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    Fantasy games: A Fantastic Attraction

    Humanity has a long history of telling stories of the paranormal, the bizarre, the unthinkable and the fantastic. It is no surprise that once interactive methods of engagement with stories were available, that fantasy realms became a popular virtual setting.

    Certainly, you can say table top and card games have an immense influence on the fantasy video games that arose, but even without them I find it hard to believe fantasy games wouldn’t have occurred on their own; people love fantasy.

    Fantasy games are, when made well, equally as daunting, dangerous and exciting as the worlds that inspired them; worlds that have only existed in the minds, on the page and on the screen before. It is in these worlds, even as characters with humble or even abysmal beginnings, that people with true skill can become respected, even loved.

    It’s a wonderful thing to give people. Certainly, for some it can become a negative distraction from life if playing errs on the side of addiction, but for most entering the lands of orcs, giants, mammoths, dragons, magic, steel and bow, is an embracing, lovable experience.

    Fantasy is interesting in that it immediately raises the questions of universes. What is this place? Who are the people? Are there only humans? Is it earth? What is the technology like? Is there magic?

    You can apply fantasy to most settings, the most famous non-traditional being Star Wars, which is not a science fiction film, but rather a space fantasy and opera.

    What we know of Star Wars we can apply to any fantasy world: there are rules, there are sides, there is a universe that these character live in. And it isn’t our own. This is where gaming becomes interesting. The concept of the lived-in universe.

    Popular in film, particularly since the release of Star Wars, the concept of the lived-in universe has spread like wildfire in film. Peter Jackson references it as a huge inspiration for the look in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
     Fantasy is becoming more widely accepted, more mainstream
    The lived-in universe has grit, decay, imperfections. It gets dusty and, under no circumstances, looks as though it was freshly constructed - unless, of course, it was.

    In videogames this approach to world design delivers a place rendered believable through the magic of art and level design, where people go about their lives as we do here on earth. And it’s just waiting for us to come adventuring through it.

    In the days of lower resolution textures, say fifteen years ago (two for console gamers, amirite??), so much of what we drew from fantasy settings was in our imagination. Excellent art design helped, and it’s part of why isometric and top down became so popular with fantasy games: with isometric and top down designs you can not only establish gameplay mechanics that work well in the fantasy settings, but also depict a vast, gritty world without having to go very far beyond two dimensional elements. In some cases, not at all.

    This is how the epic fantasy tales of Diablo I & II were told, among some notable others. And it is with the coming generation of videogames that I truly think the believability and immersion of fantasy settings will become unparalleled. And for newcomers like me, that immersion will help.

    Fantasy is becoming more widely accepted, more mainstream. When I was young I had little to no interest in fantasy worlds, especially in videogames. I’ve never been into magic (just The Force), and aside from a few franchises most lore tended to leave me yawning.

    But eventually I began to appreciate fantasy worlds, and what I have always loved is being a warrior. It may be predictable. It may be boring so some. But I love to wield a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. I long to stride clad in armour, through the world painstakingly developed for me, ready clash with my enemies. And I’m sure many millions of others feel the same way.

    One brilliance of fantasy worlds is that you can’t ever have that annoying, pessimistic sod who always goes, “that’s not how that happens”, to which you must respond “it’s a game, jackass”.

    No one has ever been attacked by a dragon or fired balls of magic coolness from their palms. No one has ever tossed a d… hmm. No one has ever battled orcs, nor slain a demon.

    And so, as long as the textures are rich, the world alive and the impact of the player on the world feels natural, developers can create any kind of game about any world they like. More convincingly, that is, than the magnificent ones that have come and gone that really did require a decent imagination to close the gap.

    As technology improved, gameplay saw changes and refinements. In 2011 Skyrim was almost shockingly successful, because it breached the traditional fantasy audience into the mainstream. Certainly, it required the sacrifice of some gameplay elements, but I always felt it streamlined something great, but tedious, into something incredibly fun.

    With Oblivion always feeling lifeless to me, I very much enjoyed entering the world of Skyrim and exploring endlessly. It was a reminder that it is not the universes that exclude players, but the gameplay mechanics and storytelling devices. A living, breathing world won’t go beyond obscurity if the gameplay isn’t accessible. And maybe that’s fine; I play plenty of games with absurd learning curves.

    As the breadth of what is possible in videogames grows - an evolution measured partly in immersion, graphics, narrative, characterisation and gameplay the possibilities of fantasy settings evolve. It is very possible that the potential of interactive fantasy settings will one day exceed the capacities of traditional mediums and deliver players of all calibres into the shoes of characters whose feet walk the very ground cave trolls tread.

    We now know the worlds populated with elves and orcs aren’t just for the sub cultures, but for everyone once again. Our videogames have become the tales once told around fires. They’ve become the stories told around the water cooler. Around the poker table. Around the bar.

    And for the first time in human history one can say they were attacked by a dragon, cast magic from the palms of their hands and slain demons who annihilate the world in the name of a dark lord and have it be the truth.

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