Monday, January 20, 2014

Pony Enough for Ya?

Today's half-coherent blatherings deal with the always-thorny issue of how far one can stray from the source material in one's fanfiction before it stops being fanfiction at all, and becomes an original story which happens to have ponies (or whatever).  Well, mostly; laser-like focus isn't really something I'm known for when it comes to these posts.  Anyway, click down below the break for my thoughts.

About a week ago, I came across a pony-themed MMO called >CLOP.  Despite the dubious name, the game isn't even slightly pornographic; instead, it's a simple economy-based game, where each player controls a country and has to trade resources with other nations to survive and prosper.  It's not time-intensive, involves some planning ahead and market strategizing, and punishes stupidity.  So far, I'm enjoying it well enough, but there's one problem:

It's not actually a pony-themed game at all.

Sure, the description says you're running a nation of ponies, there's a Solar Empire and Lunar Republic (ugh) with which you can interact, and there are a few other bits of window dressing that tie vaguely into FiM.  But the game is primarily a market simulator, and even within that context its elements don't seem to tie into Equestria well at all--a world full of heavy manufacturing, drug smuggling, and military conquests.  I like the game well enough, but it's got precisely nothing to do with ponies.  So why on earth is it being billed as a pony game, rather than changing a few keywords and placing it in an original setting?

The obvious answer takes the form of a question, directed back at me: would I have played this game if it wasn't "pony-themed?"  Would I ever have even heard of it?  Probably not; I doubt I would even have known that such a game existed if not for the fact that it was posted about on Equestria Gaming.

I've long had a complicated relationship with fanfiction which "isn't pony enough."  Never mind that "isn't pony enough" is vague at best, almost entirely arbitrary at worst; focus instead on why it would be a problem.

To me, a good fanfic, pony or not, should do at least one of three things:

1) Utilize one or more canon characters in ways which match and/or believably build upon their personalities,

2) Utilize one or more canon settings in ways which mesh with and/or expand upon what we've seen of them to date, and

3) Use or build upon core themes of the canon work.

Without any of these three, a story can still be good.  Heck, it can still be great; nothing on the list above ties directly to quality.  But without them... well, in what sense is the story still fanfiction?  It's at this point that I start wondering why a story wasn't written as original fiction, if it isn't going to feature the characters, setting, or themes of the work it's supposedly based on.  Especially in cases where one or more of these are directly contradicted, I end up saying to myself, "This would actually be better if the author did a find/replace of 'hooves' for 'hands.'  Why did s/he chose to write it as a pony story, if that's going to be to the detriment of the narrative?"  When the only service that setting a story in Equestria, making the main character Twilight Sparkle, or whatever else provides is making the reader try to figure out why Twilight's so out of character or why Equestria's suddenly a space-age society, that's a problem*.

Well, as with me and >CLOP, there's the desire to reach a larger audience.  A quick glance at, and a comparison of average site statistics there to on, shows that the average story posted on the latter gets far more attention than one posted on the former.  But I don't suspect that most writers (or the guys who made >CLOP, for that matter) are scheming to up their viewcounts by slapping ponies on everything they do.  Most writers who write these kinds of tangentially pony stories, I suspect, have never considered writing anything else.  They were inspired to write because of fanfiction, they want to write fanfiction, and it just doesn't occur to them that the story they've actually written is worse than it need be because it's fanfiction.

I'm still playing >CLOP, and I'm enjoying it.  I probably wouldn't be playing it if it wasn't ostensibly about ponies.  But I can't help feeling like it would be a better game without that tie-in.

*Unless, of course, those questions are addressed in-story in believable ways which tie back to the canon setting and characterization.  But in that case, they're not failing my three-point test to begin with.


  1. "But in that case, their not failing my three-point test to begin with."


    1. Did Chris just make that mistake?! God is indeed dead!

    2. Ahh! My carefully cultivated aura of unerring faultlessness, shattered! Woe! Woe, I say!

  2. "Utilize one or more canon settings in ways which mesh with with..."

    I'm not 100% sure they'd need to be a canon character to fulfill the first condition. Consider a story, featuring Twilight, which fails to meet the latter two conditions. Now, replace Twilight with an OC that at least feels like they could be from the show, and the fic actually depends on that character to be a pony. I'd consider that a fanfic, though I doubt it'd garner much interest

    1. "The Monster Below" fits on that category, paying little more than lip service to the show characters, and being focused on themes that are pretty distinct than those of the show. Still, it features an OC, and is very dependent both on the show setting, and in that OC being a pony. It is also fairly popular (5k+ views on Fimfic)

      Now, what about a story that has nothing to do with the show characters or setting, but uses the same core theme of the show? Should that still be considered fanfiction?

    2. Depends on how closely it ties in. I remember a story on EQD once which was a retelling of the pilot episodes except a space opera featuring human cyborgs with different names. It being a retelling a pilot though, it was deemed pony enough, though it probably wouldn't hold up under the current rules.

      Though then again, the OCs of that story were still heavily based on the canon ponies, so maybe this doesn't count exactly...

  3. Some fics, like "More Than You Know", rely on readers' knowledge of MLP characters and lore. Others, like "The Never-Was and Wouldn't-Be", might actually be better as original fiction.
    "Starlight Over Detrot" draws from the lore alone. "Hello, Sedna" uses only a character. I'd say that both a valid forms of fiction, though I generally prefer fics that include characters and lore.

  4. Interesting question you've posed, Chris. The answer is most certainly different for each one of us, but your list of what characteristics make a story "pony" mesh with my own expectations. It makes me curious, though—let me pose a question back to you.

    You did a mini-review of my story "Pilgrimage." Now, I have a temptation to try and de-ponify some of my stories to make versions I can share with my friends and family. I definitely want to make such a version of "The Promises We Keep" for my wife to read, because it's inspired by a situation she lived through. However, it requires the reader to have knowledge of some of the characters and settings already to make the story effective. I'm left with either adding a lot to the story to provide those backgrounds or adding a little primer up front with a few three-sentence character bios. I'll probably go with the latter, but... what was my point? Oh, yeah. I made a de-ponified version of "Pilgrimage" for my sister to read, since she's a creative writing professor. And the only bit of background I had to give her (which wasn't even really necessary) is that it wouldn't come as a surprise that the parents were deceased. Besides subbing out pony-centric words, there was really very little I had to do to the story. And yet you never called that one out for being non-pony. Do you think that story is pony enough?

    That's often the threshold I see: there has to be something in the story that requires the characters to be ponies (or at least MLP-universe races) or requires that the story take place in Equestria (or at least some MLP-universe location) for it to work. But there are an awful lot of stories that don't meet this test. For my money, My Little Dashie fails it. You could make Dash some generic cartoon character, and it wouldn't take much editing to have a valid story. At some point, it almost becomes an "I'll know it when I see it" thing. I hate to work in intangibles, since you can't set nice thresholds in them, but I often have to judge "ponyness" just on the feel of the thing—does the story feel like it began with MLP in the author's head, or was it some concept that had ponies wedged into it as an afterthought?

    1. This is the rubric I use as well, when I feel the need to get down to this question. The whole idea is "Does this story need ponies?" I've read quite a few that don't, and even urged authors to strip out the MLP references and publish. (At least one has!) Fanfiction should need to be fanfiction, at its core. This of course shouldn't stop anyone from publishing what they want to write wherever they want to publish it, but with a certain distance from the source material, it's enough to make one wonder.

    2. See, I'm also doing the same with "In Bloom." After editing the "pony words," the only real thing I had to change about the story was the plot point about cutie marks. I rewrote it as something akin to guild memberships, but that was a pretty easy story to de-ponify. Is it pony enough?

      The one I'm sorry I'll never be able to de-ponify effectively is "If Memory Serves" (unpublished so far). It relies far too much on the reader knowing the events the characters are referring to, so it would require a lot of expository dialogue to supply that information to an unfamiliar reader.

    3. To answer your first question, Pasco, I'd say that while being familiar with the characters isn't strictly required to appreciate the story, it both provides beneficial context, and fits the tone of Equestria generally. It's not a story that has to be a pony story, maybe, but at the very least it's more than a find-and-replace from being original fiction (at least, while being an equally strong story).

  5. I'de say when a fanwork is far from the cannon or fannon material or themes, there's two main reasons why the creator would make it "pony" decorated.

    1.) Audience - This fandom is huge, and if the work is good, it will get more attention then on the creators blog and spawn discussions along with valuable feedback.

    2.) Giving back to the fandom. Many people have enjoyed the works of the fans and just want to give back to show their appreciation.

    For fanfiction, you also get free editors. Many writers don't think their work is near publishable level, so the wouldn't want the extra stress of trying. Getting attention and feedback from a community they love is enough for them. Maybe they will later do published work, maybe not.

    For fangames, you get a team of like minded individuals and the chance to collaborate for free. This fandom has a huge amount of people knowledgeable in computer science, much of which is from interest in how the heck something like FIM was made in flash. Also, something like >Clop could be a project on a resume.

  6. Speaking of >CLOP, If I'm reading your nation correctly, you have only 10 basic sugar farms. How are you surviving with only 10 basic sugar farms? You gotta get something to keep your farmers satisfied. That's what killed my first nation. Though I now regret re-establishing in Saddle Arabia and not Zebrica. Copper is almost completely gone from the market! It's a disaster!

    Word of the Day: Blatherings.

    ..wait, blatherings!? WHAT!?!? I came here for ramblings not blatherings! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! I quit! (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

    1. ┬─┬ノ( ◡ _ ◡ノ)

      Let's all just... calm down.


      RAAAGH! (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡/(.□.\)

    3. I sell my sugar to buy Cupcakes, of course! I could just feed sugar to my ponies directly (one plant produces five sugar a turn, which equals +2 satisfaction, so it's a net gain of one per turn if I do that), but I've found it's much more economical to sell and buy Cupcakes at current market prices.

      My plan was to sell off enough sugar to buy some infrastructure, but every time I log on the price of sugar seems to be at or below 3800; I don't want to sell that cheap! So I've been waiting to see if the market will correct up once a few of the new Burrozillians get bored and stop playing.

    4. Yeah, cool, that sounds like it works.
      But I'd still highly recommend investing in a Coffee Shop (a Bar would work too, but you can locally produce Coffee easier than Vodka if I remember correctly). As soon as you can to get more satisfaction out of those cupcakes. I can even get you the Copper for it... before I lose my 3rd nation because I SUCK SO BAD.

      ლ(ಠ益ಠლ) Y U NO HAVE COFFEE SHOP!?