In defense of fun

Cover of "Star Wars Episode VI - Return o...

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(I’m listening to a song featuring the lead singer of Nickelback  as I start writing this, appropriately.  If you don’t get the connection, just say the name “Nickelback” to the nearest music geek and watch their head explode.  And now I’m listening to Taylor Swift.  I swear I wasn’t planning this!)

The blog post I linked to earlier today (err, yesterday afternoon.  Whatever.) ended with this line “Let’s have fun.  Let’s be okay with writing fun.”

I don’t know how young I was when I fell in love with fantasy and science fiction.  Two of the first toys I can remember having were a Yoda action figure and a Scarlett action figure. Return of the Jedi has been one of my favorite movies from the first time I saw it when I was about six.  I was a She-Ra fan as a kid.  Voltron was my first favorite show, as far as I know.  Some of the first books I remember reading were TSR’s Endless Quest books.  So it’s probably safe to say that I never had a chance in hell of not growing up to be a geek.

Did I love any of these things for how deep and deconstruct-y and challenging to the status quo and shit like that they were?  Fuck no!  I liked them for the same reason that I liked stuff that carries with it no geek cred at all, stuff like the Little House books, the Anne books, and The Cosby Show:  they were fun, they were entertaining . . . I enjoyed them.  Young Shannon didn’t give a fuck if they were challenging her worldview or making her think about things in a different way or anything like that.  I liked Return of the Jedi because it had spaceships, light saber duels, and Jedi.  Voltron had five lions that combined into one big robot.  How can that not be cool?  And the robot had a sword!  And it had a dude with a cool accent that may or may not have been a bit of influence in one of the main characters in some Universal Nexus stories . . .

Sure, I was just a kid, so of course I didn’t want deep stuff in my entertainment (I’m looking pointedly at you, people who claim Empire was your favorite Star Wars movie even when you were eight because it’s so much deeper than the others).  So, let’s look at some of my current favorites, shall we?  Firefly, Name of the WindGI Joe:  A Real American Hero comics (some things don’t change), the Little House books, some of the Anne books (look, more that doesn’t change!), the best sci-fi TV show ever made:  Babylon 5 . . . do you see a single thing that’s deep in that list?!

No.  Okay, maybe Babylon 5, but most of the reason I love it isn’t.  You know why?  Because of this (copied from a post I made on a rpg forum eight and a half years ago; sorry about the weird phrasing and punctuation in spots.  Eight years ago me didn’t always proofread as well as she should have.  And that Traveller game never did happen, I just realized.):

I was trying to start a nice little dungeon crawl. Just your basic, old fashioned, go from this 10 x 10 room to this 10 x 10 room, without triggering a horrible trap and kill the monster and take it’s stuff dungeon crawl. However, I ran into a problem:I couldn’t let a game be that simple any more.I felt like I had to have a fully-detailed culture for the area, full character sheets for every NPC that might be encountered, full stats for all the monsters, detailed character histories . . . all for a dungeon crawl. A dungeon crawl that will most likely only take two to five sessions to finish, say 8 to 20 hours of real time.I stopped having fun making the NPCs long before I was finished. I didn’t do any other work on the game . . . the game I’d been so excited about in the beginning. I was starting to see gaming as more work than fun.

I thought about why this had happened a lot, possibly too much. But, you see, while I was looking for something else recently, I came across my first ever character, and several other artifacts from early games. I thought back to these games. I enjoyed them. They weren’t sophisticated. The only culture that approached fully developed was the kender culture, since I was lacking the novels/gaming books to know much about Krynnish elves and dwarves, and didn’t want to make up something that clashed with established storylines.

It was fun. It was A LOT of fun.

I thought about a dungeon crawl I’m in the middle of running (but taking a break from . . . until we have alcohol.). I thought about the fun we’ve had with it. I don’t even know what world it’s set on.  Jaye’s characters are named Kibbles and Bits. They kept a charmed kobold as a pet for awhile! It’s insane; I refuse to DM it sober. But it’s fun!

I thought of Universal Nexus, and how, while some of the characters are fun, I’m not having much fun with the game itself any more. I thought of my still-hasn’t-started Traveller game and how worried I am that I don’t know the setting well enough to do it justice.

I realized something: At some point, I stopped thinking about “Is this fun? Will this make this game more fun for the players?” I started thinking “Is this logical? Will this situation challenge the players’ role-playing skills?” Now, I know there’s nothing wrong with this approach, but to me, it’s not fun. So, why was I doing it?

The only answer I can come up with, is that I started thinking that that’s how mature people game. I’d forgotten that, at the core of things, gaming is, well, just GAMING. It’s having fun.

If your idea of fun is making a completely logical setting, and challenging your players role-playing skills, cool. I can get into that sometimes. But sometimes . . . sometimes, I just want to PLAY. I don’t want to think about the logic of everything; I don’t want to worry about the changes in society due to high mana levels. I just want to play. And really, if you get right down to it, that’s what rpgs are about.  Playing role in a game. You can do that just a well in a dungeon crawl that has nothing existing around it as in a game world you’ve spent months working out, down to the level of what the fine is for littering. But if you’re not having fun, and your players aren’t having fun, then what’s the point?

(Yeah, I know, this is common sense stuff . . . but I doubt I’m the only gamer lacking in common sense, so I’m sharing.)

Eight and a half years ago me probably would’ve had a much different list of favorite things . . . even taking into consideration that one of the things wasn’t out yet and she hadn’t heard of another yet.  Eight and a half years ago me craved approval of Them . . . that nebulous group that determines what is and is not okay to like.  But she found herself unable to make a fucking dungeon crawl, and, well, fuck that shit.

Now, I won’t pretend that I don’t backslide sometimes and feel guilty for liking dungeon crawls, for listening to Nickelback, for watching Star Wars‘ movies just for the sword fights (and Han and Yoda) . . . I spend too much time immersed in geek culture on Twitter and blogs to not be influenced by Their opinions.  But the thing is, I learned my lesson.  If  my entertainment isn’t fun, then why the fuck am I playing/watching/reading it?!

Or writing it.  And that’s the main one I struggle with.  Because there is still the part of me that craves the approval of Them.

But one of my favorite quotes from my favorite writing book is this:

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing

I try to remind myself of that any time I start worrying that I’m not writing my stories “right” because . . . because The Crown of Eldrete is unabashedly space opera.  The dedication is to Larry Hama and George Lucas for a reason, okay?  (And, gods but I wish some of my reviewers had realized that and seen it as a good thing instead of a negative.)  Because No More Lies is an unholy combo of a romance, a coming-of-age story (or maybe a quarter life crisis story, if that’s a thing?), and an action story, in an unabashedly space opera setting.

Intertwined Lives, I just realized as I was typing this in a gut-punchy kind of way, died because I’d forgotten this lesson.  Once again I was craving approval, not writing for me.  If I’d been writing it for me, like I should’ve been, if I’d been writing for fun, it would’ve been pure slice-of-life, like I planned.  But no, I had to start thinking in terms of plot arcs and things like that.  I know better.  I’ve learned this lesson, as you can see above.  There’s a time and a place for these things . . . The Crown of Eldrete is a pretty plot driven book, for instance.  But this story wasn’t the place for that sort of thing.  It was supposed to just be a look into the life of some people on a world 600 parsecs from Earth in an alternate reality that diverged from ours in the early 90s.  It may not have been popular.  People may very well have hated it.  I know for a damned fact it’s pretty far from what you’re “supposed” to do with a space opera setting.  But I would’ve had fun writing it, and I’m sure somebody else would’ve had fun reading it, even if just my mother.  And if I had fun writing it, then it would’ve shown so maybe more people could’ve been convinced to try it, and maybe they would’ve found that, “Hey, a space opera doesn’t have to have constant ship battles and a big good versus evil war and characters that were already clichés by the time Heinlein first put pen to paper!”  So, I’ll reboot it someday, and that’s what it’ll be.  And maybe it’ll gain popularity, or maybe it won’t.  But at least I’ll enjoy writing it.

And this blogpost didn’t go where I thought it would, not quite anyway.  At any rate, I think I made my point.  I leave you with a video of one of my current favorite songs.  Don’t worry, it’s not by Nickelback or Taylor Swift.  It’s by an artist I discovered courtesy of clicking a video accidentally on youtube a couple of years ago.  The theme of the song is sort of related to this post.  It was playing as I typed the bit about Intertwined Lives and I found it rather fitting.

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