Reaction Not Deconstruction

Can someone post the ASCII lineage chart? I don't have it handy at the office, for obvious reasons.

Y'all are right, Exalted being a deconstruction of Tolkienesque generic fantasy by not being Tolkienesque generic fantasy isn't quite right. Like "Exalted is bronze-age fantasy," "Exalted is a deconstruction of conventional fantasy" is misleading, but contains enough truth that people keep saying it.

Exalted is a syncretism, both in sources and in goals. It tries to accomplish a bunch of stuff. Almost all those goals relate in some way to being a reaction against what Dean Shomshak calls "the generic fantasy warehouse." (As in, "Exalted's goal is to burn down the generic fantasy warehouse.") Presumably it pursues disparate goals because Geoff Grabowski was confident that the solutions to those various goals dovetailed well in producing a final product that was not just a pure aristic or thematic statement but also a game people would find compelling and want to play. This is the number 1 goal, of course — Exalted is a game engineered for wide appeal first and an artistic statement second; it's just engineered for wide appeal by people who think the most appealing media is the media that doesn't patronize its audience.

It's helpful to remember that Exalted was first published in the year 2001, a decade ago (Jesus Christ!) back before George R.R. Martin was huge and Steven Erikson was big, when Robert Jordan, David Eddings, and Terry Goodkind were what high school fantasy nerds were reading, before steampunk was mainstream, and when the manga sections of bookstores were still growing seemingly without end. It's not a reaction to trends in fantasism now.

Exalted is, in a major way, a reaction to Tolkien's omnipresent influence in most mainstream fantasy during the late 1990s, and in a minor way a reaction to genre stratification in the fantastic lit field. I'm not a pre-Tolkien fantasy scholar; I can't lecture on the reasons for why genre fiction is more stratified now than it was in the past and whether the homogeniety of mainstream fantasy resulting from Tolkien's popularity had anything to do with it, but it is true that long, long ago, we had "weird fiction," which encompassed everything from Howard to Poe to Lovecraft to Lord Dunsany, and now we have fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

Exalted, as a game dedicated to celebrating and drawing on sources that predate Tolkien-homogeniety in the fantasy genre, also rejects source and genre stratification that did not exist in the pre-Tolkien-homogeniety fantasy genre — which wasn't the fantasy genre so much as the weird fiction genre. You can see this in the ASCII lineage diagram that someone else is going to have to post. In doing so, it attempts to call attention to all the different sorts of fantasist fiction that the Tolkien-homogenous fantasy genre quashed. This is not an attempt to deconstruct Tolkien, it's a deconstruction of the extruded doorstopper fantasy genre that Tolkien imitators established. And actually deconstruction isn't quite the right word — reaction and rejection are both better. But there's a reason people keep saying deconstruction, which I'll get to in a minute.

First, an acknowledgement: Exalted is not the first or most notable attempt at this, obviously. It also draws from the pulp revival/New Wave SF movement of the 70s and 80s, which was also, I believe, a reaction to Tolkien-homogenous fantasy (and to the dominance of military-flavored space opera in the science fiction genre).

Anyway here's the other thing Exalted is and why people keep calling it a deconstruction: It's a rejection of the sort of moral simplicity found in Tolkien-homogenous fantasy lit, and encoded in common interpretations of D&D's alignment system. We try to make it ethically and morally complex, and one way we do this is by drawing attention to the paradox of solving problems with violence, and the seductive call to power that makes this decade's successful revolutionaries into next decade's oppressive tyrants. In this, Exalted strongly resembles Watchmen, which did the same thing for the superhero genre's embrace of violent solutions. And since everyone knows Watchmen is a deconstruction of superhero comics, "deconstruction" is the word they throw around to describe Exalted.

So, yeah. Exalted: Not trying to be a supers game.

(By the way, Exalted is bronze age fantasy in the sense that it's inspired partially by Homer, who was writing about events in the bronze age when he wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey; however, Homer wrote during the Iron Age and the Iliad and the Odyssey are full of Iron Age anachronisms that Exalted isn't interested in filtering out, because rejection of source and genre stratification is one of its goals. This isn't even taking into account that bronze age and iron age are misnomers.)

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