Archive for June 1st, 2023

Another aspect of the Buffyverse which pleased me very much was Joss Whedon and Company’s world-building.  If I’m to suspend disbelief in the more fantastical elements of a fantasy or sci-fi scenario, it’s very important that all of the mundane elements be internally consistent.  My own role-playing game worlds are meticulously laid out, with a cosmology, past and future history, set of metaphysical laws, etc; even if the players never encounter some aspect of the game universe, it nonetheless fits into a consistent and predictable pattern.  I have no patience for lazy writers who dismiss criticism of their inconsistencies and slipshod world-building with, “Well, if you can accept the existence of fire-breathing dragons…”  because that’s the opposite of true; the more fantastical a world, the more important it is that it doesn’t contradict itself if an audience is to accept it.  The dragons, warp engines, magic spells, and technobabble have to follow some set of rules or else the story degenerates into random foolishness.  And IMHO one of the most important aspects of that structure is chronology; “Once upon a time” is fine for standalone stories, but if a fictional hero is to have a series of adventures, they must have a firm chronology or the whole thing begins to dissolve into chaos.

Comic books have traditionally been extraordinarily bad at a lot of these things, which is one reason I lost patience with the genre in my early teens.  But despite the fact that Buffy and Angel are superheroes and both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel rely heavily (sometimes even blatantly) on the tropes of the genre, they never fall into the trap of hand-waving some inconsistency away with “It’s magic”.  The vampires, demons and other magic beings follow a predictable set of rules, and often when I thought I had caught a goof-up it actually turned out to be an intentional plot device (such as a clue that some powerful force was interfering with the rules).  And while the chronology of corporate comic book worlds has approximately the cohesion of wet toilet paper, creating a world where nobody ages and the past changes at a writer’s whim, the chronology of the Buffyverse is tight, logical, and natural.  People age and change; major events become part of the big picture rather than being conveniently forgotten when the end credits roll, and time passes at the same rate as it does in the external universe.

As both a writer and a 40+ year DM, it’s obvious to me that a lot of thinking went into designing the Buffyverse.  Though we in the audience learned about the metaphysics and esoteric history of Buffy’s world gradually, often via overt exposition but more often by being shown, it’s pretty obvious that Whedon and his writers had already developed these structures long before they were revealed to us, in many cases before the show even became a reality.  While casual viewers of a show may not notice inconsistencies or gaps, or care if they do notice, I don’t have that luxury.  My analytical brain can’t help noticing them, and my OCD focuses on them even when I’d rather not.  This isn’t to say I can’t enjoy a show whose universe-building is sloppy and whose canon contradicts itself repeatedly with the passing seasons; Star Trek was still occasionally inconsistent well into its second season, and Doctor Who is so consistently inconsistent that I regularly need to do stuff like this to get my brain to accept it.  But it’s really nice when I don’t need to do it, and can relax into the experience knowing that the creators aren’t trying to pull a fast one on me or writing themselves into corners and then smashing through the narrative walls with a sledgehammer to get themselves out.

I’m not done yet!  There’s still more Buffy goodness coming next week.

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