Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Play's The Thing

As has been said before, I love games.  War games, board games, word games, you name it.  When I play them, sure, I like to win, but I don't need to win; people who need to win are typically not fun to be around at the best of times, and what I appreciate most about games is that they give everyone permission to play.

Only the most intelligent and social of animals are seen to engage in play, at least as far as we can perceive.  It's entirely possible that bees have a rich but secretive tradition of satire, or that ant colonies devote some small measure of their endless efforts towards devising mathematical conundrums, but it doesn't seem likely.  They are too busy following biological imperatives to waste time on frivolities.

Winning is good; winning as a goal gives many games purpose and definition, and tell you when it's over.  Like Mr. Worf says, "If winning is not important, then why keep score?"  But it's never been critical to my enjoyment of a game, which is good, because I would have dropped Warhammer 40,000 years ago if that was the case.

There are probably those out there who would not bother to play a game they couldn't win, or a game in which there is no winner, and this is tragic because they don't give themselves that permission to play, to participate in something just for the sake of doing it.  I remember playing Dungeons & Dragons in my basement as a teen, and how my dad would always regret asking "Who's winning?" as he wandered past.

Think of the games you played in childhood; how did you determine who won a game of tag, or of red rover?  It didn't matter, you got together and you played for the sheer enjoyment of being at play, and lived in that moment until the recess bell rang, or the streetlights came on, or you got called in for supper.  Playing trumps winning just about every time, I figure.

Recently, I used the website They Fight Crime to engage my friends in this sort of play.  The site uses a randomizer to generate a detailed and often bizarre description of two individuals, a male and a female, who fight crime, for example:

He's an all-American guitar-strumming filmmaker fleeing from a secret government programme. She's an elegant extravagent cab driver with a flame-thrower. They fight crime!

It is all to easy to imagine this type of breathless copywriting in an issue of TV Guide, or on the dust jacket of a cheap paperback, and while all of the descriptions are vaguely ridiculous, some of the combinations are absolutely ludicrous.

I sent an e-mail to the attendees of the annual Gaming & Guinness weekend with an example from the site, outlined my proposal, and asked who would be interested in participating; no judging, no voting, no prizes or wagers.  My proposal was that I would give each one of them a different tagline from They Fight Crime, and they would have 24 hours to write something up giving the names of the characters, the medium they would appear in, the title of the book or television series or what-have-you, and an episode description or plot synopsis or back cover blurb.  I would collect them all and then share them with the group en masse.

To my delight, every single one of them responded in the affirmative, even though a couple of them weren't able to submit anything this time around.

It should be explained that all of my Basement Brothers are rather sharp chaps, and all of them are gifted at expressing themselves in one way or another. A couple of them work with words either professionally or recreationally, while others don't give themselves enough credit in that arena, but because this was play and not sport, no handicapping was required.

The results are both delightful in their whimsy, and terrifying in their similarity to shows we either have seen or will see in the 500 channel (and growing) universe we live in.  I have removed their names from their contributions because it might not have been clear that I would share them here, but they can take a bow in the comments field below if they like, and I heartily encourage them to do so.  This is wonderful stuff, and just one example of the rewards of using creativity for its own sake.

My thanks to the Fraternitas Sub-Terra for indulging me in this; I am proud to call such creative and funny men my friends!

He's a war-weary alcoholic rock star with a passion for fast cars. She's a disco-crazy foul-mouthed soap star who can talk to animals. They fight crime!

Medium: animated TV series
Title: Cowboy She-Bop
His name: Ringo Dallaire
Her name: Mary Alice Moore
Synopsis: in the 24th century, animals are full citizens, thanks to the release of the dog-talker virus in 2031. Cows are one of the largest voting blocs, but they still prefer to live in herds, typically in slums called 'calgaries'. The bounty hunters employed by the ANC (Animal Nation Congress) to police these towns are called cowboys. Despite being intelligent, none of the various animals can speak human languages, so specialized telepaths, called "whisperers" are employed to talk to them.

Ringo is a former soldier, who copes with his PTSD with vodka. He was unable to prevent the slaughter of cows by a pig army, and still wakes up screaming at night. He tells the world the story of the cows through his preferred medium of music, and works tirelessly to prorect the people of the calgaries.
Mary Alice works on the soap opera General Animal Hospital. She had a run-in with the law, and was sentenced to help out at a calgary. No one knows that she can talk to animals, but her ability gets found out by the end of the second episode.
Together, they work to keep meat-pirates, smugglers, and others away from their own private Calgary.
In other words, They Fight Crime!!!

He's a short-sighted alcoholic grifter in a wheelchair. She's a vivacious cat-loving stripper from Mars. They fight crime!


NARRATOR: Coming this fall on HBO - a new original series from Earl J. Woods, the acclaimed creator of Toilet Chase and Blast Zone. Kristen Bell and Nathon Fillion star in...

Spitting Bullets

NARRATOR: By the year 2150 everything has changed. By the year 2150, nothing has changed.

S/FX: Scenes of 22nd century Mars from orbit, ringed with space stations and starships, many festooned with faux-neon lighting in the style of old Film Noir dives and speakeasies. Zoom down to night on the surface, to small settlements with the same 1940s aesthetic under starry skies. Yellow taxicabs grimy with red Martian dust and retro-futuristic design glide down the streets. Surly outcasts and desperate runaways fight for scraps as the rich and powerful sneer down from their gilt hotels.

NARRATOR: Starring Nathan Fillion as Ed Dick, a man with nothing left to lose and nothing left to prove.

Wheeling down the boardwalk comes Dick, chomping on a cigar, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a fedora and a zoot suit. He spots the Dejah View, Mars' most notorious strip joint, and wheels inside.

DICK (V.O.): After that fateful night, I'd always ask myself: of all the strip joints on all the worlds, why did I hafta roll into this one....

NARRATOR: Kristen Bell stars as Katrina Vixen, an eccentric and exotic Martian beauty with very feline appetites.

As DICK wheels toward the strip joint's main stage, VIXEN (Bell) explodes from behind the curtain, wearing a shimmering liquid metal costume that slithers like a snake all over her body, revealing everything, yet revealing nothing. Burlesque music roars along with the crowd.

VIXEN: When he rolled into my place, I knew those baby blues spelled just one thing: trouble!

Jump cuts of DICK and VIXEN: A hover-limo full of Tommy-gun toting hoods dries to put a hit on DICK and VIXEN, but VIXEN leaps catlike onto the side of a building while DICK unloads the twin laser-gatlings mounted to his wheelchair arms, blowing the limo to smithereens. In a gambling hall full of robot dealers, DICK shows off his card skills. VIXEN grapples with a space octopus on the shores of a Martian lake as her cats howl and hiss. DICK and VIXEN fight back-to-back against little green men, fending them off with kicks and karate chops.

NARRATOR: With Sir Patrick Stewart as Fing Foom Mong, Kingpin of Mars.

MONG, half hidden in shadow on a throne of Martian rock and metal, leans forward into the light and thrusts his index finger at some minions.

MONG: I want that Dick!

NARRATOR: On Mars, love can get you killed. But sometimes, it's the only way out.

DICK and VIXEN in DICK's office, lamplight casting shadowblinds on their faces:

VIXEN: What put you in that wheelchair, Dick? Was it the same thing that put you at the bottom of that bottle?

DICK (hurling bottle to shatter it against the wall): I can quit right now, do you hear me? Right now!

NARRATOR: On a world being buried by old crimes, it takes a new kind of loser to set things right.

DICK (punching a cyborg bruiser): I'm gonna clean up this town one street at a time.

VIXEN (leaning on his shoulder, flipping a huge gold sovereign in the air and catching it): That's if he doesn't rob the whole town blind first.

NARRATOR: A grifter. A stripper. No plan, no chance, one mission: put the hurt on the mob before the mob makes them as extinct as the original Martians.

JUMP CUT of a mobster firing a bunch of bullets at DICK, point blank; but when we cut to DICK, he smiles calmly and spits them onto the sidewalk, one by one.

DICK: I have a hell of a dentist.

NARRATOR: Kristen Bell and Nathon Fillion are...


He's an all-American umbrella-wielding librarian with a secret. She's a disco-crazy extravagant journalist from out of town. They fight crime!

Bumbershoot and Dazzler

TV show

Steve "Bumbershoot" Smith, ex-high-school quarterback and now a broad-shouldered librarian, wields a bulletproof brolly and a quiet right hook. No talking!

Pavarti Dazzler, a foxy momma whose love of the disco beat can only be trumped by her love of the news heat. Her style is wild, her beat is sick, her pen is mightier that your disco stick!

Dazzler rolls into town in her Maserati Grancabrio Sport, hot on the trail of a rumor that could lead to the story of the century. Stopping at the local library for a little local research, she's immediately taken by the large handsome librarian leaning on his unusual umbrella. Sparks fly when their eyes meet, and then literally a few minutes later as unseen arsonists try to burn a few bookworms! The mystery unfolds with links to Spanish underground wrestling, high finance, a new street drug and a 5,000 year old Chinese mummy! Tune in for tonight's episode of Bumbershoot and Dazzler, "The Pain in Spain Shoots Straight Into the Vein", or "Mummy Dearest (Asian Edition)".

He's an oversexed voodoo cyborg on the wrong side of the law. She's an enchanted snooty hooker living on borrowed time. They fight crime!

Mystic Rave, the comic

Cybersocket unit 'XF-88' and 'Sylph' La Familier Fatal, they fight crime!

In their eternal battles against the massive criminal organization P.E.C.K.E.R, XF-88 and Sylph find themselves pull apart trying to rescue the fraternity. Finally having met Dr. Feltch Witherspoon and losing him just as quickly in the ensuing chaos of the riot, will XF-88 find his true identity? Can Sylph bring herself to terms with her addictions?

He's an oversexed crooked vagrant who knows the secret of the alien invasion. She's a wealthy junkie detective with a flame-thrower. They fight crime!

Freebie and the Bean
(TV series)
Suave, smooth, good looking in a rough-hewn way, he could get the ladies any time he wanted, and he always wanted. He moved constantly, always looking for fresh meet (sic), and was willing to do anything to get it. Women couldn't resist his sweet, Latino heat and his suave accent.

He trusted no-one and no-one should trust him as he would turn on them faster than bus crossing behind a 747 at take-off. People would sell their soul for a chance at the promised land, he'd do it for them when they weren't looking.

The news showed his countrymen trying the Rio Grande, but he knew the best way across, the way where you never got caught, the way he brought the freedom fighters in.

Juan Valdez is the one no man can stop and no woman wants to.

Brandi Steele was born into the easy life where it was easy to get bored but Daddy always indulged her. Whatever it took to stimulate his daughter he gave willingly, including a job as the face of the family business. Daddy's eponymous detective firm would always give her the trappings of a job when she felt like doing it. When she didn't, there was always his money. There was no way for this to end well without adult supervision, and that's exactly what happened.

Left to her own devices she fell in with a bad crowd and the progression has been seen before on a dozen Interventions. Huffing and puffing was a dangerous combination, as David Bowie can tell you, but when her "friends" were attacked she was forced to apply her Daddy's training and then combine those elements of her wayward past in the best way she could: into a justice-seeking flame-thrower.

They met in prison. She was charged with assault with a flammable weapon, he was caught leading a squad of mercs across into Texas. As she invoked her father's name for freedom he ditched his countrymen and leapt at the opportunity, entrancing her and winning his freedom. Surfing the free ride by volunteering his street smarts, she burns up the crooks while they burns up the sheets.


He's a suicidal zombie shaman moving from town to town, helping folk in trouble. She's a time-travelling wisecracking mermaid on her way to prison for a murder she didn't commit. They fight crime!

Title: Dingo & Splash

TV series

Character Names: Dingo Kadji and Elizabeth Windsor

Dingo Kadji, the undead shaman from the vast Australian outback, struggles on in this existence bearing the dark secret of his village’s demise.

Elizabeth Windsor, aka Splash, was born with the gift of time-travel. Raised in the enchanted & hidden Mermaid’s Pool deep in the English Midlands, she left her home to see the world and has a knack for talking her way into trouble.

Dingo and Splash wander middle America trying to do the right thing and helping where they can. It was Dingo who saved Splash when her wise-cracking ways put her on the wrong side of a biker gang and, as a result, the long arm of the law. No slouch herself, Splash has kept Dingo in better…spirits….with her impressive wit and her ability to show her undead mystic friend the past and future lives of the people they encounter.

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