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Fan Service

This is a topic that applies to all writing, but I’m going to come to it from the perspective of game design.  It’s a topic that we’ve discussed a lot in our New Mexico writing circle.  When is fan service just  mere pandering?  Should a writer ever consider fan service when creating their story?  Do some genres require more fan service than others?

First off, fan service is not a bad thing.  It falls under that whole — “a writer’s obligation is to entertain their reader” thing that I feel very strongly about.

And one of the cardinal rules of fan service is don’t tell the fans that their commitment to your world and your characters didn’t mean anything because you’re not as equally committed.

Why am I going on this little rant now?  Because I was reading up on Dragon Age 2, and discovered that they are redesigning the elves.  Which just infuriated me.  Now, I was hanging in there when they told me the Qunari now had horns, but extra-special Qunari don’t have horns.  Okay, so Sten didn’t have horns, and none of the mercs I met in the game had horns, but maybe they don’t send the horny guys out of the homeland.

But now I find out they are changing the elves.  My favorite character is a Dalish elf.  I love this character.  I have played him through Origins, Awakenings, Golems and Witch Hunt.  Because I’m a writer and a frustrated actor I have a role player’s connection to this game, this character and the world.  I know Eolas’s place in the world, I’ve made up stories about what happened after the events presented in the game because of course I have — I’m a writer.  Now the designers are telling me that the rules are changing, the world is shifting under me, and it’s pissing me off!

Dragon Age first drew me in with the depth of world building.  Ferelden has become real to me, the history has weight and substance.  In short I have committed to this world the same way I committed to Middle Earth, or the world of HAVE SPACESUIT, or the talking animals in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.  I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football while Lucy snatches it away.  Whether intensional or not I feel like the designers are laughing at me for engaging so deeply in their world.

When you add this to the fact that I will be forced to play a human in Dragon Age 2 I find myself losing all interest in the game.  In short it’s a failure of fan service.  The designers either didn’t realize or don’t care what made their game great.

So, now that I’ve moaned about Dragon Age, let me try to talk about fan service in writing.  Jim Butcher is a writer who is doing great fan service.  I really like Harry Dresden.  I’ve now read six or seven of the books, and I look forward to each new book.  Because I know Harry is a bit of a sap about being knight errant toward women whether they need errantry or not.  I love his pixie/fairy house cleaning crew.  I love his need for family and how he has created a family out of various flotsam and jetsam of humanity.  Now, if in the next book Harry suddenly decided to move to south Florida and become an alcoholic, and abandon his friends I would feel betrayed.  I would probably stop reading the books.  I might hang in to see if this was some strange aberration, but if it didn’t get corrected in the next book I would be gone.

If I were sitting down to write a high fantasy I would think about what really successful high fantasies have in common.  I would do the same with a space opera.  I would analyze what makes me love these books, and what I would want to see in a book I read.  Can this make a writer feel trapped?  Yes, a little which is why you have to find that unique twist that keeps you, as the creator, interested.  But what you can’t do is show contempt for the people who have come to love your world and your characters just because you may be bored with them.  That is not okay, and it’s a sure path to losing your readership (or players.) 

Grump.

 

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