Ethan Skemp (eskemp) wrote in whitewolf_lj,
Ethan Skemp

Behind the Lines: Changes A'Comin' (#39)

Some people say that gamers are inherently conservative. Others say that people are inherently conservative, and gamers are just a subset thereof. Now, this isn't talk about politics, mind: it's a discussion of that big mess of psychology that deals with how we approach things we ran into at a formative stage and stuff that changes the material of our formative stage. Consider, for example, any 200X adaptation of any 198X cartoon, comic book or toyline. You'll find some people who absolutely love every single change, some who say "YOU'RE RUINING EVERYTHING," and pretty much a great slew of reactions in between. Anyone who was a kid and owned a Transformer in the '80s probably has an opinion on the latest movie, for instance, and can probably think of someone who has the exact opposite opinion.

Me, I think that people have two particular classifications for things that give us pleasure: the comforting and familiar, and the exciting and new. There's a reason sometimes you want to try a new restaurant that sounds great, and sometimes you want plain old comfort food from your favorite joint. Sometimes you're sick of sequels, sometimes a sequel is the most-anticipated movie of the year. And, of course, movies try to capitalize on both at once by giving us "exciting and new" adaptations of the "comforting and familiar." So do other works, of course. And heck, you could probably argue that sex is a fusion of both at once (if you're doing it right), at least after the first time or so.

I bring this up because last week I went down and got a look at some of the changes that are in store for the site. You may have noticed the sticky about the changeover to the web forums, for instance. That's part of it. They're good changes, and some of them are very exciting. Stuff that I probably can't talk about, but suffice to say there's the desire to have people want to hang out at our site more, and have more cool stuff to see and do there. And it's a strong enough argument for the implementation coming that us employees are starting to feel the same way: looking forward to the new site, and how to muck around with it ourselves. Good stuff a'coming.

And, of course, there's the whole business of game design. I could probably go on for some time about the shift between Worlds of Darkness, and the desire to fuse comfortable and familiar with new and exciting. In fact, I think everyone has their own opinion about that, but honestly, let's draw back out a bit. Because it goes deeper than that.

I'm a strong proponent of the school of thought that novelty is not in and of itself a virtue. If you have something completely new, completely unlike anything seen before, you have no real frame of reference for a viewer. Vampire: The Masquerade was chock-full of new and exciting twists on an old, familiar theme: honest-to-goodness Halloween vampires. If you had tried to do a game of Personal Horror that went dramatically away from the familiar, it would be harder to make the horror personal, as there'd be fewer points of connection with the audience. It would be a neat read — though perhaps reliant on a reader's hunger for "new and exciting' — but really hard to play. And I think every Storyteller out there is well aware of how tricky it is to be able to surprise your players and give them new things they haven't seen before while still maintaining their connection to the setting. You want them to have a sense of the world before something new about it surprises them.

Why, yes. This line of thought is informing Geist: The [edit: Not yet, sorry! — Kelley]. New and exciting? Well, there's a reason it's got a name we've never used before. And there's a pretty critical rule we're bending (breaking, even) that we haven't done yet in any game, I think. But is there comforting and familiar stuff there? Yes. I daresay you'll run across things that you've had in the back of your mind for years and years. That's the foundation we lay, and the rest of the crazy messed-up stuff we build can sprout out from there.

As long as I'm here, I'll selfishly ask for feedback. What are your favorite examples of stuff that changed that you liked best? Where did you find your expectations strangely subverted, only to find that the aspect of change also threw a familiar kernel of an idea into relief? I mean, this can be about anything if you like (even, yes, "His truck form is different but it's still Peter Cullen!"), but obviously the World of Darkness examples help me out the absolute most. And stories about revelation and what you find exciting tend to be good ones. We like good stories, right?


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