Contributing writer for The Artifice.
Junior Contributor I
The Rise of OSR Tabletop Gaming
OSR is the popular shorthand for "Old School Revival" or "Old School Renaissance", a popular movement among new tabletop RPGs to draw inspiration from the design choices and play style of the earliest D&D editions from the 70s, rather than the modern products being released today.
The OSR movement is comprised of everything from articles detailing ways to get into "Old School Gaming" to wholly-new games, developed in the style of old D&D.
This topic is quite niche to the tabletop RPG community, but I think anyone interested in game theory and game design could find the research interesting; especially when it concerns why such a widespread return to form has occurred amongst the community. There is often emphasis in OSR put on player agency over the now-prevalent linear adventure plots, so this may be a chance to get to the heart of why these games drew peoples’ attention in the first place, and how the new innovations within modern products may be detracting from the initial strengths. Lastly, the role of the internet in gamers organizing their interests and creative ideas in this way cannot be understated and could form another basis for investigating how the movement grew.
Darth Maul definitely became one of the most compelling characters in the Clone Wars animated series. An issue I always took with him was the rivalry with Obi-wan. Considering the little he did in the Phantom Menace, it makes sense that Star Wars writers would take his dramatic demise as the fuel for further characterization, but I found that the rivalry started on shaky ground and the more it came to dominate Maul’s character, the less I could empathize with it. Obi-wan and Maul had one interaction, and having Maul’s entire character focus on it for the rest of his life basically negates anything that would’ve happened before that one fight. There’s nothing in his character that references the planet he grew up on, his time as a Sith apprentice, or any goals he possessed beforehand. He references wanting revenge against the Jedi in the Phantom Menace (probably on behalf of all of Sithdom), but that drive isn’t really brought up again.
The Maul vs. Obi-wan divide was fun to watch, but I found its foundation pretty weak considering the amount of content that it would inspire.
This was a great article. I’m glad you established a basis of what “love” means in this context (it’s an often muddied part of discussions like these).
I haven’t seen or read any renditions of this work myself, but as someone who’s been witness to “ships” in other fandoms, I’m curious on how the Erik-Christine shippers transform the two characters in their fandom contributions (fiction, art, etc.). As you touched upon, it’s very rare for a character to be used in a ship and not have fundamental characteristics embellished, warped, or completely changed outright to become a more classically romantic character. The unfortunate part of this (I feel) is that it can often reduce the more distinct/unique character into a generic-feeling protagonist with their former identity acting more as their skin than as their soul.
I can already imagine a more handsome, less-scarred, and less-creepy Erik, and a more childish and asinine (or completely disregarded) Raoul. Does the fandom often create new works for Erik-Christine to star in? If so, to what extent do they change the characters?
This is a fairly complex question. While Medieval Fantasy has classic archetypes and story arcs that people like to experience over and over again, I think it really serves as an easy stepping stone for authors to tell new stories.
All Medieval Fantasy stories dip into a well of collective understandings (shared aesthetics, archetypes, settings, etc.) to colour their narrative. People have pre-built expectations and reactions to things they enjoy in the genre (sword-play, epic music playing alongside a horse-riding montage, brave heroes coming together to face impossible odds) and that lets the author use those tropes to tell their own unique tale.
I’d say that less memorable works are those who try to simply replicate stories and worlds. The most successful fantasy stories (like the oft-mentioned A Song of Ice and Fire series) are those that get people on board with comfortable tropes and conventions and then tell a unique and interesting story with it. People are looking for new and interesting characters, humour, narrative moments, ideas, etc. and if those things come coated in a paint you enjoy, then they’re easier to get into then if they came without.
Fantasy fans aren’t actually looking for the same characters, world, and story over and over. For an analogous example, take those who enjoy the British Regency period (reading novels like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre”, going to modern ballroom dances, etc.) or stories set in the Wild West. They aren’t looking to escape to those worlds (both are acknowledged as objectively worse in almost every way compared to the modern day), nor are they looking for the same story and characters every time. These genres are capable of instilling very real, human emotions and giving audiences something they’ve never seen before.
In a funny way, like the author above displayed with their endorsement for the Gladstone series, the key to being a successful Fantasy story comes more from how creatively you twist the conventions and expectations of the genre, rather than trying to keep as much as possible from other works.
This discussion reminds me of the Western genre, which was also constructed as a web of tropes, all based on a romanticized period of human history. Many elements of the “Wild West” as the genre depicts it were born more out of dramatic depiction than history, and yet so many of its conventions are as iconic (and historically inaccurate) as Medieval Fantasy.
A key difference of course is that Medieval Fantasy generally depicts a world that is not our own, whereas Westerns are set on Earth and expected to only bend the laws of reality slightly for heightened drama and narrative enjoyment.
That being said, it would be interesting to see how Medieval Fantasy has changed the way people view the Medieval time period, and what constructed tropes people take as historical record, in the same way the Western genre has come to dominate our collective understanding of the Wild West historical period.
An interesting counterpoint to this line of argumentation is Rebecca Hawkes’ article “Sexual violence in George RR Martin’s novels is far worse than in the Game of Thrones TV series” (The Telegraph, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/game-of-thrones/11632939/Game-of-Thrones-sexual-violence-in-Martins-novels-is-far-worse-than-in-the-show.html), where she points out that George RR Martin’s novels have four times as many instances of rapes than in the TV show, albeit with two differences: the rape victims are often relatively minor background characters (rather than point-of-view characters) and that emphasis (in terms of character development as a result of these rapes) is placed on the perpetrators, rather than the victims. Rather than interpreting the TV changes in regards to gendered-violence as an appeal to shock value, Hawkes puts forth that it portrays rape in a more serious, emotionally impactful way.
I don’t think I agree with Hawkes’ final sentiments about the TV show, but she brings forth a welcome criticism of the Game of Thrones novels that could be more deeply explored. Rape as a minimized background detail (that quickly shifts narrative focus away from the victim) in service of building the general feel/tone for a fantasy world could be as equally problematic as the shock-value use.