When writing high fantasy—be it in a videogame or tabletop roleplaying game—people often get stuck writing about a sort of ahistorical medieval western Europe, or a version of England with glittery gold and dragon hordes. But high fantasy can be so much richer than that, as tabletop publisher Paizo Publishing can illustrate: their Pathfinder line includes people of color, and Wizards of the Coast’s Magic:The Gathering line includes a trans* woman human warrior. There’s plenty of room for everyone in grand adventures: here’s some tips and resources to include in your next tapestry of fantasy. It’s natural to feel uncertain about adding more representation in your work, but these tips will help you overcome that and get you started!
Note: much of this includes reading! But if you’re already a high fantasy fan, chances are you read a lot anyway: so consider this going on a grand adventure of your own!
Largely meant for novel manuscripts, this just as easily applies to game making, but it boils down to the following: make conscious decisions. Have a doctor walk-on character who only appears for a scene? Try making the doctor a woman, and see what changes—or doesn’t change. Helpful especially for new writers, or writers who aren’t sure where to begin.
Neatly broken down into time period, this blog sources, cites, and illustrates people of color in medieval European art. As high fantasy tends to take on a distinctive European flavor, this site is essential to remembering that there were people of color in all sorts of stations in medieval Europe due to trade routes, aristocratic movement, shifting governments, diplomatic and educational missions, and more.
“Diverse” can mean that it’s inspired from different cultures than your own (Grim Fandango Remastered, Papo & Yo and Never Alone are excellent examples), or have female leads (Mirror’s Edge, Portal) or are from totally different experiences than your own – the site for independent games, itch.io, has many of these sorts of games, or look up the #altgames hashtag on Twitter. This might be a lot of work, but it’s similar to analyzing fiction or any other piece of media; and who knows, you might find something interesting to further research. (Author’s note: I got into studying Buddhism and Shinto partly out of analyzing media, so it can happen!)
Speculative fiction often includes science fiction and horror as well as fantasy, but not only will you find more interesting reads, you may be able to use the stories for your own inspirations. The #diversestories hashtag lives primarily on Twitter, though Bogi Takács has a steady stream of recommendations here.
Paizo Publishing does some of this when checking their work for LGBTQ representation: they reach out to LGBTQ-identified folk and ask them their opinions. They did this particularly when going over their work with some of the potions in Pathfinder: there was a potion of transformation that allowed for “sex change,” and the writers wanted to get input from nonbinary folk as to what the best wording for the potion could be, while remaining sensitive to transgender and nonbinary individuals. Twitter is good for these sorts of conversations, as is Facebook. Don’t be afraid to get input from others!
Katriel Paige is a writer, lecturer and aspiring gamemaker. She is also co-chair of studyofanime.com, where she writes about Japanese culture, media and games/anime.