Saturday, March 4, 2017

My Life in Gaming & Fandom: The Conflicting Wants IPs Face in Transmedia Business

I have some sympathy for people like Dave Filoni, Pablo Hidalgo, and others working on popular fiction franchises that have signficant fanbases in different hobby subsets. I'm using Star Wars as an example, but this applies just as much to Star Trek, Macross, Gundam, Forgotten Realms, etc. so this is not specific to Uncle George's cultural behemoth at all.

When a property becomes popular with two segments with very different sensibilities--gamers and storytellers, for example--those in charge will soon face fan requests expressing those very different priorities and it's still the case now that those in charge do fail to property identify what segment they're dealing with.

Requests for technical details tend to favor those into some form of wargaming or role-playing, because the salient qualities of both hobbies involve knowing the exact capabilities of the resources at your disposal vs. that of your opposition. Knowing how many fighters fit into a Star Destroyer, the limitations of a Force user's powers, how the Holonet works- all this is far more important and relevant to a gamer than a storyteller.

Storytellers care more about relationships, and not just personal ones; institutions can be (and often are) characters in their own right. Stories require the potential for comedy, drama, or both and that means the relationships between the parties involved is important. Requests for information about family, love interests, how this guy thinks of that guy, etc. are far more important for storytelling than gaming.

Note that I say "more important"; it's a matter of priority, not utility. When the Yamato get damaged in action against Gamilas, remembering what got damaged and where it is on the ship is a bothersome bit of bitchwork for a storyteller because that continuity constricts the writer's dramatic options and getting that wrong will damage the work if it's not well concealed- and it rarely is. Storytellers care about the impact of events upon the characters that they love, or hate, and such details matter only insofar as it reveals character or advances the plot.

That matters a hell of a lot more in gaming scenarios. The opposition cannot be counted on to conveniently ignore noticeable damage until convenient for the plot. Narrative function is irrelevant, and short-circuiting dramatic or comedic tropes because it is tactically or strategically advantageous to do so is the norm. (And you can see this lack of concern in storytelling works that fail to consider such things properly to maintain verisimilitude.) Believable conflict is not governed by the needs of a plot, especially in fiction.

At least we're finally recognizing that this is indeed a thing, and the long years of denial are finally beginning to wane; as we go forward, we're going to see more savvy IP managers and teams make lemonade of this and turn it to their benefit. Lucasfilm is one group looking to do so, as their actions show, and in Japan we can count on this sensibility coming forward with generational turnover expanding upon existing expertise. If there is any opportunity to be had, it's in those now making new IP seizing on this fact to both expand their reach and cement the loyalty of that audience by knowing whom to satisfy and how.

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