Cheating to Do Better

Powers are incredibly liberating in fiction and games. they are so easy to switch focus to that they can take the heavy lifting away from other parts of the story.

This is double edged. Done poorly, it allows a certain amount of laziness, by making the story or play about the powers[1]. The result can be flashy and dull, and is probably best illustrated by the historical array of really terrible superhero movies which didn’t bother being good movies because the superhero was enough to carry it.

But done well, it’s kind of amazing, because the weirdness of the super-ness demands a certain amount of suspensions of disbelief from the outset, so if you just accept that you are telling a story with weirdness and rough edges then you can own that. It reduces the need to sand down the things that might make characters and interactions interesting in favor of making them “accessible”.

This is somewhat exemplified by the recent trend of better supers movies. They own their core criticism. Rather than try to sell the audience on supers stories, they just accept that they are not making movies for that audience, and concentrate on making a story that’s awesome for people willing to get past that original threshold.

There are lessons here in terms of the value of barriers and of knowing when not to seek an audience, and they’re worth discussing, but the big lesson for me here is that going over the top is not an excuse to do a half assed job.


  1. Importantly, almost any mechanical engagement with a system might be considered “powers” in this context.  ↩

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