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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Behind The Mask: Why Am I Doing This?

Teaser image for Marvel Comics' next big "event"
Over at the fledgling Villains & Vigilantes-themed blog The Hero Alliance the other day, Tymothi Goss wrote an inspirational piece about an aspect of superhero roleplaying that I feel is often overlooked (it certainly was by me 'back in the day'): motivation.

What drives your character to pull on a Lycra outfit, a domino mask and a cape and beat up similarly attired bad guys?

Tymothi cited Captain America's patriotism, the Hulk's desire for solitude and Batman's quest for vengeance, but how many of us - and I am guilty as the next man - have roleplayed a superhero simply because we were playing a superhero roleplaying game?

Thinking back, the Acrobatic Flea had no deeper motivation for blasting supervillains than "it's fun". I enjoyed it as a player and never thought to give him any more nuanced character development beyond the fact that we were playing V&V therefore I would be a hero because it was "what you did".

I fear this 'flaw' in his backstory comes from the fact that the Flea was simply me as a teenager, as we were playing the core V&V "your character is you" rule. And honestly, I had no real motivation to be a superhero when I was a teenager.

I didn't come from a broken home, my parents weren't murdered by gangsters, I wasn't in the armed forces, I wasn't the last surviving member of an alien race - so if someone suddenly gifted me the ability to leap around like a human-flea, fire energy blasts from my hands and regenerate damage, I'd probably go out and have some fun with those powers!

In fact, it was probably just a twist of fate that the Acrobatic Flea didn't turn out to be a supervillain himself!

I mean, come on, you give any real teenager superpowers, you can't honestly expect him to become a paragon of virtue like Superman, can you? Have you seen Misfits?

Hopefully, when the Tuesday Knights get to sit round the table for our first V&V session next year and randomly generate their superheroic persona and backstory, I will think to ask them - of their characters - the simple question: "But why are you doing this?"

The 'ASBO 5' in costume - don't forget Misfits Christmas Special tomorrow (Sunday)

8 comments:

  1. I think "because its fun" is a valid reason. It's why I read comic books or watch sci-fi TV shows after all! Admittedly its not a very serious reason for an altruistic pursuit but it is a good reason for doing a lot of things.

    A good motivation can really make a character. In fact I would say it defines the character.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha ha - it's why I read comics, write a blog, collect action figures etc but "fun" certainly wouldn't drive me to don a mask and patrol the streets as a 'real' superhero ;-)

    And that's what I'm trying to get at here. Looking back I'm not sure any of our characters (Steve's Silverfist; Pete's Hurricane; or Nick's self-titled hero) ever gave any thought as to why we were superheroes. We were teenagers playing V&V and so, ipso facto, we were superheroes.

    I just think we missed a trick (but we were young) to act some more depth, sub-plot fodder and character development to our heroes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Still, going out and being a superhero for fun is still a valid motivation. Not so much in the real world, perhaps. But in a world where there are already superheroes in colourful costumes on the TV and in the news (and so it's acceptable), when a teen gets superpowers he/she may decide to go out and join them just because it's fun and exciting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh yes, definitely. It certainly didn't hold any of us back in our games. However, as we get older we probably need more motivation - or we'd just stay at home and use our powers around the house and to improve our work environment ;)

    (I can think of at least one of my old bosses who would have benefited from a power blast to the head!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fun (or as DCH used to call it, Thrill of Adventure) is perfectly reasonable in a culture where there are already superheroes in the media. Most superhero motivations work with a minimum of background, really, because the trigger is usually something that would never happen in real life: Gaining super-powers.

    You've never been tempted to put on a mask and fight crime in large part because the opportunity isn't there. An Upholder of the Good (Superman) would be so altruistic, he couldn't help but use powers for the benefit of mankind. Responsibility of Power (Spider-Man) is a great motivation for someone who might not be all that altruistic until powers upend his or her life. You have powers now, in a culture where superheroes do exist, won't you feel the need to become one? It would be perfectly natural in such a world.

    As for heroes with no powers, they might still feel their skills should be used for good, but there's a reason many of them Seek Vengeance. They have a more personal motivation for getting into the game.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for that Siskoid - very interesting. Perhaps I need to draw up a list of "motivation" bullet points for the Tuesday Knights? Have to hunt down my old copy of DC Heroes.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Off the top of my head, the heroic motivations are:
    Upholding the Good
    Responsibility of Power
    Seeking Justice
    Unwanted Power
    Thrill of Adventure

    The villains go for:
    Power Lust
    Nihilist
    Psychopath
    Mercenary
    Thrill Seeker

    ReplyDelete

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