Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

is a bit like old-school D&D. The makers finally realised that technology is more interesting when it goes wrong.

A lot of Spy films are about the thrill of watching people think very quickly in difficult situations. They are also about the pleasures of technology. Smooth, powerful toys that no-one else has.

But the toys are in conflict with the thinking. They erode each other. The writers need to go from one place to another very quickly, or they need a plot problem solved. So they invent a nice piece of technology to get it out of the way. Over time these pieces of technology add up until eventually no problems require thought or creative action, only tech.

In between doing the washing up I remember catching parts of an episode of Terra Nova. Terra Nova is Brannon Braga's boring 'Homesteaders in Prehistory' show. I was surprised because it looked like it was about to become interesting. A rock fell from the sky and with the power of bad science it destroyed all the technology in the settlement.

I was convinced that this would lead to some embodied dramatic actions on the part of the cast. Without their bullshit future-science they would have to think creatively and intelligently and make tough decisions.

Instead of this it turned out there was one machine left and it could fix all the other machines. So the whole show became about the cast waiting for a machine to work.

The makers of the Mission Impossible series (probably Brad Bird the director) have realised that technology is more interesting when it goes wrong, and that's what it does all through the film. Things are taken away from the cast and we get at least the illusion of interesting choices.

The gap between new and old editions of D&D is a little like this. People like toys. So they add more and more toys to the game. Eventually it becomes like a box of shiny plastic objects. It becomes unsatisfying and feels empty. So we take the toys away and begin again.

If we extend the lessons learnt from MI: Ghost Protocol to D&D we find two things.

One - Bullshit is more interesting when it doesn't work that when it does. It's also more interesting for the bullshit to be there in the first place and then to go wrong than for it to be taken away entirely. So maybe 5th edition should have exactly as much bullshit but more ways for it to go wrong.

Two - There is only one Mission Impossible film in which Tom Cruise is not either disavowed, turned against, betrayed by or excluded from his own agency. Its also the least interesting one of the films. So maybe games of D&D should begin with the players already having a lot of money and status and it being taken away from them*. Or being bodyguards for a Dragon and it going wrong. Of being thrown out of a dungeon. Or trying to escape a magical destiny in order to become a lowly swineherd.

(*I did have the idea that one of the starting options for a single player for my D&D game would be to have no skills, no equipment and no spells but to have about a million gold pieces on a cart and nothing else. It would change the whole nature of the game.)

This might be another example of the counter-stream, like in cyberpunk. In D&D (Old School) players are supposed to be greedy bastards. The game supports this. But if they are only greedy bastards and nothing else the game is quite uninteresting. So the game assumes there is a human element to the play that is not, and cannot be, covered by the rules. People will want to be heroes, not all the time, but a little. And this will naturally bring them into conflict with the games mechanic and that is part of what makes the game interesting.

I really need to think of a word or a term that describes the invisible unseen part of a game that assumes you will play against the described part of the rules, not by breaking them, or subverting them to win the game, but in that your natural humaness sort of pushes against the way the game makes you play and that this is a natural and expected part of play.

'Invisirules' is not a good name.

Someone German has probably already thought of this. But its probably one of those horrendous epic compound words. If any of my invisible non-existent readers know of it, please let me know.


  1. I was watching three men and a baby, and thinking how this applies aswell.
    Being made pre-internet, when Michael and Peter end up with a baby on their doorstep, they are lost. If they had the internet, they would simply use google to find out what to do. They get a book, but they need clarification, there are a lot of forums where they could find the answer to their problems. Peter calls his non-exclusive girlfriend, Rebecca (also Michael Wisemans wife from now and again) but she isn't interested in babies and has no idea.
    They also only have a first name for the babies mother, Sylvia. With Facebook it would be much easier to track her down, as they could contact other actors Jack has worked with through his friend list, and find out if anyone knows Sylvia.
    Jack would also have a mobile phone, and therefore be contactable himself.
    They would probably have found Sylvia within a day, and persuaded her to take Mary back.
    I'm not too sure how this would help with regards to the drugs thing.

  2. Thank you dear. Always good to know ore about the career of Steve Gutenberg