Posted by: Jess Riley | October 24, 2008

Pop Culture, Again?

Let’s be honest, it’s a topic we come back to a lot. Including pop culture references in your roleplay.

Eventually you’re going to get sick of us. But – I assure you, I have a new way to approach the topic today! I want to talk about breaking the number one cardinal rule of pop culture inclusion, according to Sean. That rule, for those of you who don’t want to click back to the past post is this: Don’t do it when the stakes are high.

I would more or less agree with this point – after all, there are times when you don’t want to be reminded of the real world – but for one point that he makes in the establishing of this point. “The pop culture reference is for humor purposes only.”

This, I disagree with. Sure, don’t slide in a pop culture reference while you’re taking on a high-level dungeon, or something of the sort. But I think it’s perfectly okay to break up a tense moment that doesn’t require a lot of in-game concentration with a pop culture reference that isn’t required to be funny.

This line of thinking was sparked by his most recent post on zombie-ism. Those of you who recognised his Jurassic Park reference probably didn’t think it was amazingly funny. In fact, I wouldn’t have said that this reference was ‘for humour purposes’ – it was to make a point, and it was a casual connection to a shared point of reference, but I highly doubt anyone laughed at it, or that he intended it as humour.

Of course, this isn’t a roleplay – this is a blog. We can get away with all kinds of crazy things while chatting on a blog that would be just plain weird in roleplay, like linking to YouTube videos of awesome scenes from movies we like. However, I think this is one thing you could get away with, in a scene.

Say I’m fighting a zombie, and all of a sudden two more pop at me from the side and take me by surprise – to be honest, my first response in real life isn’t going to be to think of Jurassic Park, it’s going to be a stream of expletives that I can’t type here, and a very quick rethinking of my strategy. Say, however, that for some reason I’m not actually fighting the original zombie, and we’re just looking at each other (and there’s some kind of roleplay going on, presumably), when two more pop up on either side of me. This would be a tense moment in a roleplay, sure, and if I slid the phrase, “Clever girl.” in at that point, I think it would match the tone perfectly well, and it’s not exactly done for humor reasons.

The real point that’s coming here is that it’s not a matter of being able to do a pop culture reference in only one given way, whatever that way happens to be. It’s about matching the kind of reference to the tone of the scene and the level of immersion-breaking to the kind of concentration you need.

When you’re about to take on a high-level dungeon, it’s not the time to make any kind of pop culture reference. When you’re in the middle of a tense scene, it’s not the time to make a Friends reference. It might just be the time to make a Jurassic Park reference.

In other words, the rule shouldn’t be, “The pop culture reference is for humor purposes only.”. It should be “Think carefully about the tone of the scene before you start bringing in pop culture references.”



  1. “Lets get this movable feast underway”, or some such is my fav line from Jurassic Park. Pop culture refs are important as they can quickly give tone to what you are trying to impart. Its how subtle they are used that makes them fly or fail.

    My warrior used to have that RP mod that shouted random sayings when combat actions took place. “that was with my left hand” was a good crit line, that a lot of folks don’t get.

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