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Culture Forum

Culture Forum

  1. 28 Nov '09 09:40 / 2 edits
    I'm an avid gamer, always have been and one of the genres I enjoy is RPG. I think it's down to escapism and the idea that you can be part of a bigger cause and actually make an impact on the world (albeit a fictional world), something which seems dishearteningly difficult in the modern age. Part of the attraction of games like these is that they hark back to a simpler time where a man could put into the world what he wanted to get out and things like courage and loyalty were important. They also operate in the realm of fantasy folklore. They usually have a main character brought from obscurity and raised to exulted heights in a land where there is some struggle between good and evil, and the evil is usually of fantastical origin. This model is so common in RPG games that it would be a massive surprise when a game comes out which doesn't fit this model (I can't think of one at present). It is this model that I want to discuss and specifically that it derives almost entirely from J.R.R. Tolkein.

    Part of Tolkein's aim in writing the Middle Earth books (not to limit it to LOTR, because I wish to discuss the culture he created not just the books) was to show how awful war was, but he also intended to bring a sort of folklore to England. We have little or no indigenous folklore, taking what we claim to have from Celtic, Germanic and Norse origins. That Tokein also took from these influences, namely the Volsunga Saga (sorry Noodles, no umlaut), the Nibelungenlied and the Finnish work of Kalevala, is somewhat undermining perhaps, but what he did was create such a strong and detailed folklore world that it would then define every fantasy story told thereafter. Elves are not small impish creatures of Olde English telling, nor are they synonymous in origin with the Dwarves as in Germanic lore. Now they are tall, beautiful, detached creatures full of nobility and grace, separate from the Dwarves who grub about in mines and caves and have diminished stature. He created languages and histories for all his races and intricately melded their cultures to create folklore within his folklore. Even the Elves had their ancient stories from bygone ages.

    Anyway, to somewhat avoid labouring a point too early, I should get on with it. I wanted to talk about the modern representation of these races and cultures in gaming or perhaps even films (excluding LOTR itself). I'm currently playing Dragon Age: Origins, in which the portrayal of the various cultures and races are near identical with Tolkein's conceptions thereof, although the Orcs are called Darkspawn, but otherwise they're the the same. So my questions are this: Can folklore exist in games in any other ways than in which Tolkein portrayed it? How much of this is due to Tolkein and how much is due to market suitability (would games sell if the folklore was different)? Is the genre defined by Tolkein's model so much that to remove from this model would render it not an RPG? And finally; would it be possible to create a new and uninfluenced folklore in the modern age, derived from modern stories which could serve gaming and all forms of art and literature in the centuries to come?
  2. 28 Nov '09 09:57
    Actually I have been wondering about this as well since the release of Dragon Age: Origins (I haven't played it, but people were talking about it) and it strook me how extremely stereotypical the characters and the plot setting was. I think it comes down to partly laziness (don't have to spend time actually thinking of something new) and cowardice (tried and tested) of the developers, and maybe the fact that people tend to like what they are already used to more. If there were some game where elves were fierce, greedy warriors and humans were noble archers, people would probably find it rather awkward.
  3. 28 Nov '09 11:01
    Originally posted by KazetNagorra
    Actually I have been wondering about this as well since the release of Dragon Age: Origins (I haven't played it, but people were talking about it) and it strook me how extremely stereotypical the characters and the plot setting was. I think it comes down to partly laziness (don't have to spend time actually thinking of something new) and cowardice (trie ...[text shortened]... , greedy warriors and humans were noble archers, people would probably find it rather awkward.
    I think you're right about the genre being so characterised that people would find it awkward to engage with if it were altered. I think that's a shame, I'd like to see RPG games broaden dramatically to encompass new story types, although I admit I'm not sure what that could entail, being so used to the current model as I am.

    I should say that whilst stereotypical in type, Dragon Age: Origins is a masterclass in game construction. It's incredibly well made as a feat of technical gamesmanship, irrespective of the plot, which isn't actually all that bad. The dialogue is excellent, as is the character development.
  4. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    28 Nov '09 14:13
    Planescape: Torment is one of the most original RPGs I've played and probably my 2nd favourite (after Ultima VII). It may be based on AD&D but there's very little Tolkienesque influence.

    Regarding the folklore of such Tolkienesque races, the problem is that Tolkien was just too good. I think people would find it too unintuitive to have something with the same name differ so much from the mental image they have associated with that label. If ones wants to be original, why not create new races with new names, instead of creating new races with already used ones? It doesn't make much sense to do the latter. When Tolkien did it, the previous mental image of Elves and Dwarves was still probably diffuse. And one may argue that STILL he needed a gigantic depth of myth and folklore to make it stick.
  5. 28 Nov '09 14:38
    Originally posted by Palynka
    Planescape: Torment is one of the most original RPGs I've played and probably my 2nd favourite (after Ultima VII). It may be based on AD&D but there's very little Tolkienesque influence.

    Regarding the folklore of such Tolkienesque races, the problem is that Tolkien was just too good. I think people would find it too unintuitive to have something with the ...[text shortened]... nd one may argue that STILL he needed a gigantic depth of myth and folklore to make it stick.
    Yeah, I pretty much agree with all of that, although I haven't played Planescape. I'll check it out if I get a chance.

    I wouldn't want to recreate Elves and Dwarves in a new image, rather create a new folklore of some sort. My worry is that folklore necessarily requires the diffuse, time re-told essence to retain its mystic quality and therefore its attraction. I've always thought the English farming lore and tales surrounding the gradient between pagan/christian interaction, such as the Harvest Festival are fascinating and removed enough from Tolkein's interpretation. I would love to see an RPG set in that kind of fashion, with less emphasis on the Medieval knights and magic, and more on the superstitions and unseen darkness which Olde England does so well.

    Do you think there could be a modern, urban folklore in centuries to come?
  6. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    28 Nov '09 15:51 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Starrman
    Yeah, I pretty much agree with all of that, although I haven't played Planescape. I'll check it out if I get a chance.

    I wouldn't want to recreate Elves and Dwarves in a new image, rather create a new folklore of some sort. My worry is that folklore necessarily requires the diffuse, time re-told essence to retain its mystic quality and therefore its at es so well.

    Do you think there could be a modern, urban folklore in centuries to come?
    I don't know about the English farming lore enough to comment much.

    I was going to write that I think folklore is dying but, now that I think about it, there seems to be some traction there with internet conspiracy theories which involve larger than life schemes and a certain omnipresence of shadowy figures in every historical event.

    I wonder how much of it maps into a definition of folklore...The folklore of the information age.
  7. 28 Nov '09 16:58
    Originally posted by Palynka
    I don't know about the English farming lore enough to comment much.

    I was going to write that I think folklore is dying but, now that I think about it, there seems to be some traction there with internet conspiracy theories which involve larger than life schemes and a certain omnipresence of shadowy figures in every historical event.

    I wonder how much of it maps into a definition of folklore...The folklore of the information age.
    That's kind of where I'm going, I guess. That in the future such things become like stories retold. I suppose internet memes are the first stage in that. I worry that it takes away from the 'folk' aspect a little, being about a sort of international culture which is specific to teh interwebz and, in so being, says little about the people involved. But I can see similarities enough to perhaps hope there could be a new form of folklore in the future.
  8. 28 Nov '09 17:09 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Palynka
    I don't know about the English farming lore enough to comment much.

    I was going to write that I think folklore is dying but, now that I think about it, there seems to be some traction there with internet conspiracy theories which involve larger than life schemes and a certain omnipresence of shadowy figures in every historical event.

    I wonder how much of it maps into a definition of folklore...The folklore of the information age.
    You're on to something here... design a MMORPG based around conspiracies!

    The "evil" faction would then be the NWO, and one of its playable characters a UN representative. On the "good" side you would be able to play the tinfoil warrior.
  9. Standard member DrKF
    incipit parodia
    29 Nov '09 20:28
    'Folklore' dying? Haven't the middle classes been fretting over that since they dreamt up the fanciful notion and fetishised it in the first place..? 😉

    It's a romantic nostalgia that makes you look back at one community's shared practices and myths - that of your pagan/christian harvesting peasants, say - and call it folklore, and give it value as such, but hesitate before doing the same with teh interwebz (amongst other examples we could give).

    It's all around you...
  10. Subscriber AThousandYoung
    Just another day
    29 Nov '09 22:04 / 3 edits
    I am SO TIRED of the classic Tolkein/AD&D fantasy model. This is a good topic.

    There are of course other cultures' versions of fantasy e.g. Legend of the Five Rings which seems Japanese and has no Elves and Dwarves. There's also Michael Moorcock's Elric stories which is vastly different from classic fantasy. There was once a Chaosium game named Stormbringer in which this setting is interpreted in game form.

    Ars Magica is a European folklore based game that is quite different from classic fantasy. It's World of Darkness successors are also fantasy, but much different than the classic.

    Also look into Runequest and Elfquest. Elfquest is somewhat different than classic fantasy and Runequest even more. Greg Stafford, the original designer of Glorantha, the Runequest world, is now working on Pendragon. He also plays Age of Conquest at AGE games. He'd be a great person to talk to. You can find him on the AoC yahoo! group forum for AoC.

    H.P. Lovecraft is another vastly different fantasy enviroment. Native American legends would make another different game.

    Then there's the Christian legends of the Rapture...
  11. 30 Nov '09 07:35
    Originally posted by DrKF
    'Folklore' dying? Haven't the middle classes been fretting over that since they dreamt up the fanciful notion and fetishised it in the first place..? 😉

    It's a romantic nostalgia that makes you look back at one community's shared practices and myths - that of your pagan/christian harvesting peasants, say - and call it folklore, and give it value as such, but ...[text shortened]... same with teh interwebz (amongst other examples we could give).

    It's all around you...
    I'm not sure this is true. Sure the history and culture is all around, but the folklore is dependent on the stories therein and their retelling, how they are shaped and changed by the people that tell them. In the digital age, the speed and availability of information detract from that slow and changeable process, sites like wikipedia mean that information is stored at a node and people can all access that node. With folklore there's a dispersed series of nodes which are not accessed be the same people. I think that it's important to note that the isolation (for want of a better word) of the communities with access to the stories is a major factor in their being folklore.
  12. 30 Nov '09 07:40
    Originally posted by AThousandYoung
    I am SO TIRED of the classic Tolkein/AD&D fantasy model. This is a good topic.

    There are of course other cultures' versions of fantasy e.g. Legend of the Five Rings which seems Japanese and has no Elves and Dwarves. There's also Michael Moorcock's Elric stories which is vastly different from classic fantasy. There was once a Chaosium game named ...[text shortened]... would make another different game.

    Then there's the Christian legends of the Rapture...
    I will do some looking into all the suggestions here, when I get a chance.

    I was aiming to talk more about European folklore than Asian or American, though in retrospect that is instantly a source for other potential styles of lore. My question would be how successful these types are in the gaming market when stacked against their European counterparts (assuming the Tolkein model) and what, if any, is the cultural basis for them? Are they new lore made specifically for the games or are they based in a real indigenous folklore of their countries of origin?
  13. Standard member Bosse de Nage
    Zellulärer Automat
    30 Nov '09 10:20 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by AThousandYoung
    I am SO TIRED of the classic Tolkein/AD&D fantasy model. This is a good topic.

    There are of course other cultures' versions of fantasy e.g. Legend of the Five Rings which seems Japanese and has no Elves and Dwarves. There's also Michael Moorcock's Elric stories which is vastly different from classic fantasy. There was once a Chaosium game named would make another different game.

    Then there's the Christian legends of the Rapture...
    Yes.

    Moorcock should be wonderfully gaming friendly, both the Elric and Jerry Cornelius scenarios. (A good Dancers At The End of Time game would be too much to hope for).

    M. John Harrison's 'deep future' Viriconium setting owes nothing to Tolkien and would make a good background either for some quest narrative (monsters, mutants, outlandish weaponry) or something more cerebral and nasty (assassin type stuff?). Folklore, the more unpleasant variety, informs his work deeply but obliquely.

    Then there's China Mieville, who's pretty much the poster boy for weird fiction these days. Perdido St Station, The Scar, etc would all be great, Tolkien free gaming environments.

    I'd love to play a game set in Le Guin's Earthsea, too.
  14. 30 Nov '09 10:29
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    Yes.

    Moorcock should be wonderfully gaming friendly, both the Elric and Jerry Cornelius scenarios. (A good Dancers At The End of Time game would be too much to hope for).

    M. John Harrison's 'deep future' Viriconium setting owes nothing to Tolkien and would make a good background either for some quest narrative (monsters, mutants, outlandish weapo ...[text shortened]... ien free gaming environments.

    I'd love to play a game set in Le Guin's Earthsea, too.
    Can you tell me more about the models evident in these pieces? I've read some Moorcock and have actually played the Elric book RPG, which doesn't really differ from the usual AD&D setup at all, though that's down more to market forces than a good translation of the author into the game.
  15. Subscriber AThousandYoung
    Just another day
    30 Nov '09 10:42
    Originally posted by Starrman
    I will do some looking into all the suggestions here, when I get a chance.

    I was aiming to talk more about European folklore than Asian or American, though in retrospect that is instantly a source for other potential styles of lore. My question would be how successful these types are in the gaming market when stacked against their European counterparts ...[text shortened]... ally for the games or are they based in a real indigenous folklore of their countries of origin?
    Ars Magica is an excellent place to look.