Krizzlybear, over at Frost is the New Black, made a post recently about how Gnomes are treated in WoW. It’s loosely referenced to the gender/feminism discussion that’s been circling the WoW blogosphere, but takes a very Azerothian twist. One that, I have to admit, comes very close to my own roleplay.
This is probably going to be a scattered sort of post, so bear with me. There’s a lot to unpack, and not all of it is really easy to explain.
Krizzly’s three points are that, in WoW and according to the official Lore, Gnomes are presented as nerds, asexual children, and avatars/footballs/comic relief. All three of these can make it difficult to roleplay as a Gnome in serious situations, because people are expecting one of the three. Annie Mae and Duugvilder both challenge those conventional ideas, as do several of the Gnomes in The Boomstick Gang (A Gnome/Dwarf RP guild on Feathermoon). It can be difficult to skirt the stereotype lines, especially when you have a character who has quirks and a sense of humor.
Finding the balance between being true to the race and class of the character while still being strong enough to stand alone as a character is hard. Why?
Because stereotypes are easy to roleplay… at first.
It’s easy to roll up a Gnome Warlock, make him super eccentric and crazy, a tinker in his spare time, give him a speech affectation, and show up to RP night for laughs. But that Gnome Warlock will be boring after a few nights. Without a story, a personality, or something that makes the character more than just a stereotype, you’ll eventually get bored. (And other people will get bored too.)
The same can be true for other races, but I rarely see another race whose stereotypes are so pervasive that you can quite literally make an entire character solely based on the race stereotype – evidence that the WoW Lore is pretty consistent about how all Gnomes are a certain way. An inebriated, beer-loving Dwarf is a start, but it doesn’t get you very far… and Dwarves are diverse enough in game that you can really branch out from there (adventurer Dwarves, mining Dwarves, historian Dwarves, hunting Dwarves*). Same goes for a nature loving Tauren – you can’t RP for much more than an evening just being nature loving. You can, however, RP for quite a long time just being a nerdy, tinkering obsessed, eccentric, socially awkward Gnome.
One of Krizzly’s commenters makes the following statement, and I think it’s pretty representative of how Gnomes are viewed in RP environments as a whole. Syl says:
They’re the race I can identify with the least, even though I think they’re a lot fun as NPCs.
What makes Gnomes fun as NPCs is their eccentricity. They’re funny. The Gnome living in the turtle shell in Northern Bloodmyst is funny. The first Gnome NPC you meet as a newly minted Gnome or Dwarf sends you out to find the tools he lost when he got attacked by Trolls. When Hallow’s End comes around, people will get turned into Leper Gnomes.** Even the in-game music associated with Gnomes is comical and lighthearted, and obviously mechanical (Tinkertown, Gnomeregan). The Stormwind, Ironforge, Orgrimmar, Darnassus, Thunder Bluff and even Undercity themes all have elements of heroic or grandiose themes (even when they’re being spooky), and are often warlike and percussive. Even Troll music is known for the drums and really cool, unusual instruments (Zandalar Island, Zul’Aman).***
In a story, it’s easy to toss in a Gnomish NPC – there’s a formula to follow and you can create a humorous character interaction quickly without having to invest much time into actually playing as that character.
However, once you start actually playing Gnomes, you realize there aren’t a lot of actual Gnomish characters to look to for inspiration, and all of the lore centers around their being nerdy, eccentric, comic relief (Wilfred Fizzlebang, Millhouse Manastorm).
Gnomes are relatively new to the Azerothian scene, and they don’t have any historical references like Trolls or Elves, or even Draenei (who have a similar problem with lack of background info). There are no Ancient Gnomish Civilizations – or even current Gnomish civilizations, the Gnomes are a scattered race, living in another city’s capitol. High Tinker Mekkatorque certainly seems to imply that he’s a badass… but we just haven’t seen that yet (Operation Gnomeregan, please!). When you add in the Gnome-punting, silly voices, and Gnomes-as-food jokes, it starts to get kind of discouraging.
So what is an aspiring Gnome roleplayer to do?
The only way to manage, long term, is to branch out.
You create characters that touch lightly on the mold without being so close as to be carbon copies. Duugvilder makes jokes with Tarquin constantly any time Tarquin makes kick, throw, or punt references in casual conversation. Annie Mae isn’t really that fond of tinkering, and she’s distrustful of most magic… but she can take care of her guns, and she’s an excellent blacksmith. The Boomstick Gang Gnomes that I’ve interacted with each have their own take on what it is to be Gnomish, while still having distinct personalities and backgrounds.
Of course, there is the element of size.
Annie Mae is a Gnome Warrior – and she’s about 3 feet 6 inches tall. How does that work? Well, for her, it means she relies on her horse (Nutmeg) a lot, and it also means that she’s pretty acrobatic when she needs to be. She’s small but strong, aware of her own limitations, and not afraid to figure out how to use her size as an advantage. She even makes short jokes about herself – but that’s as much a defense mechanism as anything else.
But a Gnome Rogue could easily be incredibly sneaky. A Gnome Warlock might have a stand off with one of the larger summoned entities that a Human Warlock would have less trouble with.
There are definitely obstacles to Gnomish RP – not least of which is the heavy-handed lore trends that seem to push Gnomish characters into a particular box. And that doesn’t even touch on the general awkwardness that surrounds playing an adult Gnome who has the potential to be in an adult relationship.
It is possible though, with a healthy dose of creativity and a willingness to explore/push the boundaries, and ultimately very rewarding. Annie Mae is one of the best characters I’ve created, and I’m looking forward to some of the new events (Operation Gnomeregan, Please!) to see how she reacts and responds.
*Typing Dwarves that many times in a row makes it not look like a word anymore…
**Of the other costumes, “Human” is the racial default – for pirates, ninjas, and ghosts. Even if you’re a Tauren, you have a Human Ninja form. The “Cool” costumes are Human. This is largely a “it’s easier to make them this way and just have one form” thing.
***Neither Gnomish nor Trollish thematic music has made it onto any of the WoW soundtracks so far either, BOOOOO.
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