I love fantasy. I love magic and elves and dragons and shit. I’m the girl who would love to spend a weekend watching entire extended edition Lord of the Rings trilogy. I know Red Sonja is a piece of shit but I’ll watch it whenever it’s on TV anyway (when I have access – which is only when I’m visiting my family in Virginia). I love the fuck out of Willow.
Eragon and the D&D movie can kiss my ass for being fantasy movies for people who hate fantasy.
It’s funny that I bring up Willow too, since it touches upon something that, as a fantasy genre buff and a roleplayer, has been a concern of mine for a while: the overwhelming straight White cis maleness of heroes.
Not trying to talk shit about the golden boys Neo Prodigy likes, but isn’t it time for fantasy to diversify our palate for the heroic?
You would think that, in made-up worlds where people can shoot lightning out of wooden sticks or ride winged unicorns or create new species with some candles and mystic mumbling, that there would be a place in those worlds for heroes to rise who have different colors, different genders, different abilities, and so on. In fact, the support for such characters already exists in the framework of these worlds!
Let me limit myself to D&D for a minute. Do you realize that D&D actually had magic item called a girdle of opposite sex? While this was used in a cissexist way – that is, making a joke about gender misalignment – why not assume that a trans male wizard invented this item to make his body reflect the man inside? Imagine what that mean for transgendered people in this world? No hormones. No surgery. No public scrutiny.
Let’s not get started on race. Why is it that, in worlds where every sentient species is fucking every other sentient species and making lots of babies, White people are still at the center of the world? I have nothing against the medieval European aesthetic. Again, remember Willow and Lord of the Rings.
But would seeing Chiwetel Ejiofar play a captain of Gondor really fuck up my suspension of disbelief? Uh, no. Not really. But if he were the only Black guy there, just standing around being Black and shit, all by himself, wondering where to get fried chicken and watermelon in Minas Tirith, yeah, it would.
Shit, they have Angel Coulby as Gwenivere on Merlin! So it’s not like women of color can’t be love interests or (gasp!) heroines in their own right.
But they made her a maid instead of a noblewoman, which is sketchy as all hell. WTF? Would making her a member of the ruling class start giving Black women ideas about our own worth or some shit?
Yet so many games and settings act like the only humans who could conceivably exist in these worlds are White people. OK, maybe they throw in something vaguely Asian over in the corner of the world map. But they have to stay over there on the margins where they can be exotic and mystical and shit.
I bring this up because all too often, the straight White cis men who already dominate this hobby seem particularly averse to introducing elements that acknowledge that the rest of us exist and would like to see ourselves reflected in the wonder and magic of other worlds too. Yet the status quo is almost to have to justify the very presence of heroic women, heroes of color, LGBTQ heroes, and disabled heroes. As though what would stand out in a world of gnolls and hobgoblins and bugbears is the fact that someone has more melanin or estrogen than your standard faux medieval fantasy novel hero.
Need I remind you that we’re not talking about historical fiction? These are worlds where magic is real and otherworldly creatures walk around and people’s minds don’t snap upon witnessing these invasion of unreality. If Cthulhu showed up, the denizens of these worlds would shrug and be like, “Another evil god. We need to hire some heroes again. This shit’s breaking my bank. Bob, how many gold pieces do we have in the community fund?”
But a mix of colors and shapes for the regular humans somehow warps the reality of these worlds?
It would be one thing if these worlds were based on a specific mythology, such as one inspired by the Mahabharata (which has UFO battles and magical creatures – and outdates Shadowrun by some 2,000 years). But most of the time, they’re a weird amalgamation of Tolkienesque fantasy, a mish-mash of various real-world mythologies, and American action films.
In fact, I’ve sometimes argued that, as played, D&D has more in common with westerns than epic fantasy. There’s a sort of frontier mentality about how D&D adventures often work. You have a wide-open world with strange people and creatures wandering around where the boldest and strongest make their way to seek their fortune. Historically, the Old West was extremely diverse. White settlers, Black cowboys, Native American guides and warriors, Chinese laborers. And that’s just race. I really don’t think Brokeback Mountain was the first time two cowboys fell in love, so why is it such a big deal for adventurers to get some same-gender loving too? And transgendered people have always been with us. Some societies actually created a space for them that honored who they were. So why not include them without the stigma they face in everyday life?
I don’t want to ignore disability either. Really, could you imagine Avatar: The Last Airbender without Toph? Or if she somehow gained sight? Despite what we see as a disability (actually, directly because of it), she’s more able than just about every other character on the show, with the exception of Aang. If I wanted to make a character like her, why should the game penalize me for it? If my character is an amputee (someone similar to, say, Anakin Skywalker), why not have a magical prosthetic limb that is more useful in many cases than one of flesh and blood?
What’s so hard about including the rest of us in your imaginary playground? Why is it that we can imagine worlds filled with people unlike any we’ve encountered before yet somehow can’t imagine the people we see everyday being there too?