Monday, December 10, 2007

Devil What Needs A What Now?

"Devil Bunny Needs a Ham"

"You and your friends are living pleasant and complete lives in Happyville. You are highly trained and well-paid sous-chefs, who have decided to climb to the top of a tall building, as fast as you can.

Devil Bunny Needs a Ham. And he's pretty sure that knocking you off the building will help him get one.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps he is not."

Devil Bunny Needs A Ham was a great early release from the inimitable folks at Cheapass Games, a company based on the idea that board games don't have to be expensive, since people already have all the stuff that makes them expensive -- like dice, and counters. It didn't hurt that their games are invariably easy to learn and great fun to play. (Like Kill Dr. Lucky, a very unofficial prequel to Clue, where players compete to do in the hard-to-kill titular character.)

Anyway, Devil Bunny Needs A Ham -- the title is so much fun to say and type that I'm not going to bother abbreviating it -- is a simple game. The players compete to be the first to climb a building. There is a random element that will knock you down (make you move back) if it lines up with you on a vertical line on the game board.

The random element is, yes, the eponymous Devil Bunny. And this is what I love about the concept: The designers at Cheapass Games obviously, at some point during the creation of this game decided that a pointless back-story was yet another element of board games that was completely unnecessary.

Seriously. Why does any board game not based on a licensed property need a backstory? Players aren't told that Battleship is actually about the Battle of Midway. Monopoly is theoretically about real estate moguls in Atlantic City, but you don't need to know that to play, and it's never mentioned in the rules.

So why are you trying to get to the top of a tall building? Because that's what you decided to do.

What's trying to stop you? Devil Bunny. Why? Because he Needs A Ham.

Devil Bunny Needs A Ham has become my personal catch-phrase for "Why ask why?"

But more importantly, I think that it's important to remember that any narrative, no matter how elaborate the continuity or the backstory, has at some point if you examine it closely enough, a "Devil Bunny Needs A Ham" moment. A point at which the logic of the backstory has to be reduced to "Just because."

Just because it's more fun that way.
Just because we need dramatic tension.
Just because it's the premise.
Just because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why doesn't Peter Parker patent and license his web-fluid/web-shooter invention, providing a huge boon to law enforcement while solving his personal financial problems forever? Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why doesn't the Federation consistently use transporter back-ups to bring back the dead? Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why does Dorothy want to go back to a crappy dustbowl farm in the middle of the Depression when she could live in Oz? Because Devil Bunny Needs a Ham.

Why can't the Professor from Gilligan's Island, a polymathic genius in every other respect, fix a damn hole in a boat? Because... well, you get the picture. It involves Devil Bunny and Ham.

Because if we did that, there wouldn't be a story.

Screenwriters have a term for what happens for when the premise or element that makes there be a story gets removed -- through studio notes, rewrites, whatever: It's called "pulling the pin."
(If a development executive said, "How about they just fix the boat?" That would be pulling the pin.)

I'm not sure, however, that there's a widely-used phrase for the logical inconsistency, the "just because" factor in a premise, backstory or continuity that we have to accept at face value in order for the story to happen.

But I have one. If you ask me, I'll say, "Dude. Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham."

Yeah, I don't think it'll catch on either.


Anonymous said...

Oooh, ooh, I got one. Why did Interplanetary Patrol pick the Galaxion to be it's Guinea Ship? Because...

Unknown said...

Heh. There are a couple (at least a couple!) of "Devil Bunny Needs a Ham" moments in Xeno's Arrow too, of course.

Why does Xeno become dissatisfied with his life at the same time that Clemens is planning the escape?

Why does Captain Kobb show up at exactly the right time to participate in the escape?


Heck, there are probably more. :)