Friday, February 24, 2012

Teenager From Inner Space

Daddy Tired.

I'm in Gradjulate Skuwl so I don't have as much time/energy/focus for this blog as I did when I had an office job and posted during lulls in work.  Heck, I barely have time to make the eight espressos a day I swill down just to keep the pace brisk.  Plus we have a new cat we're trying to teach not to shred the flesh off of everyone who comes near.  

Of course when a Man/Child gets this much responsibility, he starts to remember more innocent times.  Times when he took games like Teenagers from Outer Space really seriously.

When I was in high school, this game (abbreviated TFOS) seemed to offer a way to reframe the whole experience, make it less frustrating and more fun.  A few years later I discovered anime, and yet I didn't make the connection between Rumiko Takahashi, a manga artist whose work Teenagers From Outer Space openly cannibalized, and TFOS itself, even though I was obsessed with Rumiko Takahashi's work (because it seemed to offer a way to reframe my whole post-college experience, make it less etc.)  Only now, as I take a fresh look at TFOS, do I see that I was playing in Rumiko's world before I ever fell in love with Rumiko's work.

What's more, I have two supplements to the game, one from R. Talsorian, the company that released the game, and another from a third-party startup.  

The first is called Field Trip.  It's a module (for non-dorks: a role-playing module is essentially a ready-made story for gamers to use, absolving the referee of the responsibility of creating the story, instead socking the ref with the responsibility to learn the story) that I haven't really read.  The plot hinges on a School Vice Principal organizing a booby-trapped field trip.  The idea of an utterly hostile Vice Principal doesn't square with even my most persecution-complexy school memories, and strikes me as a nonclever variation on what I wanted from TFOS: a recasting of school experience to make it more fun.  Yeah, I liked satirizing the faculty in these games, but I knew they didn't HATE us.  They just hated the cruddier things we did.  Early in the module the Vice Principal hijacks the school bus and reveals himself to be a terrorist sleeper agent, at which point I ran out of patience, not due to post-9/11 sensitivity, but out of exasperation.  These dumb jokes don't resonate with my school experience.

Then there's a more recent thing called The Landing.  It's devoted to describing a shopping mall for the TFOS characters to enjoy.  The writing is a mess.  The original TFOS writing style has a competent-standup-comic verve; the jokes may be hit or miss, but there's a sense of humor and an offer to enjoy yourself.  The Landing's style isn't reminiscent of standup; it's reminiscent of a science project report, droned aloud by a dull, serious student.  It's full of poorly thought out ideas for jazzing up your fantasy mall, but the most irksome element is the new races.

TFOS has 4 races your characters can be: human, near human, not-very-near-human and Real Weirdie.  Not so much races as categories, right?  It's a terrific way to encourage the right loosy-goosy spirit, because you can play pretty much anything under these rules.

So why do you need new races?

The new races turn out to be various categories of Furry.  One humanoid fox race, TWO humanoid cat races (one anthropomorphic cat, the other human-with-cat-ears-and-tail, an oddly popular image in Japanese cartoons) and grumpy-old-man goldfish.  Okay, the goldfish are cool.

(Sidenote: In my view there's a substantial difference between traditional funny animals (Uncle Scrooge etc.) and the whole furry thing.  Uncle Scrooge is really a human disguised as a duck for a practical cartooning reason: cartooning is in part about abstraction, and by giving Scrooge a duck bill and a ducklike stance he's abstracted far away from any human appearance.  So you can't judge him by his looks.  You have to evaluate his deeds and words.  So it is with most funny animals; they're just people whom we must judge by their behavior, since their appearances don't reveal much about them.

With furry art, though, the duck bill or the squirrel tail is the whole point.  These characteristics are fetishistic, not always in a sexual sense, but certainly in a broader meaning of the word "fetish."  And people have a right to their fetishes, even if they ick me out (and furry icks me out to an illogical extent). but I love cartoon animals while disliking anything forthrightly furverted. )

I don't mind a'tall that some people take their TFOS with a side of Furry.  To thine own self be true; I always used this kind of game to address my heart's yearnings, so why shouldn't furries?  But I'm a little irked by the way furry stuff permeates The Landing, not because I don't like furry stuff, but because I don't like the attempt to encroach on the freedom of the original game's premises.  The nature of TFOS is to allow for any kind of character, but the nature of The Landing is to mandate specific kinds of character: the kinds The Landing's creators enjoy.  In this sense TFOS is small-l liberal and/or libertarian, while The Landing is small-c conservative.  The former gives unfettered permission to Do Your Thing, while the latter wants you to Do The Author's Thing; it tries to corral you into a rigidly defined set of values and fetishes (and fetishes are usually rigorous in their rigid definition.)

Anyway, I'm going to grad school as part of my ongoing (in part successful) efforts to have good life experience directly instead of mediating life through entertainment.