I initially began my game with the premise of translating fanfiction, a popular and often created transformative work, into a visual novel. My idea was to take a popular franchise, mix it with a popular fanfiction trope to create an entirely new world, and create a VN from that.
I wanted to create a VN with a choice of three different tropes:
- a coffee shop AU (an extremely popular alternate universe trope putting characters in the setting of a coffee shop/cafe, as either workers or customers)
- a historical AU (putting characters in another time period, such as Ancient Greece or Rome, Victorian era, the 1920s, etc)
- a science fiction AU (putting characters in a science fiction storyline – usually when the original story is not science fiction, or at least not the specific type of science fiction the fanfiction is set in)
The franchise that I chose to transform was the X-Men franchise, as I’m extremely familiar with it and it’s fanbase, and it’s a relatively well known property.
I planned to begin to write the VN in a Google document, and then transfer it to Twine, and if I had time, code it into Ren’py.
The first pitfall I came across was creating interesting stories for each of these worlds that work properly as VNs. In a way, I am attempting to write fanfiction – something that takes a good while to properly formulate and write out, just like any kind of fiction. I had trouble coming up with proper stories as the inspiration wasn’t quite there, and I was working off the idea of tropes rather than first having a core theme, and centering the trope around that theme. Writing it became more involved than I could realistically handle in the time I had, and I felt that it was becoming more about creating a world than about the concept of appropriation.
(Which in a way fanfiction is? I guess it’s logical that fanfiction itself is less about the concept of appropriation than the act of appropriation?)
The second pitfall, was that I was having a hard time making my game into a game rather than a story you click. I want to engage the players through choices that matter, but reflecting on it, fanfiction isn’t really about power of onlookers, it’s about the author’s power to do whatever they like with the characters they’ve chosen.
(I had a conversation with our guest about choices and how some developers put them there for no reason except for them to be there, and give them no real power in the game. She also mentioned how it’s not always necessary to give players a choice, and told me about VN-esque games that don’t, which made me rethink my game quite a lot.)
I decided I needed to scale down my game, and decided to create an analog game instead. I focused instead on giving players the power to change characters and stories in the same way fanfiction gives writers power.
I decided to use the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of X-Men, because just about everyone knows it and it has enough high-profile characters for non-repetitive play.
It is a 4 player game.
The basis of the game is
- randomly picking a character from a deck of characters
- selecting 10 characteristic cards
- picking 5 of these characteristics to assign their character
- combining these transformed characters with the other players to create one big fanfiction synopsis
- synopsis is helped along by drawing 4 random plot cards
- Picks Steve Rogers from a Marvel deck
- Characteristics chosen from cards:
- works as a security guard
- has clinical depression
- does ballet on the side
- is secretly a vampire
- upset about the fact that he peaked in high school
- Players pick one plot-themed character action or character development for their character
- “your character has some tough lessons to learn”
- [depressed security guard vampire Steve Rogers, hipster fashion blogger Bruce Banner, nursing home volunteer social media influencer Natasha Romanoff, and anxiety ridden weed dealer closet furry Tony Stark]
- Players pick four cards (one of each kind of plot card) that create a framework for the fanfic
- story begins on a yacht (story begins… card)
- it’s a story about greed (story is about… card)
- a 30-year old murder case is resurrected (plot/inciting incident card)
- mostly takes place in the heart of a big city (setting card)
- and the players take it from there.
- (excerpt of a synopsis example: one of the senior citizens Natasha has taken care of is Nick Fury and everyone thinks Steve is the one who killed all those people because he’s an vampire with murderous impulses and was in the wrong place at the wrong time but it was actually Tony Stark’s (dead) dad and Nick Fury working in cahoots)
This is inspired in part by crack/crack-esque fanfiction
“Crackfic” is a term for a story which takes a ridiculous premise as its starting point, such as casting all the canon characters as My Little Ponies. It may or may not deal with this premise in a serious way. (Fanlore)
which is usually of questionable quality and very random, but can also be the basis of extremely interesting works with a lot of depth. There is a lot of fanfiction with generally weird premises that is like War and Peace in some fandoms.
It is also inspired in part by collaboratively written fanfic. Fanfiction writers (and fan artists) often team up to write and set up events to facilitate this as well (see: Big Bangs, holiday fic exchanges, etc)
And it is inspired also, by Cards Against Humanity. The random matching and player engagement bits.
Thoughts after playtesting:
- Players keeping character roles concealed from other players could improve play and more surprising for other characters
- Reducing the amount of cards on the table at once could help stop the game from becoming too complicated/confusing
- Adding an “ending” card would help reduce gameplay difficulty/increase game cohesiveness
- Less plot cards could help reduce the gameplay difficulty