Friday, August 5, 2011

CHANGE ALL THE THINGS (Retroactive Continuity)

Retroactive continuity (or Retcon) is, as Wikipedia so eloquently states, the alteration of previously established facts in a fictional work. This can be something added, subtracted, or as the definition states, altered. For reasons that I will go into sooner rather than later, I've been thinking a lot about retroactive continuity the last few days.

To give the first example that comes to mind: Blizzard Entertainment is altering the back story of their Diablo universe with the forthcoming sequel, Diablo III, a series which I'm sure might ring a few bells regardless of your video game prowess.

I'll admit I'm not that familiar with the intricacies of the Diablo story, and I had to do some mild research to write this. I've never felt that Blizzard were at the forefront of video game storytelling. That’s not to say I don’t love the heck out of their games; I just don’t love them for their narrative.

What they’re changing, to put it simply, is that one of the characters you’re able to play in the first game is now the son of an enemy. Nerdy further exposition will follow, so if you’re allergic to such things, best skip ahead a paragraph or two. At the end of Diablo I (1996), this character kills Diablo, and then the Lord of Terror is forced back into his soul stone. The player character then shoves this stone in his forehead to keep the beast at bay, and to induce permanent brain damage. This is what Diablo wanted all along! This nameless character will be a better host to his evilness than his previous embodiment ever was. Now, when Diablo comes back for seconds in Diablo II (2000), this is actually the Dark Wanderer, or the warrior from the first game, who has been fully possessed by Diablo, the Lord of Terror.

Recently, Blizzard announced that this Dark Wanderer is actually the son of King Leroic (some random skeleton boss you kill in the first game), who’s back for revenge in Diablo III! And for some reason establishing that the Dark Wanderer/Warrior is this skeleton’s son is important. Why? Knowing Blizzard, probably no reason what-so-ever. It should be mentioned that this is one of those addition retconning, and not an alteration. I don’t think any of the back story ever stated that this Dark Wanderer was not his son. Now, we just know for sure that he is.

Point being, they're changing little things about the Diablo Universe in order to better accommodate what they're trying to do with this forthcoming sequel. Many people are bothered by the fact changing, like the Diablo lore is some sacred untouchable manuscript. At the end of the day, it’s Blizzard’s intellectual property, which means they can do whatever they want to it. Ultimately, I don't really care. For starters, I really only played the Diablo series to kill stuff and to gather pretty pixels of loot like a crazy raccoon. Secondly, if Blizzard thinks that altering facts will somehow create a better narrative, then more power to them.

But retcon isn't specific to video games. It happens in movies, TV, and of course books. A few decades ago, when the industry was still primarily print based, the direct altercation of a published work was tricky, since older editions are still out there. Now, in the digital age, retconning is as simple as editing a text document and uploading the new version to Amazon, Smashwords, or wherever.
I unabashedly admit that I've done this… a few times.

After finishing my second book, I went back and did a revision of the first, and I found myself changing little things here and there to better connect it with the sequel’s story.

When I first started Not Everything Brainless is Dead, I fully intended for it to be part of a franchise, the first book of many, and I still stand firm to those goals. In twenty years, I want to have one of the most extensive superhero comedy series in existence--and it'll probably be the only one.

The wonderful thing about ebooks is that when I'm finished with each installment of The Absurd Misadventures of Captain Rescue, I am freely able to go back and revise previous books and change things around at will. I will say, however, that I’m conscious of maintaining whatever narrative integrity I have going for me. So I’m going to avoid doing anything overly major. I’ll just try to make the books better.

After finishing the third (which is moving along splendidly, I must say!), I'll probably go back and give the first two books another coat of paint and change things around as I see fit, which is something that would have never been possible in the print day and age. Obviously, this makes getting them proofread and edited a little tricky, but that's a concern for another time. I'm also hesitant to get print versions made through Createspace for similar reasons. It would be annoying having to update the hard copy every time I go on one of my retconning adventures.

Anyway, the point of this is to say that Retroactive Continuity is fun, and I look forward to exploiting it further.

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