Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Running a Ghibli-Inspired Game

Running a Ghibli-Inspired Game
by Tobie Abad
August 2012

So you love Ghibli movies and you want to try running a game inspired by Studio Ghibli?  Here are some ways you can give your game, whatever game system you are using, a Ghibli touch.

1) Strong or Brave or Determined or Independent Women
Whether it be from Nausicaa, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke... or Arrietty.. or Kiki's Delivery Service... or.. well you get the idea.  While there are films where women take a back seat (such as Porco Rosso) even those films still have strong women as side characters. So be sure to have at least one very notable woman in the story, whether a non-playing character or not.  Be warned, though, if the strong woman is a player, Ghibli logic dictates that the player have either a vital moment where her decision saves the main focus of the game (the world, the city, etc) or her faith or wisdom solves a once unsolvable riddle.

2) Cute sidekick
For some, this can be an animal that displays an unexpected level of intelligence (Jiji in Kiki's Delivery Service) or supportive and touchingly sensitive even if it is still of baser animal instincts (Teto in Nausicaa).  If none of the player go for a sidekick, you can always throw this role in as either a sibling (Graveyard of the Fireflies or My Neighbor Totoro) or as a comic relief extra related to a non-playing character (The giant baby in Spirited Away, or the white tiny Totoro in My Neighbor Totoro).    As the Totoro movie shows, however, there's no harm in having more than one.  In fact, the more the merrier!

3) Technology, Magic, and Nature should be and evident presence in the game
While there is no need for them to always be against each other as they were presented in Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke, the contrast between them should always be clear.  Rare would technology be mistaken as magic.  Rarer would there be any claims that magic is just some kind of super-science.

Oh and always consider that Magic or Nature should have either a deific manifestation (Spirited Away truly goes wild with this idea).

4) Transformation should always be present
Whether it be through magic, such as in Howl's Moving Castle, through a secret innate ability like in Pom Poko, or as a curse never clearly defined in Porco Rosso, the idea that certain characters have been changed or remain changed in a certain way is a factor to always be hinted if not made clearly present in the game.

And if possible, the player characters should either be the one to uncover this transformation, or resolve it through their actions.

5) Flying is Wonderful
Always be sure to let the players enjoy the freedom and fluidity of flight.
The more often the better.

6) Villains are Grey. Not Black.   (If there is one at all.)
The villains are never truly evil.  Most would either be misunderstood, vengeful, or usually sad and lonely and doing only what they believe they must.

7) Emotions are always Important.
Never skimp on emotional moments.  Whether it is to contemplate on the loss of a loved one, the need to face fear, or the act of experiencing love, Ghibli movies always have a moment to explore the importance of emotions.  In many cases, the act of embracing these emotions should bring greater strength or understanding.

8) Gentle Giants
Many things that are huge and frightening should eventually be discovered to be kind and friendly if given the chance.  Whether they be mistaken as enemies as first like in Spirited Away or Laputa, or as a terrible force that cannot be controlled such as in Nausicaa, these gentle giants show a kinder side if given a chance.  Or once tears fall.

9) Death is real.
Whether the death is final, such as in Graveyard of the Fireflies or temporary, such as in Nausicaa, death should be a present and true threat for others to fear.

10) A sense of Wonder should always be present.
No matter how dark things get, or how dangerous a place is, there should always be a sense of wonder present.   Humor can always be a method this is injected into a scene.  Or the setting itself can bring it about, so be sure to craft wonderful images when you describe a new scene.

*Images from

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