Mechanics, Lady Gaga, and Missing the Forest…

This post inspired by: a post on racism (fantasy) at KORPG and my own inner “Little Monster.”

Now, let me start by saying that I’m a huge Lady Gaga fan. The Fame Monster is a great little album and one of my favorite things to listen to, but I don’t like to watch Lady Gaga videos. It’s weird because she’s such an interesting and engaging performer. I like her live performances sometimes — like the ones from the award shows or talk shows she appears on. Her stage show, maybe not so much. The reason — as much as I love her music, and as much as I think her songs are underrated — is that I think her lyrics can get lost in a lot of the “what the **** is that thing on her head?!? mentality surrounding her “persona.” I mean, like I said, I think she’s an earnest and engaging performer and I think her music could stand on its own. But she’s not really Lady Gaga unless she’s doing the whole schtick, right? I mean, what’s Lady Gaga without her meat dresses, caution-tape bondage gear, and telephone hats? She’s just a girl with a great voice and something inside her she wants to let out…

So, Lady Gaga is only Lady Gaga if it comes with all the trappings, right? I mean, as much as I love the idea, I don’t see Lady Gaga doing quiet little “unplugged” performances someday once the glitz and glam wear off, do you?

But what does that have to do with the KORPG post and gaming in general? That’s easy, it’s all about the trappings. I agree with Kevin (I hope that’s right) that I don’t know that we need every race to have these predetermined sets of traits, built in level-limits, and (sometimes) negative and positive traits that funnel them into certain choice paths easier than others. I get that. But there is a reason it seems to happen.

I remember reading somewhere (no idea where now) back in the early stages of 4E that the idea with racial design was to make it mechanically meaningful that if you play a dwarf your character feels like a D&D Dwarf. That is, that you are rewarded for choosing a dwarf by the very fact that your character will actually live up to a certain “dwarfiness.” Now, 4E’s definition of a dwarf may not be your definition, so maybe that’s a problem for you — but a dwarf has certain characteristics that make it a dwarf in 4E, and now you have them too.

After all, if a dwarf was a dwarf in name only, then what makes him any different than a human of the same class? (this idea is brought up in the other post as well). It’s the trappings, right? This is a surprisingly “story-game/Wickian” idea that the mechanics need to reflect the reality for a game like 4E that is often accused of being a board/video game in disguise. But there it is.

Now, I see this school of thought and I think — you know, maybe I don’t need all that stuff — maybe I’m happy calling my PC a dwarf, playing them like a dwarf and letting the mechanics do other stuff while I have fun being a dwarf… I mean, I once played a half-demon crusader back in 2E D&D with no rules at all to support that, it was pure fluff, but still super fun. But for some, that’s not going to sit right. Those players want that dwarf to have something mechanical to back up their dwarfing and no amount of pure RP is going to make up for the fact that even though they are supposed to be tough children of the mountain, they still rolled a 6 for their CON score and don’t feel like a dwarf at all in play. And in my career as a gamer I have been on both sides of this divide and felt strongly both ways at different times.

Personally, I like a little balance there — and I do think that sometimes mechanics inhibit play — but they can also encourage it and so shouldn’t be overlooked as potential sources of fun.

But I’d still love to see a Lady Gaga video that was more about the music than the spectacle.

Thanks for reading.

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4 responses

  1. Hmm interesting… I never thought anyone would have ever brought up me and Lady Gaga in the same blog post.

    That said, you’re exactly right that the nature of racial benefits and penalties is thematic. Which I also find surprising considering my biggest argument about 4E is that it’s too little a RPG yet here I am advocating for the removal of some theme from the game…

    My biggest issue is that adding racial benefits leads to possible logical gymnastics that aren’t necessary to the game as presented and should be left to the group to determine. Basically it’s offering Lady Gaga unplugged with the understood option of the listener/viewer adding any of her given accoutrements to the show.

    You did open my eyes to the fact that the inverse of the discussion, in that by removing the racial modifiers the dwarf becomes less of a dwarf, is not something I examined in my thinking.

    Perhaps some additional thought and a possible retraction/mea culpa are in order…

  2. I’m not so sure a mea culpa is necessary. I think you are correct — as far as it goes. I mean, your idea has merit. Strictly defining racial traits does create limits, but it does have another side as well, that’s all I was getting at.

    And hey, Lady Gaga and Kevin’s blog — it could be a hit!

  3. Sorry random side note: Actually, I could see Lady Gaga continuing in a more toned-down, possibly unplugged version of her act as the hype dies down. Stefani Germanotta is a talented musician who uses the media machine to get attention.

    Another random side note: If she played D&D, Lady Gaga would totally play a dwarf (she’s about the same height, anyway), and she would insist on playing up all the dwarfy racial traits because she was Born That Way.

  4. This may be one of my favorite comments… ever.

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