|Gibberlings / Gnomes / Taru-Taru|
Most traditional MMORPGs with a classic race palette feature them – just as much as they struggle with them, too: short folk. Put in to create racial and character diversity which is usually lacking in customization menus (you cannot create seriously short characters yourself), many MMOs still fall horribly short (!) with their portrayal of short races. In fact, heavy cliches will often overpower the whole purpose behind racial diversity, completely.
Let’s take Allods’ Gibberlings as a first example. One of the most original attempts ever made in an MMO, namely to make the player character appear as a group of three with individual customization and name for each, falls flat on its nose by serving every conceivable stereotype associated with short and therefore less intimidating people. Or as the Allods Wiki describes them:
The only bone thrown towards the Gibberlings’ prowess is that they’re “a dangerous foe for those that don’t take them seriously”. Oh, wicked! That aside, they are everything you can expect from a friendly, inherently good and physically weak civilization: they have no ambitions, are great pals and wanna explore the world in peace. Ahem…too bad you’re also supposed to pick them for your alter ego in a game mostly revolving around war and combat! Who feels like picking the Gibberlings for battle when they also happen to be all furry cuteness, big eyed with a goofy gait? Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re adorable but that’s about it.
Next up, World of Warcraft’s gnomes. While directly ripped off the awesome gnomish races of engineers established in classic D&D storytelling, I’ve never been a fan of the presentation of gnomes in WoW – despite the odd crazed and power hungry NPC persona among them. Gnomes are no doubt cunning and smart a people, but they’re also awfully cute; freaky hairstyles and colors aside, they come with the classic baby-face effect, a-sexual bodies and childish voices. They appear as infantilized humans when they should be an original race in their own right.
To complete a trio, let’s consider the Taru-Taru of Final Fantasy XI online. A race of powerful magic users, Tarus live in a peaceful and lush Forrest town, deeply devoted to their studies. Unlike other races, they are unable to age physically, they look and move like children, come with a cute button nose and have been referred to posses “chipmunk-like” attributes.
…I think we are getting the picture. No need to continue with Hobbits or other races from the classic fantasy genre. Obviously we are dealing with a stereotype that could be called positive racism – at least as far as the magical or intellectual capabilities of all these races go. And while we do get a degree of stereotyping for most races in classic MMOs, I still need to ask why in fictional, magical worlds especially, small statures must equal a cute, friendly and nerdy personality?
Enter Guild Wars 2: Asura
To follow up my question, I am not opposed to cute or peace-loving characters in MMOs (paradox as it may seem in places…), or even entire races/cultures. What I do object to however, is that the great majority of these characters are also short folk. Surely in a world of powerful magic, body size is not exactly a limiting factor? And how come that traits like being nice and cute are automatically associated with being little? If you follow that train of thought, you’ll end up at the underlying suggestion that having a tall, athletic physique leads to aggressive or evil behavior, whereas a lack thereof takes that choice away and somehow forces short people to be friendly people.
Can the MMO genre not outgrow the idea of small folk as human children already? Add to this that in most games, the short race is always on the good/alliance side if such exists (in WoW too goblins were a neutral faction a long time before getting added to the horde). Why should short races not be inherently evil? Badass, scary and intimidating? Aggressive and combative even? Well, a first and second look at Guild Wars’ Asura has me filled with hope in this department. Already briefly featured in GW1, many players like myself currently waiting for GW2 will not have encountered this unique race before. By no means innovative on every account, a few aspects stood out to me when checking beta reviews and footage. The Asura do come with the same associated knack for technology and study as gnomes in WoW, but that’s where the similarities end.
For one thing, the Asura are not your standard aww-inspiring staple shorties; there is something very uncanny, almost creepy about their facial physiognomy. Indeed, the Asura are about as cute to me as the tooth fairies in the Hellboy movie. It is remarkable character design that evokes such feelings despite the small stature, big eyes and floppy ears. The pointy teeth undoubtedly play a part and then there’s many arrogant looking or grumpy stares to be found in their character creation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like pinching an Asura’s cheek!
|Spot the cute Asura!|
Naturally, there will still be some cute asuran faces, especially for the females (shocker) which is why I included one in the above picture. However, these appear to be a minority. It gets very obvious that cuddliness is not the standard overall theme for this race. Many Asura look angry, superior or plain ugly – and unlike some players have commented on GW2 Guru, I happen to love it!
I also welcomed the information in an article on Talk Tyria (which beat me to this topic!) that introduces Asura as a very competitive culture, haughty and dismissive towards everyone else to the point of plain racist. There exist dark ambitions within special factions among them (called Inquest), displaying amoral and cruel behavior. The entire article is a very interesting read, especially if you happen to love your lore and roleplay. I also quite enjoyed reading ANet’s developer commentary where Heron Prior talks about the challenge of creating a less boring and fresh look for their shortest race – and how difficult a task this was considering the overall more realistic character design of GW2.
He also mentions that the Asura were given a clumsier movement style to counter their arrogance with an overall “more endearing” feel. I can understand how this choice is unpopular with some GW1 players. From their point of view, the original Asura have been softened down or goofed up to appeal to a wider audience in GW2. Having not played GW1 myself however, they are still one of the most refreshing races in the game, the most badass short race I’ve personally come across and at the very least, the most well-balanced one compared to other games!
For the very first time ever in an MMO am I actually considering playing a shorty; they’re a very close second to my already announced Norn crush. I will definitely spend some time on creating an Asura alt when GW2 finally launches, they are pure win!