Of Gods & Monsters

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by XIIIthHarbinger, Apr 21, 2018.

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What do you think about cultural, social, & religious development of monsters & demihumans?

  1. Less talking, more smashing!

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. Most fantasy monster races don't warrant that kind of attention.

    10.0%
  3. I really don't have an opinion one way or another.

    25.0%
  4. I intend to put more detail than average into monsters & demihumans.

    40.0%
  5. I am putting a Goblin Machiavelli in my game!

    25.0%
  1. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    Hello gentle people of the interwebs I've come to share a perspective & to pick your own brains in kind on a particular topic. Namely the question of the development of culture, religion, & the like in fantasy, as it pertains to monsters & demihumans, or more often the lack thereof.

    To clarify, I've found that most fantasy universes seem to reduce most monster & demihuman races to a level below that unthinking mustache twirlers. The thinking seems to be Orcs are violent & stupid creatures who smash things because they are Orcs, & that's simply what Orcs always do in fantasy, so why think beyond it. & that only "good" races like Elves & Dwarves warrant any development beyond potential stock antagonists.

    To me though this seems like an opportunity missed to deepen the lore of one's world. By ascribing actual philosophical & cultural significance for the Orcs & other races like them, to their own actions. It need not be part of some grand lengthy exposition on the finer points of Sahuagin bloodletting rituals, while conducting raids mind you. But that doesn't mean that through means like flavor text, character exposition about previous experiences, & even secondary objectives in quests; we can't reference a greater level of complexity with these creatures than "Me evil, so me stabby, me worship big bad, cause me evil!"

    Personally, I am trying to develop enough lore in my current project, to at least fill a page regarding basic culture, customs, socio-political organization, & religious ideology of staple monster & demihuman races. Because I think a world inhabited by more complex antagonists, yields a deeper story.

    What do you prefer to do as a developer though? What do you prefer to see as a player?
     
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  2. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    I think it depends on your world. Most fantasy worlds are about as highly civilized as the Dark Ages, so there would be a lot of failure to understand the other races. However, I decided to make my world in the middle of a tech revolution, and as a result a lot of the fantasy monsters ended up in other locations. Here's a few examples.

    Minotaurs: Work alongside the Dwarfs. Often you will see the two of them living in the same area.
    Orcs: Famous shipbuilders and sailors. You want a good ship, you hire an Orc to make it for you. You want a good captain, hire an Orc. Basically, you want anyone highly trained for your ship, time to hire an Orc.
    Goblins: Tinkers. Mainly work as mechanics and repairmen around the world.
    Ogres: Often work as bouncers in bars and sporting establishments. Also you will see them employed as guards in some towns.
    Dragons: Often used to transport humans and humanoid creatures long distances. The dragon doesn't mind as long as it gets fed in return. And despite the rumors, Dragons rarely attack humans, except at the command of the one they choose to serve. As they put it, humans have too little meat and they fight back way too much in the process.
     
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  3. Frogboy

    Frogboy I'm not weak to fire Veteran

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    The first RPG Maker game I started to make, and then later abandoned, was going to have an orc kingdom.
     
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  4. kovak

    kovak Silverguard Veteran

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    I'll be working with the concept of races and fantasy creatures but in a smaller scale.
    It's gonna be my 1st time dealing with it so it will be hard, for me there's no big differences besides racism.

    There's a race that are half-human but their appearance has no pattern and they have genetic powers and another who are half-animals who follows the same traits as the half-human ones but they are more ferocious. Cuz of that there's canibalism and you often feed yourself with those half-animals cuz most of them can't shapeshift into humanoids anymore.

    And there's humanity who lives in between those guys and were changed genetically for reprodution with those races, they are not the invasive species. It's more like i'm retelling the Earth's history from a non-planned alien invasion point of view
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2018
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  5. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    True, but that failure to understand the culture & the conflicts that arise from it, can just as easily serve to illustrate that culture. Because without the culture existing in the first place, there can't be cultural conflicts.

    Frankly, that particular narrative framework seems as commonly absent from the fantasy genre, as anything else that is more complicated than "Me Orc, me green, me smash!"

    Which certainly sounds interesting, & more developed than 90+% of what I often see in the genre.

    Personally, as far as my own game world lore, I have societies being largely insular, due to the world just beginning to emerge from a supernatural calamity & the ensuing dark age that followed.

    The idea being to take the player game by game generation by generation into a more stable world, in which they choose how they will participate in the conflicts. As a burgeoning renaissance period emerges, with all of the expected religious, military, & political conflict that would go with it.

    To put it in Elder Scrolls terms, instead of playing in the time frame of Daggerfall & Morrowind, where the Empire has been an established dynasty for centuries, & the various factions have existed for almost a millennia; the player is placed in the time frame prior to primary faction dominance & the emergence of the Septim dynasty.
     
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  6. manpaint

    manpaint Veteran Veteran

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    I think it's that there need to be lore reason for why X monster race act like Y and why Z don't . For exemple in my games there is mainly three races: Humans, Elves and Vampires, vampires are generally seen in a bad light from the others two because at some point they had a vampire fascist who kinnaped youngs elves to try to harvest their soul. Small details along lore is in my opinion needed to justify the actions of any characthers. I personally gave all my race a somewhat distinct culture and ideology so that its not like X is bad because he is Y.
     
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  7. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    When it comes to RPG Maker games, I'm more concerned about seeing combat system main mechanics being reduced to elemental rock-paper-scissors than a lack of lore behind the different races that might inhabit its world. I mean, if you can sort out the gameplay of your game and do something cool with it, then sure, go ahead and spend time fleshing out your world.
    But really, this kind of thing does come in about last place of things I'd consider important in my RPGs. It's like a nice extra if the developer went through the trouble of writing more than "orc be evil - orc kill stuffs", but nothing that would greatly impact my enjoyment of the game in general.
     
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  8. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    @Milennin
    I have to disagree,

    Fundamentally, even when it comes to triple A RPGs the battle mechanics rarely if ever go beyond a greater complexity than elemental rock, paper, scissors. & even in those instances where a new or more complex battle mechanic is introduced, doesn't tend to ensure a good RPG; see the draw system of Final Fantasy VIII or Final Fantasy XIII's paradigm system.

    Frankly when it comes to RPGs "combat" has never seemed to me to be the defining characteristic of the genre, let alone the reason to play it. I don't think I've ever heard anyone claim that the reason they like Final Fantasy VII is the combat system, nor can I ever recall hearing anyone saying slugging it out with monsters was why they liked Morrowind.

    To my mind the title of the genre, Role Playing Games, says it all. Whether the game is tabletop or digital, it never competed with the intense pacing of frag fests like Battlefield, Call of Duty or Halo, nor the energy of fighting games like Tekken, Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat. & those few series that tried, all seemed to follow the Mass Effect paradigm. Namely over time they simply whittled away nearly every aspect of "role playing", until you were reduced to virtually no customization & a binary choice of press left trigger to be sanctimonious or press right trigger to be a sociopath.

    Story investment is how we hook our audiences, which is why it so perplexing to me that so many consider development beyond stock mass produced genre trope antagnosists, to at best be unnecessary & at worst antithetical to their intended goals of their project. Because, people are essentially foregoing development of half of any given stories characters; due to the fact that it is a common practice in the genre.
     
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  9. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    What I mean to say is that I find it more important that thought is put into the gameplay part of the game than the world-building part of the game. Even when a big published game might not have the deepest combat system, it'll never feel like it was a mere afterthought, and will have something going for it (shiny graphics in the most shallow of cases).
    For me as player, I can find enjoyment in a game with fun gameplay but minimal lore, but I cannot find enjoyment in a game that has great lore but with poor gameplay. Therefore, lore is something I don't place as high on my priority list. And this here is oftentimes the issue with RPG Maker games (and something big published titles don't need to deal with), since games are generally developed by a single person with limited experience, a limited skillset, and most importantly, limited time. Most people who work on any decent-sized project won't have the time to put work into every aspect of their game, so priorities, as well as sacrifices must be made.

    Let's list some of the big things you might want to care about in an RPG (that I'd consider as more important than deep background lore):
    -Custom Resources (graphics, sound)
    -Unique gameplay features
    -An engaging main story
    -Interesting, well-balanced combat
    -Good mapping

    Most people who work on their games can't find the time to work on all of these. Hell, most games might have only up to 2 categories from that list, simply because people have limited time and skills to develop a full game by themselves. When I go into an RPG Maker game that has no fleshed out background lore (most of them don't), I don't feel sad about its absence. But if I were to go into a RPG Maker game that would have background lore, but maybe have only any of the 2 above categories, I would feel sad, knowing it likely would have done better if more had been put into a higher impact feature than its lore. Now, if a game meets most of those categories, and has deep lore in addition to it, then cool.
     
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  10. Philosophus Vagus

    Philosophus Vagus The drunken bird dog of rpg maker Veteran

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    I completely agree with this as I'm always disappointed when everything breaks down to "Orc smash!". Especially in rpgs as you cannot really roleplay when you have no frame of reference for anything you are doing other than to kill monsters because monsters are monsters.

    Speaking of which, while I do give serious thought to the culture and drives of the non-human creatures in my game, oftentimes those cultural and religious aspects aren't fully explored by the player and are instead left for them to infer through subtle clues...or gloss over entirely if they choose to shut off their brain and just fight without thought for why things are happening as they are.

    For example, I have a subterranean race of goblin-like creatures in my game who can see in almost no-light conditions but cannot abide bright lights. They will occasionally visit the surface during nights where the moon is shrouded in order to hunt small game or sneak into villages to kidnap children and usually slit their parent/guardian's throats before returning to their caverns.

    In fact these creatures are a genetically engineered human/alien hybrid created by the alien antagonists to use as assassins to quell rebellion against their rule, who at some point escaped captivity and rebelled themselves. An alien scientist will comment if inquired about them that they should have died out long ago, as they were engineered to be sterile like mules. Most of them are, but every 100 or so of them are born or created with more human-like features. These few are capable of reproducing, however with the rarity in which the trait of fertility takes in their species and their relative newness as a species they do not have the capacity to form a survivable population on their own. However, as they were created using human dna they are biologically compatible with humans in a similar way as horses and donkeys are compatible. Thus the reason they kidnap children is because they are easier to handle than adults, and can be conditioned into docility in the years leading up to maturity..

    Because these creatures' culture is completely antithetical to all human cultures no one has really bothered trying to figure it out, and information on them is rightfully vague in game (also so I can skirt having to disclaim it as an AO/18+ game from the offset). Other than the knowledge that they kidnap children and are breeding yet supposedly sterile, the only other clues you have as to what's actually driving them to behave as they are is the fact that each coven of goblins you discover will have only kidnapped kids of a specific gender, which happens to be the opposite gender of the boss (taller) goblin you find within that cavern. In addition to newly kidnapped kids you might be trying to rescue as a sidequest you will usually encounter at least a couple of older, feral humans who fight alongside the goblins when you invade their domain for any reason.

    That's probably the least thought out sentient group that exists in my game (their society is sidequest exclusive even, if you just play through the story you'll only ever encounter one such creature while preventing an important character's assassination), I love thinking up motivations and cultural drives for the creatures that inhabit my game world, even in cases such as these where their entire purpose is to be a monster that cannot by its very nature coexist with the other races, they should still have a reason to behave as they do. Forcing a war with other species that will inevitably lead to their eventual extinction should have some kind of inferable motivation behind it at the least, After all even bears and lions know to avoid humanity for their own survival, even though one on one they are physically superior to us and capable of killing at a whim they are capable of understanding and learning from the consequences and thus avoid us unless cornered or driven to starvation as we erode their habitats. Any creature that is capable of using tools as we do should at the very least be just as savvy as the real life creatures that don't, and it is perplexing to me as well why the vast majority of game devs don't feel that even such a simple and primal motivation as that of the bear is necessary in explaining the motivations of their tool-wielding non-humans, let alone bears and the like who in most games are depicted as equally mindless, suicidal killers.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2018
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  11. Canini

    Canini Veteran Veteran

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    A very interesting question!
    The game I am currently working on actually have an underlying theme of adapting to and understanding different cultures. As the player moves through the world they encounter different races/monsters and must explore and adapt to the place. An early example is when the player goes to a mountain where dwarves lived. Their mines are on lock-down and the dwarves shoot any intruders on sight. However, the players must go there for plot reasons (saving the world and all that). As they move through the mountain the player learns more about dwarf culture and why they are suspicious of intruders and the reason for the lock-down. So there isnĀ“t really a bad guy in the conflict, just a clash of interests nor does it end with everyone being friends and suddenly getting along because that is not how real life works.
    It helps that I am more of a writer than a game maker so I have a lot of time and experience to work on stories like that.
     
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  12. BrandedTales

    BrandedTales StoryTeller Veteran

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    I enjoy this thread for a large number of reasons, and I'm glad to see somebody chimed in on the other side of the equation (I expected everybody to chime in how important culture is... didn't actually expect to see anybody argue that point). Since both sides are represented, I think I'll throw out a middle position.

    Game development is a lot of work. World development is a lot of work. If you are working on the systems, the events, the dialog, the mechanics, the graphics, the sound, (and more), you are going to be stretched pretty thin. You may only have a limited amount of time that you get to spend on story. It's easy to be an elitist and say that you need to flesh everything out to the 9's, including the cultural influences about why the Sal'tobar Orcs and the Gerignak Bladerunners split up and created their own offshoot assassination guild (and coincidentally are now gunning for our hero)... Not that either is going to actually appear in the story, but hey the backdrop is crucial. That stuff is great. But it also takes time.

    I'm not sure if I'm a typical example of an RPGM developer, but I have 3 kids under 6, and a job that keeps me busy 50-60 hours a week. I want to be a good worker, husband, and father... Oh, and I want to play a game from time to time as well. That means I get maybe 30 minutes to an hour a day on game development, tops... I have to look through a lens of "how much backstory and content makes sense given how little time I have." You can use the same argument to ask why bother using RPGMaker at all? Why not build your own custom engine that has full physics, massive online capacity, fully orchestrated original music, and a beautifully rendered 3D world. The answer is time. You only have so much time, so you have to take short-cuts where you can or you never get anything released.

    When factoring in time, it becomes difficult to even flesh out the cultures, histories, and backstories of the "good" races that people will play and encounter all the time, much less the one-off minor races that will feature little to no screen time. Do those minor races suffer as a result? Absolutely. Could it be argued that they should receive the same level of love? Sure... But I think the argument loses. If we assume time is a finite resource and you have to make some decisions about what you don't have time for, inevitably monsters are going to get the short end of the stick and that's probably fair.

    THAT SAID

    If you are making an RPG, there is at least a base-expectation that story is a feature your player is looking for. If you don't want to invest there, maybe think about a platformer or an adventure game. As the designer, you need to do at least some due diligence to make sure that your story isn't ridiculously flimsy. I personally don't have time to flesh out all the cultures and backstories of each race encountered... But when I design a dungeon and populate it, I try to spend a little bit of time thinking about why the dungeon exists, and why the critters in it are there. I may not chart the dungeon back ten generations, but my the continuity of my game is served better by giving it at least a little due diligence.

    For me, I identify key components of the game and start working backwards from each. If there's a big scary house, I start asking what makes it scary. What would be some of the history of it? If the "heroic races" are at war with those seedy orcs, I ask what started the war and why. What would it take for the war to end? Who wants to make sure the war continues (on either side)? If there's time, or if mood strikes me while I'm answering these high level questions, I'll delve deeper. 3-Why is a good method to do this. If you have a situation, ask yourself why. THen after you explain it, ask yourself why again. Then after you explain that, ask why one more time. Usually if you go three levels deep that way, your story will stand up to the scrutiny of the vast majority of your player base.

    Ultimately though, it depends on the kind of game you are making. If you are making a game that is all about the mechanics and the combat... IE: Just making a cheese grinder, there are players that enjoy it. If you are wanting to focus on story, you need to focus on the elements that will be important for that story.

    So, TL:DR version: I think it's important and it is useful, but I think it's bound by the time you have to spend on it. For those that do want to spend time on it, there's a pretty good workshop of books by Holly Lisle that focus on Language, Culture, and World building. The language one especially I think is worth a read... Fascinating how language shapes culture (which then shapes worlds).
     
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  13. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    @Philosophus Vagus

    I think the reason most devs dismiss it, is that they operate under a principle of only what happens within the players POV, is of any relevance. Namely, if the player is not made aware of it via exposition, witnessing the event, or directly causing the event, it doesn't warrant consideration. The problem with this kind of writing is it ignores second & third order effects that are constantly at work within the real world.

    The player's POV of world events is rather akin to viewing an iceberg from the surface of the water, which is as it should be. As too much exposition & attention to detail can be just as detrimental to the story as too little. However, the creators view of that same iceberg, should never be the same as the player's POV. Because if it is, on a long enough timeline they will inevitably write themselves into corners, litter their IP with plot holes, & erode the audiences suspension of disbelief.

    Fundamentally, I think even if you don't intend for the player to ever fully explore the "iceberg" even after multiple games in the same universe, the dimensions of that "iceberg" should be well known to you. So that if you make a game that places lore elements A, C, & D in the player's POV; followed by a second game that reveals lore components F, G, & I; not only should the story be written with an awareness of lore pieces B, E, & H, but if you reveal them to player they have a "Eureka!" moment.

    Which I think is what most people get wrong about "Plot Twists". Namely, far too many people assume the goal of a "plot twist" is to surprise the audience, but a narratively inconsistent plot device to subvert audience expectations isn't a good plot twist, it's just bad writing. See the Last Jedi by Rion Johnson as an example. A good plot twist is one, that once revealed, makes more sense within the operating framework of the story.

    For example the reveal in the sixth sense, when we realize we haven't actually seen anyone talk to Bruce Willis, & Haley Joel Osment stated that ghosts don't know that they are dead. Once the reveal happens, the story makes more sense, & we recognize the pre-established connecting narrative dots we didn't recognize as such at the time.

    @BrandedTales

    I would say having nowhere near the time one wants to have to dedicate to their project is essentially the norm for all indie devs. In fact I would go so far as to say I can't recall speaking with anyone, in real space or cyberspace, who asserted that they had enough time to work on their projects. Not to mention I can't think of anyone I've ever interacted with who is an indie dev, who isn't also a gamer, & who also doesn't lament not getting to spend enough time playing the games they love. So I would say your general circumstances, if not the specifics are very much the rule, rather than the exception.

    As for greater technical investment, I think it's a question of balancing the desire for completing one's project & having something to show for it, with the desire for personal excellence in one's project. Personally, I've rebuilt & revised my own primary project probably half a dozen times, & I am still a bit behind where I was with my previous version, before I started my revision in December.

    Actually it's because of the questions of time limitations & technical investments, that I fundamentally altered my primary project to what I did. Namely, the first entry in a planned continuing IP universe, where each subsequent game occurs in the same universe, usually sufficiently geographically & chronologically removed from the events of the previous games, to minimize conflicts between previous player playthroughs, & the universe canon lore. Rather like the Elder Scrolls or Fallout series of games.

    The idea being essentially the snowball rolling down a hill principle. Namely, that over time the world lore is built upon & added to, with each subsequent entry in the franchise. So that when I make subsequent games, all of the world's lore creation, history, religion, magical theory, etcetera, etcetera, from the previous games can be transplanted without alteration into the new game.

    Rather than following Final Fantasy's example, of having a few common tropes like chocobos & the occasional "Easter Egg"; but manufacturing entirely new histories, cultures, religions, politics, etcetera with each game, instead of maintaining consistency.

    Simply put, sometimes rather than simply finding a constraint to be a detriment, it is worthwhile to reevaluate for potential benefits to be found when operating within those constraints. At least that's my take on the situation we all seem to find ourselves in as a rule.
     
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  14. Haydeos

    Haydeos The Dragon Veteran

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    As a player, I enjoy getting glimpses of the culture of monster-like races. For example, coming across a war party of orcs, and seeing their hierarchy work itself out as two orcs try to battle to the death for a higher title in their clan, or something to that effect. I don't like exposition just for the sake of getting your own personal lore out there. It should be mostly "Show", with a little "Tell".

    This is why the player often controls a character that's new to situations, so they get to ask questions like "Who are those cultists? Who are they worshiping? Why?" However, don't let it get in the way of the story. Keep it short & sweet and get back to the task at hand. This is one of my main gripes about games that start off with crazy long intros about "How the first gods came into being and created the world blah blah blah" I'm not interested in all of that before I've even started playing the game!


    On the flip side, as a developer, and more importantly as a world-builder; I LOVE imagining all kinds of different aspects to monster-like creatures. (Did you know Goblins are masters of piling up their garbage so they don't have to deal with moving it? Those piles get called "Goblin Stalagmites") I don't want to have the player fighting things just because the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad.

    I guess just have your world built up so there's no plot holes, but don't shove it all down the player's throat at once.

    That's my two cents, anyways.
     
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  15. Failivrin

    Failivrin Final Frontiersman Veteran

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    Sometimes people start with a list of qualities that make a culture. Politics. Religion. Art. Technology. Clothes. Food. Sports. Family units. Economics. The next step is to fill in the blanks for each race, ie. What is dwarf religion? What is elven technology? That's a popular strategy, but I actually don't like it at all. An alternate species might not have religion at all, or they might not have family units. They might be capable of things humans can't imagine, or have needs human-like culture cannot meet. My game world features humans as the dominant race, then explores how humans judge other races according to how many blanks they've filled in the list of human culture attributes. For example, fairies commune directly with the life force of the planet, so they have no need for politics, religion, art, technology, etc. Because of this, humans assume fairies have no culture and no real intelligence. They treat fairies the way they treat other inanimate life forms, like trees--using them as commodities, or disregarding them entirely.
     
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