Genre and Storytelling as I Move Out of My Comfort Zone

As I look at running new types of Tabletop Roleplaying games, I am confronted by the fact that most of my creative storytelling work and experience is fairly comfined to the Fantasy genre. I’ve written, read, and played fairly extensively in it and all it’s offshoots, so I feel most comfortable working within that context. I’ve also dabbled in Science Fiction as well, as you can see in some of the writing I’ve posted here (most notably, of course, my Infrared Isolation series). I tend more toward near-future in my sci-fi reading and distant-future in my sci-fi gaming, but I feel like I’ve explored enough to work in the space in a very general sense. When you drill down into the specifics, though, I tend to feel a lot less comfortable and I’m being forced to confront that discomfort pretty broadly these days now that almost half the games I’m advocating to my players are Mech games.

I don’t really have a lot of expeirence with Mech stories aside from a few synopses of movies, the occasional half episode of Gundam something (couldn’t tell you which series they were from) glimpsed while sneakily watching cable TV at my grandparents’ house over two decades ago, and Gurren Lagann. Which, you know, paints a pretty specific picture of what my experience of Mech shows is like. I mean, I’ve also listened to three entire mech-adjacent (at furthest) seasons of Friends at the Table and picked up a lot from that, but I really don’t feel like I’ve got an internalized grasp on what those types of stories are about. I understand they’re about war, empire, and bodies (which is largely the reason I’m interested in playing these games), but I don’t really feel like I’ve got a good understanding of the pacing that these stories tend to take.

Since I’ve worked so much in fantasy, I’m used to the sprawling and sometimes meandering stories that exist within the genre. Sure, some of them only take a couple hundred pages to tell, but the general idea is that whatever story exists is supposed to hint at something larger. It is supposed to create an entire world of story, even if it only shows you bits and pieces that are relevant to whatever character we’re following, to make you feel like maybe more than what we know and see around us is possible. In sci-fi, the stories tend to sprawl in more a geographic sense but stay fairly tight and defined in a plot and worldbuilding sense, to make things feel certain and real, to hint at the world you’re living in and that way it could become the world of the story you’re experiencing. I get those two formats pretty well, even if this is a pretty cut-down means of describing the general weave of most stories in those genres, but each of them has it’s own sub-genre that tends to push in the opposite direction.

For fantasy, that’s usually Urban Fantasy, as it attempts to combine the fantastical and the real in a way that feels familiar and like the world you live in, but that maybe something more exists just beyond your eyesight. It took me years of reading and practice to feel comfortable enough in the sub-genre to actually attempt to write something in it (a project I’ve been working on outside this blog for a couple years now, albeit slowly since my life is a mess). In sci-fi, that’s usually the Mech stuff. It tends to focus on decay and collapse and take a rather bleak outlook on the future. Sure, it generally includes themes of hope, perserverance, and rebellion, but it is almost always in the context of a rotten system that shows a darker (and perhaps more and more likely) future than most sci-fi would have us imagine. At least, you know, that’s my understanding of it so far.

This is all a little troubling because I’ve got one of my players running a game for four or five weeks while I prepare a game of Blades in the Dark for our group. After both of those are done, it is Mech Time, baby, as I use the fact that both Blades in the Dark and Beam Saber use the same core system (Forged in the Dark) to link the two together into one connected game meant more to give everyone a taste of the rules than be long-term sustainable. Which, you know, really kinda lowers the pressure a bit, but also I have to figure out how Mech Sci-Fi stories work in eight weeks while actually spending the time to fully learn three games (my player is running Star Wars 5e and I gotta figure out how that works, still). I don’t know if I’ve got enough time to experience all the anime, movies, and podcasts on my “Mech Stories” list. I can barely force myself to watch a new season of a beloved old show these days since I’m so burned out, so how am I supposed to make myself watch and experience an entirely new genre?

I mean, I understand that I’m crying with a loaf of bread under my arm here. A lot of those shows and movies are absolutely stellar or at least quick to get through, so it’s not like I expect it to be an unpleasant experience. It’s just, you know, a lot. And it’s a lot at a time when I’ve been going through a lot so I’m not sure how much more I can take. There’s a reason I’m still trying to slowly work my way through Fire Emblem: Engage and playing Minecraft again rather than moving on to any of the other games on my list right now. It’s a lot easier to stick with something I understand, so I can know what I’m getting myself into, than to take a risk on something new. Unfortunately, I’m not going to have a choice for much longer. If I don’t get working on this now, I’m going to feel panicked and stressed out in a month or two when we get around to the mech stuff, so I’d better get cracking.

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