Digital Beard Stroking:Trope-dition!


As we hurtle from post-election ennui/consternation/rage/gloating/inebriation into the inebriation/gloating/rage/consternation/ennui of the holiday season and the host of traditions that come with it.  This seems like a good time to talk about Traditions.  Of course, we have the traditional meals with all the gathering and family and arguments, etc., but we have lots more subtle traditions in our favorite media.

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Tradition! Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way now.

While we love our novel stories and new ideas, there is also a certain amount of context and story-telling framework that the creators have to follow in order to effectively convey the story.  Breaking out of this can alienate people and make them uncomfortable just as much as following in historical footsteps can be boring and trite.  Walking this fine line only gets trickier as time moves on and the traditions and foundations grow more sophisticated with each groundbreaking cultural instance.  Going back to some of the original comic books, the cultural base upon which they were building was admittedly “Everything in human history up until now”, but compared to the collection of tropes, assumptions and inside jokes that make up the comic book world now, it forced them to establish a lot of the things that are taken for granted now.  Think on it, someone had to invent the speech bubble at one point.  Check out the list of tropes for Sequential Art here (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ComicBookTropes ) and see what I mean, but do so at your own risk as you will almost certainly lose several hours of your life there.

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Trope-ception: imagine a crossover with alternate universes and various people taking up various mantles as well as gender-bending and nobody ever dies for real. Wait…

Speaking of video games, there are plenty of examples of these traditions that we are used to without even thinking about them.  An easy example is “a tutorial level where the game attempts to pander to novices while not completely insulting veterans”.  There was a time when this was unheard of and you simply had to learn how the game worked by trying stuff and losing a lot.  One of my favorite for that is the original Bomberman, where your first attempt to do anything will almost certainly kill you.  Other types of traditions are a bit more subtle.  Take, for example, the first-person perspective.  This was a very new and scary concept when it first came out and it caused no small amount of concern that games became too immersive/murder-inducing for the children.  Nowadays, it’s a commonplace perspective for games of all variety, not just murder-themed-hat-simulators.  Games like Portal or even Viscera Cleanup Detail make use of it without any actual weapons.  One more example of one that’s so deeply ingrained that we have a hard time realizing it’s there: The title screen.  Every game has a title screen and a menu where you select “start” or similar.  It’s so standard that we never give it another thought.  Unless you skip that and use that manipulation and inversion of the tradition to create a unique experience.  Check out “There is no game” for Android, iOS and web.  It’s a great little piece of art that subverts that concept (Not unlike “YOLO”, which I spoke of previously.  It also inverted some traditions of “you get more than one life” and “you can restart to play again”).

Even the very story concepts that bind all our favorite media together can be reduced to a series of tropes and simple archetypes.  Christopher Booker wrote a book that covered The Seven Basic Plots and describes the basic structures of all common stories.  When you start to realize what those tropes are, then they start to leap out at you everywhere.  It can remove the magic for some, or provide an amusing insight for others.

I suggest you be in the latter, lest you lose all interest in traditional stories and have to delve into some weird post-Sartre meta-nihilism just to avoid the trite crap.

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Do you want to become these guys? Do you?

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