Posted by: Jess Riley | August 24, 2008

Theme Week Genre: Fantasy, and what it means.

When I heard that we were doing genre as our first theme week, I was a little surprised. I admit, I didn’t think that it would actually be a worthwhile topic to spend multiple posts discussing, I thought we would wear it thin after the first.

It has come to my attention, however, that like all things, I disagree with the other contributors about very basic parts of my views on the subject, and as such look forward to their dissection of my post.

First to state the obvious: World of Warcraft is clearly largely fantasy. There is no getting past that. When you have magic, elves, dwarves, gnomes, cow-people and walking corpses, there’s not much you can say to stop that ‘fantasy’ label being placed over you. However, it is also worth noting that there are a vast number of subgenres of fantasy, and so leaving it at ‘fantasy’ is to ignore the chance to discuss it more deeply, and therefore probably doing it a disservice.

World of Warcraft has a lot of classic elements of high fantasy – high fantasy being the epic, serious stories brought to fruition by such writers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Now, few would argue that World of Warcraft (Haris Pilton, anyone?) is entirely serious, but the scope is as epic as any you’d ever see, if you wanted to play it that way. Certainly, there’d be nothing wrong with pursuing an epic, high-fantasy roleplay story in World of Warcraft, and plenty of people currently do so.

As many people, in my experience, do the opposite and focus on more ‘realism in the fantastic’ take, which is very clearly what I will term ‘low fantasy’. Low fantasy, as far as I can see, has no set definition beyond ‘the opposite of high fantasy, less epic and more realistic and probably cynical’. I don’t know so much about cynical, but I have experienced as much or more roleplay on the low end of the spectrum. It is easy to do in World of Warcraft, if the fancy takes you that way.

I would say that one of the defining characteristics of low fantasy (in my experience; remember that this subgenre doesn’t appear to have a definition) is taking epic high fantasy, and deconstructing it. All those towns along the way must have had people living in them, the hero’s hometown must have had other people, who brings food to the city, who teaches the children, how does it all work? As such, in a game like World of Warcraft, it is easy for the two to exist in tandem without ever having an apparent conflict.

Which one works better? I honestly couldn’t say. I have played characters both on the epic end of things and on the lowest end of things, and while my preference is for the low end, I can’t say that either is any better or worse. In order to maintain the best balance in World of Warcraft, I think that people on every stage of this spectrum are needed, from the adventurers to the city socialites. That full spectrum of roleplay opportunities is what makes, and what would continue to make, World of Warcraft great.

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