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Creation Date: March 1st, 2010 06:15 PM
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Musings of a Knight of the Imperium.
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In Moot Member Blogs Medieval verse Fantasy Entry Tools Rate This Entry
  #431 New September 14th, 2018 07:53 AM
There's various reasons I don't like the contemporary fantasy genre, and I've vented about this before, so just move on if you're not into hearing me vent (again).

The Female Fantasy model of business and marketing has been with us since the 70s. Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Alice, a bunch of other shows catering to the fairer sex for a number of reasons starting in the early 70s. Not a big deal.

What the heck does this have to do with the Fantasy genre? Well, the damsel in distress has been more recently replaced with the pro-active female in armor and with a weapon, but there's still the same female flourishes in the fantasy genre. And to be honest, I don't object to that too much.

If you look at the middle ages they were predominantly egalitarian for most of the time. Women did hard labor like men, and some even fought until the concept of the man-at-arms and knight became more solidified. But in contemporary fantasy you have females in skimpy lingerie armor; i.e. chain mail by Fredericks of Hollywood kind of thing (are they still in business? I'm too lazy to do a search), and like I say, the more popular model is that ultra clean tavern with flowers, décor, and a serving "maid" with freshly laundered clothes and a smile.

Eh … again, the truth is that taverns were meant for everyone, mostly males, who got drunk like men do in bars today. Work was shared by both sexes, even hunting, and in essence you had a very Old West kind of existence in terms of size of the population and even the tech base for the most part, only there weren't gun powder weapons, just blades and bows of various sorts. But the attitudes were the same of those people living in the old west; having to be on guard for the odd bandit or rival lords armies, at which point you headed for the local fortification, and either helped fight, or helped with the defenses in some other way.

But you don't get that in fantasy games. Yes, I know, it's a fantasy. It's all about living out your dreams of being a muscular handsome warrior or rocking warrior woman / whatever. But it's the extremes to which the genre is taken that makes me think it's just ridiculous beyond belief.

Anime dudes with oversized swords, sailor moon cosplay girls with huge staffss, girls in stillettos with massive foot high shoulder pads carrying swords or brightly colored sniper rifles ... I just can't really understand the attraction to this. I mean on one level sure, men and women (though I think women more than men) like to play dress-up and pretend every so often, but armor, swords, and gunpowder weapons have a practicality to them.

One of the reasons I was a Star Trek fan and not a Lost in Space fan (both shows were on at the same time) was because Star Trek was serious, had serious dialogue, there was a practicality to the costumes, weapons, instruments and everything else. Lost in Space was a family show, but was a kind of pre-cursor to female fantasy scifi before it really became a thing. And that's kind of what's happened with the fantasy genre. I think both sexes ought to be able to enjoy fantasy, but bikini chain mail doesn't protect you the woman player / character where you need it, no matter how "attractive" you think it looks.

And the same goes for guys with huge oversized armor with all kinds of spikes, with plates that bulge out inches from your body such that if you really had such a suit you would topple over and not be able to get up. In the high middle ages just before the early renaissance (and during the early renaissance when armor was still being used, though being phased out) it was essentially a second skin for a medieval knight. In fact one of the tests knights used to do was to do cartwheels in armor to see how well it fit. No joke. That actually happened, and there's references to it in more than one history book on the subject. You can't really do cartwheels, much less fight, when you're wearing one of those overly bulky super huge spikey suits of armor, or, if you're a woman, nor could you do the same thing wearing stilettos and in a chain mail bikini with huge shoulder pads that extend upwards of nearly a yard, all the while holding some outrageously huge staff with a jewel the size of a soccer ball encrusted in the head.

Okay, say you're not into the whole masculine feminine thing, and are into alternative races--nearly all of which are white save for so-called blueskinned "dark elves"--you've got the same issues, and, on top of that, if you look at folklore elves were more often than not synonymous with fairies, or "the sdhie" or "fare / fair folk", and they were more mischievous and deadly than they were helpful.

"Gee ghost, you really take your fantasy seriously."

Of course I do. If you're going to galivant around in a medieval society, then you ought to live in the period or at least be aware of what it was remotely like to live in the era. No indoor plumbing, you usually got your water from the local brook or lake with all the insect and microbial life therein. If you were lucky there was a spring nearby, because subterranean water chaches tend not to have any microbes or insects calling that water home due to a lack of sunlight; ergo the reason "spring water" is so revered or prized in fairy tales or folklore.

If you were a peasant or a serf (essentially a financial slave, short of being an actual slave, and slaves did exist in the middle ages), you tilled the earth to plant crops when you weren't fighting for the local lord, and you had to pay some coin to use the local saw mill or granary miller to crush your wheat or bake your bread at the castle oven. You didn't have rights as such, but you had the protection of common social customs.

But in fantasy games, and yes, I do know they are fantasies, you typically don't have any semblance of a local lord, his castle guard, nor any medieval society convention; just the visual trappings of the such; i.e. a town with medieval buildings, maybe a smith where you can buy a sword, the townsfolk, but … but when was the last time you and your players walked across the farmland to get to a destination? When was the last time you the local sheriff with some guards going after a local thief?

In Tolkien's tale there's a sense of hyper-fantasy, but it's not really overboard. Hobbits still have chores, the riders of Rohan and the men of Gondor similarly have duties and jobs, and people of Laketown actually do stuff to earn a living. The dwarves? Well, you don't see them farm too much, so we kind of get the sense that they probably pay for food, which is a reasonable assumption. But there isn't the need nor sense to placate to either male nor female fantasies, because the story of Bilbo or Frodo is the fantasy itself.

I'm not going to touch on race or aspects of it, but, suffice it to say, there were black African knights, and they weren't just Moors or Islamists, but Christian knights who typically didn't wear much of anything (the southern lattitudes being hot) but wore swords and daggers. And touching on Islamic cavalry, according to one history teacher, the scimitar could easily cut through the armor of the European medieval knight. It's part of the reason Moors tended to favor thick cloth gambesons, because the wool or whatever filled them absorbed the slashes of swords.

But in fantasy games it's all about metal armor. It's all about the idealized high middles ages paragon knight with full plate armor on him and his charger. Or, leather armor, which wasn't all that common, was a hold over from classical Roman era, saw a resurgence in the renaissance, but for some reason is occasionally popular in fantasy circles.

Whatever. I guess my real gripe here is that people jump into the genre who have no education on anything regarding the middle ages, and don't understand why you wouldn't typically find banded armor on a man who was carrying a huge two handed sword. Much less super huge bulky armor with spikes, much less a woman wearing "armor" that exposed her mid drift while in high heels.

And there's the sexual component to it all. A lot of people use medieval fantasy to vent sexual fantasies. Eh, whatever. If that does it for you, sure, why not? But to me it's the same thing all over again. Outfits, armor, and just gear in general that doesn't mesh with the period, even in a fantasy like vein, regardless of what your idealization of your object of affection may be.

Again, if you're wearing super bulky spikey male armor, how do you fight in that thing to win your heart's desire? And, if you're not playing the damsel in distress in need of succor, but doing the "I am medieval warrioress babe, hear me roar" thing, then how do you fight in high heels, much less protect yourself when your armor only covers your erogenous zones? What happens when miss a parry and that knight your fighting slices into your side and burries his blade in your flesh half way to your spine?

"Common, Ghost...the whole idea is to look alluring for your boy friend or girl friend..."

Well, okay, fine, but then why dress up in the armor and wielf weapons in the first place? I mean, presumably you want some RPing involved here, even if it's for some amorous game with your love interest, right?

But, that's kind of extreme. In the more conventional traditional regular RPing in a fantasy realm, you have a stylization that's taken over everything. Suddenly in Peter Jackson's Rings' films half orcs are these super muscular black behemoths. Recalling the books as I can, half orcs were a little taller than regular orcs, and a "perversion" of mixing orcs with men or elves, but they weren't the over the top caricatures presented in Jackson's films. And I seem to recall that "ork" or "orc" is a generic term meant to describe any outsider in various medieval dialects.

To me fantasy is grounded. If you're going to go off to fight the dragon, then you're going to be hoofing it on foot, and hopefully you have leather souled shoes, but might have cloth foot coverings. And when you go on your quest you'll be sleeping on dirt, rocks and leaves--if your lucky then grass. There's no toilet paper so you have to use whatever's around you to to clean yourself, including your hand, and typically medieval people did not wash up after "using the bathroom", so take that for what it's worth (pretty disgusting). There's no trail mix, no granola bars, no bottled water, no matches, so you'll have to either bring a lot of salted stuff or long preserved bread, and hope you make it to your destination before your food goes bad. And odds are you don't have a fine sword, but, like most medieval men-at-arms of the time, are carrying a falchion or a simple off the shelf dagger / large blade utility knife for protection. There's no GPS, what maps there are are worthless as they usually just resembles today's childs' drawings; i.e. stick trees to represent forests, a collection of huts to represent a town, maybe there's a river or two marked on it, and if you get lost, then tough sh_t. And, hopefully you have some coin on your to pay for tolls for crossing another lord's land or bridge, and if you didn't, well, you either ran or worked it off, which, depending on the severity fo the fine, could be a very long time. And odds are you and your party are not literate, so that near useless map doesn't do you any good anyway.

Your clothes are hand made, there's no galvanization for your weapons, so unless they're finely polished (and even if they are) they'll rust, and ditto with your chain mail armor if you're wearing any. And, there's no soap (or very little), no deodorant, no washing machines, you'll be wearing the same set of clothes for weeks (perhaps months) on end, where you'll be sweating, falling onto the ground, and toiling in the fields if the chance comes upon you. And, little known fact, but the fully trained medieval knight was just as much a martial artist with his sword and body as any Asian martial arts expert. So, if you come upon a knight, and you're just some peasant off the farm who picked up a sword and some gear and decided to go adventuring, then you're not trained, and if you decide to fight that knight, you're as good as dead.

I don't mind fantasy, I don't mind male fantasy, nor female fantasy, but if you're going to fantasize about an idealized form of the middle ages, or something similar, say a Victorian era like fantasy with the trappings of the medieval era, then at lest educate yourself a little. You don't have to do gobs of research like me, but it's like the shiny white knight on an equally white horse, wearing mirror polished full plate armor, is one thing. Ratcheting it up several notches with spikey super-bulky machismo armor and oversized weapons or bikini armor, is another.

I look at today's fantasy genre, and no, I don't shrug my shoulders at it, but really shake my head. It's like that American Ninja Warrior program … are there any Japanese dressed up as medieval peasants spying for the local Daiymo? No. Is there anything remotely related to Japan's culture in that show? No. Then why call it American Ninja?

Similarly if you got a blonde spikey haired cutesy male character of Asian descent fighting steampunk kaiju mecha, then why are you calling it fantasy? Well, by definition it's all fantasy, but why are you "trolling" the name fantasy for your game title? Because it sells and makes money from people who don't care or don't know any better.

I think of Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Christopher Stasheff and a few others I've read (Feist?), and wonder what their thoughts on the genre as it stands today. Tolkien's dead, but maybe I'll drop some of the others a line.

Anyway, I think people like to bastardize fantasy for self aggrandizement. And that offends me, because I've enjoyed good fantasy stories (games and books alike). But it's become like Star Trek, beaten, battered, misshapen, and otherwise abused until it's unrecognizable as anything.

I actually have more to say, but am kind of tired now. Thanks.
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