans, and they were all evil like some of the nastiest rumors, turning the "Indian Wars" into a heroic crusade against occult evil... it would be differant from other things written, but if it came to public attention you'd have people utterly freaking out and screaming about racism and bigotry. I mean despite having The Pope as the bad guy in the Assasin's Creed games and so on, it doesn't count then. :P

As astonished and somewhat overjoyed to see someone besides myself bringing up the Gothic games (even if only by way of allusions that only make sense if you've played them), it does seem a trifle odd to see someone mention that series in an article with such an elf-centric slant to it, especially when you mention it right after Morrowind, what with the distinct lack of any elves in Myrtana. Not that I'm complaining though!

I do however feel obligated to point out that H.P. Lovecraft's stories that weren't about monsters, while possibly surprising to someone who wasn't aware that he also wrote stuff about mystical dream realms and cats, are also his worst stories - he may not have only written about creepy things but that was truly his forte. His non-horror material tends to ramble on without ever actually having a point that the reader will care about, because of the extreme concentration of made-up (and pretty darn silly sounding usually) words and places presented in those stories without any real attempt at world-building (and given Lovecraft's chosen medium of the short story, there's only so much of that he could do anyways). Contrast stellar fare like The Colour Out of Space with say... The Quest of Iranon, and it's easy to see why his horror material is better - it's grounded in reality. Turn of the century New England is after all a place that actually existed, so Lovecraft could spend the time and effort it would have taken to produce audience "buy in" for that setting and put it to better use creeping us the hell out, rather than just spouting off a string of made-up and ultimately meaningless words (that sound kind of silly) left and right like he does in his more 'fantastical' short stories; the result is that his horror shorts have far more compelling narratives and characters.

Which is why I generally advise readers who are new to Lovecraft to pick a different story if they happen upon one that doesn't appear to be set somewhere in New England, because it isn't going to be very good.

I disagree pretty strongly with this article. As has been mentioned, change for the sake of change is not really a good thing. Just because something is popular doesn't mean it's bad. As much as fantasy has become standard, it's still fantasy, it's still not real. And if you want to mix it up there's a design space issue. There's only so much you can do with a humanoid form, and the reason these archetypes are so old is because they work and they resonate. The magic the gathering website has countless excellent articles about developing an effective fantasy world, they do it every year! The idea of good fantasy, in my opinion, isn't creating a bunch of fancy new names for everything, cause chances are all your ideas and creatures already have a name. It's creating exciting or interesting stories and characters with those foundations.

And I have to agree with Gildan. While I enjoy some of Lovecraft's non-horror stories to some degree, most of it was just aping Dunsany, who I've tried to read and found dreadfully boring and pointless. Fantasy has come a long way, and there's still lots of great stories to be told of elves and dwarves.

I've never read a truer article when it comes to fantasy tropes. Thank you very much!

Well done, Sir! You have just put my thoughts in an article, so great that you have the talent of mind-reading, I assume you use it well and enjoy it! :)

One thing I have to say though, the author may have gone that one inch too far. I see nothing wrong in inspiring yourself with something. I believe we have reached a moment in our condition that there's not that much left to invent. The Elves are inspired by the Fairies, as Dwarves are inspired by the Dockalfar of Scandinavic mythology. I don't have anything against Tolkien, because he took the concept and reimagined it in such a way, that it has become an altogether different thing. And that's what I think we all should aspire to.

In the end, all we 'create' we get by putting together pieces of a puzzle. The bug in which you move around in Morrowind is exactly that - an idea stemming from combining the idea of a big bug with the idea of transport. Nothing wrong about it, because it hasn't been done is this particular way before. Now, I agree with the author when he says that Elves and Dwarves are the worst offenders here (I don't think his mentioning of Conan in this respect is a good idea, because he's more of a 'character concept' than a 'character'. Well, Conan is a character, but the idea of a great barbarian is a concept), and just taking another name for the same race or creature (like pretending that an ugly race of savages is anything other than orcs) doesn't cut it. Fantasy needs new ideas, and needs them badly.

Apart from Gothic, which had an interesting, if not very complex, setting, I can think of only a handful of fantasy games where you DON'T play Elves and Dwarves and DON'T fight against orcs. The Kohan series come to mind, though that's stretching it a bit, because the races there are quite similar to the 'standard set', but have other names and some quirks which make them somewhat different. I can think of Earthdawn, the RPG, but most of you probably haven't heard about it - there the 'standard' races are reimagined so that they end up being something else. I can think of The Witcher, where Elves are present, but the idea of what they are is warped in a way which assures originality (that's based off a book, by the way). It's more easy, however, to find original novels or pencil and paper RPG's, than video games. Game designer seem to be comfortable with giving people what they are familiar with, at the cost of throwing progress of the genre out the window.

I could go on and on about this, this is one of my strong interests and I used to write about these issues extensively, but most of you probably already went tl;dnr on me, so I'll be finishing now...

Excellent article.

But what about Elves in non-fantasy settings? Wouldn't it be interesting to expand on that? You wrote how the Elves are sad people, yet not mention of their most melancholic and gloomy cousins, the Eldar...

I actually enjoy stories set in different mythologies, like Thomas Harlan's"Wasteland of Flint" and "House of Reeds" (there is another volume called "Land of the Dead") based around Aztec myths. And it's Science Fiction, not Fantasy. Going to "Different Races" you have the Fantasy Series known as the Chronicles of Elantra, populated by the somewhat elf-like Barrrani, but also the Hawk-like Aerians and Feline Leontines, and the Telepathic Tha'alani (who have antenna-like structures sprouting from their heads) as well as humans.

Though, I'd say what disappoints me more is when these races just turn out to be "funny humans". Beings who can live 500 or 2000 years are not going to have the same outlook, or even the same kinds of society as humans. When Elves are "humans with funny ears" and Dwarves are "Short humans with beards", everyone loses out, and so does the story you are creating with those characters. Dark Sun changed its characters up in a new way- Humans could now cross-breed with dwarves, creating a hybrid race called the Mul. Elves were desert nomads who specialized in running, and halflings were forest-dwelling cannibals with sharpened spike teeth, and the Thri'keen (an insectoid race that resembled Preying Mantises) were also playable. It was refreshing and new, but I don't recall many people liking it or playing it.

I don't like that changing the race of the character you play in a game has no change on the game's outlook for your character. The only example I can think that comes close is playing a hobbit in LOTRO, where the early Hobbit area quests reflect the Hobbit outlook on life and what is important to them as a people. Instead of lots of "Kill me six spiders", it's "deliver this sack of mail" or "Deliver these pies for me". Why shouldn't starting elf quests reflect the outlook of the elves as a people, or the same for the dwarves or whatnot instead of being a bog-standard "Kill me six boars", the same as the humans are doing?

This article reminds of one the reasons I love the world Ragnar Tornquist created for The Longest Journey / Dreamfall. Not only did he successfully marry science fiction with fantasy (actual mixture, not that persistent misnomer that keeps putting ghosts, werewolves and vampires on the same shelf as time travel and distopian futures) but he also created this fantasy setting that's full of new creatures, places and situations that are vaguely in that medieval setting (though it seems to be going into renaissance by Dreamfall) making them feel familiar and new at the same time.There's not an elf/dwarf/fairy/orc/satir in sight and the dragons that do come up are VERY different from your garden variety Smaug.I don't really know if it's completely original but I sure as hell have not seen it in any other work I've bumped into. My point is originality is not that difficult but the writer must feel comfortable leaving behind established archetypes and vistas and that's were most people fail. The same economic interest cancer that turns most FPS into Space Marine/WW2 plagues fantasy settings. This same issue has an article concerning Grim Fandango. If that's not using new inspiration sources for a fantastical setting then I don't know what is. Tim Schafer is just a master at that even if gameplay wise sometimes things go wonky.

I'd like to add to what Petromir, jez29 and others have said, the problem isn't so much the borrowing of the elf/orc/dwarf/whatever structure because the writers can take those structures and breathe life into them. The problem is when the writers don't and we end up with a flat, dead trope that bores ...everybody, really.

There are a number of good reasons for borrowing the elf-type, because people who play these sorts of games know (vaguely) what they are. People sitting at the character creation screen don't read "There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar; and he made the first Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his first thought, and they were with him before aught else was made." They read "There was Eru, the One, who blah blah blah, +5 ranged damage." Thats a problem with us, of course, because we're a bunch of plebs that don't appreciate good art, but people hit some made-up-nouns per paragraph threshold and stop paying attention. Writers know this.

On the other side, we have (TV show, I know, shut up) Babylon 5 with its rich and complex world-building and storyline, with its elves-in-all-but-name, great war between the darkness and the light, the completely accurate prophecies. By the time they got to the Rangers, the writers weren't even trying any more.

It's a balance, I guess.

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