Tolkien is not Ma’Duk

Ma’Duk is the kami deity in a game called Ryzom, for reference. Yes, yes, I know I said I wouldn’t write about Ryzom…

Actually, I’m not writing about Ryzom. I’m writing about almost every other MMORPG in existence.

Darkfall – orks and dwarves.

World of Wankercraft – elves, orcs, dwarves.

EverQuest II – dwarves, halflings and elves.

Lineage II – elves, orcs and dwarves.

Vanguard – dwarves, halflings, elves, orcs and goblins.

You may have noticed a common theme by now – that of a total lack of imagination on the part of game designers everywhere.

I love Tolkien, I really do. I read the books when I was in school, in less than a week – in fact both my best friend and I read them in that week, as we’d gone on holiday together, and had read all our own books within a few days, so we swapped. Then we’d read all of each others’ so we went out and bought more. But that’s a little beside the point. My point is that Tolkien put a huge amount of effort into his work: he used great imagination in creating an (almost) entirely unique, original world; with extensive, detailed lore; and a set of races which, although they existed in fiction and mythology prior to his writing, he adapted and rewrote, creating a complex politic and, of course, yet more beautiful lore.

MMO writers, on the other hand, put absolutely no effort, imagination or creativity into ripping off Tolkien’s races and cherry-picking the lore. Admittedly they aren’t the only ones who’ve done this, Tolkienian everything features regularly in all sorts of fantasy and in films – but the writers of these do at least use Tolkien as a base upon which to develop their own lore; rather than just nicking it all pre-packaged like a microwave pizza.

I have to admit that, to me, all this seems so obvious it’s like pointing out that petrol is jolly pricey these days, ain’t it. But I have seen people argue that this is entirely not the case, and how dare I suggest that their silly cookie cutter MMO isn’t wildly different from anything, except if someone else copied it. So…

An elf in Vanguard

An elf in Vanguard

There are two types of elves. There are also various tales of elves being humans risen from the dead and being able to walk through solid objects; but essentially, there are the tall willowy ones, and then there are christmas elves. The former come from a Germanic pagan tradition, and the latter from folklore in the Renaissance and Romantic periods. Shockingly, you very rarely see the latter in any games – I can’t possibly imagine why *cough*. It’s not hard to discover this, either… it took me a whole ten minutes of research; surely the people in charge of “designing” the races in games are capable of this, and surely at least some would have chosen the christmas elves over the Tolkienish ones?

A copy of a Norse painting of a dwarf and a man

A copy of a Norse painting of a dwarf and a man

Similarly, dwarves are not short in all traditions. In fact, some of the earliest sources available regarding the nature of dwarves describe them as being as tall as humans, deathly pale and black-haired (and not bloody Scottish), and with strong magical links to death. They were said to have been born from maggots which ate the flesh of the dead, and possessing a dwarf weapon was a surefire way to ensure that you’d end up either murdered or a murderer. Later on, Norse mythology painted dwarves more like pixies – short, this time; but elusive, users of curses, charms, and trickery; fading into the shadows whenever you turn around.

Orcs, or orks, were an original invention of Tolkien’s. No prizes for guessing where WoW gets these, then. Similarly the goblins seen in games are Tolkien’s invention – goblins do exist in folklore, however they are more like mischievous sprites than mini-orcs; their old Scandinavian name is “skratta”, which is “to laugh” in Swedish. Similarly, halflings are only really seen in Tolkien, although there is speculation that they may have originated from hauflins – a word which referred to awkward teenagers who are inbetween boyhood and manhood, such as Hanner Dyn, an Arthurian character who, as a boy, beat men in wrestling matches.

And anyone who still thinks that MMOs are creative (alright, there are a few exceptions), is clearly an orc.

And… alright, shameless plug time for anyone who agrees with me:

Races in Ryzom

Races in Ryzom

(And Hoppy Gnu Ear)