Saturday, August 01, 2009

Picking apart space opera....

Last night was a marathon of file copying in the early evening, then a late-night session looking over the Vehicles section. I cleared up a few disagreements between gauss rifle sources in two separate writeups, and then checked the email.

No one has reported in, but that is not surprising, as weekends are pretty slow. What caught my eye was a message from Classic telling me I had received a response to my comment on one of their forum threads.

Apparently the fellow starting the thread had read a bit of fluff on a planet which was (improbably) capable of supporting Terran-style life while orbiting a binary star system. He allowed for the suspension of disbelief, but wanted to know what real science lay behind it. Several people chimed in, including the redoubtable Cray, for a lively and learned discussion that ran on for about fifty posts before I came along.

I suggested that maybe it was simply a case of the writer making stuff up. Perhaps he was wrong and no such thing could exist in the real world. It was written for a space opera, after all.

The thread’s originator did not care for my comment at all.

He asked if I had even bothered to read his opening post before weighing in, or perhaps I had and just ignored the request for ‘real science’ to say my piece anyhow.

I responded that the whole point was that that planet did not have to make perfect sense, that it probably couldn’t be explained by real-world science. I even pointed out that it was a bit odd that, according to the actual text, 31st century scientists were “puzzled by the planet’s existence” while it appeared that several 21st century forum watchers clearly were not.

I realize some people cannot enjoy a game unless it contains a certain amount of the real world - witness my friend Ross, who has been a fantasy roleplayer for thirty years but cannot bring himself to play ‘giant robots’ with my son and I for a single afternoon because they ‘just don’t make sense’ in any modern military context. Of course they don’t! It’s a game and a fictional setting. Sometimes I think folks take it too far.

Most of the time when I visit a particular thread filled brimful and overflowing with ’rational’ explanations for make-believe stories and settings, it’s to remind folks that the game does NOT have to toe the line scientifically (although it is true that most BT writers try their best to do so). The game and its cornucopia of fiction are meant to be enjoyed, not picked to pieces on a forum. There is a line you really should not cross.

Considering the realistic ranges for weapons which are meant to be played on a tabletop, the diameter and bore size of imaginary weapons a thousand years from now, the actual population of a given planet versus what the writers state – the discussions, arguments, complaints and insults go on without end. You can hear the catgirls yowling in the next zipcode as every cherished gaming/space opera cliché is pulled to pieces in the name of ‘realism’. I myself have been subjected to this merciless pecking. At times, especially when Cray is involved, I back down and learn a thing or two. He knows quite a lot. But for the rest, I consider the source.

(Paint It Pink will probably cut me a new one for the following statements, but I stand by them. And those statements?)

Whenever you get criticism from other forum members, take a hard look at the number of posts *per day* the more critical members of the forum have to their credit. The higher that number, the less value I assign their criticism. I clicked over and took a look at the fellow who posted that initial question I just discussed. He has a little over seven posts per day to his name. And he joined the board back in 2004. Think about that. Seven posts every single day for the past five years. Does that sound like someone who spends a lot of time on forums? I’d bet five bucks he appears on other forums as well.

I don’t expect a lot of balance from that kind of forum member, because by my lights they’re putting too much time into the forum experience and not enough time into life, the game and everything else. Your mileage may vary and it’s always possible the individual involved is a prolific writer as well as a model gamer, husband and father. But really, what kind of person focuses on discussing the real-science aspect of a piece of science-fiction while apparently ignoring the fact that it was written as fiction?

In my example, the fluff writer could have been completely ignorant of the properties of binary star systems. He could have gotten the idea from Popular Science or Discover magazine. He could, for all I know, have a college degree in celestial mechanics. The point is, after a certain point it simply does not matter.

It’s *fiction*, dammit.

Stop picking at it.

And if you do pick at it, expect someone like me to come along and occasionally dump a bucket of real world on the conversation.



Paint it Pink said...

Hey, what did I do to make you think I would rip you a new one? Most of what you said in this post makes perfect sense to me.

Steven Satak said...

Oh, you know. You have a rep for being fierce, 'Fear the Pink' is a byword on the forums.

Seriously, I thought you might object to my categorizing the grognards on the boards. It is pigeonholing, true, but useful.


skiltao said...

Weapons range & calibre can get tiresome, I'll give you that, but occasionally even those topics have a reasonable use. One problem I have noticed in the FASAnomic threads is that folk sometimes mistake the word "realism" for "internal consistency" - only one of the two is important for fiction/role-playing.

Now... it is possible to enjoy joking about Victor Steiner-Davion's height. Though the jokes are framed in terms of the BattleTech Universe, the pleasure comes from the wit and fabrications of whoever is joining in the joke, *not* from any resemblance to the game or authorial intent; enjoyment of the joke does not necessarily depend on the game, and enjoyment of the game does not necessarily depend on the joke. Is it impossible that the OP's enjoyment of BattleTech and his enjoyment of science are similarly unconnected?

PS- Given that Cray (and other stalwarts of both reason and common sense) hover around eight posts per day, that seems like an unreliable rubric.
PPS- I suspect that "Fear the Pink" refers to the poster known as "Falchion."

Steven Satak said...

You are right about the business of 'internal consistency'. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy the game myself. Even when the laws of physics are suspended in whole or part, they are uniformly suspended for all aspects of the game.

No, I'm not knocking someone's enjoyment of the sciences via the game. Many hobbies I have now were entered through a door labeled 'BattleTech'. What I am stating is that while your enjoyment of science might be enhanced or entered or enabled by the game (or whatever), it's a lot like taking your eyes out of your head to examine your eyes. You've reached a point where to ask that final series of questions is fatal to the entire previous discussion.

The Rubric holds, mon ami, because I triangulate - how does Cray carry himself, how much does he appear to know, how outgoing is he away from the boards, how prolific is he in other pursuits? I have more than one source of experience with him. So yes, he is an exception, an exceptional exception, and frankly, I want to be like him when I grow up.

Everyone else is subject to the same standard. (Please don't call it a rubric, the local teachers at my son's school have ruined that word for any constructive use.

Pink/Falchion .... they both have big teeth.


skiltao said...

Though the final series of questions may be fatal *to you*, it may not be fatal for other folk who (following your simile) have two heads.

Paint it Pink said...

Hey, I'm like a total pussycat, playful and kitten like, with sharp claws, but no intent to harm.

Paint it Pink said...

Oh yeah, while I may not like the term Grognard applied to me, I totally respect your use of it. JIC you had any doubts?

Steven Satak said...

Eh, no offense meant. To be honest, the last time I heard it was in a Dickens novel. Now folks use it to refer to any member of the 'old guard' in a given gaming system ('we had to color in our own die pips and we LIKED it!').

Now that is actually a good thing - it implies there is a 'new guard', a set of fresh faces to replace our lined features when the time comes. It won't be long, either. Heck, I turn fifty next year.