When I was writing about The Secret World yesterday, I mentioned that for many years, I’ve wanted to play an MMO based on Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere. So far, The Secret World does some, but not all, of what I’ve always wished I could see a massively multiplayer world do. But as I’ve been thinking about it, I’d love to see singleplayer games with a new focus, too. And much of it all comes down to the same focus.
My issue is this: I am so very tired of the worlds of European high fantasy.
Make no mistake: I love The Lord of the Rings and I admire the groundwork that J.R.R. Tolkien laid for what later became a huge and sprawling genre. (I can even explain more than anyone would ever care to know about the Silmarillion.) I think Dungeons and Dragons did well to draw on Tolkien for inspiration. I am amazed at the depth, breadth and variety of stories that have come out of sword and sorcery worlds.
But I am tired of them.
Orcs and elves are now as commonplace to a gamer as cars and phone poles are to a 21st century American. I have seen ice magic, fire magic, air magic and earth magic. I have seen chaos magic and blood magic. I have seen particle effects and dramatic colours in every hue known to man. I have seen impractical armour of every shape and metal; I have seen countless wizards in long robes and warriors with vital sections of their torsos unprotected. I have seen swords, bigger swords, daggers, unlikely daggers, and occasionally even a bow and quiver.
I have spent an absolutely ridiculous amount of time playing games in the England that never was. It’s the pastoral, pre-industrial plane where everyone will talk to you, no matter how heavily armed you are. It’s the world of a history that didn’t exist, tinged with a magic that nobody actually told stories about.
Even Harry Potter had to deal with the Muggle world, on occasion.
I have always found there to be so much magic in urban environments. And even in a thoroughly explored, never-disconnected modern world, there are mysteries to uncover and stories to imagine. There’s no reason not to get creative with variations of the world that is.
And that’s what makes me think of Neverwhere. The novel posits an entirely parallel London, inhabiting the space physically and psychically below the London-that-is. A place where forgotten people, forgotten things, and forgotten slices of time go, to mix and merge and build a world all of their own. It’s an urban fantasy that tells the story of a city’s soul, not just a story of the people in it.
There’s more than just vampires and zombies to the 21st century, or at least there could be. There is a feeling of age and mystery to so many cities. There is an underlying sense of wonder, and there are so many places to look. I’d rather follow the trail of the ghosts of San Francisco, or discover where that strange alley door in New York leads.
So far, then, that is what draws me to The Secret World. Here is a game that posits that the myths and legends of man are the magic we have to work with. We don’t need to wear the bastardised fashions of 1450 to move in a world of good and evil. The cloaks aren’t really necessary to a cloak and dagger story. And when it comes to the sword and sorcery bit, let’s keep it something I could carry home on the subway.