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Old 11-26-2008, 10:05 PM   #1
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Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

I don't think I've ever seen or read of any fantasy setting that's in any kind of society but slightly backwards, i.e. medieval or dark-agey. This is perplexing to me.
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Old 11-26-2008, 10:31 PM   #2
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

I admit I'm a little perplexed here...first off, what do you mean by fantasy?
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Old 11-26-2008, 10:45 PM   #3
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

Shadowrun perhaps? Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere?
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Old 11-27-2008, 12:17 AM   #4
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

I'm convinced that medieval fantasy is "medieval" in the same way that processed cheese food is "cheese" (or "food," take your pick). You're right, though, about it being a common genre. It seems that non-"medieval" fantasy games are more or less horror (WoD, the Anita Blake stuff), vaguely science fiction, or furry games. Modern games are either gangsters or comics if they're not horror: fantasy of a kind, but maybe not in the way most people want.

I've seen a few attempts at different settings, but I think those tend to collapse under the difficulty of creating an original world, communicating that world to players who often have their own understandings and agendas, and trying to strike a balance between staying true to the concept and letting people have their fun (which, as we know, generally means killing stuff and bumping uglies). At least everyone pretty much knows what a "medieval fantasy" setting in which folks can have their characters do those things looks like. Deviate too far from that, or expect people to be conversant with a complex backstory before playing, and frustration all around is a likely result.
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Old 11-27-2008, 01:43 AM   #5
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

One very well known non-medieval time fantasy story is Star Wars. It is essentially just fantasy story, but it happens in future settings. That confuses very many people, and you can find Star Wars books very often in Sci-Fi section in your library.

And I know that there is no any hard line where something is Science Fiction and when it is Fantacy.
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Old 11-27-2008, 04:17 AM   #6
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

For me, the distinction between sf (the science fiction fans call it sf and reserve the term sci-fi for the mainstream junk production full of bad cliches etc.) and fantasy is rather clear:

In a fantasy setting, the civilization usually fades away. The Ancients possessed the great knowledge that is mostly lost. The power belongs to those who manage to find an archaic spellbook or a buried amulet and learn it's secrets. The wizards teach the secrets of their art to their apprentices, but as something inevitably gets forgotten, each subsequent generation knows less and less.

All that has direct relation to the situation in mediaval Europe, rich with Roman and Greek artifacts.

On the other hand, in a sf setting, the civilization is on the up grade. Every day brings new scientific discoveries, technologies and devices. Any ancient 'artifacts' are obviously useless old junk or some historic curiosities to be put into museum at best. The knowledge becomes obsolete extremely fast and the yesterday's apprentices work on the things that their tutors can't comprehend.

Not a surprise, rocket science is one of the most popular sf themes.

Finally, a good writer just writes quality literature that doesn't necessarily fit into a particular genre. I've read books that neatly combine magic and technology.
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Old 11-27-2008, 10:48 AM   #7
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Violette View Post
I don't think I've ever seen or read of any fantasy setting that's in any kind of society but slightly backwards, i.e. medieval or dark-agey. This is perplexing to me.
How do you figure Dragonriders of Pern is either medieval -or- dark-agey, -or- "slightly backwards?" How do you come up with those words to describe the Acorna series, which is both sci-fi AND high-fantasy, all at the same time? How about George R.R. Martin, or Tolkien, or hey what about the Wizard of Oz, which took place in rural Kansas and transported Dorothy to an alternate state of reality? How exactly is that "medieval" or "dark-agey?"

Most fantasy doesn't even take place on the planet Earth. So you really need to clarify more what you're talking about. If you honestly and truly are that limited in your reading experiences, I recommend Barnes and Noble. They have a terrific Sci-Fi/Fantasy section.
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Old 11-27-2008, 06:52 PM   #8
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

Quote:
Originally Posted by fjin View Post
One very well known non-medieval time fantasy story is Star Wars. It is essentially just fantasy story, but it happens in future settings. That confuses very many people, and you can find Star Wars books very often in Sci-Fi section in your library.

And I know that there is no any hard line where something is Science Fiction and when it is Fantacy.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...
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Old 11-28-2008, 10:48 PM   #9
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

Folks, maybe I'm just crazy, but seeing as this is a board associated with MUDs I honestly don't think that OP was complaining that there are few non-medieval fantasy books or movies as much as that there are few non-medieval fantasy games. I doubt a visit to the library or the bookstore would address that.

Further, while the Star Wars screenplays may have some supernatural elements, I'm pretty sure that their setting's technology makes it safest to classify them as science fiction. After all, even though a book like Samuel Delaney's Nova has a number of supernatural and even mythic elements - it's in part a retelling of the Grail quest, for heaven's sake - it is still science fiction. Likely "speculative fiction" is the class term, with "science ficiton" and "fantasy" as subsets.

What does non-medieval fantasy game look like? Maybe like the Arabian Knights stories, since, though those are technically "medieval," they are not set in the ersatz high medieval, chivalric Europe that came into games via sword 'n' sorcery fiction. Maybe they could look like the fantasies of Lord Dunsany or Mervyn Peake. A fantasy game based in the Roman Empire (I'd suggest someplace in the provinces such as Cologne) might be a third way. The problem remains, though, that players will likely have wildly different ideas about what those settings are like. I don't know a good solution to that.
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Old 11-29-2008, 05:26 AM   #10
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

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Originally Posted by jackal59mo2 View Post
Further, while the Star Wars screenplays may have some supernatural elements, I'm pretty sure that their setting's technology makes it safest to classify them as science fiction.
You've got magic and wizards, knights fighting with swords, princesses in need of rescue...classic fantasy elements. Also note that (as Drealoth pointed out) Star Wars is set in the distance past, not in the future.

Conversely, the imaginary elements in science fiction are more or less possible (or at least believably so) within scientifically established laws of nature.

To quote Rod Serling, "science fiction makes the implausible possible, while science fantasy makes the impossible plausible."

Other books of interest include "Worlds of The Golden Queen" by David Farland and "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny, both of which start out as typical fantasy but later include strong science fiction elements.

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What does non-medieval fantasy game look like?
Any game which includes magical or supernatural elements might be classified as fantasy. I guess you could include the various Harry Potter muds, the WoD muds, the Star Wars muds, etc.

Last edited by KaVir : 12-01-2008 at 08:18 AM. Reason: Removed accidental inclusion of the word 'medieval'
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Old 11-29-2008, 09:13 AM   #11
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

I'd say it's mainly due to player preferences.

For instance, my own Mud, with a Time Travel theme, has 4 different worlds set in different Timezones. And of the four, Medieval is by far the most popular, even though it honestly is neither the best nor most original of them.

We have a very large 'Prehistoric' world, which is mostly set in ancient Egypt and Greece around the time of the Trojan war. In my opinion that part of the Mud is superior to most of the zones in the Medieval dimension, (although of course there are some exceptions). It also has all the fantasy attributes you could wish for; myths and legends, swords and heroes, legendary monsters to defeat, like Scylla, the Hydra and the Minotaur, earth magic and witches in the old religion, the Olympian and Egyptian Gods who constantly meddle in mortal affairs - in fact the possibilities for interesting quests, plots, roleplay and warfare are unlimited during that era. There even are dragons, for instance if the Iason-Medea myth.

And yet the bulk of the players stick to mainstream, which means Medieval.
Why? My guess is because they are used to it. Players may claim that they prefer originality and unique settings, but the truth is that the majority don't. They generally prefer what they are already used to from other Muds, because then they don't need to think along new lines. So no wonder most Mud owners choose Medieval too, that's the safest bet.
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Old 11-29-2008, 09:14 AM   #12
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

I think that the main distinction between science fiction and fantasy is that science fiction attempts some kind of link to our present reality.

Quote:
Other books of interest include "Worlds of The Golden Queen" by David Farland and "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny, both of which start out as typical medieval fantasy but later include strong science fiction elements.
"The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe is another good example.
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Old 11-29-2008, 02:00 PM   #13
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

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I think that the main distinction between science fiction and fantasy is that science fiction attempts some kind of link to our present reality.
The same could be said of many fantasy works - The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, the Amber series, American Gods, His Majesty's Dragon, etc.

Last edited by KaVir : 11-29-2008 at 02:51 PM. Reason: Formatting
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Old 11-29-2008, 03:05 PM   #14
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

There's a few vampire/World of Darkness MUDs and MUSHes out there including a Buffy the Vampire Slayer one. Those are very fantastical worlds, though some might consider them alternate history world. There's also a City By the Bay MUSH that is based on the Anita Blake, Vampire Slayer series. Those aren't your usual fantasy/medieval type of things.

I think, normally, people like to classify "fantasy" as a Tolkienesque world filled with dragons and magic and low technology. Your question might be more why is there such low technology in most fantasy worlds. The theory often is that if people had access to magic, technology wouldn't advance as far as it has in our world because there simply wouldn't be a need. In other worlds like Pern, there simply wasn't enough base materials (such as certain metals) for technology to advance as far as what we're used to seeing.

Anyway, though, I think it's just a matter of genre classification as well. Anything that seems low on our tech tree is "fantasy" or "historical". Anything that is modern-ish is "alternate history", and anything that is based on technologies that might exist in our future is "science" fiction or fantasy. It's all in the name!
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Old 11-30-2008, 12:09 AM   #15
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

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Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
Other books of interest include "Worlds of The Golden Queen" by David Farland and "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny, both of which start out as typical medieval fantasy but later include strong science fiction elements.
It's been three decades since I read Lords of Light, but I remember it clearly. It is explicitly based on Hindu myth, and the explanation for what's happening, when it comes, is wholly technological. It is not "typical medieval fantasy" at all.

A minor point, perhaps, but unless we're going to say with Humpty Dumpty that all terms are open to individual feeling and interpretation--that "When I use a word ... it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less"--then I think we should probably go with how those terms are generally used. Arguing that "Star Wars is fantasy" and that "any game with magical or supernatural elements is fantasy" (rather than primarily Harry Potter or WoD/horror) simply sidesteps the valid opinion that medieval fantasy MU*s are very common despite, or maybe even because of, their limited originality.

Oh, and a Lords of Light MU* would rock if those playing knew something about and could have fun with Hindu mythology. That's a tall order, though - I certainly don't know enough to pull it off.
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Old 11-30-2008, 05:21 AM   #16
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

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The same could be said of many fantasy works - The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, the Amber series, American Gods, His Majesty's Dragon, etc.
I meant in the sense that the world presented in the science fiction work is related to our own in some way whether through future advancement or alternate history, etc.
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Old 11-30-2008, 09:33 AM   #17
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

Fantasy doesn't have to be medieval. Fantasy can be any setting but I suspect the reason most MUDs go with "medieval" fantasy is because of one of several reasons:

1. Lack of technical ability. A lot of "medieval" fantasy MU*s exist because of the nature of what's available codewise. A lot of your codebases feature "medieval" fantasy themes. To go with a different theme, one needs to rework the code to fit a different technological era. Without the coding ability to do so, one is limited in what they can create in their world. The "low-tech" and "medieval" approach allows the incorporation of this deficiency on the developers' part to be explained away in the game.

2. Lack of creativity. It's not a stretch to say that the MU* community is lacking in creativity. One need only look at the vast number of MU*s based on Dragonball or Star Wars. Lots of people want to start MU*s. Only a percentage of them have the coding ability to do it well. An even smaller percentage of them have the creativity to design something original. It's like everything else in society. Someone creates something and the next thing you know, other people are copying it because coming up with something on their own would be beyond their capabiliites. 99% of MU*s are crap, but then again 99% of everything is crap (apologies to Theodore Sturgeon for the bastardization) because 99% of the population doesn't have the creativity to make anything different than that which they've already seen. This leads into the next reason....

3. Lack of knowledge. This goes along with lack of creativity because it's the same story in a way. For some, "medieval" fantasy is their choice because they're ignorant of pretty much everything, save their pet interest, and what they aren't ignorant of is probably not useful in designing a MU* theme. Most MU*s are created by coders. While they may know code, they probably don't know anything else. History, politics, economics, sociology, anthropology, geology, biology, chemistry, literature, music, art, and so much more are merely flat, undetailed topics of which they have little accurate data. A lack of knowledge sufficient to create a well-rounded world is another major contributor to the "99% of MUs are crap" syndrome. Sure there are exceptions; that's where the 1% comes in.

On the subject of science fiction, SF and fantasy aren't the same thing. KaVir's post summarized the difference quite well. Can the difference be blurry? Yes, and that's usually around the neighborhood of the adjectives "poor" or "crap-filled".

As for Star Wars, it's fantasy because science isn't a component of it (and even Lucas has acknowledged it saying directly that it's fantasy, not SF). Science fiction doesn't have to be set in our world or even our galaxy. It does however have to be rooted in some basic scientific understanding. Lightsabers can't function because they weren't designed with any recognition of physics. Remember that line in SW:ANH about "parsecs", using them in reference to time when a parsec is a measure of distance? (Yes, I'm aware of attempts to rationalize that error but those arguments are just as flawed because they're once again not taking into account scientific principles).

And there's even a difference between science fiction and sci-fi. As Isaac Asimov pointed out, it's a matter of quality and respect for scientific knowledge and reasoning. In his words, "Star Trek is SF. Godzilla is sci-fi."

Take care,

Jason
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Old 12-01-2008, 05:25 AM   #18
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

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Originally Posted by jackal59mo2 View Post
It's been three decades since I read Lords of Light, but I remember it clearly. It is explicitly based on Hindu myth, and the explanation for what's happening, when it comes, is wholly technological.
Well the world is based on Hindu-Buddhist mythology, but there is very strong western influence, particularly among the main characters. And the technological aspect was in fact that very reason I cited it as an example of science fantasy.

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It is not "typical medieval fantasy" at all.
Correct, but then I never said otherwise. I explicitly gave it as an example of science fantasy, due to its blend of science fiction and fantasy elements.

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Originally Posted by jackal59mo2 View Post
Arguing that "Star Wars is fantasy"
...would be just as incorrect as arguing that "Star Wars is science fiction". As I pointed out earlier, Star Wars contains classic fantasy elements in addition to the more obvious science fiction elements, and is therefore a good example of science fantasy.

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Originally Posted by jackal59mo2 View Post
and that "any game with magical or supernatural elements is fantasy" (rather than primarily Harry Potter or WoD/horror)
...would still be an overgeneralisation, which is why I stated earlier that "Any game which includes magical or supernatural elements might be classified as fantasy". The point is that there is considerable crossover between the genres.

Also note my emphasis on the word "horror" in the above quoted text. Horror fiction is another genre entirely, although it often overlaps with science fiction and fantasy (eg "dark fantasy"), and the three categories are sometimes grouped together under the classification of "speculative fiction".

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Originally Posted by jackal59mo2 View Post
simply sidesteps the valid opinion that medieval fantasy MU*s are very common despite, or maybe even because of, their limited originality.
I suspect it's the other way around - that the limited originality of many medieval fantasy muds is due to that genre being so common. I would speculate that the reason for such games being so common is due to medieval fantasy being more popular than other genres of game.
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Old 12-01-2008, 06:58 AM   #19
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

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Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by jackal59mo2
It not "typical medieval fantasy" at all.
Correct, but then I never said otherwise.
What?

Quote:
Originally Posted by KaVir
Other books of interest include "Worlds of The Golden Queen" by David Farland and "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny, both of which start out as typical medieval fantasy but later include strong science fiction elements.
Thanks for helping me see that I'm wasting my time.
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Old 12-01-2008, 08:23 AM   #20
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Re: Why does fantasy have to be medieval?

Thanks for pointing out that accidental mistake (even if you did so in a rather rude way) - I've corrected my post to just say "fantasy". Obviously "medieval fantasy" didn't make sense within the context of my post, which addressed science fantasy as a mixed genre containing elements of both fantasy and science fiction.
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