I was watching Luc Besson’s new movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets…
“In the 28th century, special operatives Valerian and Laureline work together to maintain order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the minister of defense, the duo embarks on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. When a dark force threatens the peaceful city, Valerian and Laureline must race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.”
There you have it. Valerian and the [extremely long name for a movie] sounds like a decent sci-fi action flick, one that you could totally turn into a kick-ass sci-fi RPG setting. Unfortunately, Valerian-blah-blah-blah has many faults, and those same faults can end up in your game if you’re not careful.
In this article (rant), I’m going to show you those faults. Also, there might be SPOILERS…
The movie encompasses the mission of two characters:
- The hot chick, and
- The horny dude.
That’s it. That’s all there is to the characters’ backstories, leaving pretty much nothing to work with for character development. Somewhere I read something about three pillars of roleplaying games (combat, exploration, and (social) interaction), but there should be a fourth. That fourth pillar should be character development. Why isn’t character development a bigger part of RPGs? I don’t know. Maybe because gamers are lazy? No, wait… game designers are lazy.
If you’re going to make special agents that travel across the universe in mission-impossible style, make me believe they can pull it off. In the movie, the two main characters are 20-something year old galactic forces agents, both under 150 pounds. They actually look like teenagers! They just don’t fit the role – I’d say they had a dump stat in “Age.” Perhaps I’d buy into this if there was something in the story to suggest why it’s plausible, but there isn’t.
If your character is young, play her with a low Wisdom score. If he has a low Intelligence score, play him dumb. Basically, if your character has a dump stat, don’t gloss over it. Ham that shit up. Make it stand out. Make it a big feature of the character. It makes them more believable as a character, and they’ll be more memorable that way.
When the dynamic duo in this movie arrive to Alpha City (which is THE CITY of the universe), they ask their computer for a status update. They’ve only been away for a year, but for some reason, the computer tells them a description of the city AS IF THEY’VE NEVER HEARD OF IT. This description is clearly for our (the viewer’s) benefit, but it detracts from realism, detracting from the story.
Thankfully, this is not a common issue in roleplaying games, but I have seen it. If there’s something that players need to know in your adventure, make sure they know it ahead of time. Otherwise, the flow of the game gets disrupted as players suddenly become aware of information that they’ve supposedly known all along.
In Valerian, out of the first 20 credited characters there are just two females. Laureline plays second string to Valerian, and Bubble (Rihanna – dear god, why?) is just there as momentary eye candy. 95% of all other dialogue is spoken by male characters (that’s a scientific analysis; I counted every word while watching the movie).
Seriously, put female characters in your game. Does the big bad evil guy have to be a guy? If so, does his second in command have to be a guy as well? How about the crime lord? The crime lord’s lackeys? Wealthy merchant? Soldier? Bandit? Bodyguard? Informant? If you just look, I’d bet you’d find them is plenty of different roles.
DO NOT put women in the game to simply fill the roles of bar wench and prostitute. That is so god-damned lame. Women… they’re out there!
Laureline wore short shorts and a bikini top for the entire first act of the movie (more eye candy for a male character-dominated film). Her character is there for Valerian to pursue, and guess what? At the end of the movie he wins.
Bubble is an exotic dancer and prostitute who puts on a show for Valerian. She could have taken the role of any other type of character, but (apparently) we needed a second hot chick to look at, and watch dance exotically.
Grow up. This type of shit is why many women don’t want to sit at a table with a bunch of dudes. I love it when a chick and I share a gaming table; she brings another element to the game that simply wasn’t there before. So, cut the crap – stop objectifying female characters in your games and make the gaming table a welcome place to sit.
Damsel in Distress
Ho-Lee-Shit. There are exactly one and a half female lead characters. One of them dies, and the other (Laureline) needs to be fucking rescued. Actually, both of them need to be rescued, now that I think about it. Double Ho-Lee-Shit.
Laureline needing to be rescued doesn’t even make sense. Valerian and Laureline are both wearing bad-ass bodyguard body armor. Valerian uses it to run super-fast and crash through fucking space station bulkheads. On the other hand, Laureline gets kidnapped by bumbling idiots and… that’s it. Apparently, her bad-ass bodyguard booby body armor doesn’t work because it has extra room for her breasts.
Oh, and she was forced to wear a white dress.
Damsel in distress. This trope is so… old. It is so freaking boring. How about making it a dude in distress? The next time your heroes are approached to help free someone who was kidnapped, why not make the kidnappee someone’s boyfriend? An NPC’s boyfriend? A PC’s boyfriend? A brother? A husband? Or just some random dude?
In Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, Diva Plavalaguna is a female entertainer essential to moving the plot forward, and dies in the process. The exact same thing happens in this Valerian movie with the Bubbles character. Same director, same plot crack. So unoriginal.
Oh. Also, in the movie Serenity, the overall plot centers around the government completely wiping out a civilization, and then covering it up, AND then the heroes finding out about it. Yeah, same thing with this Valerian movie.
With roleplaying games, I get tired of seeing the same player play the same type of character, over and over. I get tired of watching the game master pull out the same tired-ass tropes and plot-hooks, game after game. “We were double-crossed, again?!” Do. Something. Different. Surprise your players and you’ll be a better game master.
You ever sit at the table and listen to the game master read off some great soliloquy, or a three paragraph description? That shit is lonnnng, yo. Who can sit through all that? Who can remember all that? Hell, who can pay enough attention that they don’t start building dice towers? No one! Keep it short and sweet.
At the end of the Valerian movie, Laureline has a coming to Jesus talk with Valerian and she, just. won’t. shut. up. About halfway through her speech I started counting the number of times I blinked. I can’t remember anything she said… something about love, or whatever.
So, there you have it. If you wanted to know where Valerian and the City of A thousand Planets went wrong, now you know. If you wanted to know what not to do in your roleplaying games, now you know that, too.
Also, 14. That’s the number of times I blinked.