03 January 2011

With Great Power. . .

I am trying valiantly to get back into the swing of things.  I am a creature of habit, of routine and, as much as I enjoy breaks from work and spending time with the family, falling out of one routine and into another means things that need to be maintained (like the blog) aren't as kept up as they need to be.  Thus, the lack of activity here.  To get going again, here's a short post inspired by, of all things, The Backyardagains.

The Backyardagains is a kids show where four anthropomorphic animals get together and play pretend in their backyards.  It's my favorite show that my three-year-old watches, followed very closely by Curious George.  It's cute, clever, and features lots of nods to geek pop culture that I appreciate.  In one recently watched episode, the hippopotamus pretended she was a newspaper photographer who was also a superhero, with appropriate nods to both Superman and Spider-Man. 

This got me wondering -- what if Peter Parker never became Spider-Man?  He still gets bitten by the spider, but for whatever reason, he has no inclination to put on tights and save anyone.  Nor, say, does he have any inclination to put on tights and make a profit (whether from wrestling or robbing banks).  Instead, his inclination is to just figure out his new abilities and use them in the context of his normal life as best he can.  Peter just becomes a good athlete, an excellent photographer (since he can climb walls), a solider, or a cop.

I realize that Peter's decision to become Spider-Man is the result of his failure to intervene to stop the robber that kills Uncle Ben, but that decision only makes sense in the context of a world where being a "super-hero" is an option.  I guess I am trying to explore a line of thought where "hey, I could put on a mask and fight crime!" just doesn't occur to Peter Parker.  If you think about it, that's a really odd angle to pursue, even if you realize that you have great responsibility with your great power.  It's much less odd once we see that Peter lives in a world where plenty of people chose the "super-hero" path, so for the purposes of the thought experiment we can say Peter doesn't see Captain America in action or walk past the Baxter Building on his way to work at the Bugle.

I've never played any significant amount of supers games, but this may be an interesting thread to play with within the context of a game.  One player has powers, no one else does, and part of the conflict comes from figuring out what those powers mean in the context of the world.

Hmmm. . . that sort of sounds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, at least before we found out that everyone else is a wizard or a werewolf or something.

3 comments:

  1. I ran a long running solo campaign using Marvel Superheroes back in the late 80s that was all about a hero getting his powers and coming to grips with how it changed his wife. I would say this was one of my first forays into something more meaningful that a standard old dungeon romp. The character started with no powers, had the old cliche (see? I was destined to play Risus!) accident which made him into a hero...then he went about learning to be a hero, even killing a badguy as he lost control of his power in a fight. Was probably one of the best games I ever ran.

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  2. Love the Backyardigans but my boys aren't as into them as they used to be. My favorite was "Super Secret Super Spy", with tons of great Bond riffs and awesome pseudo-60s spy movie music.

    Anyway, I love the normal people get super powers thing. My first Vampire game was basically the scenario that you laid out. There were no costumed heroes in the world so that never occured to the characters. Instead, they had to deal with the consequences of having powers with some significant drawbacks (the whole "I'm a monster" thing).

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  3. "Super Secret Super Spy" featured my favorite line, as Pablo is strapped to a table a la Goldfinger:

    "Do you expect me to talk?"
    "No, Mr. Spy. I expect you to laugh!"

    Then a giant hand descends from the ceiling and tickles Pablo.

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