The Unique Appeal of Fantasy Games
Fantasy is part of what drew me to video games in the first place. My love for the genre began when I first read The Chronicles of Narnia years ago; while science fiction lured me in later on, I’ve yearned for unicorns and dragons since I was a child. Luckily, video games have always had my back. Despite the obvious connection between the medium and science fiction—likely because both are associated with technology—video games are actually the perfect medium for fantasy stories.
Fantasy games are often connected to Dungeons & Dragons, but Tolkienesque fantasy is far from the only choice in video games. Where science fiction is often an extrapolation of existing technology (laser guns, teleportation, faster-than-light travel, and so on), fantasy encourages things that have never existed, like giant, fire-breathing lizards, magic, or other purely fictional creations. And, unlike other storytelling mediums, video games possess the unique power to allow us to experience and interact with these things as if they were real.
Historical Fantasy Games Reimagine the Past
When we say “fantasy,” most people think of a European medieval setting. Of course, Tolkien’s Middle-earth—which is heavily rooted in just such a historical period—is one of the most iconic pieces of fantasy fiction in our culture. Seeing as it was also a main source of inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons, it’s no surprise that so many of our fantasy games feel as if they’ve been plucked straight out of the Shire.
Indeed, fantasy is a genre largely defined by familiar tropes—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Dragon Age, for instance, is a world of elves and mages and holy warriors, but the unique ways in which it crafts its vision of European-inspired fantasy is what makes it compelling.
Filled with memorable characters and a magic system that mixes power with fear and questions of morality, Dragon Age works because it honors as many tropes as it subverts. You can wander the world of Thedas, which is as richly constructed as any world you’ll find in a fantasy novel, and develop a character who suits the world in whatever way you desire. It works not because the fantasy is generic, but because it’s customizable. As much as BioWare’s imaginative design is part of the experience, so, too, is the care and creativity you put into designing a character who fits the context of the in-game world.
Troll and I takes a slightly different, more linear approach. You play as two protagonists—a young boy named Otto and a mythical troll—as they evade hunters, supernatural threats, and the dangers of the Scandinavian wilderness. Set in the more recent past, just after World War II, Troll and I foregoes the archetypal Arthurian kingdom rife with mounted knights and fire-breathing dragons in favor of something a little less familiar to Western audiences—Nordic and Swedish folklore—to tell a compelling story unlike any other. The combination of less well-known mythology, an unlikely friendship, and a unique setting all tied into the game mechanics make Troll and I feel fresh, even if it takes place some seventy years ago.
Modern Fantasy Games Bring Magic to Today’s World
Fantasy, however, isn’t relegated to the past. While historical fantasy forces characters to worry about survival against the elements, limited weaponry, and lack of communication, modern fantasy games pit magic and supernatural creatures against today’s technology. The fun of the genre is seeing how the tropes we typically associate with ancient legends and the distant past work in a world with cell phones, guns, and other modern features.
The Secret World is the perfect example of how this changes the way we look at fantasy. This MMORPG takes place in a twisted version of our world where werewolves, vampires, and secret societies exist throughout familiar locations. Because it’s an MMO, the world is populated by people with their own agendas to follow and secrets to keep, and gameplay features numerous conspiracies to unravel and enemies to fight.
It’s a completely different experience from traditional fantasy. In this case, the imaginative elements are not a natural feature of the landscape, but rather an intrusion on the world we know.
There’s also the Persona series, which combines multiple mythological systems with teenage heroes. Rather than depicting magic as an intrusion on reality, Persona instead uses magic to explore themes of Jungian psychology, the human psyche, and collective consciousness.
These themes can be tricky to tackle in video games, but Persona found a way to overcome that challenge through the use of metaphor. Each game’s conflicts including struggles with identity, depression, and personal freedom in a restrictive world. Magical metaphors help make these themes more palatable for players than a preachier, more direct approach might, and puts an interesting spin on the face of fantasy in games.
Fantasy Games Mix Reality With Imagination
While science fiction may also contain imaginative elements, the fantasy genre is built on inventiveness and flights of fancy. Not every game can carry the psychological weight of Persona or explore the mythological references found in Troll and I, but all fantasy games ultimately grant us a similar gift—the chance to run and play in a magical sandbox filled with the sorts of wonders and creatures the real world can only show us in dreams. In these games, we get to see and experience a developer’s unique vision firsthand in a world where even the most familiar tropes, like unicorns and fairies, spring from a personal and, thus, unique source—the imagination of another human being.
Troll and I infuses the historical Northern European setting with a magical twist, as Troll and Otto journey through the wilderness to escape a band of hunters. Preorder your copy today!