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Wavinator

"Klingonness" (Or "Orcishness," if you prefer)

27 posts in this topic

Klingons or Romulans or Orcs or Elves conjure up a pretty immediate picture for most people who are into SF or fantasy. I''m wondering two things: How, as a writer, do you capture this sense of a people... who they are, what they stand for, emotions they invoke in a player... and... Do you think "Klingonness" or "Orcishness" is so such a memorable trait because of what it is, or because we''ve been exposed to the concept in countless books / movies / other media? -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...
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I really dispise things that use existing earth culture stereotypes to define alien races. Kligons = Russians (first Show) Ferengi = The offensive stereotypes of the jewish people, Cardassians = Germans...

The first three Star Wars movies were blessedly free of this crap. But in the new one, they did it painfully often. Trade Federation = Japanese buisness culture, Gungans = Jamaicans, Watto = Italian.

I hate this crap. They are stereotypes built on stereotyps, with no grounding in realistic or even mythical importance. Try to avoid this at all costs. Mind you, I feel star trek''s Aliens got a little more alien as the shows went on, it''s to bad the writing went to seed.
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LF,

I totally hear you (or read you... whatever )

Episode 1 was so blatant as to be offensive. Even switching voices around would have helped a little! (Have you heard the Jar Jar Binks with an impeccable British accent?)

However, isn''t it the case that sometimes our own stereotypes get in the way of what''s being presented to us. I mean, how would you do an *extremely* greedy, capitalistic culture if you found the Ferengi insulting? (hmmm.... maybe they should have been presented as blends of cultures... otherwise, how would we relate to them?)

I''ve heard the Ferengi thing, btw (which I really think is baseless). I think they''ve managed to imbue the Klingons with more "Klingonness" but I still don''t know if that''s an effect of something they did really well, or years of exposure to "Klingon" as a concept.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...
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How, as a writer, do you capture (create?) this sense of a people?

First, brainstorm something interesting, pound on it until it gets coherent, then impress that ''sense of the people'' on your mind.

Now, figure out what attitudes/assumptions the people would have that your audience would not. Work these into dialogue/narration: Make up some ''traditional proverbs'' and have the characters use them casually. Have characters obviously assume things counter to what your audience would assume. Think of some traditions that your people would have and toss them into the plot.
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Oh get off the high horse will you LandFish!

You say the stereotypes are offensive, but that''s because YOU read stuff into the characters that wasn''t there.
If you watched Star Trek carefully enough, you''ll see that they build up the stereotype only to break it up for the main characters afterwards. They do this because it WORKS. It''s an excellent plot device. People instantly recognise it, and start linking it to their own cultural experience.
If you want really alien aliens, you wouldn''t understand ANYTHING of their moral and social structure. They''d probably be realistic aliens, and completely worthless to your game.


People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
~ (V)^|) |<é!t|-| ~
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Funny LF, I thought the Ferengi were based on Americans
As well, I have to support MadKeith on that one, it''s easier to use stereotypes because people KNOW them. you tap into the collective conscience of the public (or whatever you would call it), and this help the public get a general idea. Then you make exceptions... you can deny as hard as you want, that''s the way it works. You have ready made ideas, and you change them everytime you meet a specific person (for instance, if I meet an american, I am happy to discover, sometimes, someone who''s not totally like the stereotypical american).
I don''t think this is totally evil to do that, but it might be misused, especially if it promotes racism as you seem to imply it ?
Personally I think we ARE different, and it''s nice to have typical traits to refere to.

As well, I was thinking that unlike what you are thinking Wavinator, the definition of orks and trolls, and other "common" mosnters is quite vague, and often subject to a lot of confusion. Just look at the representation of a Troll in Willow ?
Or the way people confuse elves a la Tolkien, and the original Norse legends ?
Look at the definitions of orks in AD&D, in Tolkien, and in Warhammer, in Chronopia, etc ... there are lots of different interpretations. If you go for some overused race of the medfan pantheon, be careful to clearly describe them, because if after 200 pages the reader realise that for you an ork is green with evergrowing teeth, a triple stomach and blood that cahnges color depending on the last meal, while he was imagining a Tolkien ork ... you might confuse them totally.

As well, I don''t think it''s that easy to miss cliche when trying to create a race. I mean, look at the number of shows where you have "the peaceful mind oriented species" (Babylon 5, Farscape), or the "race of warriors" (again, StarTrek, Babylon 5, Farscape), or the Evil Empire against the Free Republic ... etc, etc.

Your freedom depends on the size of your cell ...
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Hey, didn''t I say that I felt it gotten better as the shows went on?

Face, the writers have admitted the Klingons were written as Russians. None of the things I said in that other post were of my own invention.

But we have a tendancy to make races in SF that are really just one personality heaped on several million individuals. Where the hell are the girlie klingons? The articulate Gungans? The selflessly moral members of the trade federation?

This is the crap I''m attacking. Archetypal themes are one thing. Stereotypes can even be good. But whole species just don''t behave in this silly manner and that''s that. This isn''t even about political correctness, it''s about adequate suspension of Disbelief. Star Wars used to be REALLY GOOD at this, and now it''s worse than Star Trek ever was. At the same time, Star Trek has grown up a lot since the first series.

Stop taking me so literally people. I''m off in philosophy land.
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Landfish, You are right about not having lots of individual characters in a race. Selfish ones, ones who wish to overthrow the system, ones which are upset because they can only eat BASS , etc.

When you read the guidelines to roleplaying games, including AD&D emphasise this type of point quite heavily. (Even if that isn''t necessarily what we get on computer).

It is pretty simplistic to have a race where all the memebers share exactly the same charactersistics and attributes. Or seem to. Maybe the Klingons do have lots of different views and principles, but if so this isn''t COMMUNICATED TO US. They just seem to be angry, ready with a blaster, and supposedly honourable.

But this isn''t about Star Trek or Star Wars.

Wavinator, Quote "I''m wondering two things: How, as a writer, do you capture this sense of a people... who they are, what they stand for, emotions they invoke in a player..."

In what context, a short description or via prolonged contact with the characters. If via prolonged contact, you could have the characters that you meet seem to be all alike in their way of being, until as you gain a better working relationship with them you are gradually shown more stuff."

Wav, I do believe that these immediate views are from prolonged exposure to things with the same general view of these characters.
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I see your point LF.

I think that it''s perfectly believable for cultures to have many similarities about their personalities, but there should be exceptions to the rule. I did notice that the early Star Trek: NG had much more sterotypical races than the latter episodes which resulted in deeper characters.

I''ve always thought that the Seinfeld characters were a lot deeper than most other sit-coms. Most sit-coms have the sarcastic one, the dumb one, so on. On Seinfeld they were at least a bit deeper.
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quote:
I really dispise things that use existing earth culture stereotypes to define alien races. Kligons = Russians (first
Show) Ferengi = The offensive stereotypes of the jewish people, Cardassians = Germans...


Thats great, but who are the orcs, smurfs, elves?
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Nope, you still don''t get it.
How can you build a stereotype if you start bombarding the viewer/player with exceptions immediately? You CAN''T!
That''s why at first all the races will seem stereotypical, and you''ll form an idea of their culture, and THEN you will see some exceptions pop up here and there, so you can say "hey, this Watchamacallit is really different from the others."
Now, in places where it''s hard to spend a lot of time building up the stereotype, you have to go back to linking it with existing stereotypes, such as the world''s stereotypical views of Germans, Americans, etc. etc.

[ps: I''m in a really bad mood today, so I apologise in advance for any abrasiveness ]



People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
~ (V)^|) |<é!t|-| ~
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Funny, I always saw the Klingons as an interesting and very well balanced mix between cold war Russia and feudal Japan.
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Ok, I have read through all of the avaiable posting so far, and all of you have a part of the whole. And some of you are probibly not noticing that you are agreeing with each other, so I will try to put it all together.

Since you all seem to be tossing Star Wars & Star Trek around I will use them for my discussion.

Star Trek, written by the late Gene Rodenbery, was writen in the middle to late 60''s. This was a time of great racial & social differences. This was also a time of war and hostilites. The Klingons were addmitedly a portrail of the Russians with a couplign of Fudal Japan Honor structure (addmited by Rodenberry himself some years ago). But as a writer he needed to find a way to relate this unknown to viewers watching their TV''s. To give them something to relate to. And if you look at he main characters of the show itself, not even its alines, there were many thick sterotypes. Kirk, the headstrong, hot blooded, brash, young american who thinks he can do anything. Sulu, the Asian pilot, who in one episode they showed affinity to martial arts when bridge members were going mad. MaCoy, the older, patient southern doctor. Uhura, the black female communications officer/singer. Scotty (Sterotypical Scottish name, that even in a way makes fun of the people) the sterotypical enginer. Chekov, the weapons expert with a thick russian expert who continually said that his people invented, and created everything, making fun of how the Russians during some time periods educated their people to believe such things. Star Trek was founded on the platform of racial differences and sterotypes, with that said, look where it is today. 9 movies, 30 years of off/on TV shows. Because people who sat down to watch the show, immediatly recognized the sterotypes, and could, in there own way relate to the characters. Even Spock, The unemotional highly advanced above humans, with mental and psionic powers fits some sterotypes about aliens.

Once a writer uses this technique to build out a standard, they then can break this standard as a plot point to increase intrest. Star Trek NG is a perfect example of this with a Klingon rased by Humans that eventually molds his human upbringing with his Klingon background to create a hybrid set of belief''s. Personaly, Warf and the end of NG, and during DS9 was a much more interesting character than day one of NG. Data was an example of playing off of a possible sterotype of Artifical Intelligence. Also he is an example of the computer/information age effecting the writing.

I also would like to point out that in the original movie, there were tons of sterotypes used. The empire was a sterotypical Nazi regime down the the costumes, they were the master race. Droids could even been seen as a salve race. But these things are all left up to interpretaion. The fact that some of you are so passionate about these issues and that you recognize them in the movies, is just what the writer wanted. Now you have been sucked in, and they are making money off of your interest from tickets purchased, ratings genreated from watching the shows (and the advertisements) and the books you buy.

It is a proven fact the almost everything you look at in the media can in one way or another be viewed as a racial or societal sterotype, but then again, the breaking of those sterotypes when you least expect it is what ends up sucking you into the writers world.

Thanks for the ears, please feel free to attack/support/deny/agree to anything I have had to say, the discussion is what counts.
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Sorry, in that last section where I mention the Nazi, I was talking about the first Star Wars moive made (Episode 4 a New Hope)

I would also like to make a point on the Frenghi being a portrail of Jews, I always attributed them to a cross between the sterotypical Jew jokes and the Japanise due to the power & position that they have in the economic society.

I also apologise about my spelling, though I have an extensive college degree ... I have never truely mastered my own language, and at the time that I wrote this post did not have my savior the "spell checker" there to help me.
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I agree with MadKeithV.
People are reading into characters too much.
I really doubt most of the character types were created from preconcieved notions e.g. ''a gungan is like someone from Jamaica.''

When each actor tries to emulate a character in these situations, they are usually trying to do something they consider unique. In some peoples eyes they fail miserably.
In others eyes, esp. children, the actor helps take them for a ride.
It mainly boils down to personal perception. And this can change over time. As a kid, I didn''t see any sterotypes in Star Wars at all. It was just amazing space opera. But now, when I see storm troopers and thier officers, I see not Nazi''s but instead I see the English. Why? Because I work with a lot of British programmers and they have complained about this in the past. They changed my perception of the movie.
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The fact is, it''s just lazy. It''s a lot less work to create a single personality for an entire race than to go into each character''s psychology. It''s a cheap trick, and you don''t get much mileage out of it. (Later Star Trek NG abandoned this in favor of some cliché-breaking, something I deeply respect.)

It''s also easy to fall into a tribal mindset. It''s much less mentally straining to take a whole race and thing "They are my enemy" when they all have the same motivation. This leads to Goblin Genocide, where you are mindlessly slaying things and not considering each situation. You just think "goblin- bad" and start hacking. It''s racila determinism (or species determinism if you like...)

Since it''s kinda cheesy and it is only useful for a short amount of time, I call it bad writing. Personal judgement, okay?
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OFf Topic
I read in Neon film magazine that the original Star Wars was to have East Asian characters. And this was proved when the unfortunate Phantom Menace came out.
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If you don''t rely on archetypes or stereotypes, how do you decisively show difference? How do you create a sense of "other" and make it stick?

For instance, how would you best present a society that has no moral qualms about violence and war? Or one for whom the concept of biological and recreational sex is unknown? Or one that is so millenia old and completely jaded and cynical?

It would seem that by showing a lot of variety, they''d all end up looking just like us (which isn''t what I want-- they''re supposed to be alien...)


--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...
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Yeah, that''s the thing. With Star Trek...would the later Star Trek: TNG''s races seem to show as much variation if there was nothing to vary in comparison to.

If the earlier ones didn''t portray the sterotypes, then would the later ones show the variation since there would be nothing to compare to?

I really don''t think that Star Trek planned it that way though, but it seemed to me that the actors and the writers were sort of starting from the sterotypes at first and working their way up to more variation.




"'Nazrix is cool' -- Nazrix" --Darkmage
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Your target audience knows their reading: ABCDEF. They have been taught to read through stereotype media, so A = Kobold bad, B= Elf good, C= halfling neutral.


We can agree upon the language it exists, the other question is: good or bad? Landfish you clearly state it is bad. Thats your opinion, and then it''s up to you to change the language. Ever tried teaching a Korean arabic? The question stated was, how do you use stereotypes in game design, not opening the door for some farfetched startrek symbolism. Do you believe the smurfs are communists? The Klingons are what, the russians? Where do you get this stuff from, some lecture in university???


In my opinion, try and understand how your audience read signs and don''t be afraid to use those signs if they communicate the message you want to send. Talk to kings like a king, talk to a peasant like a peasant. If you are targeting communists use red to inspire loyalty, if you are targeting punkers use leather, if you are targeting french use french, if you are targeting landfish use something else.
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Spyder,
I mean if your game is only aimed at a nerdy subsection of gamers that have a high involvement in reading such fantasy / pulp SciFi that uses such made up stereotypes. But people that don''t read it will be confused if you use such stereotypes, I mean I had never heard of a Kobold (A) before reading a review of Baldur''s Gate.

First of all you would need to introduce the player to your creature in a way which shows how it behaves, and why it exists.

I mean what is so evil about a Kobold? Surely they have families or broods that they care for, I mean rats care for their young, saving them when flood waters endanger their lives. Where do Kobold''s live, what are their social structures that MAKE them BAD? Is it that they need to expand their territory, is it that they take pleasure in torturing other animals, but a fiercely protective of their own species. Are they territorial loners, or live in tightly social groups with a defined heirarchy -Pecking Order ? Is it the smartest animal or more likely the toughest one that has the most power? What are the relationships between the female and Male Kobolds, do they have ape like Harems for the leading Kobold ?
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Wavinator, what you''re suggesting is preposterous from a socialogical point of view. That doesn''t make it BAD in my opinion, just that it interferes with (my) suspension of disbelief. An entire race that shares one mindset?

Truth be told, if you want alien races, make them VERY alien. Why do they all have tongues, dammit?! But if you want to make human-like characters, understand that people don''t all think alike (unless, like the Borg, it is their very nature.) Members of a race will disagree often, and a whole race will rarely band together entirely unless they are few in number. People are individuals!

The first three starwars movies were very good about this, I feel. There were no races that had "gimmicks" per se, and the humans were the BAD guys as well as the good guys. It''s amazing how much Lucas has fallen from grace.
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quote:
Original post by Landfish

Wavinator, what you're suggesting is preposterous from a socialogical point of view. That doesn't make it BAD in my opinion, just that it interferes with (my) suspension of disbelief. An entire race that shares one mindset?




Hahaha, LF! I don't think *either* of us can claim expertise here, as we really only have one sample to go on-- which is a poor case to study! (Unless you'd like to share something with the group!)

But, let's take human kind. Can't we note *some* general attitudes that apply pretty universally?

Like:

Most humans seem to believe that murder without cause is wrong.
Most humans seem to have an affinity for material goods, comfort, and advancement.
Most humans seem to form couples for emotional and physical intimacy
Most human males seem to enjoy various forms of risk taking and conflict.
Most humans seem to prefer pleasure over pain.
Most humans seem to require emotional connection
...etc...

Now, be it made of biological or cultural reasons, consider societies where:

...Random murder is considered a welcome part of life.
...There is little use for comfort or status based advancement
...Physical and emotional intimacy is shared by groups as a norm, rather than couples
...Risk taking and conflict are considered signs of mental instability
...There is absolutely *no* concept of pain or pleasure
...Emotional connection, as a norm, is considered a childish, superfluous indulgence

If it's biologically based, or if one culture's beliefs have spread throughout the civilization, this does not seem preposterous to me at all.
'


I'm afraid not. Most of the different cultural behaviors you mentioned have existed amongst human cultures somewhere on this world in the last 1000 years. Yes, all of those conflicting ideas originating from the same species. I find it VERY hard to believe that once we start spacing out across the stars that we will not have great diversity in our OWN species.

Look, you can write CULTURES, but I hate it when people write CULTURE and RACES as one and the same! It's so dumb! Sociologically, culture tends to evolve out of a group of people who have direct access to eachother. One a racial scale, this cannot happen! The Japanese are still VERY different from americans in cultural context.



Edited by - Landfish on September 24, 2000 11:44:46 AM
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quote:
Spyder,
I mean if your game is only aimed at a nerdy subsection of gamers that have a high involvement in reading
such fantasy / pulp SciFi that uses such made up stereotypes. But people that don''t read it will be confused if
you use such stereotypes, I mean I had never heard of a Kobold (A) before reading a review of Baldur''s Gate.

First of all you would need to introduce the player to your creature in a way which shows how it behaves, and
why it exists.



Don''t use stereotypes, if you want to target people that don''t understand the language. Adding along a little tutorial to the grammatics and symbols you want to introduce in your story is all ver good like you say. Myself I don''t see fantasy as simply evil vs. good.

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator-- OR, ACTUALLY Landfish **Edited**

''


I''m afraid not. Most of the different cultural behaviors you mentioned have existed amongst human cultures somewhere on this world in the last 1000 years. Yes, all of those conflicting ideas originating from the same species. I find it VERY hard to believe that once we start spacing out across the stars that we will not have great diversity in our OWN species.

Look, you can write CULTURES, but I hate it when people write CULTURE and RACES as one and the same! It''s so dumb! Sociologically, culture tends to evolve out of a group of people who have direct access to eachother. One a racial scale, this cannot happen! The Japanese are still VERY different from americans in cultural context.


Edited by - Landfish on September 24, 2000 11:44:46 AM


Oh, there''s your reply. I kept wondering what you thought.

I''ve never seen a culture that welcomed random murder. That''s just, as we say, inhuman. Nor have I ever known a society that had absolutely no concept of pleasure and pain. This also isn''t human. (I''ll concede the others I mentioned, tho'' they by and large seem to be very human universals).

I''ll add:: A society that kicks it''s children out to fend for themselves at birth, and engages in no child rearing whatsoever. Or a society that doesn''t know the difference between self and other.

C''mon, you''ll have to give that there are certain physical / psychological traits that, taken alone, would lend to civilization-based generalities. (I''m not buying the politically correct argument that we''re all the same-- if that was the case, then I could birth a baby, dammit! )

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...
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