Skateworld

I remember playing Tony Hawk games as a child and being pleasantly distracted by the gameplay. Now I look back at them, especially T.H.U.G. and T.H.U.G. 2, and it occurs to me how ridiculous that every problem encountered was resolved through skateboarding. Cops need you to track down a bank thief? Grind on the telephone wire as you follow the loose money. Friends need you to convince girls to go to their party? Show off your flatland skills. Congressman needs you to attach an amendment to a bill before the vote? Skitch on his town car for enough speed to jump the security checkpoint.

When all the tools a game developer have revolve around skating then that’s what they’ll use – one hammer, infinite nails – but that leaves no excuse for a writer to do the same (normally).

For a writer it’s easy to find one solution and apply that to every conflict in a story, and if the solution happens to be your hobby it’s also dammed good fun. Why not, if you wish to enjoy what you create, make a universe that revolves around your favorite interest? If the Tony Hawk games exist in a skateworld, why can’t there be a duelworld where every issue can be litigated with crossed swords? Two men want to marry a woman? Duel for her hand. Accused of stealing cowhides from a tanner? Duel to prove your innocence. Questions arise over the king’s legitimacy? Settle the political standing of a state with steel. Why not and spare the everyday people a civil war’s worth of bloodshed while you’re at it?

Maybe it’s a piece of history that piques your fascination or maybe it’s something of your invention. In either case, have fun. I don’t mean solely with the writing process. If you’re going to follow this track then don’t write an overly serious story. There’ll be a cracking whiplash when the outcome of a gory murder investigation ends in a chess boxing match. Any world where one activity can solve all problems is inherently ridiculous like a construction worker wielding a massive tool belt for a single implement.

There must be an underlining lighthearted mood to the story to let the audience lower their suspension of disbelief and just enjoy the ride. The thought that the fate of the world can be determined by the outcome of a children’s card game is accepted readily if presented with a laugh. However, I’ll caution here against lazy self-recognition. Please don’t point out the leap of logic before trudging down the same road but instead have it be, as an example, the antagonist’s disassociated fantasy to make their passion more important than it deserves as cause for the vehicle to resolve the central conflict. If you’re having fun you can always place your head in the stocks with a good natured wink.

Even though the single activity world concept is meant as an easy to read romp that doesn’t excuse the writer from serious consideration as to the execution of their idea. Aside from tone, you have to build the society that would spawn and form around this special practice. In a lighthearted story the origin doesn’t need to be perfectly logical but the social red lines in duelworld which would trigger a duel should be clear. Maybe they’re reflected in elementary school etiquette curriculums. How different is that recess? Is the counter culture centered around line stepping and ducking duels? I’d like to see the legal precedent and structure built around dueling and have lawyers argue the danger a modified sword could possess in an otherwise still lethal duel.

When this recurring story element is applied to a plot line it can easily go awry. Careful consideration of the story format must be taken into account. If the plot is a classic three act structure then it stands to reason there must be an establishing demonstration of the conflict resolution activity in the first act, a tension raising use of the activity in act two, and a resolving use of it in the final act. It’s as predictable as cheese on macaroni but if the tone is humorous it can be the familiar bedrock to play with people’s expectations and have fun. Whereas a long running plot format must limit the activity per episode to avoid overuse and dilution. There can only be so many Pokémon battles before even a plodding bottle episode feels refreshing for getting through without one. Weekly villains can test your capacity to find the nooks and crannies of the world’s logic such as scheduling a duel so the sun is directly in front of the proud villain’s eyes and when they complain and delay the fight the protagonist just declares themselves the winner by forfeit.

Maybe your grand point is not every problem people face can be solved by a single mode of action. Maybe you have a coming of age story where dangerous car racing amongst newly minted drivers proves not the end all be all solution to gangland territorial disputes and the kids have to learn to respect one another’s right to live peacefully and respect one another’s home turf if they chance across it. Putting down the dueling swords and chess boxing gloves might just be the recognition of a far more complex world without decisive answers brought about by a single action performed once. It’s not the escape we seek in fantasy but that’s what we must face when leaving our childhoods behind us. Perhaps a lesson or two learned from it follow us and we can be happy for the summer at basketball camp where we played dozens of games of horse wagering our snacks and dares for each other. Never bet what you don’t have. Back up your word. Don’t trust the kid who’s too quick to say they’ll pay you double next week and you should trust him, honest. Whatever it is, even if it’s a silly, little game… if it means the world to that character then and there, make it its own little world.

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