In fantasy worlds, historical accuracy is a lie


#1

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#2

Historical accuracy? In Middle Earth? I don’t get that at all.

The thing about fantasy is that it’s fantasy. That means one person can imagine their unexamined lily-white medieval suburbs, while another can set up powerful and challenging allegories of race and racism. Star Trek comes to mind.

Imagine whatever the hell you want - it’s free. Do I sound like a Republican if I say let the free market decide which fantasy is most appealing?


#3

Why can’t she just be a black woman with the romantic and relationship quirks we all have?

Her quirks are many. And, the reason you can’t ‘romance’ her is because she’s already in love with someone.


#4

Not necessarily like a Republican, but possibly overly trusting in the market. If consumer’s don’t ask for something, the free market isn’t very likely to suddenly start providing it. The article doesn’t say there should be some diversity requirement, it is requesting it in future games and explaining the request.

That’s one of the ways the free market works. You see something you don’t like, or don’t see something that you want, so you speak up in hopes that someone make it. If you have the necessary skills and resources you can try and fill the void yourself, but that is frequently not a real option.

Simply being quiet and accepting what currently exists is not a very free market attitude.


#5

Middle Earth is a modern-English equivalent of Midjungards, Middangeard, and Midgard, biblical Gothic, old English, and old Norse words for this Earth. And historical accuracy matters if it is set in our history, just as consistency matters if it is set in another world’s history.

Tolkien deliberately used words for Earth to refer to his setting.

The creators of Dragon Age use their own names to refer to their setting.


#6

Having played only Inquisition and none of the other Dragon Age games, I rather liked how race (as far as skin color, anyway) is basically never an issue in Thedas despite how much of a minority POC seem to be. Unless it’s just that POC are such a minority, I am not quite understanding the complaint to be honest.

The article calls out some “incredibly gross” dialogues with Cole. Only one dialogue in the link referenced anything at all to do with race that I could tell, and this could be interpreted either as Cole’s childlike interest in physical differences or else Vivienne’s own thoughts about her own skin, neither of which seems like anything actually racist.


#7

I very much agree. But it’s not like there’s a Board of Standards - right now somebody out there is coding Leisure Suit Larry X or whatever. There’s room for many kinds, even creepy kinds.


#8

Why did video games have to become so important?


#9

They are quickly growing in popularity, scale, diversity, and cultural impact. A case could be made that as an art form, games are on track to become as culturally influential as film. That may be controversial, but it’s a lot less controversial than it was just ten years ago, which shows how fast things are changing.

So when you ask that, what I hear is “Why did art have to become so important?”


#10

The point is well-made, but I see a bit of complexity in the problem that Tanya D. doesn’t seem to see or mention - videogame characters, and fantasy characters as a whole, tend to be fairly thin tropes regardless of their skin color or cultural signifiers. Fantasy often trucks in archetypes and archetypes and stereotypes are awfully entwined with each other. This doesn’t mean the tropes are acceptable, or that tropes specific to POC don’t have a special status, but it does mean that it might not be a problem of representation specifically and more an issue of character-building in general, and that’s a different problem with a different solution that is different than the scope of racial equality.

Like, the specific issue might not be that the character designers feel that black women can only be certain stereotypical personality as much as it is that stereotypical personalities serve as a shorthand far too often in video game design, period, including when they represent black people, and when they represent black people in that way it is especially an issue.

On a totally different note, one particular thing that usually struck me about fantasy human skin tones is that biologically, there’s not a lot of coherence to it. Like, if your issue was biological believability, in a world where cross-hemisphere travel is not the norm, pretty much everyone in northern latitudes should be pale and pretty much everyone around equatorial regions should be dark. This produces in effect the “natural” divide in our own species. But since these games are made by modern people for a modern audience, it’s not kosher, so you have a racial mix that reflects the audience of the player rather than the world’s logic. This is a good thing, but that’s part of what gets lost when we center conversations around “historical accuracy” - the goal shouldn’t be coherent worldbuilding, in the end, it should be concentrated on the potential audience here in the real world.

Aaaaanyway.


#11

If a designer wants to make a fantasy setting that’s an allegory for the white suburban experience because they think that’s an interesting focus, then at least they’re honest. And that’s not necessarily an invalid focus to explore.

The problem is that designers are constantly making fantasy settings which racially and culturally focus on a white experience, but they use this “historical authenticity” concept to claim that they’re not trying to focus on a white experience at all…that’s just how the setting turns out when you’re serious about authenticity. This is a bogus claim.

If you want to make a white game, you should acknowledge that’s what you’re doing, and maybe even try to explain to yourself and others why. There may in fact be a good reason, but I haven’t heard one yet.


#12

Nope. Okay, our world hasn’t met your standards for biological believability since the Late Paleolithic. It doesn’t take frequent cross-hemisphere travel, it only takes occasional inter-regional travel to get, for example, a black soldier in late Roman Gallia.


#13

Yeah, late paleolithic sounds about right. And you totally can have exceptions. Hence “pretty much.” Though the Roman Empire was probably HEAPS more diverse than medieval farming villages, not to mention within spittin’ distance of most of Africa (versus, say, the British Isles). Still, a “fallen empire” in most fantasy fiction probably serves a similar purpose – though, again, exceptions (and exceptions that are extensively commented on).

But, anyway, the main thrust is that we don’t make fiction primarily to reflect imaginary worlds, but rather to reflect our own, and human racial diversity in a game doesn’t have a primary responsibility to internal consistency. Which is why convos about “believability” are kind of dancing around the actual issue of making things for a diverse audience.


#14

Love triangles make the best romances.


#15

This is a problem that goes back to Dungeons and Dragons, specifically in how the inhabitants of the fantasy lands are depicted in the art. I’ve had people argue that the art should only depict white people because the game was “based on Europe” and therefore it was “historically accurate.” This is wrong three times over.
First, because the setting for the game is always explicitly a fantasy world, and not in any way a fantasy version of Europe. Second, because it’s not just based on Europe - there’s overt influences and elements from Africa, Asia and the Americas in there. (I mean, for example, there’s a “monk” class - and we’re not talking about the European monastic tradition.) Third, even if Europe was the only inspiration for this sort of fantasy, it’s using elements from the Romans to the Renaissance. You had high-status Romans from Africa living in Britain, you had Huns invading Eastern Europe, you had trade and travel from Scandinavia to Africa and Asia during the MIddle Ages, and that was all before the increased trade and movement that happened in the Renaissance.


#16

Arabs and Vikings.

Although…

The Baroque Cycle is, in places, about the conflict between those who get rich by sea, and those who get rich by land–the whigs and the tories, the army vs the navy, the country versus the City.

If you have a tory mentality, of course you’ll not travel three days out of the Shire. If you have a whiggish mentality, you might actually travel to Minas Tirith once or twice in your lifetime.


#17

What we want is games where black and white can come together and gang up on green.


#18

It’s actually Vivienne remembering an offensive comment made by the guy she freezes when you first meet her. It’s intentionally offensive, and the guy pays for it. To find that problematic is to suggest that not even villains are allowed to hold objectionable views… which would seem stiflingly reductive.


#19

Right. Again - exceptional exceptions are exceptional and notable for being exceptions. And lost empires and the like can give you context for those exceptions. But the point of diversity in fantasy worlds isn’t to reflect history, it is to reflect the audience, which is more important than dead bones in the ground to those consuming the media.


#20

Maybe, but for the character in question that would play right into the alleged trope as it would come off as a power play due to who the player character is. She’s a political character from a place characterized as politically cut-throat to fatal levels. She plays up the “ice queen” thing because pretending to have no feelings keeps her and her loved ones safe. This is a trope too, like everything, but you can’t analyze her character without noting it.