First of all, my internet died for a few days, so unfortunately I was not able to get online for a little while. My most sincere apologies for this!
Secondly, I’d like to give you some background on this post. Since well before I wrote here at Blogatelle, I’ve had this theory about the manner in which gnomes are treated by other races, based on “this theory I read about cute things”. Well, when it came time to do gnome theme week, it was suggested that I write about this theory of mine. Unfortunately, I felt it would be inappropriate to post here about “this theory I read about cute things”, but for the life of me I could not remember the actual name of the theory. In part, this is the reason it took me so long to update – I wanted to make sure I was talking about the right thing.
But, here goes: in 1949, Konrad Lorenz proposed that infantile features trigger nurturing responses in adults, an evolutionary adaption to ensure that parents cared for their young. As evidence, it was observed that adults react more positively to animals that exhibit pedomorphosis – the retention of infantile or child-like traits in adults. Pedomorphism is characterised by such traits as large heads, large eyes, shortened noses, etc.
Now, let’s take a look at a standard gnome – my new alt for the Katafray Project, Eme.
While it doesn’t seem at a glance to be an exaggerated effect, she does have a rather large head for her body size (taking up about a quarter to a third of her total size, as compared to sixth to seventh of a Night Elf, or the fifth to sixth of a draenei). her eyes are also quite large and wide, while her nose is very small (this latter point is less exaggerated again; most races have very small, dainty noses).
Why am I talking about this? Well, this indicates that gnomes are pedomorphic – they retain ‘child-like’ proportions well into adulthood. If humans, elves, draenei and possibly even dwarves have this nurturing response to things that look like children, this indicates that frequently, they would feel nurturing towards gnomes.
This isn’t just a matter of, “Keep in mind, your character will want to act nurturingly towards a gnome’. This goes further than that. Those of you who are constantly being mistaken for younger than you really are might understand how it feels to be nurtured and taken care of – or, as it usually turns out in practice, being condescended to or patronized – by people other than your immediate family. Even by your family, it becomes old after a while.
Imagine a 250 year old – still perfectly within the age range of a gnome – senior engineer, who is giving a speech to a group of humans about fluid engineering. Now imagine that group responding as though it were a small child giving the speech. Although in the vast majority of cases this won’t even approach a conscious level of action, the gnome is bound to pick up on it, and they probably won’t like what they’re seeing.
This is less about humans consciously acting like the people they’re talking to are children, as it is about humans letting their actions be informed by the fact that they have nurturing or caregiver-like feelings for something that looks, to them, rather child-like. It will happen to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the people in question, but it almost certainly will happen (or would happen, if Lorenz’s theory is both true and applies in the Warcraft universe) – and the gnomes probably don’t like it all that much.
For all that they have a reputation for being nice, carefree people, I really do wonder how much of this is borne from the perception of gnomes as being child-like and innocent, and how much is genuinely traits of the people. I’m certain, however, that the perception of the gnomes is coloured by this theory of nurturing, to greater or lesser extent.