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There Are Too Many Dragons Nowadays

There Are Too Many Dragons Nowadays

Dragons are a bad thing. Not in the way that you'd hate to run into them while out buying groceries (although this would probably also be true), but in a conceptual way. Having piles of dragons all over the place is problematic for games, books, movies, and everything else that falls under the whole umbrella of the fantasy genre, an umbrella that is completely festooned with dragons.

Statistically speaking, you have probably played Skyrim. Well, statistically speaking, you are not even reading this post, because while playing Skyrim you started hunting for magic plants because you found a journal in an outpost in an ancient ruin inside a different ancient ruin that you visited to activate a machine to find a scroll so you could go back in time so you could learn a magic word, and at some point you forgot to eat and you died. But if you are alive, you probably know that this is a very engrossing game, and it does its job very well. Nobody is arguing that point.

But consider this: Skyrim is a game in which you play someone with the blood of a dragon, who discovers that dragons are being resurrected from dragon graveyards by a dragon. To fight the dragon and dragons, you learn their language (the dragon language) and craft a suit of dragon bones or dragon scales, depending on your favorite dragon part. This will help protect you when you run into dragons while out buying groceries, which will happen always.

There's a problem here, and Skyrim, though great at what it does, is a symptom of that problem. Here are some of the issues with this whole dragon aesthetic.

Dragons are being devalued (by dragons).
Anything with a rare, mythical quality becomes a lot less rare and mythical when you can't even take a walk without seeing the thing blunder over the horizon. I'm at the point in Skyrim where I treat dragons like I treat really annoying relatives; I roll my eyes, crouch down behind a rock, and wait patiently until they wander off to eat a goat (I have unusually bad relatives). I simply do not give a hoot about Skyrim's many dragons anymore. I own so many dragon bones that I would destroy the world economy if I bothered trying to sell them. I once got excited in the middle of a dragon fight because I saw, in the distance, a particularly useful kind of moth. This should not be a thing that happens. And it's not a thing that's limited to Skyrim.

Using them is lazy design.
BioWare often brags about how they make the best RPGs, while everyone else just poops out some hackneyed disaster. They're probably right, even if this is kind of like bragging about how you make the sexiest model airplanes (in that nobody would care enough about your claim to argue with you). Whether they're the best at what they do or merely the least terrible at what they do, when BioWare had the chance to create a brand-new game in a completely new setting they built from scratch, they developed Dragon Age, a fine game that is once again about dragons (and other generic fantasy themes). The Elder Scrolls universe is absolutely silly with lore about politics and religion and ancient mysteries, and Bethesda made Skyrim, which is so full of dragons I just might throw up. Minecraft, a creative, revolutionary game about blocky people building block houses and eating pigs made out of blocks, finally released a finished product after years of being creative and revolutionary. The point of the game is now to kill a dragon.

We buy this stuff anyway.
Of course, Skyrim sold one billion copies, the guy who made Minecraft has made enough money to buy Earth, and Dragon Age is... uh, a series, that still exists. So this whole approach works, and that's part of the problem. Back when video games were a humiliating hobby ignored by society, people designed wholly unique games in impossibly bizarre settings. They weren't afraid to ask the tough questions, like "What if, um, giant eyeballs??" And if those game designers could break out of the mental institutions in which they are almost certainly confined, the sad thing is that there would be no longer be any room for their insanity in this industry (or at least not in its major titles). The stakes are too high now; nobody is going to give you ten million dollars to make a game about rebelling against the floating eyeball bureaucracy. And that's definitely good business sense, but it also means that safe, generic fantasy tropes are probably going to remain the order of the day. As long as lazy generic stuff sells, nobody has any incentive to do anything else.

So at the risk of sounding grumpy and intractable: stay off my lawn, you dragons! I just raked those leaves, get away from there.

What's your opinion on dragons in games?

Tags: annoying things, games, video games, dragons, skyrim

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