Having recently playing Mist-Robed Gate, I remembered that there were a number of wuxia films that had come out recently that I hadn’t seen. So, last night I finally got around to watching House of Flying Daggers.
I liked it. I liked it a lot. The martial arts wasn’t quite as over-the-top as it was in Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it still had the poetic cinematography, expository combat choreography, and raw emotional intensity that I’ve come to appreciate from my small forays into the genre.
And, because I was watching the movie partly for roleplaying purposes, I realized that the story slotted perfectly into face-stabby narrativism. Shreyas defines face-stabby as “…having to do with that cluster of emotionally violent things like inescapably compressing situations, ethical dilemmas, etc.” which seems like a good definition to me. And there’s a certain vibe that goes with this style of play. Characters tend to be a bit larger than life, while simultaneously being very human in their emotional bonds and confusions. There is this ongoing escalation during the story, where the stakes just seem to keep increasing, forcing increasingly desperate actions by the characters. Finally, there’s some incredible confrontation, where all the pent-up energy of the conflicting agendas explodes in a violent confrontation of some kind. Then, the audience picks up the pieces and goes home.
In recent days, it seems like face-stabby play has been getting short shrift in the world of roleplaying. We want to make “serious” stories and the like. Now, sure, I think that there’s plenty of room for experimentation and expansion in roleplaying. And, when I was setting up A Flower for Mara at GenCon, I stressed that it was not intended for face-stabby play.
At the same time, I also stressed that I really like face-stabby play. And, honestly, I think that a chunk of our literature would essentially be considered “face-stabby”. I’m thinking here of certain of Shakespeare’s plays, like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. I’m also thinking about Silver Age superheros.
I think that the sort of play/story that we class under “face-stabby” is appealing because it is universal. Its strength rests in issues that are common to all people of all times. Love, hate, revenge, conflicting loyalties: we all understand these things. The travails of the drug war or the Iraq war just simply don’t have the same broad appeal.
So, this is a simple request from a simple guy. In our desire to expand the reach of roleplaying, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There’s still plenty of strength in face-stabby stories; let’s not discard them prematurely.
And now, I have to figure out where to put Curse of the Golden Flower in my Netflix queue.