The ‘Rule of Cool’ brings everything that is wrong with Hollywood and consumerism to the gaming table.
The ‘Rule of Cool’ is best explained by Chatty DM here (and the follow-up here) but in short it is the same motivations that produce films like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and other CGi driven tripe – Make it Big, Make it Flashy.
The reason for bringing this to the gaming table is because players don’t notice the time the GM spends slaving over “watertight and internally consistent adventures”. Therefore it is more important that adventures be ‘cool’ and by that they mean showy with big explosions and stupendous stunts.
Missing the Point
Because we all play different games and adventures, it is hard to give examples from the gaming table but as the ‘Rule of Cool’ originated from TV Tropes I will use examples from the movies.
‘The Matrix’ is a film most people would describe as cool. It has great CGI that produces truly amazing scenes with big explosions. Everyone watching that film wanted to be Neo (or Orpheus or Trinity or even Agent Smith). Everyone remembers the big gun fight scene in the lobby or Nero dodging Agent Smith’s bullets during the rooftop showdown. Every GM would love to run a game that was as cool as ‘The Matrix’.
However, the sequels to ‘The Matrix’ sucked. They had the same characters with a bigger CGI budget and even longer fight sequences so why did they fail? According to the ‘Rule of Cool’ the Matrix 2 & 3 should of been better films than the original but they weren’t. Critically and financially they were flops compared to the original. GMs who pursue the rule of cool on their tabletops are going to make ‘Matrix Revolutions’ and not ‘The Matrix’
What People Remember and What is Important are Different
The reason why people remember those great scenes in ‘The Matrix’ is because they happened after two hours of carefully plotted, internally consistent build-up. Those big fight scenes would be meaningless if we didn’t know and care about those characters but it is the fight scene and not the build-up that people remember.
Hollywood and consumerism play on basic human nature, the desire to get as much pleasure as possible as quickly as possible. Whether it is high-fat sugary foods, instant credit for that plasma screen TV or big budget CGI fests the principle is the same, the principle the Rule of Cool promotes, and yet it fails time and time again. Obesity, credit crunch or polished turds like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ are always the result.
Great Things take Great Effort
Players may not notice the GM’s efforts to build a consistent, thought-out world but it makes a difference. Good films and good games don’t do something because it is cool, instead they do it because it is right for the situation. ‘The Matrix’ was cool because the creators had a deep understanding of the characters, their world and above all how to develop those ideas through the movie.
If you live by the ‘Rule of Cool’ you are doomed to create shallow copies of other people work. But if you want to be remembered, whether it is for gritty realism or high fantasy, the GM and the players need an understanding of the world they are in and that takes time and effort.
Image Credit – Iceberg by Lonnie Hartley – CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0