Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: The Border Zone, Edification, Conscripts, Mocking Conan, and Hunger Games II

Note to self: avoid implying anything to the effect of “I BE SMERT” or “You oughta read/do x-y-z.” It’s begging for flames… from people that will do that exact thing back at you. Trends are tricky to document to begin with as the peanut gallery is eager to produce counterexamples. This leaves you saying “this trend appears to have trended thusly” with maybe a footnote of some caveats. The target audience will elaborate or volunteer useful leads. The border zone is actually where some pretty useful stuff transpires given that the really good essays answer all the obvious objections… and your critics are just handing those talking points to you. The really negative stuff often turns out to be uninformed dismissals from people outside of your target audience. You can’t always use that constructively, so all you can do is bask in the fact that people really different from you are paying attention to you. This is still useful, really: no one humiliates themselves like people that live in an echo chamber of their own making.

And this other thing with all the stuff that people could be reading or looking at instead. There may be scads of edifying consciousness raising stuff that would be more relevant or important or whatever it is that people smarter than me think should be covered. The fact is, the only authority I have is derived from my stupid and relatively broad tabletop gaming experience. The only thing even marginally compelling about my otherwise scrappy voice is that I genuinely love games and gaming and I’m really excited about the topic. From a “research” angle, the whole of the Appendix N project boils down to being sort of a quirky extended sidebar to Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World. From a practical standpoint, it’s basically just a big bunch of game blogging for lapsed gamers that don’t read game blogs. This is the overlap between what I can conceivably do and what a relatively large (for me anyway) group of people would actually read… as determined by an irritatingly long sequence of trial and error.

So I’m at this party chatting up a girl that’s half my age. Somehow we end up connecting on our red neck heritage. (Typical rural move: hear someone’s unfamiliar accent, suddenly get suspicious, look askance and ask… “whar you frummmm?” Yuck yuck yuck.) Later on, it comes out that she’s from New York. Eh, that’s okay, I tell her, you guys at least had the sense to riot when they tried to conscript you for the war. That’s when the music stopped– the needle scraping across the record like in the movies. She looks at me with this blank look and asks, “which war?” And I laughed at her, sputtering out “THE war, sugar.” Still a blank look. I laugh even more as I take in the blank looks of the other 20-somethings in the room that are staring at us now. “That’s the difference between north and south right there,” I explained to them, totally incredulous. Now she’s hurt and still doesn’t get it: “but there are so many wars,” she protests. “Yeah, darlin’, but there’s only one where the south got burned to the ground.”

Game of Thrones is in fact inferior to Appendix N. It is a product of the same cultural dementia that requires Aragorn’s arc to be rewritten such that it is identical to Pippin’s. Its cast of protagonist type characters range from cripple to bastard to dwarf to super powered medieval-girl-who-refuses-to-become-a-woman. It’s no different than Harry Potter where the conflict between good and evil is recast into a war between snobby bigots and lovable half-breed outcasts. This is all Harrison Bergeron type stuff, really. We are gradually losing the capacity to even recognize that something is draining away in our adventure fiction. Villains and heroes alike are what they are because they weren’t accepted by the popular people… like that explains anything or even makes them slightly sympathetic. From Burroughs to Zelazny, this sort of mode was basically unthinkable even though you have writers coming at the scene from all over the political spectrum. But it’s gone on so long now that the very existence of a romance spun to appeal to adolescent boys circa 1914 is something that will shock the average reader of today. And yet we can barely even have a discussion about this sort of thing because it’s all been declared off limits for polite discussion unless you want to “mock everything about it” like’s Tim Callahan did with Robert E. Howard.

To me the question comes down to how you respond when you are exposed to a book that was written before you were born. Are you content to simply dwell in a place where you pat yourself on the back for being so much more enlightened than the author? Or do you ever wonder for a second if maybe he knew something you don’t…? Do you compare your cultural strengths to his cultural weaknesses, or are you on the lookout for lost bits of lore that can expand your capacity to think and to create? Do you skim until you find something to be offended at or allow yourself to encounter someone that sees things differently than you do? Do you see the work as an opportunity to excoriate people for being close minded…? Or do you see the reading of it as an opportunity to become a little less close minded yourself?

Hunger Games II is a hot mess. The characters do nothing to make me care about them. Nothing happening rings true. So many things from the first one recapitulated here but with less punch. And yet again, the only thing consistent about the “rules” is that they can be changed on a whim from the new school dungeon masters that already knows what the plot has to be. I’m supposed to believe that this reality show star is some sort of icon for a popular uprising. Why? None of the standard plot points from Princess of Mars, Dune, or even Avatar are ever established or developed. She does nothing to earn this kind of respect. She just is… just like we accept the all around awesomeness of Julia Roberts’s character in Notting Hill as part of the overall premise. At the end of the day, Catniss is not an example of a “Man With Boobs” type trope– in spite of the violence and post-apocalyptic trappings. No, she’s more of a “Boob with Boobs.”


7 responses to “Random Thoughts: The Border Zone, Edification, Conscripts, Mocking Conan, and Hunger Games II

  1. Cirsova November 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    People seriously underestimate how difficult it is to write a clever, strong alpha-male badass protagonist without coming off as hamfisted or shlocky. Much less ones who are introspective, clever, strong alpha-male badasses. In a million years, I couldn’t come up with a Hornblower. People assume that those characters are easy to write, and call them stupid, while we end up with a melange of indistinguishable troubled youth with no future beyond what is fated for them. It’s so much harder, too, to try to recreate that masculine idea because society has been obsessed with destroying it for the last 40 years.

    • jeffro November 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      I enjoyed the space combat in the Honor Harrington series. I didn’t even mind Honor herself. I just get so tired of that character. She’s on Fringe. She’s on Bones. She’s in every other book series that David Weber writes.

      It’s crazy how fast John Carter, Conan, and Dumarest went from being sort of the default to being almost unthinkable.

      • Cirsova November 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm

        I really think it has to do with how society has warped to where being being a strong, brave, powerful leader of men respected by your peers is no longer something held up for all boys to aspire to. Probably because some of the meritocratic elements of our culture have been stripped away. It’s an interesting period because it’s so unlike any other time since writing stories was a thing, but at the same time, it’s a bit strange.

        So far, one of the only really good example of the intricate and realistic lady badasses I’ve read who could be seen as a female counterpart to those classic male pulp heroes rather than a deconstruction of them has been Ayla from the Earth’s Children books.

        I’m sort of of the thought that even though it’s always nice to have new characters, tropes and ideas introduced it shouldn’t mean that the old ones all need to get thrown away.

  2. earlburt November 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t remember the following point being made in these threads, maybe because it’s obvious. It seems important to note that the fundamental projects of role-playing and of story-writing are different. One of the reasons that many gamers love Middle Earth, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter (ahem…) and so on is that they are interesting, compelling worlds, crafted with care and attention to detail. But the reasons their authors put in that care are radically different from why we do so in our games.

    That kind of world-creation isn’t something that happens in Faulkner or Shakespeare. That aspect of the fiction just isn’t there for us to latch onto. I don’t think the whole thing is about gamers elevating sci-fi/fantasy above other fiction. We just care about this dimension of it that pretty much nobody else cares about in quite the same way.

    • jeffro November 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Something like the “Insanely Detailed Map of Minas Tirith” looks wild to people that are outside of the tabletop gaming scene. But it’s kind of par for the course. And obviously, Tolkien was that sort of person before there was even really a tabletop gaming scene in existence. It’s a personality type that is inherently antagonistic to the literati. I bet there’s a Meyers-Briggs angle here somewhere…!

    • Cirsova November 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      It would be fun to see Faulkner fans to do to Faulkner what Lovecraft fans have done to Lovecraft: sublimate all of the racist undercurrents with weird sex. Take these pistols, indeed!

  3. JSpace November 6, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Wait. What? The name of the main character of Hunger Games ryhmes with cat piss? Damn it Jeffro, you made me skim Hunger Games sites just to make sure. Patti Smith is on the soundtrack? That’s almost like getting Glenn Branca to score the latest Transformers movie. Katniss Everdeen? Granted, prescription drugs now seem to be named after people’s old D&D characters, but where do modern teen fantasy heroes get theirs? I think those monkeys have been busy with their typewriters. Shakespeare my ass.

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