a Scott Pilgrim / RPGs post while there's still time

In D&D 4E, there’s a clear shift in gameplay style once you move from freeplay to combat: initiative order, structured turn, status effects to track, and the use of various powers. This is understandably criticized as putting some layers of separation between the player and the narrative (in the process of making a more engaging game).

However: Scott Pilgrim: the movie / comic / game.

Some of us have an affinity for a certain slice of video game culture (Final Fantasy alone is a behemoth in the canon), and we’re used to this abrupt juxtaposition between the game and the narrative. In fact, the aesthetic tropes from this canon – zooming from the map view to combat view, combo attacks with your friends, powers that draw from some universe of impossible physics – can reference story tropes and narratives we remember and care about. This isn’t necessarily a problem to explain away; it may well be a feature.

The analogue is that, in the world of Scott Pilgrim, we don’t need to explain why bad guys explode into coins, why you can air-juggle an emo-pirate, or who is yelling “KO!” once you’ve proven your self-worth. These are acceptable pieces of narrative, and they can fit harmlessly alongside an adventure story, love story, or anything else.

Back in the 16-bit-D&D-game, I saw this to a delightful effect when people used the aspects of our shared game culture to add meaning to their in-game action. (A certain earthquake “shook the screen”; one character’s bard described the sprite’s animation to depict shock and concern.) I have no problem using retro-era sprites as my tokens in a game, and I have no problem mentioning that a monster is “flashing red”. This is simply a shared language, and for those who enjoy it, a rich one.

(Caveat: the 16-bit-D&D-game did not work out because the net gameplay style wasn’t what everyone wanted; however, the game aesthetics worked perfectly fine, so it still counts.)