Race: Gnomes, Goblins, Asura and others
- Infant body proportions - oversized heads, hands, feet and often eyes
- Itsy-bitsy bodies, often with round bellies
- Steampunk tech and/or devices powered by crystals
- Annoying cuteness
- Gifted with either weird magic or anachronistic engineering
- Often gifted with enhanced intellect or heightened dexterity
- Can fit in small spaces
- For some reason, the infant look really works for some people
- Almost always have reduced strength because of their tiny size
- Irritating high-pitched voices, occasionally distracting combat and/or
- Suspension of disbelief? What immersion?
- Frequently inspire murderous rage in other gamers who rightfully hate
Finally, an archetype that can't be pinned solely on Professor Tolkien.
Be warned: this column will use the politically-incorrect term "midget" in
reference to small-bodied fantasy races. Because they are midgets.
Annoying little midgets, and the reason that actual little people get
offended by the word. They are not suffering from achondroplasia or other
types of human dwarfism. Real-life little people are humans, and we
already looked at those in another piece.
The super-industrious tiny magic/engineering genius traces its roots to
16th century alchemist Paracelsus, who described Gnomes as tiny earth
elementals able to pass through solid earth as easily as humans pass
through air. Later on, these elementals got incorporated into 18th and
19th century faerie tales, where they got lumped in with kobolds, goblins,
leprechauns, brownies and other household spirits, and the "earth
elemental" aspect was more or less dropped.
The Gnome featured in the works of many famous fantasy authors, including
L. Frank Baum and C. S. Lewis, among others. Tolkien, of course, also used
Gnomes in some of his stories, but they were much lesser-known - in some
cases, the word Gnome refers to the Noldor elves, and means "those with
knowledge" (possibly related to Gnosticism, but more elf-y), and in the
Christmas stories he wrote for his kids, Red Gnomes were Norwegian and
helped Father Christmas's Elves battle evil Goblins.
The super-clever wee folk most often encountered in fantasy games,
however, draw more from the 1970's Dungeons & Dragons version of the
Gnome - a diminutive being that looks like a shorter, thinner Dwarf, but
which is less cantankerous and more gifted with magic, and with the
Illusion school of magic in particular. After the progenitor Gnome came
the sub-races - the Svirfneblin, who are more closely akin to Paracelsus'
earth elementals, and the dreaded Tinker Gnome.
Essentially, all fantasy-game mad-genius midgets are spun off from the
Tinker Gnome. This includes World of Warcraft's Goblins, who often build
dangerously-unstable and anachronistic machines powered by steam and
cranks and gears. It also includes the Asura of the Guild Wars universe,
though these little megalomaniacs are more proficient with dangerous magic
than with steampunk tech - more like regular Gnomes in that respect, but
with the "inventiveness" of a Tinker and the high-blown ego of an Elf.
The words "curious" and/or "mischievous" are often used to describe these
little people, but more often they come across as annoyingly manic
children bristling with dangerous weapons and lollipops. It boggles the
mind that societies advanced enough to invent technology hundreds of years
ahead of its time wouldn't come up with the idea of Ritalin.
ADHD medicine would probably help them invent devices that aren't
dangerously unstable. These races often invent themselves all the way to
the very brink of extinction with their machinery and gadgets. When their
contraptions invariably break down, the failure is always catastrophic.
This is a fairly transparent allegory to humanity's own technological
over-reaching with nuclear power - a source of energy that is mysterious
to most people and has the potential to be very, very dangerous.
In already-cartoony games, these races are even cartoonier - the
equivalent of a "___ Babies" version of whatever other races are
in the game. This sort of child-like aesthetic has an appeal to some
players - the same people who enjoy magical rainbow ponies, but also
actual children - but for more serious-minded players looking for an
immersive world, they are anathema. Nothing breaks suspension of disbelief
like a ridiculous tiny big-headed baby-person bouncing around giggling and
spraying death-rays and sparkly rainbows all over the place. But that's
exactly the sort of thing that players of these races tend to do. If
you've ever been corpse-jumped in a PvP match, chances are good that it
was a tiny-race guy that did it.
Were I a little person in real life, I would be rather offended by the
diminutive races in fantasy games. Peter Dinklage doesn't have a goofy
chipmunk voice, and he doesn't bounce around like a manic toddler when he
walks. He carries himself with poise and dignity, and his immense talent
brings great depth and pathos to the character of Tyrion Lannister - a
character that would be far less sympathetic, and almost completely
offensive to most sensible human beings, if he were portrayed in the same
manner as a giggly Gnome.
Trolling with a "midget" race is super-easy, which is why so many players
do it. A lot of it relies on the premise that a tiny person character is
equivalent in power, intellect and maturity to a small child, and
disregards logical things like game mechanics that try to keep all the
races balanced. For instance, it can be humiliating to get defeated in a
PvP match, but doubly so when the victor is tiny and uses the size fallacy
to insinuate that the defeated character is therefore incredibly weak -
"he got his ass beat by a midgit lolz!"
There are other ways to troll with a tiny character besides PvP
trash-talk. The "Annoying Gnat" maneuver is fairly popular - simply follow
another character around, jump constantly, run circles around him when he
pauses to check a map or type in chat or whatever, and spam emotes when
the other player starts fighting mobs. The other player will likely assume
that you are a child trying to get his attention for something, but he has
no idea you're an adult with a neckbeard, no friends and a job you hate
and suck at. So the joke's on him!
Fortunately, this trope seems to be primarily a thing of the past. Only a
couple of triple-A MMOs have the mad scientist midget race these days.
Most games go the other direction with little people and make them a race
of sneaky, untrustworthy thieves. But that's a discussion for a different
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