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Monday Lab 4: SFTV RPG

Science fiction is a vast squishy thing spread throughout all sorts of media and culture/subculture. Got it. I wanted to examine its content in two pretty-specialized media: mainstream television series and table-top role-playing. You’ll see three dialogues: first with Ángel, then Ivan, and finally Moreno. I’m first to admit, the result is a mess: not much more than dialogue, spitballing, trying to stay on track, with a couple of difficult variables in play. But I think what emerged is interesting.

Fortunately, the plan was not to survey it (or them) all, because if it were, it’d be a miserable failure. A couple of titles and topics get over-represented, more than a few get dropped or missed. Traveller and Shadowrun are both mentioned but not acknowledged or well-considered for their powerful defining presence. Gamma World’s legacy, e.g. the Mutant franchise, is woefully under-served. I should have reflected on my experience with the Decipher version of Mutant Chronicles. Eclipse Phase needs to be in there. I had it in mind to talk about time travel shows more, as I finally may have figured out the basics of playing Continuum.

Why did I set this question in place, in this way? Lots of big reasons, to discuss in the comments if people are interested, but the first answer is the two “hobbies” relation to mainstream culture. Viewing science fiction TV, especially in the habitual and ongoing sense, is no longer hobby or fringe or a bit weird, not even a little. Table-top role-playing is all of those things. They both draw upon the larger, diffuse, and incredibly rich range of science fiction in general … I’m interested in their areas of overlap and areas of distinct discontinuity. Especially since the subset topic of games licensed from shows adds more discontinuity rather than less.

With that in mind, I’d also like to develop the triple-variable problem that Ángel and I distracted ourselves from, the interplay among enjoyment, fandom, and consumption.

Comments

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

Ron,
Great seminar. A little loosey goosey but still enjoyable. 
Why doesn’t Sci-fi RPGS do social commentary and fall into military sci-fi? 
I would suggest that most gamers play games to get that “Hit” from the genre fiction they consume, whether its fantasy, horror, or sci-fi. They want that “hit”, that does of what thrilled them and mostly its surface level stuff. 
 
Cyberpunk struck me as dystopian noir, but what the roleplaying games typically replicated is chrome, guns, and augmentation. Cyberpunk2020 hinted at what it means to be human with the Humanity stat but didn’t go far enough. Other games abandoned it in favor of free-wheeling transhumanism but miss the point of what was cool about transhumanism and only wanted to get that “hit” of re-sleeving their brains.
Both Star Wars and Star Trek could be a lot more subversive but when gaming in those worlds, players just want to emulate the action scenes that games them that rush. They’re looking for that surface level Star Wars “Hit” when they make their jedi. 
 
Farscape (one of my all-time favs) was great because it took the classic tropes and inverted them. John Crichton was Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. The square jawed American that came to save the day. But when you watch the show, Crichton is woefully incompetent in a lot of areas and gets knocked out ever other episode. Crichton is never the smartest, toughest, or best at…anything. His expectations of what is right is usually wrong and all he ever brings to the table is heart. 
 
If I played a Farscape game, I could see it easily devolve into criminals on the runs shooting guns and escaping Peackeepers. 
 
I think a lot of nuance found in Sci-Fi media is lost and would need to be baked into any game system that wanted to emulate it. I struggle with genre emulation I the stuff I play and write. Its hard to 1) pin down what it is you love about the property  , and 2) distill it into a game mechanic that works.
Ron Edwards's picture

That effect you're describing is tied to a lot of my frustration with fandom. I have very little personal sympathy for the "hit" you're talking about. My experiences as a young mid-70s enthusiast for Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Marvel Comics taught me the opposite lesson, and have perhaps made me cynical enough to say that the "hit" is far more based on consumer-spending hysteria and the purchase of identity than on anything to do with actually enjoying the material.

We broke open the topic a little in the seminar - that science fiction role-playing can be a venue for fanfic rather than a medium for making something.

That doesn't track to using a canonical and beloved setting as automatically as one might think. A hell of a lot of great work began as  casual, homage, or totally self-indulgent musing regarding something someone liked. The question is whether it catches fire along the way, or as I like to put it, stops relying on reminding the participants how much they liked the source material, and more-or-less demands to be liked for itself. It doesn't even have to be particularly original relative to the inspiring material, not in the usual terms of its exact trappings. It simply has to be good in some way of its own that you can find here rather than "back there."

So I'm not talking about avoiding what one loves in science fiction (in this case, SF TV), but rather, what one does with that love, and whether the medium this site is dedicated to is being considered, by its own practitioners, as a lesser form.

We should do a video conversation about Farscape in particular, which I also love greatly. I strongly share your fears about role-playing it - allowing for whether they'd manifest as some aspect of the game design (as I talked about for The Babylon Project) or as lowered, limited expectations among the players regardless of what the game provided. Either way would be a real letdown or agony.

 

Jerry D. Grayson's picture

I would love to do a Farscape talk

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