Monday, August 1, 2011

Enjoyment Modifiers

When I first started this spin-off blog, I mentioned that I'd like to use it to explore some of my thoughts about different genres and concepts.  Well, that exploration begins now with a series of posts about what I've taken to calling Enjoyment Modifiers.

So, what exactly are Enjoyment Modifiers?  Well, when discussing the concept with my friend Bubblegum Tate*, he grokked the concept from the name itself :  "I'm immediately thinking in RPG terms," he said. "+10% bonus if MODOK is in it." Which summed up the concept so well, that I had to include it.

On the most basic level, with questions of quality removed from the equation, they are the components of a work which effect how much we enjoy the work as a whole, either positively or negatively. Put another way: with a strong enough positive modifier attached to a work, you can power through an amazing amount of dreck, whereas with a strong negative modifier, not even Shakespearian levels of writing or acting can entice you to finish watching/reading.

The modifiers can be just about anything, from overall genre (Horror, Thriller, Comedy),  sub-genre (Slasher, Caper, RomCom)  to specific plot elements (Splitting Up In Dangerous Situations, One Of Us Is a Traitor, Split Up Over Misunderstanding) to character types (Cocky Jock, Fast-talking Grifter, Quirky Best Friend).

What makes it even more fun is the fact that the effects of these modifiers are different for different people, depending on our tastes and preferences.  For example, while my father and I both find the overall genre of Science Fiction to be a Positive Enjoyment Modifier, the sub-genre of Alternate Timelines is positive for me, but negative for him, so I read/watch them like crazy while he avoids them if he can.

Having a good grasp of what constitutes an individual's personal Enjoyment Modifier profile is key to giving effective recommendations -- which might seem like a no-brainer, but after spending a lot of time on Twitter and in the Onion A.V. Club's** comment sections, I can guarantee that there are a lot of people out there who assume that all right-minded people share their tastes and any who don't are morons.

Anyway, owing to the large amounts of pop culture I ingest on a regular basis branding me as the go-to guy for many of my friends and family when it comes to movie/TV/book recommendations, I have tried to decipher as many of their Enjoyment Modifiers as I can.  So, I know that Flunky is drawn to stories where a lowly commoner becomes a great hero and my parents don't like movies that glamorize thieves and Firestorm checks out when things get bloody and Shack-Fu loves kick-ass military movies and so on and so forth.

And of course, if I can better understand how my own Enjoyment Modifiers affect my reading/viewing experience, then it becomes easier for me to divorce my experience from my recommendations to a certain degree . . . or at least qualify them.  "No, I didn't care for that film," I might say, "but that's largely due to Awkward Continual Lying For No Good Reason being an enormously negative Enjoyment Modifier for me." Or something like that.

Not that it's an exact science, by any means; the modifiers aren't always additive, and sometimes all the positive modifiers in the world can't save a work from one pervasive negative modifiers; there are some modifiers which vary from format to format; some modifiers are more conditional, with their positive effects being proportional to the quality of the work; and I'm sure there are lots of other exceptions and oddities that will pop up along the way. But in terms of trying to explain why this movie everyone else loves is something I loathe with a fiery passion ***, well, I think it's a pretty handy tool.

So, in the coming weeks, I'll be examining some of my more prominent Enjoyment Modifiers:  trying to decipher why they affect me and giving some examples. It's highly likely this will fall into the "only interesting to me" category of posts****, but since when has that ever stopped me?

The plan is to have one of these post every Thursday afternoon. While we're waiting for my first official entry to post, please feel free to mention some of your own Enjoyment Modifiers in the comment section, and I'll be sure to add them to the list of things I'll talk about.

*A.K.A. soon-to-be-published novelist Joshua Unruh who has given me permission to name check him as much as I want as part of his new self-promotion initiative.
**Pretty sure that 99% of the AV Club commenters would list "quirky characters" as a -900000 modifier
***I'm looking at you, Meet the Parents

****Or, more accurately, interesting to me and Mr. Unruh, who was very intrigued by the concept and has been encouraging me to write the post so he can comment on it.


  1. Most of these have to do with movies.

    Positive: Coen Brothers; Disney; Tom Hanks; 80's films; Hitchcock; "classics"; twists & turns that surprise you at the end; surprisingly, Oscar winners; period pieces (more so in books)

    Negative: aliens; wizardy; "everything goes wrong" (although I did like Armageddon for the most part); romance (more so in books!)

  2. Positives: Sci-fi, Time-travel, magic, fantasy, mystery

    Negatives: story focused on romance, gratuitous amounts of blood (in movies, I don't imagine too much when reading), horror (although recently I seem to be ok with it while reading, if it's light out).

  3. All right, here's what's up. My enjoyment modifiers are all over the place depending on genre or even medium. Lemme give you an example.

    I love hardboiled detective fiction more than air. But do I want to read that in my superhero comics? Yeah, sometimes. Daredevil has done it well, so has Batman. But Superman and Nightwing have both done it CRAP. Do I want to see it in books and movies, though? Almost without question.

    Time travel pisses me off. In everything except comics, it's normally a deal breaker. And yet I loved the Star Trek reboot with a fiery passion.

    You have possibly created some sort of hydra or Gordian knot of expectations, opinions, and contradictory criteria. I either love you or hate you.

    I'll let you know after I calculate your modifiers.

  4. Anonymous -- I must admit, when I was coming up with this, I didn't really consider specific people or companies; was more focused on the broad, sometimes abstract concepts. But, it's definitely something for me to think about when planning future posts. Also, big ups for the Coen Bros and Hitchock love, but big downs for no aliens or wizardry.

    Magavendon -- I'm with you on many of your positives, and I'll talk a bit about the romance thing on Thursday, but we part ways on horror, and a bit on gratuitous blood, depending on how over the top it is.

    Josh -- Ah, interesting -- with all of our various talks about SF/Fantasy/Comics over the last 10 years, I don't think I ever knew you were so anti-time-travel. This is actually part of what I was hoping for out of these posts: insight into friends and family's tastes. Excellent.

    And yeah, I've noticed quite a few qualifiers for my modifiers much like your Hard Boiled Detective example.

  5. meet the parents is a HORRIBLE movie. it's standard Ben Stiller fare. ...usually lies and coverups are supposed to be funny??? ....when the simple truth is SO much easier. ugh.

  6. My problem with time travel outside of comics is that it usually proves to me I'm smarter than the writer. Comics have enough dodges and hustles to get around it, Dr. Who refuses to deal with the issues, but most things make the issues the plot.

    And they ALWAYS screw it up. ALWAYS. That may be why Star Trek gets a pass. It was supposed to screw things up.

  7. Well, I never really thought about it, but I'll try to throw some out there.

    Positive: Women in roles of empowerment, time travel, people learning to use unfamiliar superhuman abilities (too specific?), magic, space travel, combining unlikely themes (though this is rarely done well), detective work - especially forensic

    Negatives: Whining women who can't do a damn thing for themselves and have to be saved by men, to quote you: "Awkward Continual Lying For No Good Reason" is a huge turn-off, really really stupid parents letting kids get away with everything, vapid high school drama and bullying, whiny empty dramas that pretend to be sci-fi or fantasy or horror *cough* TWILIGHT *cough*

    Was I too biased? :P

  8. Beth brought up a good point to me, that I enjoy watching romantic comedies with her even though the plot of those movies is about the romance.

    So I suppose that in the case of romantic comedies the comedic factors outweigh the romantic factors and create an enjoyable movie for me.

    There are probably many more situations such as that which I have not explored yet, but the stuff I gave previously should be seen in a very general sense. For instance I really liked 300, even though it had a very generous amount of blood.