Sunday, 11 March 2012

General Ramblings: The Importance of Fluff

*Incarias doing the welcome-boogie*

Yes, I know it's a disturbing thought. Live with it.

Today is about fluff.

No, not that kind. As well you know.
Now, when I say fluff, I mean background story stuff. Back in the days of yore, when I first entered the online gaming community, by way of the Bolter and Chainsword forum, the term 'fluff' was much maligned. It was seen as deprecatory and derogatory; a silly term to diminish the importance of this material.

I didn't agree then, and I don't agree now.

The term 'fluff' covers a wide spectrum of textual and visual background material, much wider than I would be willing to stretch the term 'background', which seems to be the accepted alternative. Fluff covers, in the case of GW, the codices' background text, as well as the background text from the main rulebook, the colour text in White Dwarf, on the website (etc.), the pictures, and to a certain extent the battle reports published by GW. However, it also covers the books published by Black Library, every piece of in-universe fiction written by non-affiliated writers (including fans), every picture similarly produced. It also makes no difference between current and obsolete.

And I did not intend to write that much about terminology...

Have a picture:

It takes guts to cover a Landraider in pink fluff. It demands respect.
Very well, where I was going was this: fluff is important.

No matter the game.

The fluff is what makes our games (and I don't care what miniature conflict game you play) more than just an excuse to throw dice/flip cards/push suggestively shaped hunks of plastic or metal across a board. Fluff is the reason those hunks are suggestively shaped, and not merely numbered discs. If we didn't care about the fluff, we'd be fine with chess, or Go, or some other highly abstract form of game.

Yes, the minis themselves are part of the appeal. Of course they are. They're also part of the fluff. Their shape, colour, poses, weaponry, mode of transportation and favourite beverages are all part of the fluff, and the minis tell a large part of it.

And yes, the chance to do war on your friends is appealing. Because war is very interesting. Bad for people, but very, very interesting. Which is why we make games about it, from running around with a bunch of other five-year-olds making pew-pew sounds and waving sticks, through video games and all the way onto the fringes with live action role playing.

Source here. See, I'm not a shameless thief.
But here, too, it is the story that is the appeal.

I will make another post - hopefully soon, possibly not - about how this affects us as gamers. But not right now. I'm off to play Blood Bowl.



  1. The thing that always grates with me about 'fluff' is when people don't use the similarly (potentially) derogatory 'crunch' to describe rules. It's a term that I see used by people who are making value judgements about one aspect of a game or another - "fluff ain't rules" is an implicitly loaded statement that makes the story/aesthetic stuff sound less important. I'm okay with 'fluff' if it's paired with 'crunch' but if we're treating 'rules' or 'mechanics' seriously then I get to talk about 'background' and 'aesthetics'. Levels the playing field, what?

  2. I agree to a degree. If we're talking about 'mechanics' on the one hand, then 'background' is the appropriate counterpart.

    As for 'crunch', it is not a term that has been raised in my presence before, as a rules counterpart to 'fluff'. This might be because English is not my first language, or it may be a dialect thing that hasn't travelled to the same extent. In either case, 'fluff' comes naturally, 'crunch' does not.

    I have no problems with 'crunch' being used. But let's take back the fluff! It's such a good term. Like a sofa, our games would be far less appealing without the fluffy stuffing.

    1. Has it not? That's interesting. I thought it was universal without being widely used, if that makes sense - everywhere, but not often.

      I suppose you're right; I'm just used to hearing it sneered, in close conjunction with 'bunny', by people for whom mechanics, rules and other logical, manly things are very much supreme. 'Fluff' is an easily dismissable, ephemeral word: it's stuff you find in your belly-button.