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Is the Star Wars Galaxy Funtionally Illiterate?


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#21 bigdamnhero

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Posted 06 May 2017 - 06:07 PM

The palindromedary notes that as far as Star Wars goes, Lucas probably did not intend to present a largely illiterate society but he DID make a conscious setting decision that there would be no paper, thus no newspapers or books.

There's no paper (or at least it's not commonplace) in Star Trek, but they still showed people reading text on screens.

 

I could get behind a functionally illiterate society for Star Wars. In Hero terms, I would set the baseline as Illiterate and Literacy costs that extra point on any of the languages that are spoken. I think that, while society as a whole would remain illiterate, the Player Characters would pretty much break that mold.

Yeah, we're so used to thinking of literacy as the norm and equating "illiterate" with "idiot." Even in my current Dark Ages game, 3 out of 5 PCs insisted their characters be literate. (It made sense for 2 of them.) And a 4th has had the priest PC teaching him to read & write in game.

 

Hmm...you could almost go with 1 point for "Functionally Literate" and a 2nd point for Full Literacy?

 

As the question has come up, what has replaced books? C3po. Notice how the explains the first three movies to the Ewoks.

I've always half-jokingly explained away most the stuff in SW that doesn't make sense (ie - space has a "down," asteroids have breathable atmospheres, etc) as because the version of the story we're getting is actually re-told by Theepio, who doesn't really understand all that sciency stuff. But if you think about the whole society being functionally illiterate, that explanation starts to make sense in-story.


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#22 massey

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Posted 06 May 2017 - 11:13 PM

The fact that we don't see people reading for fun doesn't mean much.  We aren't seeing a representative cross-section of galactic society.  We see action and adventure (and in the prequels we see trade negotiations, but those movies sucked).  They have other things to do besides read a book.

 

We don't often see people in porn read either, that doesn't mean they're illiterate.  It just means we're watching them do something more interesting at that moment.

 

We also don't see people in Star Wars go to the bathroom, it doesn't mean it doesn't happen.


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#23 JmOz

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Posted 07 May 2017 - 08:57 AM

I think you may already be in a different genre.

In fantasy it is common for wizards and sages to be highly literate and educated, but most people, sometimes even aristocrats, are not.

If I understand you, you are proposing something similar - a setting in which there is a very small very literate and numerate elite who are for example engineers who can design a death star or roboticists who can program a droid, but most people live out their lives in a state of profound ignorance.

Lucius Alexander

The palindromedary notes that as far as Star Wars goes, Lucas probably did not intend to present a largely illiterate society but he DID make a conscious setting decision that there would be no paper, thus no newspapers or books. Perhaps he felt paper would be too familiar to the audience and thus mar the impression of "a long time ago, in a galaxy far away" where everything is strange and different.

Which makes ALOT of sense if we look at star wars as a fantasy set in space instead of a sci-fi ssetting


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#24 zslane

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Posted 07 May 2017 - 10:58 AM

Which makes ALOT of sense if we look at star wars as a fantasy set in space instead of a sci-fi ssetting

 

Franky, I'm not sure there is any other way to look at it. Star Wars is basically epic medieval fantasy with the trappings of science fiction (starships and droids, for instance) covering the aesthetic engine of Shogunate Japan.



#25 JmOz

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Posted 07 May 2017 - 05:00 PM

Wait are you saying that Luke and crew might just be the seven samurai???

 

Luke, Han, Chewie, Princess, R2, C3PO, Old Ben....


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#26 zslane

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Posted 07 May 2017 - 09:11 PM

More like they're peasants escaping The Hidden Fortress and rescuing a princess.


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#27 Old Man

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Posted 08 May 2017 - 06:52 PM

Franky, I'm not sure there is any other way to look at it. Star Wars is basically epic medieval fantasy with the trappings of science fiction (starships and droids, for instance) covering the aesthetic engine of Shogunate Japan.

 

What's funny is that SW tech has lagged behind real life to the point where it's epic medieval fantasy with the trappings of WWII.  The Star Wars universe has FTL, antigravity, and robotics tech, but lags in computer, weapons, communications, and sensors.


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...and that's when the destruction began.

#28 Clonus

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 05:08 PM

Which makes ALOT of sense if we look at star wars as a fantasy set in space instead of a sci-fi ssetting

 

Here's another way of looking at it.  Star Wars had a lot of influences but one of those influences was Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.  And yeah by Hari Seldon's time it wouldn't actually be surprising if most of the population wasn't very literate and education was focused on on the mechanical operations to do a job and not anything about why that gizmo works.  Of course Star Wars is apparently actually in an explosion of innovation after a long period of stagnation due to the stimulation provided by recent warfare.  It's not like Warhammer 40,000 where there's no innovation at all.  Even so Star Wars normally leisurely progress could be explained by a decadent civilization where basic education has mostly fallen by the wayside.  


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#29 bigdamnhero

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 06:08 PM

Of course Star Wars is apparently actually in an explosion of innovation after a long period of stagnation due to the stimulation provided by recent warfare. 

What recent innovations are those? Not being argumentative - genuinely asking. I always got the impression that other than the Empire's obsession with Bigger Is Better, technology had been pretty much flat since before the Clone Wars?

 

I think the question "Is Star Wars really SF or fantasy?" is a good way of looking at it. Not that there's a simple binary answer, but the society definitely looks & acts more like a pre-literate fantasy society than most SF societies. So yeah, going back to my earlier question of what would it looks like to run an RPG set in a futuristic society of functional illiterates with no tradition of journalism or history: the answer is take fantasy society tropes, but add spaceships and ray guns.


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#30 IndianaJoe3

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 07:31 PM

Here's another way of looking at it.  Star Wars had a lot of influences but one of those influences was Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.  And yeah by Hari Seldon's time it wouldn't actually be surprising if most of the population wasn't very literate and education was focused on on the mechanical operations to do a job and not anything about why that gizmo works.  Of course Star Wars is apparently actually in an explosion of innovation after a long period of stagnation due to the stimulation provided by recent warfare.  It's not like Warhammer 40,000 where there's no innovation at all.  Even so Star Wars normally leisurely progress could be explained by a decadent civilization where basic education has mostly fallen by the wayside.  

 

Tech in Star Wars is ridiculously stagnant. I'm playing in the Old Republic MMO and the tech is pretty much the same as the films, despite being set 3,600 years earlier.



#31 Clonus

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 08:48 PM

What recent innovations are those?

 

Mega destruction weapons aside canonically ion cannon were first introduced in the Clone Wars cartoons.  They also appear to have recently introduced smaller shield generators that can be mounted on droids and fighters.  These are modest advancement by modern standards but appear to be dramatic innovations in terms of Star Wars's slow development.  

 

Of course one thing I don't do is take expanded universe timelines all that seriously.  They act like Obi-Wan knew what he was talking about when he said "a thousand generations" and that's absurd.  


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Is, "I'm just that awesome" really an origin?


#32 Nolgroth

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 02:54 AM

Yeah, we're so used to thinking of literacy as the norm and equating "illiterate" with "idiot." Even in my current Dark Ages game, 3 out of 5 PCs insisted their characters be literate. (It made sense for 2 of them.) And a 4th has had the priest PC teaching him to read & write in game.

 

Hmm...you could almost go with 1 point for "Functionally Literate" and a 2nd point for Full Literacy?

 

I always felt that the spoken language got more love than the written one. For example, you have Basic, Fluent, and Idiomatic levels of speech, but only a binary literate/illiterate choice for written. I could easily see and encourage the addition of one or more levels of literacy. Basic, Full, and Technical or something.



#33 Steve

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 08:02 AM

I always felt that the spoken language got more love than the written one. For example, you have Basic, Fluent, and Idiomatic levels of speech, but only a binary literate/illiterate choice for written. I could easily see and encourage the addition of one or more levels of literacy. Basic, Full, and Technical or something.


Wouldn't the level of literacy be tied to the underlying language skill? If I only spent one point on a language, I don't think I'd be able to read it as well as someone who spent four. My ability to parse syntax and the size of my lexicon would be more limited with only one point.
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#34 Nolgroth

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 09:05 AM

Wouldn't the level of literacy be tied to the underlying language skill? If I only spent one point on a language, I don't think I'd be able to read it as well as someone who spent four. My ability to parse syntax and the size of my lexicon would be more limited with only one point.

 

I know people who can speak English (or Spanish) flawlessly but couldn't read a word of it. The two are tied together, but not necessarily as closely as you might think.


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#35 bigdamnhero

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 09:13 AM

Of course one thing I don't do is take expanded universe timelines all that seriously.

I think that's true of all of SW, not just the expanded stuff. It's not like Lucas et. al. thought through any of this stuff deliberately, they just threw out whatever sounded cool in the moment. It's a fun geek mental exercise to try and make sense of it all, but you're right we don't need to take it all that seriously.

 

I always felt that the spoken language got more love than the written one.

True. But understandable, since RPG characters generally spend more time talking than they do communicating by writing.

 

Wouldn't the level of literacy be tied to the underlying language skill? If I only spent one point on a language, I don't think I'd be able to read it as well as someone who spent four. My ability to parse syntax and the size of my lexicon would be more limited with only one point.

Right. I suppose you could go the other direction where I have 4 points in speaking, but my reading/writing is only at the equivalent to the 1 point level. But for most games that feels like more detail than it's worth.

 

Actually we have that exact situation in my current campaign: one character started out illiterate, but has been having the Priest teach him to read Latin. The character has 3 points in Latin plus 1 point for Literate, so mechanically he went from completely illiterate to completely fluent overnight. But the character has been roleplaying it as if his reading is at the 1-2 point level. Given how rarely it comes up, neither of us feel like it's worth splitting points over.


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#36 Christopher

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 03:02 PM

Posting this here rather than NGD because I'm more interested in the implications for roleplaying than I am in debating what is/isn't canon. Also hoping to keep this from spiraling too far down into political commentary on the current state of our society. (Tho I do feel there are some parallels.)

 

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate

 

This blog post is a few years old but it's new to me. (It got referenced in a WaPo article yesterday for the Fourth plugging the author's new book.) Basically the author points out that in 8 SW movies we never see anyone reading for pleasure, and most people don't seem to read at all beyond "I know that this symbol means go faster" type of things. There's no journalism that we see aside from government propaganda. History doesn't seem to be a thing, given that event just a couple decades old are shrouded in mystery, as if the only thing anyone knows about them is what they heard from some dude in a bar. Facts that should be easily-verifiable even at our level of tech seem equally lost to subjectivity - and no one seems to care or even recognize that maybe they should be verifiable. (No one took pictures of a planet-wide blockade at Naboo? No one?)

 

I'm not suggesting Lucas did this consciously, of course. But a lot of the contradictions in the Star Wars universe actually makes a lot more sense if you think of it as the ultimate "post-factual society" full of functional illiterates with no access to (or tradition of) independent news, analysis, or historical records.

 

What do you think? How would this affect a sci-fi RPG, whether set in SW or something else?

First, the link appears wrong. This one seems to work for me:
http://www.tor.com/2...ars-illiteracy/

(you missed the double-point)

 

Are we talking about general illiteracy (any langauge) or only for non-standart languages? There are too many damn langauges in that universe to begin with. Even undersanding half a dozen verbally is considered exceptional. Aside from Basic and your own language (if you stay at home), what would you need in written form on a day to day basis? Luke not being able to read Wookie would be like me not knowing how to read Bluewhale Songs (we do not even have the same Vocal cords).

 

"Only visual media":

Not like we are not going the very same direction right now. We only used the written word that much, because it was the only thing we could reliably transmit, store and duplicate for a few centuries.

It does not allow nearly the same subtext or falsification protection as a Video or Audipo recording. Would have a text protocoll of Watergate have had nearly the same effect on Nixon? If we can, we of course go for video as part of our proofs.

 

"History doesn't seem to be a thing, given that event just a couple decades old are shrouded in mystery, as if the only thing anyone knows about them is what they heard from some dude in a bar."

Keep in mind, they do not have the internet. And even if they have a planetary one, you still have to connect seperate planets via FTL links.

In the EU, the holonet used to get close, but it was largely turned off by the Empire (both for money and supression reasons).

 

 

"No one took pictures of a planet-wide blockade at Naboo? No one?"

1. No one argued that the Planet Wide Blockade existed. The Senate knew it existed. The Federation admitted it existed.

2. The task was to proove if they had been invaded. That part was actually dealt with in HISHE, but poorly:

The flaws are:
1. The Footage shows the ship running the blockade. You know, a Blockade makes very little sense if you are not willing to enforce it with weapons power? How does that proove the Blockade turned into a Invasion?

2. Her Advisor made a holomessage? That literally just needs an actor to fake. An advisor whose real face it not know to anyone on Corouscant?

3. The "ton of witnesses" all work for Naboo. Might also be actors (remember: Planetary resource scale).

4. The Jedi were (for plot reasons) not availible. And by the time they were, their moment to influence it had passed. PLUS Valorum was friends with Naboo and send the Jedi there, so they might lie/omit facts on his/the Naboo behalf.

 

There is ample reason for the Naboo to get an intervention going on fake claims of "We have been Invaded". Once a intervention was started, there was no going back. Milliony of liters of hypermater would have been spend just getting the fleet there to maybe find nothing but a legal blockade.

 

That is why we have stuff like "OSZE Election Overwatch". Because every loosing party would be more then willing to claim "irregularities" in their disfavor and fake evidence for it.

We have a Photograph of Trumps inaugration crowd, because he would tell us it was the "biggest ever" (wich he even does despite us having said pictures). If we had a video of the whole thing - every second - that would be even better evidence (as it ruins any claims "it was taken at teh wrong time").