The genre is enjoyable in various forms including film, print, etc. I even enjoy an occasional RPG session. Yet my interest is always fleeting. I cannot continually suspend my disbelief.
Super Hero movies are cool but not for the characters. I watch them with the attitude of seeing an action flick. The special effects, the crazy plots and the magic of computer generated imagery are what I’m there to see. I’m one of the poor extras in the movie — the normal folk who are just watching in awe.
I see super hero characters as reprints of the same tired origins. Sure there are twists on the origins of the power — innate mutant power, alien power in an Earth setting, or advanced technology of unbelievable power. Call it a mental block. All the powers have seemingly been used and reused. I have never come up with any concept that isn’t some variation of something already completely overused. When I do, they are always things which would be of little use in a game.
Super Hero games also always seem to use the good versus evil plot. A super villain plots some madness and the characters must go forth and defeat them to keep the world safe. I can taste the bile at the back of my throat. Even the guy who says “Screw this, I’m staying at home, powering down a bag of Cheetos and watching I Love Lucy.” ends up being forced into being a hero. All of them lack self motivation, goals, and desires. I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with any portrayal of anything other than a superficial personality. Even the internal conflicts some characters have are hard to believe because they are the singular element identified of a personality.
As I stated previously, the characters always seem stuck in time at the point of creation. What precisely do I mean? Often characters have a great history or back story. The problem is the history has no application to the future. They are stuck waiting for the next evil genius plot to take over the world until they are compelled to act yet again. Or they go seek revenge on someone due to a factoid in the background. Once that is over, what’s next? Managing a Burger King? Running a Fortune 500 company? Working as security for someone kicking the spleens out of mere mortals? I prefer games where I’m capable of building my character’s future not being held hostage by who he is.
Mortality is also an issue. Traditionally super heroes and villains rarely die. So even if you are outmatched, outclassed and outwitted, and get your ass kicked what happens? You go home, heal up (while flipping burgers) and come up with a new plan or a better group. If there is no risk of dying, the game is just dull to me. Self preservation is a fundamental element in all other RPGs. If it is missing, I get bored quickly and lose interest in the game. I’m guessing most game systems in the genre have mechanics for death so I am not bashing systems. I’m bashing the way the games I’ve played in have been run.
On the topic of game system mechanics, I will come back to the “stuck in time” comment. Character improvement seems impossible after a point. If a power comes because an alien ability like Superman, its capped at conception. Innate powers based on mutation also have an immediate cap. A mutation can only provide so much benefit before it is fully realized. Certainly discovery and learning can allow you to utilize a power better but at some point you hit the capacity of that ability based on the origin. Technology based powers are the one area I can fathom continued improvement. Sadly, my own background makes me nitpick the technology. I impose self-limitations on the capabilities because I find them absurd at the extremities. And if it isn’t human technology? Well, that’ll take years to understand to begin with yet alone improve. I don’t know how any system handles improvement because I’ve never been engaged enough to actually purchase or read the systems fully.
I’ll be the first to admit that my comments on the Super Hero genre could be applied to nearly any other genre. The genre just doesn’t spark my imagination. It has yet to immerse me so I’m standing in the shoes of my character and looking through his eyes. Instead, I always seem like a puppeteer pulling the strings to move my character around. Many others love the concept and enjoy it immensely. Good for you, go play and have a great time. I’ll wait for the movie.