Apologies for the extended hiatus, I’ve been very distracted by both real life and Vampire: the Masquerade of late. So much so that I’ve now got another section of this website devoted to various rules expansions and interpretations of the game, which I’ll be expanding in the coming months, hopefully. And it also got me thinking about archetypes in fantasy fiction.
Then this and this (warning: immediate shouting and screaming on the second video) impinged on my consciousness, and I’ve now got quite a soup of thoughts about stereotypes, archetypes and what they tend to do in both fantasy and science fiction.
In summary, the Moviebob video linked above points out that even though The Hunger Games is held up as a feminist text, Katniss is basically a “scruffy, taciturn John Rambo in a sports bra” while the enemies of the Capital are “preening… mincing… they gorge on wine and chocolate, they wear makeup and spray tans and frilly costumes”. Basically, Katniss is clearly good in part because she expresses masculine traits, while the folks in the Capital are clearly bad in part because they express feminine traits. And people do seem to react badly when protagonists use female traits positively. Which isn’t particularly pleasant, because it means that gender stereotypes aren’t going away. But I digress, if only slightly.
What could make all this more interesting is if you come up for reasons for characters to take up particular aspects and signifiers which are then explored, but it needs to be a conscious choice, rather than something which people or characters are railroaded into, or something which defines their entire character, which leads me on to the next, rather more ranty, video.
This makes the point that in Vampire: the Masquerade as written, there’s only one reason for playing a vampire of a particular clan is to be a contract killer or a power gamer. That the clan as written has such a narrow (and racially insensitive) remit that it shouldn’t exist. They aren’t generally alone in this, as there are other vampire clans with a similar problem which material on this website (provided mostly by the fantastic Telgar of Onyx Path Forums and myself) – they get defined and classified by a fairly narrow set of options which are generally forced on the player by the game setting. What these clans generally need is a reason to be the stereotypes as presented, rather than a reason why they’re not. When it comes to roleplaying games there are other considerations inherent in such considerations too, such as how such changes fit into the existing system and so on, but that shouldn’t be the focus here. The focus should be on the in-character reasons for something to be the case.
Archetypes in themselves, particularly in films, are a handy visual/textual shorthand for things, but we should really be wary of what the shorthand we’re using actually means, as well as possibly where it comes from, before it gets used. Thinking about why particular characters or types of character are the way they are before you follow the crowd and create yet another cardboard cut-out character who follows the conventions will inevitably flesh them out, and/or increase your understanding of why they do what they do. The instant the answer to “why does a character do X?” becomes just “because that’s what type Y characters do” without any reasons behind that we start to get shallow characters who reinforce potentially negative messages about certain kinds of action and/or way of being. Even thinking “it’s because character Z thinks it’s the way things should be” is enough of an answer to get gears turning about how that character thinks and why they do what they do. Do they feel obliged to follow the social rules because they are afraid to do otherwise? Do they do it because they think it’s the easiest way to power/success? OR any number of reasons. Making sure there is a reason is what matters, rather than unconsciously promoting boring and possibly damaging conventions.
Watch this space for more VtM information, including an attempt to make some of the more cardboard-cut-out boogeymen of the setting more interesting.