The topic of conversation this morning in the car was the substance of plots. Traditionally, we have plots which are Man versus Man (and yes, I intend to keep the male pronoun because anyone who would be sensitive to it likely has stopped reading a long time ago).
Man versus Man
This describes the quintessential struggle, the stuff of legend. Good versus evil, human versus alien, hero versus monster, rebel versus tyrant, civilised man versus the savage; the most accurate description might be the struggle between two directed intelligences. These games are easy to play because the adversary is present and real. They have motivations and malevolence. They are Hans Gruber to your John McLain, Lector to your Starling, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man to your Venkman.
We fight them because they represent the things that are wrong in this world, and they are flashy, obvious wrongs – whether they’re stealing millions of dollars with a funny accent, killing Gary Oldman or trashing Manhattan (although we’re unsure that killing Gary Oldman is a crime). We feel a sense of satisfaction seeing them put down (even if we know they may return).
Man versus Nature
Some of the best adventure stories are those told from the point of view of a single protagonist where his conflict lies not with the righting of wrongs or the marching of armies, but in the struggle against nature itself. Whether you’re weathering a Perfect Storm, trying to survive the Day After Tomorrow or even just making your way through a post-Zombie epidemic Dawn of the Dead, the environment you are in is challenging enough to make a compelling story.
One of the memes of Zombi, was that the walking dead were not your enemy, other people were your enemy. This was borne from every movie:- you can hide away in your fortress and the mindless zombie hordes can beat upon your door but it requires intelligence to breach your defenses. This isn’t to say that nature cannot be a harsh enemy. It is mindless but merciless. It can be witnessed when you travel from place to place, be it the cold of the snow-bound mountains, the drought of the desert or the cold emptiness of the vacuum.
Man versus Self
If religion is to be believed, we struggle with this every day. When we consider physical attraction, we encounter the most base ‘animal’ parts of ourselves. The acknowledgment that another human is attractive goes back to our pre-sentient days and when we continue on our way, we have successfully mastered the animal. This extends obviously to the personal wars against addiction, fetish, desire, greed, sloth and rage. We control ourselves and, as a result, these ideas are possible to play out in a game.
These were most recently examined in the World of Darkness games by White Wolf: I interpreted them as Lust (Vampire), Rage (Werewolf), Pride (Mage), Sloth (Changeling), Envy (Wraith). Though these games it was possible to spend a lot of time engaging in ‘versus self’ gaming as the player articulated the internal struggles of their personal demons. They are the Louis in LeStat, Hulk’s Banner, Star Wars’ Han Solo.