Nerd References and High-Fives
Oh this whole…thing…makes my skin crawl.
There is a whiff of nerd shame in my reaction. I’ll cop to that. This flavor of virtue-signaling just grosses me out, mostly because I feel like it’s so transparent. And I grew up in an age where being a giant nerd was not a point of pride. It is astonishing and wonderful to me that nerd culture means something different than it used to. But I still have that visceral reaction, that little wince when someone spouts a Monty Python quote or some Star Wars thing.
There’s also this thing that continues to gnaw at me about The Problem With Indie Games These Days. And that is that so, so many of them (premised on the fact that PbtA and Fate largely dominate the scene) feel and play and were conceived of as derivative of other media. Yes, absolutely, this is me #poopingonotherpeoplesfun and I am a monster.
For at least 25 years now, maybe longer, I’ve never quite resolved for myself the tension between dismissing RPGs as trivial entertainments and embracing RPGs as a legitimate and powerful art form. Probably it’s because they can be either, and asserting that RPGs can only be one or the other is unnecessary. Movies can be derivative summer tentpoles, and movies can be art. Also books and live performances and music and every other damned thing. But that tension is there, and it’ll probably always be there. There are so very many derivative, tropesy, trivial entertainments out there and so relatively few thoughtful, meaningful artworks. Never mind the additional social pressure to discount any artful game thing as “arty”, to diminish, to drag down the aspirational work to the same level as the derivative work.
Protestant work ethic (are you being productive?) combined with late capitalism (in what way is this profitable?), no wonder we’re so fucked up. By we I mean me. I’m sure you’re perfectly fine.
Anyway, when I hear players start spouting quotes at each other and reifying their shared identities, I see the game steer toward derivation and think to myself, “There goes an opportunity for real meaning, squandered.”
0 thoughts on “Nerd References and High-Fives”
I am fucked up.
I think part of your problem here is that RPGs can be trivial entertainment and powerful art in the same session – and sometimes the same scene or even in the same combat round – not to mention the shift going on not in whats actually happening but in the players’ minds as well.
In either caregory, things don’t shift that fast in other media.
All media is derivative of other media.
I do not share your work ethic curse. I’mma go take a nap 🙂
My friends and I always try to hide our inspirations, trying to ensure someone doesn’t go “Dude, did you just make X as your character?”
Oh my god. Yes. Identifying references and inspirations is the worst nerd virtue-signaling. Instant stoke loss.
When I sat down to play Epyllion for the first time with Marissa Kelly, the dude next to me systematically started mapping playbooks to the various My Little Pony Mane 6 characters. I wanted to explode and take the whole room out with me. Awful.
Aaron Griffin on the other hand, my friends often wear their influences on their sleeves. My friend Thomas just straight up made MCU Captain America in an Atomic Robo game we played, down to shield stunts and catchphrases.
Your friend Thomas would get disinvited so hard his parents would feel it.
“I’ve never quite resolved for myself the tension between dismissing RPGs as trivial entertainments and embracing RPGs as a legitimate and powerful art form. Probably it’s because they can be either, and asserting that RPGs can only be one or the other is unnecessary.”
They can also be both.
“And I grew up in an age where being a giant nerd was not a point of pride. It is astonishing and wonderful to me that nerd culture means something different than it used to.” LOL. Me too. I’m still amazed GOT and Marvel stuff keeps getting produced (with no end in sight). I keep waiting for it all to get dismissed and criticized as “immature, childish and worthless”, like it used to be. 😀 I still feel weird when a Muggle brings up the subject of some nerd media in my non-nerd circles, and I never broach the subject of RPGs even if they start talking nerd to me. I’ll wait for them to bring it up… the nerd-shame runs deep to my core…
Around here we don’t do this in play, although we will gladly use media touch-stones for tone and even character. “Let’s make this feel like Miller’s Crossing” “My guy is basically a young Jeff Dahmer”. Every group is different but casual in-play references would be really disruptive and unwelcome to us.
Paul, didn’t you just write a PbtA Westworld hack? Physician, heal thyself.
I’m with Topher Gerkey that everything is a remix, and RPGs, in particular, are about celebrating their source material — the first printing of D&D had “hobbits” in it, etc.
And I’ll even deflect the hate away from you and invoke the old “Brain Damage” thread from the Forge, which I think is relevant here. I.e., it’s fine to invoke your sources material as long as know why you’re invoking your source material.
(For me, stuff like Far East or — and maybe this is just me — anything where characters dress like Musketeers in settings that are not 17th century France is a flag that the why is missing.)
Most second order geek stuff still makes me force myself not to wince. I do force myself as I don’t want to crap on what others find fun, but I still find a lot of stuff a bit embarrassing.
Paul is having trouble with this because he’s used to battling gangs for local charities, and that uses different moves than when you only have to worry about one.
Just gonna put a dot here for now, will come back to it later when I have the mental space for it.
I mean, I feel like a lot of what we (I am not perfect!) do is the equivalent of “Oh my god, cinematography totally stole the concept of conveying meaning through color from painting! How shameful!”
Which is silly, right? Tabletop roleplaying does a lot of unique stuff. It also has a lot in common with other art forms. That’s how art works, because that’s how people’s brains work.
I feel like a lot of readers are having trouble with self deprecation here.
I’m having a really difficult time processing a lot of this. Like… how do you avoid remixing the media you consume into the play you create? Especially playing games that call out their own influences?
Like, if you’re playing a pulp adventure game and someone just goes ahead and makes a Doc Brass analogue… how is that badwrongfun? How is it disruptive to anybody else’s fun? Or if you’re playing SWvM and someone straight up drifts the movie version of the Dune Guild Navigators into the game, is that really so distracting?
In my relatively-infrequent periods of play, a lot of how I build a character concept is through layering up characters from fiction. I’ll start with a base character (OK, I want to play The Man With No Name) and then change some details (but with more talking, and a little less grit, maybe a genuine smile once in a while) and then see what emerges from play.
Like, I wouldn’t allow a game to get totally derailed by just reciting quotes from movies or TV; not because it’s bad play, but because I think it’s boring. But if Thomas makes a highly-moral, charming, two-fisted brawler with shield proficiency and an Aspect called “I can do this all day,” I’m not sure what the problem is with that.
I was afraid this would happen.
Honest, everyone. I’m not calling anyone out. My issues are not your issues.
I’m fully aware of the paradoxes in my own mind about this stuff. Nobody needs to offer a solution. I wrote to talk about the paradox, not start a fight or a group therapy session.
This has come up before and I was remiss in remembering the inevitable reaction. If I post something similar next year I’ll get a similar thread filled with defensiveness and hurt feelings.
Honest. This is not about that. I’m sorry it can’t be discussed without the attendant call to arms. I’ll remember next time!