The giant leather winged lizards of yore, who swoop down upon unsuspecting villagers to burn, pillage, and destroy. The grand, smoke-breathing creatures of myth and nightmare. The captor of beautiful princesses fair-haired maidens. The most epic of hoarders, amassing great wealth and succinctly becoming the object of many a noble quest.
These fantastical creatures that leapt (or rather…flew) out of our imaginations from the pages of books like The Hobbit, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Dragonriders of Pern series, and into our earliest incarnations of role-playing games, even garnering a title spot in the name of the most pivotal RPG of all time.
And once dragons crossed over into our games, we were able to relive those storybook moments as noble knights, clad in shining armor and riding high on a steed off to rescue the fair maiden. Or, we would have, if it weren’t for the fact that most of us were teenagers who knew not of noble quests or the sheer awesomeness of meeting a dragon for the first time, because we were nothing more than a bunch of rowdy brawlers who were so bored with killing kobolds and goblins that the only thing a dungeon master could do to hush us up was to utilize the most feared creature in existence to feed our desire for more.
Ahh, the days of the Dungeon and Dragon campaigns, when the dragon was, in earnest, king of the aforementioned dungeon.
But oh how the mighty have fallen. Because in those games, these once-fearsome beasts became nothing more than the new obstacle to overcome and in the end were relegated to become the new Monty Hall’s of treasure disbursement.
And because the guys who sat huddled around that table top drinking down too much Jolt soda (Jolt Soda: “Twice the sugar and twice the caffeine.”) and way too many pizzas grew up to become the kings of Silicon Valley, we designed games that included the stuff of our prepubescent Friday night nightmares.
Yes, in most games today that involve the fantasy world…
Thar be dragons.
From our earliest days in Adventure on the Atari 2600 (way back in 1979… please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers this game?) to our most recent delvings into the worlds of Bethesda’s Skyrim, dragons have held a place in high fantasy. It almost seems that if you want to add the words “fantasy” and “epic”, there needs to be a foul-scaled behemoth running around somewhere in order to be taken seriously.
However, these days they just don’t seem to carry the same fearsome roar as in days past. Sure, the defeat of one might still strum the strings of a local bard or even turn the eye of a barmy barmaid as she sloshes your mead onto the table, but you can’t help feeling that old Smaug’s days of being the titular bad guy are quite literally only to be found in old books.
Dragons, in most of the video games we find ourselves pandering in, are more likely to be a steed ridden frivolously, a pet to do your bidding, or the object of an epic dungeon to be solo’d (although, to be fair, I hear WoW has given a few of their dragons a healthy boost) than a mighty scaled leviathan meant to invoke fear and cause much armor soiling (Runaway! Runaway!).
While it is sad to see such a beautiful creation of myth and legend fall so far, it doesn’t come as a surprise, because just like my D&D games back in the early part of my life, there eventually came a need to find a bigger and tougher enemy to conquer in order to feed those acne faced egos. So too, in the digital age and unlike in books, we have those same cravings, and dragons are forced to step aside as we find forge forward finding our gaming glory.
After all, there are only so many achievements you can get for slaying dragons.
But one can still hope that even in our rush for gaming glory, we stop turning Tiamat into Mushu. That would kinda be like turning Darth Vader into an emotional, whiny pansy who…..oh, um… nevermind.
As a side-note, I may have found the problem…
Game designers of tomorrow, I have one request. Give us back our dragons. Make them with a lot more bite (and fire-breathing, because, seriously… when Smaug lit up Laketown, you know you got a little excited). Make us shudder. Make us squirm. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t lose such an integral part to our epic fantasies.
Todd is many things: an attached wallet to a wife; a detached wallet to two offspring; a player of games; a writer of words; a biker of cycles; caretaker of two cats; someone who hates writing about himself; but mostly a man full of snark. When not working on writing one of his several novel ideas, he practices his short-fiction at A Flash of Fiction… and regails the populace with his personal viewpoint on matters at Thoughts from the Front…