Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Playing with the genre tropes

First of all, I want to point out that I see Athanor playing off planetary romance novels the same way that D&D has always played off heroic fantasy — I'm not slavishly reproducing the source material and am, in fact, often going a different direction from the original source genre. It is, however, the foundation for what I am doing. I like playing with the genre for many reasons: dislike for the colonialist sentimentality of the original works, a desire to allow for rip-roaring picaresque anti-hero activity that I think is generally typical of the gaming groups I have known, and a desire to loosen the reigns of genre enforcement to allow players to make the game their own. But I like to at least give some nods to what I think of as key tropes of the genre.

One of the things I think of with planetary romance is The Princess. Now, in my head, the archetypal Princess is, of course, Dejah Thoris. (And for the record, in my head she is either drawn by Frazetta or appears as a red-skinned naked Salma Hayek. Both of which I'm sure you can find pictures of on the Internet. I'll wait here while you search for them on Google.) The Princess figure even appears in all sorts of pastiches of the literature, and is central to the genre. The courtly love trappings of the relationship with Our Hero, her frequent kidnapping/departure/maguffinish disappearances drive Our Hero to go out and Do Heroic Stuff in Her Name.

But frankly, much of this really bugs me. The sexist overtones, the cowering women with moments of bravery before becoming frail little flowers all speak of a sort of boring exploitation that I find distasteful. After all, if we are going to have exploitation, let's be more interesting about it and less invested in a sort of retro-Victorian nonsense. It almost wants me to see somebody do a planetary romance with a female heroine rescuing her useless male prince (I mean, come on someone has to have done this, right? If only in some sort of fanfic?)

So I want the possiblity of romance, and doing things to impress beloveds and allow for beloveds to be the impetus for adventure. I like that. Hell, I'm cool with half-naked eye candy popping up along the way, and the occassional damsel in distress. I like the idea of rivalries for the hand of someone.

But boring women who just show up to faint and get rescued bore me. As does the hot-headed, independent woman who, once you get past her fiery nature, is just a wilting flower. (Though if you're playing an Earth woman character, maybe I can have a red-skinned Zamoran prince who constantly gets kidnapped fall in love with you and pursue your hand. That might be fun.) I'm more likely to throw in difficult to woo women in positions of power, warriors, criminals, schemers, foils, and ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses.

However, I don't want to create a race of Joss-Whedonish superwomen on Athanor. Just make them less set dressing and more interesting in their own right.

A nod to the original, if you will, but with my own sensibilities.