on reverse-engineering subculture into product
My thoughts are a little addled after belatedly reading Jeff Rients’ long and strange journey through the gother-than-goth* novelization/RPG hybrid Wraeththu. Please bear with me while I try to give voice to the terrible idea that is even now taking shape in my mind.
The relevant pullquote is: you play posthuman glitterboi hermaphrodites with psychic powers. Which could be kinda David Bowie in The Hunger but the longer quotes from the published flavourtext make it sound both more earnest and more absurd: spurning the society that had bred them, rebelling totally, haunting the towns with their gaunt and drug-poisoned bodies… The Wraeththu hated mankind. They were different; on the inside and on the outside.
That reminds me of how much I hate White Wolf’s assumption that, even if you yourself aren’t a mopey post-punk, your characters must be, because they’re Whatever-Supernatural-Thing-We-Just-Reinvented-So-Now-It’s-Current-And-Edgy.
So then I read Scrap Princess‘s proposal for a google+ RPG campaign – SPECIAL MAGICAL PRINCESS ADVENTURES: a 80s girl cartoon/sailor moon mash up campaign where you play like magic girls, sassy androids, crime solving rock stars and intrepid girl detectives in todays world, which underneath its veneer of banality lurks crime! intrigue! Monsters! evil fruity space bastards with, like, the best hair!**
And once I’d stopped giggling in delight it hit me: these two are horns on the same goat. They are games based on subcultures – on the urges of fandom – rather than strictly on inspirational works. And of course late 70s metalhead Frazetta D&D is another subcultural subcreation: you play some creature off an album cover not necessarily because you love Eddie in particular but because it speaks of a certain attitude toward the world, a tribal affiliation. And then the games wind up explaining and mythologizing this fandom entity.
With me so far? OK. What if you made this pathway to creation absolutely deliberate? What if you started with a subculture and then set out to define a game world from it? What if, moreover, you took some massive study of subcultures – like, say, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno – and set out to develop whole fantastical cosmologies based on it? What are Gothic Lolitas actually trying to be? That entity is your character, with appropriate mystical powers. Exactly what is that quality that distinguishes Eastern European fantasy from everyone else’s? Slave-Leias, Kirk-Spockers, extreme knitters (more current examples? I’m really not the person to be writing this)… you are all tribes. You will have splatbooks detailing own distinctive gameworlds. Just as long as you can be marketed to, we’re good. Except maybe this guy.
Hmmm… have I just reinvented Unknown Armies? I don’t know, I haven’t read it.
* The author’s (not the game designer’s) website will tell you more than I would wish to. For some idea of the game mechanics from Jeff’s book-length review, do an in-page search for “So how do I cast a spell?”
** Description continues: The absurdity of the world is played straight and slightly sinisterly , a pastel shaded hell , a monster every week, the school mates not returning to class and noone notices, they land men on the moon but a black space castle hovers over Tokyo and is ignored. You fight so hard to make the world right, but the world isn’t right at all.
You have great hair and
your friends try and steal each others boyfriends and girl friends and everyone goes to your concert and the teacher doesn’t flunk you and the mermaid returns your calls and you cut a dog man cyborg in half on a cruise ship tour
and you watch the sunset and things are good and your a hero and you can’t stop crying but
some fruity flying bastard with weird hair
just started putting people to sleep with evil fruit, and
then we tried to stop them and they turned
the store manger into a laser potato
and then we beat them to death, and the store burned down
, and we only saved a handful of people
and they are still in comas and no-one has noticed what so ever and it happens every goddamn week and my cat talks to me and I’m friends with dracula and breakfast is pills and vodka and I’m failing school because I can’t sleep because of all the post traumatic stress going on, but the cat tells me I’m gonna be ruler of a magic kingdom one day and I’m so tired
Really, it’s worth signing up for G+ just for that. For full details on the proposed game sign up to google+ and ask Scrap Princess or, easier and less risky on the GoogleOwnsYourMind front, email her or comment on her blog
FINALLY: happy Chinese New Year. Apparently it’s Year of the Water Dragon, which just happens to be my favourite Pokemon.