Friday, June 10, 2011

A Quick Survery

Connectivity precludes a full post today, so I'm going to ask a question. I asked the same question on Twitter, and I intend to write about the answers I got, but I figured I'd ask here, both for those who don't use twitter and for those who do but want more than 140 chars to explain their position. So here's the question:

If you were to play a game set in the DC comics universe, how quickly would you figure out that Clark Kent is Superman? Presume that you are in a position to interact with both - You're Metropolis PD, Daily Planet Staff or one of the other interesting citizens of Metropolis.

If the answer changes based on situation (such as depending on the character you're playing) then feel free to say as much. Similarly, if there's a reasonably simple "it depends" go ahead and let me know. That said, don't worry about obvious exceptions like him directly revealing it to you.

The answers I've gotten so far have been incredibly informative to me, and I can only imagine that a little more room to speak will make them moreso.


PS - And because, as noted on twitter, I'm not looking to trick anybody, I'll reveal my answer up front: Never.


  1. As much as I want to say "never" - I probably figure it out quickly, now I would probably play along with it in a game.

  2. It depends. If the activities of Superman are an important part of the story, then it will be driven by story considerations.

    If Superman's activities are relegated to the background while we deal with other things, my answer is the same as yours: never.

  3. If he's my comrade in arms, I figure it out quickly or enter knowing it.

    If he's background, never.

    If he's my nemesis, it's a lot like comrade, but must come at a price.

  4. Playing (or running) a game in a world where Superman exists would be hard. He's a god among men, and unless the characters we're playing are too, what kind of stories can we tell about interacting with him?

    So, if we're low powered enough that we're operating on a totally different scale, I would expect it not to come up.

    If we're in the big leagues and interacting with him frequently, I would expect it to discover it as part of our first significant arc interacting with him.

  5. Never. Unless I'm Batman or Lois Lane, it's not in genre for me to figure it out, no matter how bad a pair of glasses and a slouch are as a disguise.

  6. I think it would be never. I tend not to play the detective characters, more of the idealist characters, so think they'd be more focused on whatever cause they'd be after than caring about the man behind the S. But then again, if the cause is finding out who the S is (for example, if I'm playing a government super-intervention agent who doesn't trust alien intervention), I would probably devote my time to finding him out.

  7. Assuming that my character interacts with Clark Kent and/or Superman it depends on what's going on in the game. Going into it blind, I'd intend my character to be willfully ignorant of it. They might suspect, even be 95% sure, but let the secret stand or mentally block the connection between Clark Kent and Superman until it makes sense to know.

  8. Yeah, it depends on the story you're playing. But because of the basic structures of narratives and the importance of that reveal, I'd say either in the middle (the midpoint reversal) or at the end (the climax). That's assuming it has to happen (never is a perfectly good answer).

    But really it depends on the story. If the story is about you being the one person who discovers Superman's real identity and how you react to that, well...

  9. Unless it's a significant part of the story we're playing, never.

  10. If my relationship with Clark is more important, I'll probably figure it out pretty quickly. The dynamic of "I don't know you're actually Superman" could be interesting for a little while, but it would get stale, at which point discovering the secret is the only way to keep things interesting.

    If my relationship with Superman is more important, I'll figure it out late in the game or not at all, depending on my character. In that case, the relationship stays interesting without the secret being revealed, so it makes more sense to play along with the genre conventions.

    If I'm the GM, I'd probably try to have the characters discover it towards the end of act 1 (assuming a campaign with a three-act structure). I like having the PCs deal with NPCs who are more powerful than they are, but giving them some sort of leverage over the NPCs to make for asymmetric negotiations. Giving them Superman's secret identity definitely counts for that. By doing it at the end of act 1, I leave enough time to establish Superman as the untouchable heavyweight he's meant to be so that it's exciting when the players piece together his secret.

  11. I'll answer from a different perspective: Let's say none of the players have heard of Superman, and are unconcerned with agreeing with canon. I would think we (and therefore our characters) would get wise after a moderate amount of interaction. Characters would likely play along with knowing winks if there's a friendly relationship there.

    I disagree with folks saying that the mystery would be a no-go if you're allied with Superman. In most superhero team-ups, Clark plays very little role, so it's not an issue. So given a group of players that DOES know about Superman, then staying ignorant is the correct thing to do if we're trying to stay true to the mythos. And if you're not, why is Superman in your game?

  12. In a LARP...
    * If he's another PC, you figure it out almost instantly but pretend you don't so as to avoid metagaming (obviously the appearance difference must be more significant than a pair of glasses, and your character would certainly be fooled...).
    * If he's an NPC, you never figure it out. Obviously the GM playing the city's greatest hero also sometimes comes into play as a reporter. There's nothing weird about them looking the same; the GM is obviously showing you via the glasses prop and different mannerisms that this character looks totally different.

    In a tabletop game...
    * If the GM uses reference photos for significant NPCs, you'll figure it out almost instantly, unless he does something sneaky like using different but similar looking actors.
    * If the GM just describes them when you meet them ("Superman is a mighty-looking man with dark hair and a caped blue and red outfit" "Clark is a nebbishy reporter; why do you always seem to run into him instead of that Lois Lane?"), you never figure it out unless the GM makes a point of several occurrences of one standing you up for a meeting while the other is notably active.

  13. Probably I figure it out about the time I'm banging his hot wife on the copy machine.

  14. I would never figure out because that is half the fun. It is almost like yelling out the end of a movie before it starts.

    Immersing oneself in a story like DC you have to justify that if a pair of glasses and switching which hand they use can fool the best and brightest then there must be something else.

    Even then there have been dozens of times Clark Kent and "A" Superman have been in two different places proving he could never be Superman and people will never believe Mild Mannered Clark Kent is the Man of Steel.

  15. Probably never, as it's not just the glasses, it's how Superman and Clark Kent carry themselves.

  16. It depends. If it's significant to my story or to my goals, like if I were a villain and it gives me power over him that lets me achieve a personal victory, then heck yes it's a priority for me to figure it out.

    If it doesn't matter, like if we were allies, I'd completely let the secret lie even if I did trip across his secret identity at some point.

  17. The moment I get a good look at his face in both contexts of his identity. Because dammit, I'm Bruce Effin' Wayne, the world's greatest detective.

  18. ... or, the moment I shoot Clark Kent with a boxing-glove arrow after suspecting he looks an awful lot like The Boy Scout, and it just bounces off him. Because I'm Ollie Frackin' Queen, the world's greatest archer.

  19. ... or the moment I get my supercomputers to crunch the data and see past all the odd coincidences, because I'm Babs Gordon, the world's greatest redheaded former-Batgirl hacktastic information dealer.

    Okay, I'll stop now.

  20. I think the reason it's "never" is that you're playing in the DC comics universe. A key quality of the universe is that people there do not notice. And I don't mean so much in a meta fashion, but that the universe has embedded commentary on human nature. That's literally what people are like there. Assuming your character is not, by his/her nature, an exception, you could never know.

    And that's a very, very powerful exception. I'd actually say such an exception is necessarily game-ruining. Not specifically because you'd know Superman's secret identity, but because you'd have godlike perception or other monitoring capabilities. I'm not a comic book buff, but I think this is not a story that can be told about Metropolis in the DC universe without unraveling it.

  21. I love this question!

    Though it puzzles me that some commenters are answering it as if you asked "if you didn't already know out of character that Clark Kent was Superman, how long would it take you to figure that out," which I don't think is precisely the question that you're asking. I'm going to assume that you know that we know out of character, and it's just a question of "do you play along with the conceit that it's hard to figure out, or don't you?"

    I'm used to playing along with story conceits in games, so given the scenario as described I would not figure it out. Unless doing that was somehow part of the point of the game, like you are playing as people working for Luthor whose job it is to discover this.

  22. You don't picture Superman as someone you work with. Or someone who goes shopping for groceries. Or waits for an elevator. I don't think you'd even think that he would have a secret identity. The idea that he would be just like one of us is ridiculous.

    He's larger than life. An icon.

    Besides everyone knows he lives in his Fortress of Solitude somewhere.

    As for Clark Kent Being Superman. Don't be ridiculous. Sure Clark's a big guy and could probably pull off dressing in a Superman costume for Halloween, but as to his actually being Superman. Nup. I mean when trouble is around he's the first one that hides. Ridiculous.

    Next you'll be saying that millionaire Bruce Wayne is actually a crime-fighting vigilante. Sheesh. Some people and their imaginary conspiracy theories!


  23. "How quickly would you figure out that Clark Kent is Superman?"

    I don't need to figure this out. I know it for a fact. Anyone who knows who Superman is also knows it for a fact.

    How quickly would my character figure this out? Well that's up to some negotiation between me and my GM.

    I cannot un-know this fact, so I must choose the role for my character with this in mind, and my decision must be accepted or negotiated at the table.

    Having been in situations like this before, it can lead to some fairly heated arguments over what one is allowed to permit their character to know.

  24. As a player or a character?

    As a player, I would guess maybe after 3-5 sessions that focused on Superman and Clark Kent both. Probably never if sessions only really focus on Clark or Superman at different points.

    That's assuming I still know that secret identities are a superhero thing. If not, then I might never make the connection that Superman is even trying to live a normal human life on the side. Otherwise, I'd figure he's probably spending 24/7 saving people around the world.

    As a character in the world, I think I'd have to practically live with the guy to figure it out. I'm talking best friends if not roommates. Going on extended road trips and staying up late talking about life's bullshit.

    If it's just professional interactions and acquaintance level friendship, at best, I don't think I'd ever figure it out. Who would guess that the reporter dweeb is really Superman? (The DC Universe has it pretty well established that no one would look at Clark and think "Oh, he looks a lot like Superman with glasses.")

    Unless I'm a fellow superhero, working with both often, then I think I'd figure it out fairly quickly. Especially if when I'm trying to protect Clark from the latest evil, and he always eludes me just before Superman shows up.


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