Elves and Dwarves Don't Define Fantasy

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Generally speaking my idea of fantasy is classed as anything the can be drawn from a skewed idea of reality. This does mean even that every game out there is in its own way a fantasy game as you are put yourself into someone elses shoes be it an athlete, a soldier, a disturbed young women, or even an idealised version of your self.

Society, the media and more so now the games industry are trying to box the idea of fantasy as it being only about fantastic creature and tall pointy eared dudes and squat bearded people but the truth most if not all things we do in the name of fun is in part touched by fantasy from reading, gaming, and sports. Because who hasn't dreamed of do things as a different you.

Nox did the backstory to #1 incredibly well back in the day. The player character was literally some white trash guy in a trailer park who had the magical MacGuffin atop is TV as an ornament before getting sucked into the dimension from whence it came. And classes took the role of races.

Space steampunk... not sure if it counts but the Kinect Themepark did that up until a week ago (4D Live Park). Shame about the CEO of that venture. Also shame about the game portion being horribly broken in design and... Kinect.

I'll bet that that the reason there are no dwarves in the Elder Scrolls is that it would have been too difficult. All the races are anatomically the same give or take a few inches in height & maybe a tail. But dwarves are often proportioned differently & the difference in height would have meant that the developers would have had to make a completely new model.

The problem with the trade off between preset fantasy and original fantasy is that preset has the familiarity, but nothing is new and it's like going through the motions.
BUT
Original fantasy has that issue of "Learn a new language as you play"(as Yahtzee put it)which is what Yahtzee complained about in the Amalur review.

Now Amalur was horrible about this because it managed to have both issues with it in its setting.
Personally I stand with Yahtzee on the idea though. Contemporary fantasy is kind of a lost art, I haven't even played one since Folklore. And every time I see a steampunk game, I become intrigued, though I haven't tried to buy any of them since I made the mistake of getting Damnation.
Nonetheless I've wanted a good steampunk game merely because I have yet to play one I enjoyed much. But would also love to be a averagejoe or college student or somethign who gets sucked into the worlds of fantasy.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

kyogen:
Considering that Tolkien himself ripped off the ancient texts he spent his professional life studying, I'd hardly say that copying is new. I wouldn't even strictly call it a problem. Creativity thrives on finding new ways to use existing material. If something is done well, it's done well. If it's clumsy or lacks a fresh perspective, then it's clumsy and lacks a fresh perspective.

YMMV on that. Tolkien didn't merely 'rip off' Norse mythology. He took the ideas and norms of Scandinavian mythology, combined it with his knowledge of Catholic mythology and morality, then brought in ideas alluding to or inspired by myths, stories and epic legends such as the fall of Atlantis, Shakespeare's MacBeth and John Milton's Paradise lost, pasting them into an entire continet he'd created that combined elements of Saxon-era Britain, Roman-era Italy, and Victorian-era England.

In short, he took a whole bunch of inspirtaions and ideas, and fused them into something new and unseen. Which sadly cannot be said for the legions of copycats who decided to simply re-write Middle Earth, but with more sex and racism added.

Writers such as Clive Barker and Nail Gaiman show that it is possible to not write fantasy fiction that doesn't borrow from Tolkien. Fantasy is not defined by orcs and trolls. It is defined by how willing you are to allow your imagination to take flight and soar.

*cough*
Kalevala

the Lord of the Rings prequel

"this one incredibly shit game I played once on the Amiga that was based on the Space 1889 pen and paper RPG setting"

Oh my god, I bought that game, and I fucking HATED it. One of the worst games I ever bought, and really depressing since I was just a kid with no money back then. The concept looked phenomenal, but the execution was godawful bad. I'd love to see someone make a better go at that concept.

Dunno if it's been mentioned, but Rogue Galaxy had a big ol' wooden ship in space =)

Wolfram23:
Nox was a pretty awesome and funny fantasy RPG that fits that "contemporary" idea like a glove. Your character is more or less a low income trailer park guy who gets sucked into his TV (I think) by an evil sorceress from the world of Nox. You then fall from the sky and into a Zeppelin (think WoW style) with a crazy captain who becomes a bit of a guide for the rest of the game.

And then for the second idea, well sadly not many games are like that, but I'd like to highlight the His Dark Materials saga, aka "The Amber Spyglass", "The Golden Compass", and "The Subtle Knife" which are basically exactly that idea. More or less a modern world but completely fantastical.

Hey, somebody else who remembers Nox, a real shame it never got any sort of sequels, and nobody (that I can remember) did anything similar.
For the second idea, people really don't like using steampunk in space because they like explaining how things work, although one way I can think of has kinda been done before: Anybody who played Baldurs' gate 2 will remember the giant planar sphere in the slums area, you could cobble together an idea that uses the same concept, instead of space (or it could be space still) it floats through dimensions using a combination of magic and steampunk, and if that makes it the magic version of doctor who, all the better.

I'd play a pudding with legs. I wonder what the stats on that would be like....

I'll start by saying that I created an account (finally) in response to this article, and it was no small coincidence to have 'fairy tale' as my captcha.

Yahtzee is wrong, but there are several elements in this article worth discussing. Before getting to the more fascinating ones, I think the misperception serving as the article's theme needs to be addressed: namely, that Elves and Dwarves define fantasy (although they shouldn't or don't need to). One needn't look far to find exceptions: jRPGs have been mentioned, and they are legion; games such as Nox or Savage Empire (the Ultima Universe) feature fish-out-of-water fantasy; even with limited experience in D&D games such as Baldur's Gate II or dungeon crawlers like Diablo II I see clear departures from anything Tolkienesque beyond the most fundamental archetypes and the occasional lazy ripoff; any game centering on werewolves, vampires, mummies, zombies, battle magic, or heaven/hell. A cursory glance at one of the (laughable) 'Top 50 rpgs of all time' lists available on the net shows how uncommon a Tolkienesque game is.

That brings me to the first interesting topic: archetypes. Most games with storylines focusing on one or more individuals feature an archetypal 'hero's journey' of the kind discussed in Joseph Campbell's 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces.'

1) The Call to Adventure
2) Refusal of the Call
3) Supernatural Aid
4) The Crossing of the First Threshold
5) Belly of the Whale
6) The Road of Trials
7) The Meeting with the Goddess
8) Woman as Temptress
9) Atonement with the Father
10) Apotheosis
11) The Ultimate Boon
12) Refusal of the Return
13) The Magic Flight
14) Rescue from Without
15) The Crossing of the Return Threshold
16) Master of Two Worlds
17) Freedom to Live

Because many of these archetypal steps are present in the Lord of the Rings, it's easy to find parallels with other works which invariably borrow from the same pattern. Star Wars, for instance, was written by George Lucas with the archetypal journey in mind. We can see a parallel between any party-based RPG and the Fellowship of the Ring AND Robin Hood's band of merry men and so on and so forth going back through literature to Jason and the Argonauts and beyond. There are only so many ways to present a story that leave it still recognizable as a story and not a post-modernist jumble of trivia without a point.

The second point of interest is in elves and dwarves, which, as has been pointed out, form a sub-genre of fantasy by themselves. Both elves and dwarves derive from Northern European folklore, appearing in a wide number of stories in Germany, Scandinavia, Britain, and elsewhere. Traditionally, dwarves are rugged, small people who covet wealth and live in holes in the ground. Elves, unlike the Tolkien versions, are much smaller than humans, although they, too, possess magical powers. They belong to a fae kingdom with fairies and pixies and nixies and so on, and frequently cause mischief (sometimes deadly). For a non-Tolkien treatment, Alice in Wonderland serves indirectly but with spiritual accuracy.

Given that these creatures predate Tolkien in folklore by a millennium and more, it's really of no surprise that they tend to pop up in modern fiction independent of Tolkien. Harry Potter, for instance, references fae creatures on several occasions, yet bears little resemblance to the Lord of the Rings.

Having given it some consideration, I'm actually hard-pressed to come up with more than a few game titles (and a few more book titles/series) that borrow liberally from the Lord of the Rings. These tend to be popular, and that may explain their over-representation in Yahtzee's perception, but they are not nearly a majority. Warcraft was originally a human vs. orcs game which borrows little from Tolkien besides humans being heroes who fight orcish villains. Sword of Shannara is a direct ripoff of the Lord of the Rings, while other lengthy book series, such as the Wheel of Time borrow from it heavily. Many also draw from the same pool which Tolkien drew from, netting similar results.

tl;dr : Yahtzee is wrong, although there are themes in Tolkien that are both European and archetypal (in all cultures) which have found their way into many books/games/movies since the Lord of the Rings was published.

Yeah, the elves/dwarfs formula is just so overdone.

Steampunk in space sound pretty damn awesome.

Final fantasy IX did pretty fine with the sort-of-steampunk-feel to it, a bit. That was also a pretty damn awesome rpg

Guardian of Nekops:
The way I see it, there are some very good reasons to stick with elves and dwarves in fantasy, just as there are some very good reasons to keep electricity working in much the same way in science fiction. If you keep batteries and generators from the real world, and just say they work on a new physical principle that lets them be essentially improved versions of what we already have, then you don't have to spend your whole game explaining an alternative electonic theory (which would be very tedious unless that's what your book is about). You can focus instead on the awesome new ideas that started you writing in the first place.

Similarly, if you replace elves, dwarves, goblins and humans with Flish'nir, Garblees, Undermen and De'unies then you have to establish those four cultures for yourself. Nobody has any idea what you're talking about to start with, and therefore it's going to take your players several hours to figure out what is normal.

Now, all this is well and good if your new races are somehow better than the old ones, if the new stuff you're bringing in is actually integral to the story, but if what you really want to talk about is a great civil war and an intriguing magical artifact then there's no real reason to change the rest of it.

At some point, it becomes an issue of language. If you can say what you need to with the concepts your audience already understands, why would you go out of your way to exchange them for a new set you have to explain?

Except that the language seems to be saying the same thing over and over.

In other words, I see your point about not necessarily having to change the races/milieu of a fantasy landscape--a common world-grammar can be useful, to be sure. But the problem is that nobody seems to be using these tropes for anything beyond the standard derivative fantasy plot, i.e. "great civil war," "intriguing magical artifact" etc (which I find to be mind-crushingly boring). If elves are always airy-fairy folk and dwarves are always grumpy underground people, there's only so much to be done with them, yes? In other words, it's not so much the races themselves that are the issue-it's the stereotypical ways in which they interact with the world.

Furthermore, if you read up a little bit, you'll find it's not that difficult to introduce new and unusual races into fantasy settings, often with excellent results. People have already mentioned China Miéville a few times on here, and I'll add my voice to the pile--his "xenian" races, as he calls them, are utterly fantastic, wildly original creations that he introduces with ease and which feel miles beyond the drab, tired tradition of elves and dwarves. (Not to mention his monsters rule too.)

And even if elves and dwarves are still in the picture, I think there's always something you can do with them to make them more interesting than their cliché epic fantasy counterparts. At the risk of sounding like I'm horn-tooting, I'm currently DMing a 3.5 D&D campaign set in my own universe, in which the elves are scruffy, fast-talking working-class types and dwarves are garrulous, frog-like creatures who cast spells by eating stones and worship a giant interdimensional centipede. (You read that right.)

Oh Yahtzee you beautiful-faced spoony mishap! You have been away for far too long from the green and pleasant land! Dixons no longer exists as a shop in the UK! It was rebranded as Currys.Digital and serves as a smaller version of it big brother! A Currys express if you were...

Although they are still owned by Dixons Retail, who are now just the umbrella corp that own Currys and PC World and many others...! Gone are they days where you can walk into your local Dixons for your electronic needs....! :/

Dixons... you shall be missed!

Frankly, I always got the impression that marketers for these games just use the term "fantasy" to avoid calling the game what it really is, JRR Tolken fan fiction.

I have played many of the so-called fantasy games, and really, I am starting to blur games together. Every year, it is the same elf and ork rage that people get hyped up about and by the end of the year, people look at the game and try to place it's game play mechanics with many other fantasy based games. The only game that I can recall to have even a spark of imagination in the world of fantasy would be "The World Ends with You". The game play might have been a bit tedious, and leveling for some of the pins were annoying, and the hazings for the "blowing" play might have gotten me hazed at school for it(immature nicotine butt wipes), but the game did delve into the unknown after death. Giving the unfortunate young the chance to reborn again through a life or evaporate game to a possible better life, it's as good as getting a scratch off ticket that could give you a dollar or one million dollars.

The thing that many developers needs to do, is look into the world, the real world about what is going on out there, what new discoveries were found, or what the average joe does for a living that a fantasy game can be built on. I personally wouldn't mind playing a game about a garbage man fight garbage cause an invisible deity has a trash fetish..idk just spitting out ideas other than ork and elves can't get along

I liked the 80's cartoon like He-man and Thundercats where they mixed magic and technology. Thundercats was interesting, because it was like Star Wars, with some egyptian and post-apocalyptic stuff.

It's even something that I miss in entertainment as a whole mixing sci-fi and fantasy. Stories and games based around that could be amazing!

Elberik:
I'll bet that that the reason there are no dwarves in the Elder Scrolls is that it would have been too difficult. All the races are anatomically the same give or take a few inches in height & maybe a tail. But dwarves are often proportioned differently & the difference in height would have meant that the developers would have had to make a completely new model.

[pedant]Actually there were dwarfs in TES. They just called them Dwemer and they are extinct. You run into the last one in Morrowind. They were excluded for lore reasons not technical. Half of those free to play Korean MMO's use Gamebryo and they are overrun annoyingly cute short races.[/pedant]

Can't believe Yahtzee forgot Arcanum and Planescape. They may include the standard fantasy races, but they really mix it up and they're both steampunkish in their way.
Also as others have mentioned, Yahtzee really needs to get over his bias against JRPG's. They seem to be the ones who are most willing to mix things up and include other elements.

Also, someone needs to make a CRPG of Deadlands!

EDIT:

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
Writers such as Clive Barker and Nail Gaiman show that it is possible to not write fantasy fiction that doesn't borrow from Tolkien. Fantasy is not defined by orcs and trolls. It is defined by how willing you are to allow your imagination to take flight and soar.

Writers have been writing fantasy that owes little to Tolkein or Howard since the 30's and 40's. Poul Anderson and L. Sprague De Camp's earlier stuff springs to mind, even though they also wrote at least half of the Conan books.

EDIT 2: Also, "The House on the Borderlands" (1908) and H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands works (20's and 30's) are as much Fantasy as Horror.

I guess what I'm trying to say is even though Tolkein and Howard defined High Fantasy, they did not create the genre of Fantasy.

I've often wondered this myself. If you can't be bothered to think up new races for a fantasy world, why don't you just make the current races different somehow. I rather liked how Bioware made elves into repressed slaves, but beyond that, they were the same old mystical tree-huggers we've all come to know and yawn about. And the dwarves were basically straight out of any fantasy setting ever, just with greater emphasis placed on political intrigue.

Why not at least switch up their natural habitats? Why can't elves be nomadic, semi-aquatic pirate types who float around the ocean on rickety old ships they salvaged together from driftwood? And why can't dwarves be cosmopolitan sorts who pioneered all the technology in the world, constructed several of the most impressive cities, and are otherwise just foppish dilettants? I mean, I know the whole "tall, willowy elf" and "short, stocky dwarf" come from their environment and upbringing, but this is fantasy. You don't have to explain anything. And if it really bothers you, just change their appearance to fit their new "role" in the world.

And while you're at it, why not just MAKE THEM NOT ELVES AND DWARVES.

Andrew_C:

Elberik:
I'll bet that that the reason there are no dwarves in the Elder Scrolls is that it would have been too difficult. All the races are anatomically the same give or take a few inches in height & maybe a tail. But dwarves are often proportioned differently & the difference in height would have meant that the developers would have had to make a completely new model.

Actually there were dwarfs in TES. They just called them Dwemer and they are extinct. You run into the last one in Morrowind. They were excluded for lore reasons not technical.

Actually, interestingly enough, the dwemer were actually a subrace of elves from what I've read (that's where the "mer" comes from). I thought that was kind of neat, though with that in mind, I've often said TES would have been better without elves at all.

Whimsi:
And while you're at it, why not just MAKE THEM NOT ELVES AND DWARVES.

Andrew_C:
Actually there were dwarfs in TES. They just called them Dwemer and they are extinct. You run into the last one in Morrowind. They were excluded for lore reasons not technical.

Actually, interestingly enough, the dwemer were actually a sub race of elves from what I've read (that's where the "mer" comes from). I thought that was kind of neat, though with that in mind, I've often said TES would have been better without elves at all.

Yup, they were a subspecies of elf, but they are occasionally referred to as dwarves, just as Dunmer are also called dark elves.

I actually think its quite interesting how in TES just about everything is a subspecies of elf. And while their elves are very much stereotypical, at least TES has the lore to back why they are stereotypical. Just a pity they didn't take things a bit further.

Holy shit! The Dresden Files was mentioned here too!

Best article!

Yahtzee, you make some good arguments about the saturation of in medias res delivery in fantasy story's. It does come with the problem of challenging the reader to debate if they are willing to commit the time trying to remember all the name and details being dropped during the middle of some over arching plot. That is a common tool employed, but as a fellow writer I can understand the author's desire to not want the protagonists of his/her story to be SO important that the entire history within the world begins with them. TVTrope's "black hole Mary Sue" comes to mind.

The origin story is the bane of your contemporary Movie Bob, whose has argued counter to your argument that origin stories are done too much and more people should get away from doing them. He argues that in origin stories, the protag will usually still be introduced into the fantasy world as if he's never heard a damn lick about any of it, but with this situation, Bob argues that there is this tendency to reduce the action and invest more in world building leading to a duller tale.

So the argument goes both ways on this one point you brought up. As for elves and dwarves, I agree. They can all just piss right off. Fucking German folk tale creatures.

Although I sorta agree with Yahtzee on one hand I disagree with him on the other. You see Fantasy has imbedded it's self with Elves and Dwarfs because if it didn't it would lose all meaning.

You see technically Fantasy pretty much applies to all games and movies. In any game where you're not playing yourself in a real life scenario can be considered Fantasy. Every video game can be considered Fantasy.

So if we were to take the fantasy label off of elves, dwarfs and magic and apply it to all genres of Fantasy it would lose all meaning and every time we wanted to talk about a fantasy game we would have to say Elf and Dwarf Fantasy which would be a pain in the ass.

well, dunno yet if the books of walter moers are out in english, but he had a nice fantasy setting without the elves and dwarves and swordshit-
they are about the continent of zamonien and they are f´ing wonderful. i´d love a videogame bout zamonien-maybe someone kews captn bluebear(not beard) a fat lying blue bear.^^

[user researches]
the books are out in english and i recomment them MUCHA! the german books are marvellous, wonderfull[insert english word here^^] i dont know wether the english books are equal, because translation is a issue due to style and grammar and this stuff. But if the thranslators are good, the books will be fine.

so-if you want fantasy without elves an dwarves-read this.. they may look like books for children, but they arent^^

A Wild Ride Through the Night, 2004 [not zamonien, this are textx about pictures of gustav dorree]

zamonien:
The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, 2000 (UK) / 2005 (US)
Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures : a novel in two books, 2004
The City of Dreaming Books, 2006. ISBN 0-436-20609-9
The Alchemaster's Apprentice, 2009 (English Edn). 978-1-846-55222-9

I love the idea of a sci-fi game that flips modern science the bird. So many games nowadays are looking for realistic physics in a fantasy world. Yet, the idea of fantastic physics in a realistic world sounds very cool to me.

It wasn't till Yahtzee mentioned this in a video that I started noticing it as well. I guess I had grown accustomed to seeing elves and dwarves in my medieval fantasy, much like you expect to see the same people working at the stripclub every time you visit. I guess they've been used so much it's become as if something in real life, like trees or roads or drunks. You just take them as a given. I remember how D&d tried to escape this with the Eberron setting, adding some living robots and werewolves and possessed psychics and nudging everything a little towards steampunk.
Speaking of steampunk I never got the attraction. Inefficient technology for dummies coupled with class warfare and expected identification with same? You know who else keeps a gentleman's bearing whilst wielding improbable gadgets and a gung ho attitude? James freaking Bond.

This has given me a fantastic idea for a videogame. You play as an underpaid gas station attendant, who is suffering from some terminal disease, and wind up being assaulted by knights with strange glowing lances who kidnap him taking him into the future where a giant ogre has taken over the world and he has to work through a series of ever increasingly complicated dungeons. Along the way amassing an army of npc's in the hopes of dethroning the ogre and somehow finding his way home.

If I do go through with it, the game will be an isometric role-playing game hopefully utilizing a modified version of the AD&D system. It will also most likely be worked on in spare time by myself and several others, but I just thought it might work

Yahtzee's last idea sounds like the Oceans Unmoving plotline from sluggy freelance. The ships were actually futuristic technology made to look like 1700's era galleons because they were crewed by modern-day earth nerds(and some non-earth nerds) who wanted to play pirates.

Elves and dwarves and magic I'm fine with but characters constantly exposed to hard vacuum with no ill effects is abhorrent to me... odd that...

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