Sitcoms and Roleplaying Games
In today’s entertainment world, it seems we are flooded with a plethora of shows that seem to just run into each other via plots or ideas. These shows tend to be very unsuccessful and usually end within the pilot or the first or second season if they’re lucky. But then, there are those shows that seem to triumph over the rest, the ones that stick out, the ones you might have thought you would hate but would come to love. Situation Comedies or “Sitcoms” go best with this pattern, in a way, roleplaying games can follow suit. How does it relate? How do you make roleplaying games like sitcoms? Well there’s only one way to find out.
A situation comedy, often shortened to the portmanteau sitcom, is a genre of comedy that features characters sharing the same common environment, such as a home or workplace, with often humorous dialogue
Wikipedia, Sitcom. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitcom
So, How Do These Two Relate?
From launching your game to the continuous play by you and your members, it’s like a run of trial and error. Your characters are the cast and those who play and or read the game are your audience. In a way, as the aforementioned states, both run in the same way and can either succeed or fail in the same way, it’s just how you play it.
Games and Shows
Good examples for how everything coincides could be explained with two different examples you will find that can hit the nail on the head with games today like the 21 questions game online . The shows that we will use to compare with will be one that is still going strong eight seasons later, and one that died within it’s first season [and everyone is sure glad it did].
This show is one of many that can serve as the penultimate of modern television programs today that are famous within and without it’s country of origin, this being of course the United States. If you’re that person that doesn’t know of The Big Bang Theory [the show, duh]. It features the life of five geniuses that work at the local college in town [Cal Tech in Pasadena, California. Both are real locations] as well as the stereotypical “girl-next-door” who serves as the sweetheart for one of the protagonists. The show blends actual knowledge of physics and mathematics into it’s comedy, producing a very unique blend that gives laughs all around. This will serve as the example for our successful game and what you should think about doing.
If this show doesn’t ring a bell, don’t be surprised. This is an example of a rushed idea with a poor premise that really should’ve stayed away from television in the first place. Cavemen featured a cast of cavemen living together filled with horrible jokes that tried to blend together poor puns of evolution that just didn’t even prove useful. Although the show may not seem familiar to some, the characters might. This show derives from a series of commercials by Geico Insurance all going along the punchline “so easy a caveman can do it” which featured mostly the main protagonist in the show. Cavemen didn’t go past the first season and came no where close to a second, dying with poor ratings and critic reviews. This will serve as the example of what not to do with a roleplaying game.
Now How Are They Alike?
Pilots And Your First Post Are The Same From Here To Timbuktu
Yes they are, in a [very colloquial, US Southern States jargon] way. Think of your first post as your pilot. What you need to do is you need to appeal to the audience you made the game for and you need to follow a good plotline. It needs to reveal who is what and what is what and how things work while perfectly highlighting how the game works. Now granted, you don’t have a test audience or a board of producers to view your game/show, but you do have to sell it to your audience. The best way to do this is not just to explain what you do in your game, or how to do it, but why. The first post, your pilot, should be about why people should join your game. Take this as an opportunity to introduce your character(s) that may be essential.
Episodes and Posts Need To Make Sense To Your Plot
This should be a given. Really. Take an example, they needed to be blended well together with the plot and the story at hand. Canon or not. Now imagine that you were watching a sitcom, a favorite of yours. Jim is a scientist, but he’s stupid. He’s incredibly stupid. 2+2=Potato, Seminoles fan and all that jazz [Yes he made an American College Football reference, ᵍᵒ ᵏᶰᶦᵍʰᵗˢ ᵇᵗʷ] So why would he be a scientist and be dumb? Now, goofy is one thing, but that, no. Now let’s say Jim is a Horticulturist, suddenly he’s off on a trip to the moon. Why the hell would Jim need to go to the moon? PLANTS ARE DOWN HERE JIM, NOT UP THERE, WE TOLD YOU THIS LIKE A THOUSAND TIMES. What I’m trying to say through this rambling analogy is exactly what you see above. Did any of that make sense? No.
Characters Need to be Clear and Dynamic
And by this, I mean they need to go along with the story or at least have some sort of background that makes who they are clear. Take Big Bang Theory. Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard are scientists [and one engineer] who are geniuses in their field. They hang out, they’re friends, they’re smart, that makes sense. But then you may bring up a character like Penny. Well, Penny has a use too, she’s the hot girl next door who’s suppose to serve as Leonard’s love folly, and she was for a bit. Along with all of this, the characters were made clear to us who else they are. Take a look at Cavemen. The name is the premise of the show. They are Cavemen, they live in a nice house, the lead is the smartest one and usually the only one to make sense. Now, granted the show didn’t last too long so if characters were going to have back stories they didn’t have a chance. But, no matter what they lacked in one thing and excelled in another. They lacked a dynamic, the characters were concrete and would probably not change much for a while. They excelled in cliche without reason, such as dumb guy is dumb and smart guy is smart. So add dynamics to your character and make them entertaining!
You Don’t Make it For You, You Make it For Everybody
Imagine that you watched a show that was full of inside jokes that weren’t explained. Why the f*ck are they referencing cabbages so much? You find out that every joke in the show is an inside joke between the producers and it’s never explained to the audience. This show is most likely not going to end up with a second season. Why? Because only one or two people understood it, instead of everybody. People don’t make shows for themselves, they may make it for a target audience, but it’s not concentric around them. It needs to be made for everyone to have a hold in it, so everyone can be a part of it and no one is left out wondering why the f*ck Jim keeps referencing cabbages. Damn you Jim.
Sharks Are Not Meant to be Jumped
I’m going to go back to everything I just said and tie it all together. I’m also going to leave behind Cavemen for a second and bring up one sitcom, a more legendary sitcom. I’m going to use Happy Days as an example. Happy Days was a legendary sitcom that started in 1974 and ended in 1984, set in 1950’s and eventually 1960’s Milwaukee. Happy Days featured an arrange of famous characters such as Howard, Joanie, and of course, Arthur Fonzerelli, the Fonz. Now, this was the penultimate of sitcoms back in the day, until it jumped the shark. Now maybe you’ve heard of the term “Jump the Shark.” This means something went overboard and ruined everything about whatever it is. And the term actually comes from Happy Days. It all came from a series of episodes. The daughter Joanie gets kidnapped and they put up a ransom. The ransom is that the Fonz has to jump a tank of sharks on water skis. They did, and then it all went down hill for Happy Days. In fact, the only reason that happened apparently is that Henry Winkler, the Fonz, wanted to show off that he knew how to water ski. In short, the dynamic of the characters were ruined, the plot made no sense, nothing started to make sense, the entire storyline was just executed, and the show, ruined. How does this tie into you? Well, because you shouldn’t do it. Don’t jump sharks and don’t do something that is so uncharacteristically for your game.
How are they different?
You Don’t Run a TV Show
You End It When You Want
Producers and Directors have some control over the project, but then a huge corporate conglomerate has the final say. You however, you are independent. You and your audience/members can choose when it ends and how.
You Have More of a Say, or All of it
Like Dave says at the top of the homepage. You are in control of the story. The audience may have some pull in a TV show, but one person can’t call in and say “I don’t like Jim” and they remove him at the drop of a hat.
Final Thoughts For The Road
You [The GM] are the Producer
You make the calls and you make the shots, whether you listen to your audience or not is up to you. If you do, congrats, you get a Daytime Emmy, maybe even a Primetime. If you don’t, well I’d start looking for boxes to move the stuff out of your office that Kevin called dibs on.
As the Audience, What Do You Want?
You should have a pull in the game. Stay in contact with your GM and work with them if you have a problem. A lot of things can be solved with an email. Because after all, something drew you into that game. If it’s suddenly gone, what’s the point? I’m not saying you need to leave RIGHT when it changes, just stay in contact with people.
As Players, You are the Actors That Represent the Project
When people enter a game, they first thing they see are posts and characters. What are they going to read? Funny jokes? Serious Monologues? Descriptive scenes? Or, is it full of unclear nonsense? Does it have no plot? Is it littered with profanity or oddly descriptive and unnecessary sex scenes that have no place in the story? People may be looking at your game to see if it’s worth it. What will they think of it?
Sell It Instead Of Selling Out
Make it worthy for your audience! Make it worth the read! Make it so awesome that people outside of the game watch the front page for updates so they can read it.
Yeah, do that too.
You’re gonna go far kid, I promise it. There’s nothing for not trying but there’s a lot for trying. Do what you do best and make it awesome for you and your audience! Discuss your thoughts below!
I’m out for now, but I’ll see you guys later! Keep Calm and Keep Ongoing!
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