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 Fictionpress.com, and a comparison of average site statistics there to on FiMFiction.net, 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.