RPG’s/designers that assert jumping the shark is cool

I wrote the following at the forge, basically about kewl moves – which seem to be the big excitement for some but seem incredibly vapid from my perspective. There’s another poster there (not in that thread) who really seems to have this “OMG, way of the kewl samurai means wow moves all the time and that’s fantastic!”. And it just seems so hollow, except that perhaps it all works cause you’d be afraid to disappoint such an excited fellow. I do keep a scientific view on it though – perhaps it does work somehow and I do not currently see it. But my current evidence indicates it’s hollow.

I use the old happy days ‘Fonzie jumps the shark’ example, because if there had been a moral context to it, it might have worked (though perhaps there was one – I tried to avoid watching the show when younger). But as it was, it was just shark jumping.

Anyway, I wrote the following with a bit of a rant at the end. What might be useful to readers is the suspension of disbelief trigger I describe. Also at a philisophical level, it might be useful reflection as well.


What I was saying is this stuff only works in the context of a greater story. For example in a movie, hero guy is getting beaten up while the girl is about to be raped. And were all like “OMG, hero guy!!1! Beat them! Don’t let her be raped! OMFG!” and then he pulls off this move and it busts ass and were like “OMG yes, that’d beat their asses!!!!1!! YES!”But you know why we think that? It’s not because it necessarily makes sense or is logical. It’s because were all so damn invested in the girl not being raped we will believe in any damn excuse for it not to happen! We will engage is super duper suspension of disbelief, if it means she avoids rape. Because if you start to think about it clinically, you start having to stomich that she’s just have been raped, with no mercy and no greater good that stopped it. And we don’t want to accept something like that! Inside ourselves we shout out at a moral level that should not happen – and when that special move occurs we grasp onto that as the reason why it would not. THAT’s why it works in the movies!

Now strip out that moral context – the hero’s being beaten up and…he’s just being beaten up. They’re not even gunna kill him. Do we believe his special move works?

That’s what you’ve got here with body of fire – special move with no moral context to initiate a suspension of disbelief. You might say that’s up to the GM to write the uber story – but really everybody already owns a game where it’s up to the GM in this particular way.

That’s as I understand the issues of design. Hope I’m not just dropping this on you, as it actually seems to be (from my perspective) a wider problem in game design, where people go “Oh yeah, and then we shot the monkey cannon and backflipped onto the flying whale and it was awwwwwesome!” and I really think are you guys just working yourselves up so you can say it worked? I mean, my god, if it stopped the poor blind girl being killed, that’s an awesome way to save that girl! But without some moral context, it’s just colour and movement. No, it is not awesome. If you can actually do a backflip in RL, I’m impressed – but that you just talked the backflip talk in game – no, not awesome.

3 thoughts on “RPG’s/designers that assert jumping the shark is cool

  1. I’ll just note that this doesn’t tie into what I’ve been discussing about infinite options. That was a question of what actually exists.

    This thread is just about suspension of disbelief and how without a trigger (a moral one in this case), you can’t just do cool stuff.

  2. Link to a contrasting opinion: http://chattydm.net/2008/12/16/chattys-reruns-the-rule-of-cool/ , http://chattydm.net/2009/01/01/the-rule-of-cool-takes-flak/ . Especially the latter post has a number of links to people disparaging said rule. I won’t take sides here, though I’ll say that personally I find it pleasurable to simply imagine certain kinds of fiction that might qualify as cool.

    (I’ll try to respond to the other posts, too, but it might take a while.)

  3. I’m not sure if that’s a contrasting opinion – I think he just got the idea the wrong way around. He thinks if it’s cool, it gets suspension of disbelief.

    The evidence I’ve given says if someone thinks its cool, it’s because suspension of disbelief already happened. SOD didn’t happen after a cool thing, SOD actually happens before a cool thing and is THE reason why it’s cool. You need SOD to make something cool, rather than you need something cool to make SOD.

    He thinks if you do cool stuff, you get SOD.

    But if it’s the other way around, that SOD comes before and cool and is actually the reason for cool, then he’s groping for the wrong thing to create SOD, as he doesn’t know where it comes from. Look at his examples

    Think combat on ice Bridges, negotiating the release of prisoners in a flooding underground prison, hopping from floating island to pieces of flying ruins in order to catch the thieves of the Star jewel of Radnia…

    He almost wrote the “monkey cannon backflip onto flying whale” in there, already.

    These things aren’t cool. The theif one is vaguely when you consider someone has been done wrong, and they are making it right in that particular way. The prisoners one is vaguely, because they might have been wrongfully imprisoned (but that’s seems a stretch even to suggest)

    Atleast in my mind hopping from floating islands to floating ruins is dead set boring (though if I did it in real life rather than just talked about it at the table, I’d find it exciting), until you add the spark that is making things right after something bad happened to an innocent. Then the whole thing seems cool to me.

    It’s that moral issue that triggers it.

    I tell you what, Tommi, write a cool situation you’ve heard of. I’ll add some moral issue behind it, afterward – then compare how you felt about it when you first wrote it, and then with the moral issue added. Then you can compare the contrast 🙂

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