John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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What Do You Turn It Up to After 11?

When I was in college, I wrote a little article for submission into Adventurers' Club [1] called "Easy-to-Swallow CHAMPIONS: Street-Level Superheroes." As its title suggests, this was about how to run a Champions campaign that was a bit more realistic [2] than the four-color superhero standard. Instead of Superman and the Fantastic Four, say, this was about a world predominantly populated by Batman and Daredevil types, highly-skilled mortals rather than strange beings with godlike powers.

If I remember correctly, Aaron Allston was the editor of AC at the time, and he wrote back that while it was a good philosophical piece, it needed some game mechanics in it, and more details generally. I was sorta stymied by that, partially because of the space limitations, and partially because after I'd poured out my thoughts on the matter, I really couldn't think of anything else to say. So the article floundered. I was highly amused, however, when a year later they published Dark Champions by Steve Long, which was basically an entire campaign supplement founded on almost the exact same premise. "Had I known you wanted a book about it, a woulda written a book instead!" Oh well.

Dark Champions and my little article both were the vanguard of a certain "back to the roots" philosophy that was showing up in a lot of geek culture at the time. The early seasons of Batman: The Animated Series, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, etc. were all flying around at about this period. I suspect that to some extent we were all reacting to the camp of the late '60s, '70s, and early '80s that we'd grown up on [3]. Nerds that we all were, we wanted our beloved superheroes and starfighter jockeys to be played straight for a change.

Which was all well and good ... except as always, it wasn't long before people swung too far in the other direction. Adventure got replaced with noir. Drama got replaced with wangst. Instead of having fandom where nothing was taken seriously, we got fandom where everything was about how life sucked and everything you did was pointless. By somewhere in the late '90s, people were rapidly becoming sick of it. They wanted to get back to fun and excitement ... but swung too far again. So now, well, basically we're back to camp.

Le sigh.

My evidence for this comes from three basic sources: first is The Force Unleashed, LucasArts' new "TURN IT UP TO 11!!!!ONE" Star Wars tie-in game, which takes the over-the-top Force powers of Clone Wars and amps it up even further. When the iconic moment of the game is your "hero" pulling a Star Destroyer out of the sky, then igniting his lightsaber with the implied intent of wiping out everyone aboard, I gotta think something's seriously gone awry. Oh, and did I mention "lightsaber tonfas," which has gotta be the dumbest idea for a weapon ever? And when did Shaak Ti exchange her Jedi robes for a leather bikini? Oy.

The second item is, well, D&D 4E, which has as one of its clear design goals to give first level characters Kewl Powers, presumably because it's believed that everybody wants to "skip to the good stuff" (about which I've ranted elsewhere). I've heard derisive comments that even a low-level quickie encounter in 4E comes off like the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. I don't doubt that's a reductio ad absurdum, but on the other hand, I can see where it's coming from.

The third is this year's crop of movie trailers. Now I won't prevaricate here -- I am very eager to see both Speed Racer and Indy IV. But they're both pretty over-the-top. I mean, check out near the end of the Indy IV trailer where Indiana Jones is doing whip-swing-fu on some goon and kicking him through a window. Even for a guy who rides along under the bottom of a truck and doesn't get torn up doing it, that's some pretty whacked-out stuff. And as somebody who still regularly watches the original Speed Racer cartoon, I can tell you that at it's most frenetic it didn't have the Mach 5 doing half the crazy stuff that appears in the movie trailer.

Oy. Can we have at least a little bit of middle ground here, people??? Sure, I was one of the fifteen people on the planet who enjoyed Van Helsing, I freely admit that. But I don't want every friggin' movie to be Van Helsing!

The other night, laurie_robey was watching Live Free or Die Hard, and I would periodically come in, watch it for a while, and then leave again. I was never able to simply relax and watch the thing, because every time I'd start to enjoy it, they'd do something ridiculous that screamed "You're watching a dorky action movie!" at me ... and this is the same problem I keep having with all the other things coming out now. It particularly annoys me in the case of Star Wars and D&D because I already have expectations connected to both of those franchises, and "Dorky action movie!" is not among them.

Yes, Virginia, it is possible. "Geeky entertainment: you're doing it wrong."

-The Gneech

[1] I.C.E.'s HERO System magazine, long long out of print now.

[2] "Realistic" is a tricky term to use in this context, I realize.

[3] See also Roger Moore-era James Bond compared to Sean Connery-era James Bond.
Tags: adventure, deep thoughts, dungeons & dragons, fantasy, gaming, rant, star wars
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