Sunday, December 19, 2010

Purist vs Workable Conversions

Being a child of the 80's, I can tell you that cartoons make for some great sources of inspiration for role-playing games. Such shows are full of strange characters, weird worlds, high adventures, and it don't delude itself with a lot of realism or continuity (not to mention all the cool toy tie-ins). Although when converting these shows to an RPG, the unusual nature of these cartoons tend to be a hurtle with most players who opt to run it a pure way. This is because most role-players are grown people with mature notions, while cartoons are really awesome concepts that have been dumb-down to make them "kid-friendly" (well, more like "media-watchdog group friendly"). As a result, fights are nerfed with stun-weapons and robotic henchmen, characters and plots are dumb-down, and morality plays are forced into place. When video games - especially the older ones - are converted this way, items and monsters tend to act in the same way as they do on-screen, and for it, it all comes out all really goofy. That is, all bows magically eat money in Hyrule, and Moblins wander around until they see someone to throw a spear at, then wander off.

Consider He-Man. The concept for this is a Conan-like sword & sorcery with a lot of science fantasy elements, in a post-apocalyptic setting no less! Basically, the world of Eternia was torn by a long, protracted war that left behind a lot of strange magical and scientific relics from a bygone era. He-Man was a barbarian from the frozen north (sound familiar?) who received a number of powerful artifacts from a Sorceress after he saved her life. Skeletor was a powerful warlord-sorcerer from another dimension, who was trying to unlock the secrets of Grayskull, so he could continue to takeover one world after another. When it became a cartoon, He-Man became a soft-spoken superman, who has the alter-ego that plays-out like a gay pool boy. Filmation was notorious for bland character interaction, and deluding their programs with blunt morality plays, politically correct messages, and sappy PSAs (or creepy if you remember He-Man & She-ra talking about "getting touched in that special place"). In all the politically correct action, all the Sword & Sorcery elements got lost. The 2002 reboot did much to redeem the older show, but there is something nice about the untouched sandbox that was the original mini-comics.

When making such a fiction into a tabletop game, the Purist Method would to keep the sappy elements of its own sake, while a Working Model would retool the fiction like the '02 reboot did in order to make it more palatable for a more mature audience. On the other hand, I notice Grognards like to take the the original (forgotten) premise of something, ignore everything that came after, and making something unique and interesting from it. For example, I have seen a debate at an old-school D&D forum about how awesome Battlestar Galactica could have been if they had stuck with the original concept art that made it look more like a sword & sorcery version of Star Wars. I call this Retroactive Foundation-Work, and I consider this a lot more creative then copying a fiction verbatim. With He-Man, it would be like making something unique out of the old mini-comics.

I have seen folks make source materials for cartoons (comicbooks, videogames, and such), but they usually go with the Purist Method with little regard to making a good Working Model. To me, a good cartoon (or equivalent) sourcebook looks at a show for what it has, then consider how it would have been without a bunch of meddling executives and broadcast standards breathing down the necks of the writers and producers, and to present the ideas of these changes on sidebars if they seem relevant. So if you like a show and you what to make game materials for it then by all means, do it! Don't be afraid to make the good guys less goody-two-shoe (or a little more anti-heroic), the bad guys smarter or less monolithic, the action more raw & bloody, add more sensuality (you need not to make things perverted to do so), the world less forgiving, and so on, so the setting can be more palatable to fellow gamers of reasonable maturity.


Clovis Cithog said...

Actually HE-MAN, the cartoon is homo-erotic
OR the writing was a trick on the network’s sensors.

Having lived (not loved ; - )
in New Orleans in the 80s and 90s,
I can assure you that there were THREE types of gays that frequented the French Quarter.

The Macho-Men, dressed in leather and proudly displayed their muscles (He Man).
The Flamers, dressed in drag and beautiful (She Ra).
The Butches, they were gay, but didn’t want to anyone to know, so they didn’t talk much until they released their inner animal (Moola/sp?).

Now that I have said it;
Go back and watch the series and observe how much sexual innuendo is contained within the episodes (golden rainbow, etc..)

Malcadon said...

Yes, He-Man was vary homo-erotic, but that comes with a show with "He" and "Man" in the title. In truth, a lot of 80's cartoons had homo-erotic elements - not to mention all the sexual innuendos seeded within these shows (G.I.Joe had the best stuff, btw). And by "homo-erotic" I mean what is appealing to males in general (Die Hard movie stuff), and not just the gay ones (although I can see how 300 would be appealing to both crowds ;P). Plus, I lived - not loved - in the SF bay area, so I at least know the basics of the color-code (and why one should be more mindful when shaking the hand of a guy with a brown handkerchief XP).

What I was getting at (and forgot to elaborate on), was something like how Prince Adam was going to be a teen - like in the reboot - but they felt that kids would not know that Adam and He-man are the same, even though the transformation scene is loud and dramatic. As a result, Adam looks like a strong guy, but acts like a child. Even the part were the Sorceress had Teela after a night with a soldier she healed in the war. It would have made more sense if it was just a one-night stand, but they drew it out with a wedding to avoid the implications of Teela being born out of wedlock on a kid's show. If it was targeted at adults, the marriage would have been unnecessary.

Trey said...

I agree with your feelings about the original mini-comic MOTU being far superior to the cartoons, but beyond that good post, and cogent summary of the issue!