Recently Jeffro of Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog has been talking a lot about “Old School” in role playing games, and it occurred to me that he’s having the same kind of difficulty defining Old School that I have always had defining New Wave.
That naturally got me to thinking about the common characteristics of the two movements and what elements are consistent across mediums.
What I have come up with is less of an answer than a question, but an important question, and once which I feel applies to disparate movements in other mediums–experimental jazz and avant garde filmmaking, for example.
How do you choose what tools you can use?
It’s a question that deepens upon acquaintance, I promise. As a locksmith I always had a mix of other profession’s tools in my toolbox. I’m not a carpenter, but I carried wood chisels. I’m not a plumber, but I carried a pipe wrench. Not an electrician, but I had a multimeter. Not an auto mechanic, but I had metric and SAE socket sets. I had the tools that I needed to get the job done.
This attitude carried over into my writing. I used literary techniques that one finds in romance and horror and mystery, if they would achieve the effect that the story called for.
And I think that’s the attitude that defines what might be termed “outcome focused” rather than “style focused” movements in entertainment. And that also causes the difficulty in defining such movements. Stylistic differences are the most evident, after all. Most genres carry with them a particular style–one can usually tell the difference between a classic Western and a classic Thriller before the opening credits are completed.
If you have a film that begins with a man and a woman meeting under awkward circumstances and then include a comic mixup of similar parcels, a formal dinner disrupted by characters getting covered with gravy and frosting, go on to have the man and woman shout at each other angrily, and end with a kiss, well, you’ve got a madcap romantic comedy.
If, on the other hand, you start the movie with a mutilated corpse being discovered in a lonely place and go on to include characters being chased through dark woods by shadowy figures and a decreasing cast of characters turning up unpleasantly dead and end with a blood-soaked creature shambling off into the sunset, you’re making a horror movie.
Those are stylistic choices, and they are choices that define a stylistic genre. There are those of us, however, who don’t care to have their available techniques limited to arbitrary set. I have both mutilated corpses and awkward romantic meetings in Catskinner’s Book, as well as “science fiction” elements and “fantasy elements”.
I use the tools that get the job done.
And I think that’s the same attitude that Jeffro is getting at in posts like this one.