Roll With It? I Don’t Think So…
This morning on Facebook I made a comment about Dungeon Siege 3 not surviving “fridge logic” by apparently failing at math and biology. A friend of mine commented on it, saying I shouldn’t try to “inject logic in a world where you accept the existence of magic, dragons, [etc]…” and that I should “just roll with it.”
Now, I can see where he was coming from, being a fan of fantasy and a DM for over 20 years. However, his response made my brain throw the rant switch, which led to today’s post.
When you’re writing speculative fiction, be it fantasy, SF or horror, you have to be cognizant of one simple fact: the world has rules. Just like D&D has rules on careers (classes), magic, monsters, and the like, the setting of a work has rules on magic/tech, monsters/aliens and so forth. They may not be conveniently codified, but they exist. When it comes to establishing the setting and the more fantastic elements of a story, writers need to understand a very simple rule:
The rules for your setting default to the rules of reality when no precedent is set.
I have a second rule that complements that:
If you break the default rules without precedent, you damn well better make sense doing it, or someone will call bullshit.
Case in point, in the television series Game of Thrones when Khal Drogo has had enough of Viserys Targareyn’s shit, he has a slave empty a stew pot that’s been sitting on a cook fire all day. Drogo tosses a belt made of gold medallions in the pot, watches it melt, then pours the molten metal on Viserys’s head. It’s a cool scene, save for one problem.
Gold melts at 1067 degrees Celsius. Now iron melts at about 1500 degrees, but that’s not the point. The standard cook fire gets up to about 240. It can go up to about 600 degrees if you work it, maybe even enclose it so the combustion is more effective, but the point is that an open cook fire is not sufficient enough to melt gold.*
It was a point I brought up on a message board, and someone played the “It’s fantasy, roll with it card.” Well, no, I don’t have to roll with it. I called bullshit for a reason: somebody didn’t do their homework and got sloppy.
Writers, you may be working in speculative fiction, but you still have to do your homework and that includes research into some very basic things, like the melting point of gold. By comparison, if a first time author of a mystery novel makes a very blatant mistake about firearms, there’s a good chance that the reading community won’t be picking that author’s next book.** Basic mistakes undermine a writer’s credibility and weaken the work as a whole — doesn’t matter if it’s a book, movie or video game, miss a small detail and it’ll come back to bite you.
Now at this point some people reading this might still be tempted to say, “But Mike, it’s fantasy!” If you’re a writer, and this is your defense of a blatant, basic error I point out to you in a workshop/critique session then you are telling me:
1) You didn’t do your homework.
2) You don’t want to do your homework.
3) I don’t need to read any further to know what weak-ass writer you are.
In the case with Dungeon Siege 3, an NPC was telling me about the protagonist’s deposed Queen Roslyn, who’s fighting to get her throne back after the king died thirty years ago and the game’s villain started a rebellion that ousted the legendary 10th Legion. He said, “she should be 17 now, the last surviving heir.”
This is the thought process that followed:
1) My immediate association with the word “heir” is “eldest surviving offspring or sibling.”
2) Roslyn was born 13 years after the King died.
3) What the hell?
That led to my comment on Facebook. Now, I later found out via Wikipedia that Roslyn is the deceased King’s granddaughter, which is okay — I can see how things might have fallen to her, given that the protagonist’s own father died during the years the followed the revolution. That I had to look it up on Wikipedia says that the game failed to convey the information to me — there may be more than one reason for that, but that’s for another time.
As I said, my friend told me to roll with it.
And let’s just bypass the standard “no” escalation and go straight to “fuck, no”. Not when I paid $60 for a game that has so far been unimpressive and failed to meet expectations based on the previous two games. If I see crappy writing in a $7 paperback, I’m going to call bullshit. Why should I ease up on a fantasy CRPG? Why should I be silent when I already gave my money to the writer/game designer? I’m not going to be able to get a refund. Best I can do is sell back the title for store credit.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect pure excellence in any game I play or book I read. I just expect it to carry it’s own weight without tripping over its feet. It should also meet some level of expectation I have for the work — that’s something we’ll discuss on Wednesday.
*It should be noted that in the novel, Martin makes a point of the gold getting soft and losing some of it’s form, but not becoming liquid. Either way, it’s still enough to cook a man’s brain when you have the whole pot plunked on your head like a hat.
** One reason I threw The DaVinci Code across the room at page 27 was because I realized the author couldn’t tell a semi-automatic pistol from a revolver.