Pacific Rim: Shortcut to story

Pacific Rim poster: Coyote TangoBeing my usual big freakin’ gaming nerd self, I watched Pacific Rim with both halves of my brain: the comic-book geek half, and the gamer geek half.  On the comic book side, of course, it is a visual delight: if, like me, you sat down for a big live-action rendition of a manga or anime fest, it was perfect.  Pitch-perfect, colour-perfect, choreography-perfect, design-perfect.

But there was also something there for the story-lover in me, the game-master, the attentive reader of clues, the analyst of systems; Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham use some interesting shortcuts to emotional impact that I think are worth a GM’s time to analyze.  (Note: I’m offering minor spoilers that are mostly covered by the introductory minutes of the movie.)

First of all, let’s get something out of the way: a simple plot does not have to mean shallow impact.  Not only does Pacific Rim have to be true to its origins in manga, anime, and kaiju movies — just like The Avengers or X-Men had to be to their superhero comic book roots; but it really only has to measure up to movies like Star Wars, Big Trouble in Little China, or Titanic in terms of plot.  If you think about it, these were very simple stories.

What it does have to do is bring the usually drawn frame into photo-realistic life, both literally (from manga to film) and figuratively, making us believe that someone is threatened, angry, frightened, vengeful, or elated in the film convincingly enough that we don’t keep pulling out of suspension of disbelief.  We have to care enough about the characters that we don’t start rooting for the kaiju the way I rooted for the bugs in Starship Troopers.

In game terms, that translates to wanting my players to get emotionally engaged with the adventure, just like del Toro wants his audience engaged with the story, while keeping the plot elements simple and clean, without oodles of backstory to labour through.  He uses a few tricks that GMs can plunder from.  Continue reading “Pacific Rim: Shortcut to story”