I certainly don't demand that everything I do involve cars, somehow, but I rarely find the addition of cars to something to be a bad idea. Except maybe for swimming. That's why while watching Game of Thrones, I couldn't help but wonder "why don't they have any cars?" And I think I have the answer: because magic makes people stupid.
Let's back up first, and establish exactly what we're talking about here. I'm using Game of Thrones as an example, but really, almost any fictional universe where magic is a present and important factor falls into the same trap, like the Harry Potter universe or even the Oz series. I've previously considered what cars they'd have if they had cars in the series, but what I really want to get at is why they have no cars, or, for that matter, any post-medieval technology at all.
According to the HBO series and the books, the recorded history of Westeros in Game of Thrones goes back over 12,000 years, which is roughly comparable to recorded post-neolithic history here on our warm, damp Earth. As far as anyone can tell, the inhabitants of the fictitious GoT universe seem to be just like us normal humans, they seem to exhibit the same rough level of intelligence, and thanks to HBO's liberal policy on nudity, they seem to have very much the same biology and anatomy as us. Sure, they have seasons of random length, but they appear to live on a world with similar natural resources and basic laws of nature.
And yet after 10,000 years of development, us non-fiction humans have cars and iPads and plastic tampon applicators and ham radios and spaceships and Pop Rocks and giant underground boring machines and radios that play A Prarie Home Companion (a different sort of boring machine) and Makita drills and all sorts of other highly advanced technology.
And what do the people of Westeros have? Windmills, ironwork and other metalwork, wooden carts, stonemasonry structures, woven fabrics, probably waterwheels, dyes, ceramics, glass, and not a whole hell of a lot else. It's essentially where humanity was in the 1300s or so, minus gunpowder.
Almost all magic-based fantasy worlds are like this: in Harry Potter's magical parallel society, the overall look is distinctly middle-age inspired, with candles and rough wood and iron furnishings and few machines more complex than a Lazy Susan. Yes, they did have a steam-based rail network, but that was likely adapted from the non-magical Muggle world they share.
Also from the Muggle world was the Ford Anglia that Ron's Muggle-fetishist dad enchanted to be able to fly. Again, that doesn't count as a magical-human developed vehicle, since it was just appropriated from muggle technological progress. Though, I do respect Mr.Weasely for being one of the few Magical people to respect all the hard work us non-magic slobs have done.
Back to Game of Thrones, though. In thinking about this, I realized that if they really wanted to, the citizens of that world could, for example, build a steam engine. They have reasonably advanced metalwork capabilities needed to forge pistons and cylinders, build sturdy boilers, etc. They have the technical infrastructure do it, but it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone? Why? I mean why, other than that they're fictitious?
Because magic makes people stupid.
Let me clarify that: magic makes people stupid technologically. Even in the Game of Thrones universe where the magic is fairly limited, any presence of magic in a given society will always stunt their innovative and creative thinking skills, because why go through all the work to build something to perform a task when you know there's a potential magical way to skirt the problem entirely?
We non-magic humans are able to accomplish all the amazing, near-magical things we accomplish because we've become really, really good at exploiting the physics of our world around us. To get to internal-combustion cars, for example, we have to trace back a hundreds of years old process of observation and discovery starting from the first explosions with gunpowder and other chemicals to the realization that the propulsive force from an explosion could be used for more than flinging iron balls at people on horseback to the application of captive explosions forcing reciprocating pistons to move a wheel. And then from there we get your shiny new Miata.
The process of getting there takes time and experimentation, failure and perseverance. And every success is related to careful understanding of how the overall process works, and the fundamntal rules of the physical world. With magic, while there seems to be study involved, the results are never really directly relatable to the actions. For Harry Potter's magical teachings at Hogwarts, for example, magic seemed to be saying some fake Latin and waving around a wand. If you levitated something, there wasn't a process relating to negating gravity, canceling mass, or anything like that. There were incantations and a result.
With that kind of magical process, there's no reason for anything like a scientific method to develop, and no need for the cycle of experimentation and observation. Think about the differences in learning to make a simple flashlight in a 9th grade science class and the same basic task at Hogwarts: In muggle science, we learn about the chemical reactions of batteries, the fundamentals of electromagnetism, of the conductivity of wires, of the resistance of a light bulb filament and how it glows when current runs through it, and then finally we get to take some wire, a little flashlight bulb, and a D cell and get a feeble little light.
The Hogwarts kid says "lumos" and the tip of their wand lights up like a goddamn searchlight.
Magic also sucks when it comes to scale. Technology developed by non-magic means can usually be scaled up to get cheaper and increase the standard of living. Almost anyone can have some kind of car now, but in those magical realms, the benefits of magic are usually only limited to a select few who know how to practice it.
Hell, I'm proud to not be from some magical world. Humans are great at exploiting the loopholes of the natural world to make lives better and more interesting, and as soon as you get that crutch of magic — even as limited as it is in Game of Thrones — all that curiosity and innovation goes out the window.
Muggle pride, bitches.