An experiment in interpretation: TV/Film

edited November 2008 in Story Games
I've been thinking a lot about why I like the TV and movies I do, and what makes me want to play games about them. So here's a little experiment/intellectual exercise i thought might be fun for us to do. Here's the skinny:

1. Pick a movie or TV show you enjoy.
2. Assume the main character(s) is/are the PC(s) in an RPG. Assume the content of the show/movie is the fiction created in play by the game.
3. From what you've seen in the movie/show answer the Big Three questions about the "game's" design.
4. Write up your answers and post them in this thread.
5. Go have a cookie for doing such a good job.

The big three, for those that are unfamiliar, is a set of three simple probing questions to be asked about a game's design/place in the world that, despite their simplicity, tell you a great deal about the play experience. For this experiment here are The Big Three:

What is the game about?
How is the game about that?
How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating what the game is about?

That last question needs some clarification. Often this is a question about reward cycles and experience and so on; For this experiment I would like us to consider how the fiction rewards it's characters for participation. Do the characters grow? find absolution? get rich? get powerful?

I would like to examine as many different movies/shows as we can but if someone else has already written up answers for the IP you were interested in, and you feel like your answers would be pretty different, go ahead and post up a new response.

I'm going to list here some things i would like to see examined, feel free to ignore this list completely and just pick your favorite show, or work from the list if you are interested but can't make up your mind about what to examine.

• The wire
• Star Trek (in case you want to nitpick, lets just say original series or next gen)
• Iron Man
• Children of Men
• Sex in the City
• M.A.S.H.
• The Sopranos
• Spongebob Squarepants
• Alien (and of the 4 films)
• The Shield
• Sports Night
• Seinfeld


  • edited November 2008
    The Wild Bunch
    What is the game about? Loyalty and the masculine ideal of true brotherhood, and changing times
    How is the game about that? Even the enemies are loyal to the protagonists, across great swathes of personal history. Bishop is loyal to his gang, and Dutch is loyal to him unto death. The gang learns what it means to stick together and take care of their own, even when the cost is too terrible to contemplate. At one point Bishop says: "We're not gonna get rid of anybody! We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished! We're finished! All of us! " which is a neat summary of the entire movie. Those themes are relentlessly reinforced, to the point where men gladly die for them rather than face a cruel and stupid new era. It's 1913, for Pete's sake! You can't keep being a bandit in the twentieth century!
    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating what the game is about? The protagonists demonstrate their fidelity to one another in a final, joyous, suicidal act of bravery and folly. Many Mexicans are machine-gunned in the process. They die in the old way, upright and meeting the standards of true men in the eyes of their peers (and Bishop's frenemy Pike, of course, who picked the other side and regrets it). They die by the code they lived by rather than crawl into a diminished future.
  • What a wonderful idea.


    What is the game about? What do you believe in? Who do you trust?

    How is the game about that? It's set in a plausible version of the British Secret Service. It deliberately toys with issues that are close to the bone: terrorism, Al Qaeda, financial crises. Its main characters need to work together to get things done but are constantly encouraged to suspect each other. Nobody really knows what anyone's thinking.

    (I realise that only the last two are actually important, but the others seemed tangentially relevant).

    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating what the game is about?The player characters all have secret goals, which aren't revealed to the other players. The GM's job is to tempt them to achieve these goals by unconventional means: so you want to protect your country? Maybe you need to leak its secrets to someone who can protect it?

  • Sex in the City
    What is the game about?
    Self discovery

    How is the game about that?
    The character has friends, readers and romantic experiences that prove/disprove various theories about life, love and friendship

    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating what the game is about?
    The character does not advannce through the story until she can understand something she needs or why she wants something

    There is many different ways to slice that show, so I dunno if this is solid, but it feels close to me...
  • Star Wars: A new hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi

    What is the game about? Being part of something bigger than just yourself.

    How is the game about that? The game starts with characters who all come at the question from a different angle. Luke desperately wants to be part of something bigger than himself but does the poor farm boy have what it takes to become a Jedi? Han has no desire for anything beyond his own self intereste but when love and friendship are built through play what will his answer be, does he truly only value himself? Obi Wan is a Jedi Knight and already part of something fairly big but when the time comes to sacrifice himself is he willing to do it? Vader is the flip side of that coin, he is part of something big (and nasty) but when it comes down to it is pursuing that power worth it or is family actually bigger than that Power? The force is really a mystical symbol of that greater Power than just yourself.

    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating with what the game is about? By participating and resolving the smaller internal issues the characters face the player pushes the game forward to dealing with the the big galactic scale issues going on in the background, the battle of good versus evil. By learning to trust in and use the force Luke is able to destroy the planet killing Death Star.
  • COPS

    What is the game about? Justice.

    How is the game about that? It shows the bad guys getting their just deserts in a variety of humiliating ways.

    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating with what the game is about? There is an implication, expressed to various degrees, that this event will be a turning point in their lives. They will turn away from the criminal paths and toward a more virtuous life.

  • edited November 2008

    What is the game about? Institutionalized racism.

    How is the game about this? The vast majority of perpetrators (NPCs) shown in the game are people of color. Crimes committed by white offenders are featured only rarely, and are downplayed as less serious offenses.

    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating with what the game is about? By chasing, harassing, profiling, and assaulting people of color, the Cops (PCs) are rewarded with accolades of heroism and community service. The more violent the takedown, the more screen time the player is awarded. To avoid Bad PR levels, Cops (PCs) must sometimes act in non-violent situations. Bonus points are awarded for scenes helping children or the elderly, and extra bonus points are awarded if the Cop PC is a person of color.
  • Oh it is so on, John. SO ON.

    This reminds me perfectly of the exactly-parallel arguments with respect to, say, D&D. One side insists it's about the heroic struggle of the everyman, the other that it's about racist thugs who kill and loot anyone different from themselves.

    I'm still inclined to characterize the 'Bad Boys' of the theme song as the PCs and the titular COPS as mere NPC foils, but I'd like to hear more about why you came at it from the opposite direction.

    Kevin, if you think following this particular line is hijacking the thread, let me know; I think it may prove useful in exploring the intersection of TV/film and games, but it's still your thread and I'll take it elsewhere if you like.

    Thanks for presenting some counter-point, John.
  • Blade Runner

    What is the game about?

    +The game focuses on Blade Runners, special cops in the dark future that hunt illegal androids (called Replicants). It centers on themes of mortality, memory, emotion, and the desperate need for things (even created things) to live. It is wrapped in a police procedural plot structure.

    +It optionally has an undercurrent of self-discovery and self-incrimination built in for advanced players.

    How is the game about that?

    + Players investigate leads to discover the locations and disguises of Replicants. Once the target is confirmed through investigation and/or testing, the player group "retires" the Replicant (the term "kill" is not used for this process, to drive home the artificial nature of these beings).

    + Retirement scenes and clues in the investigation phase are meant to provide various weighted realization to the PCs that these creatures are very close to humanity in outlook and general condition.

    How does the game reward the players for acting on/participating what the game is about?

    + As clues are found, or missions finished, the impact of the Replicants perceived humanity slowly chips away at the starting buffer of acceptance that the PC has for what they do. Once this score drops to zero, the PC begins to see a startling truth, based on what options the GM has selected. Either they come to regard Replicants as equals and finally begin to see the utility of mercy to them, or (in the darker option), they begin to understand that they are a Replicant given the memories of a recently injured or killed Blade Runner (who they are assigned to take revenge for as their first mission).

    + The player's choice of how they handle this revelation determines how the first duel they lose is resolved. If the Replicant who obtains victory over them sees empathy in them (or kinship), he or she may spare them (endings are based on a measure of empathy vs cruelty in a system similar to endgames in MLwM).

    OK, this is more a story than a game...the three questions apply more to a system for creating numerous stories of the same type...
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