Fantasy and RPG's Who's Killing Who

In his blog, Mark Chadbourn asked the question, Are RPGs Killing Fantasy? In response, Jonathan McCalmont reversed the question and asked Is Fantasy killing the RPG? Lets take these one at a time.

Are RPGs Killing Fantasy? Chadbourn's argument is that the ubiquity of Fantasy RPGs are robbing the magic from the Fantasy Genre:

This huge industry has turned all the tropes of fantasy into crashing cliches. Elves, dwarves, and dragons are as familiar as your next-door neighbour. We all know how magic works, as clearly as the laws of physics - it’s defined in a thousand rule books (Mark Chadbourn).

Now, I have to agree with Chadbourn on a certain level, but I always blamed publishers for making all fantasy into a version of Tolkien, but he is right.

I have always been a fan of Fantasy, but lately, I have been having a hard time finding anything written before 1950 that I want to read. It is frightening how mass marketing can turn a brilliant idea into a cliche practically over night. As a writer, it is even harder. I am trying to outline a fantasy story now, and nearly every idea that I come up with feels like something I have seen a thousand time.

Why does it feel so cliched? Because I am a fan of RPGs, and I not only seen it, but have experienced it through some form of game play. Is this the fault of the RPGs, or me for playing them. Again, I have to blame the publishers.

Business is not in it for originality, but seeks out anything it can create with a cookie cutter model. O, fantasy, slap a dragon and an elf in it, and there you go. A dragon and a spell does not a fantasy make.

Ok, lets look at the McCalmont's question for a moment: Is Fantasy killing the RPG?

As a reader I think he's [Chadbourn] hopelessly optimistic and, as a gamer, I think that he has the problem backwards, I think that the values and tropes of fantasy have come to infect the RPG so thoroughly that it is robbing it of its ability to innovate and progress as a medium (Jonathan McCalmont).

McCalmont argues that the Epic Fantasy market is not saturated, but is just hostile to innovation. Furthermore, he complains that Fantasy has infected all roleplaying including what he calls SF which I assume means Science Fiction not Speculative Fiction.

I have to disagree with McCalmont's argument. Fantasy is not the contagion, it has been reduced to a simple marketing ploy. It has a wizard, and, well, you like fantasy, so buy it! The problem is that people fall for it, and spend their money on it.

The marketing departments that now run the world have reduced all genre's into nothing more that a set of trite cliches.

  • Science Fiction, add a space ship your done.
  • Fantasy, add the word magic.
  • Western, put a guy on a horse.
  • Romance, make sure it is a love triangle with a good guy and a bad guy.

Any story that does not fit into the cliche is seen as unmarketable. The problem is not with the familiarity with the elements of fantasy as Chadbourn says, and it is not a dislike of innovation by fantasy fans as McCalmont argues. The real problem is that publishers/producers want to know what stories yours is like, and if you cannot name one, then the story is generally not produced/published. At the very least, the innovative tale will not be well marketed.

Fantasy fans are so hungry for innovative fiction, they seek out foreign authors and reprints as far back as they can find them. The trouble is with the mainstream publishers/producers who prefer to go with safe ideas than risk failure through innovation. The problem is compounded by the mainstream audience that buys into it.

There will always be innovation on the fringes, but the mainstream will never care about it. We should not delude ourselves and think that any original idea will break through into the mainstream before it has created an underground splash and inspired enough copycats to make the mainstream publisher/producers feel safe with it.

Innovative fantasy is always there for anyone who sets out to find it, but be warned, the journey is perilous, wrought with pitfalls and false leads, but in the end, it is worth the effort.

(from my Amazon Connect blog)