Oct 222015

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

In order to enjoy any sort of fiction, but especially fantasy and science fiction, one must be able to set aside one’s knowledge of what is possible and what is not. An intentional blindness, where you know that people cannot fly, and yet you are able to watch Superman without being overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of a man flying.

Or an alien, in this case, which stretches our incredulity even further. It stretches, but it does not rip, because we have, as a group, agreed to accept the fiction.

Some cannot participate in this group self-delusion, or choose not to. We will not see any of those people at ComicCon. Nor will we miss them, unimaginative dullards that they must be.

For others though, even those who want to disbelieve, even then, there can come a point at which the fantasy being presented goes too far, the shroud of incredulity ripped and tattered, and the whole experience is soured.

For me, those moments most often come in the theater. When I go to a movie I want to be carried away. I want to be engrossed and absorbed. I hate it when a movie does something so spectacularly out of the bounds of the expected that it yanks me out of the vision and reminds me that, oh yeah, I am in a theater along with dozens of other (probably annoying) people, and now that I am thinking about it, my butt is going numb from the crappy seat I am inhabiting.

I can cite dozens of examples. Any J.J. Abrams movie will do this to me several times (and ye gods, here comes J.J. Abrams at the helm of Star Wars).

The very worst of all, for me, was the first Transformers movie. I was trying, I really was, even though this was a movie about toys. But there I was, gamely disbelieving along with everyone, cheering for Bumblebee, laughing along with Optimus Prime’s unintentional humor.

But then we got a closeup of one of the robots talking. It had lips.

The face was solid and unmoving, no muscles of course, just a rigid slab of steel. With ridiculous steel lips that vibrated up and down rapidly with each spoken syllable.

Why? Why would robots have lips? They don’t even have mouths! What the hell? That looks totally asinine.

And suddenly, there I was, back in the movie theater, numb butt and all. I was never able to get back into it, the failure was just too egregious.

“Oh really”, you might be saying, “you were okay with robots from outer space that can turn into cars and planes?” Yes, yes I was. “But the lips were too unbelievable for you? In a movie about alien robots that turn into cars and planes?”

Yes. It was just an awful idea. Lips. I didn’t choose to be repelled by the lips, I just was, and so (I would like to believe) was every other right-thinking moviegoer who was exposed to them.

Except the Transformers franchise just had their fourth sequel and have made several gazillion dollars, so maybe it was just me after all.

Lips! On robots! That didn’t even have mouths!

Which brings me to the point of this article.* I recently had cause to run the raid The Fall of Truth. And unexpectedly, I had one of those jarring unable-to-disbelieve moments that ruined the mood for me.

* And it’s about time, isn’t it? 500 words so far and no point? That’s worse than lips on a robot

Look at this picture of the Truthful One. You may note, or know from other sources, that he is a DracoLich, meaning he is a dragon that has transformed itself into an undead creature; a lich, and a dragon, together in one fearsome package.

The Truthful One - a dracolich

It sounds quite intimidating, doesn’t it? Liches are hard enough, and dragons are even harder. Put them together and you have something truly terrifying.

Note that The Truthful One still has blobby bits of flesh here and there, even though he became a dracolich some 10,000 years ago. Okay. I can handle that. Undead are weird and magic and who knows how long it will be before he is nothing but bones? I am still in the realm of willing disbelief.

Then The Truthful One flies up into the air. And that was it for me. Not because he can fly; we can too, at least when we get the Fly spell from the Stormreaver; but because he is flying by flapping his wings. And hovering.

I don’t think even the healthiest dragon can hover. It makes no sense. All that mass? Lazily flapping it’s wings and maintaining altitude and location? Few things in nature can hover and all of them have to really, really work at it.

I can live with hovering dragons. I have to avoid thinking about it too hard, but I can do that.

But how does a dracolich with only tattered remnants of his wing surface generate any lift? Clearly, he cannot. Clearly he is magically flying, like we do in the Reaver’s Refuge. Except … he is flapping his wings? He thinks he is flying with his wings, but he doesn’t have them any more!

It is too much for me. It just is.

And yet, wing flapping. Click here to see for yourself. This is not a regular GIF, it is stitched-together still shots, but you will get the point.


I don’t know what i would have wanted Turbine’s artists to do differently. I guess have the dragonlich fly like a gigantic paperweight? Wings tightly held to its sides?

I know that it is silly to expect realism in a fantasy game. Gary Gygax warned us about this:

D&D is a make-believe game. It is designed, however, to facilitate close personal involvement in all aspects of play; this makes suspension of disbelief easier for those who can initially accept a game form which does not relate to any reality except a few tenuous areas… It is a game for the imaginative and fanciful, and perhaps for those who dream of adventure and derring-do in a world all too mundane. As a game must first and foremost be fun, it needs no claim to β€œrealism” to justify its existence.

But I can’t help it. Wing-flapping bone dragons are too much for me. They are lips on a robot. I can never again run that raid the same; I will always be jarred by the discontinuity.

What about you? Is there anything in DDO that breaks your willingness to disbelieve?

Your own version of the robot lip moment?

πŸ™‚ πŸ˜€ πŸ™‚

  23 Responses to “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”

Comments (23)
  1. I see it more as magic causing him to fly/hover because he has no wings, but he is flapping the remains of his wings just because that’s ingrained in him from when he was a living dragon.

    ‘shrug’ πŸ˜€

  2. phantom wing effect, like losing a limb

  3. I think they would do themselves a favor in the believability category if they would have tendrils of that purpley-pink magic writhing cross his wings. Then I could believe it. Plus it would look really cool!


  4. I think of it the way much of vampire lore explains “breathing” – It’s habit. They don’t HAVE to do it, but after so many years of needing to, it’s just simpler to keep the instinct.

    Bone wings are clearly magically flying, but it’s just less effort to keep the wings moving the way they learned to fly centuries ago.

    Or, nerds.

  5. I am on board in all aspects of your observations. I’ve been there a few years now, a burden of our aging process I believe. Familiarity breeds contempt; oh gonads not aGaainnn…. Some people never get there and I am pointing specifically at developers at all stages of development who shrug and fall back on “no one will notice and if they do, JUST TELL THEM that it is magic”.

    The smallest of efforts at key points of an animation is the real Magic in believing… Suspension of belief is one thing but come on, a Suspension Bridge is still a team effort. πŸ˜‰

    I would love to see a little fuzzy logic on our mobs and cosmetic pets… Soft corners, spongy stop zones.

  6. Worst “jarring back to reality” movie scene? Has to be the climax of “G.I. Joe – Rise of COBRA”. I mean, the battle for COBRA’s secret, underwater base – that’s located under the polar icecap near the North pole – and what does COBRA do? They attempt to destroy the base by blowing up the icecap. Seriously? ‘falling’ chucks of ice? Did the writer AND director both flunk Physics 90 (that’s even too rudimentary for Physics 101…)?

    Compared to that, flapping wings on an undead dragon makes perfect sense. (Besides – it’s not just Turbine – Cryptic’s Neverwinter also has dracoliches and they all flap their undead wings. It’s just the way it is. And I’m OK with that.)

  7. The wing movement is the somatic part of the flying spell.

  8. Flapping of the wings is a throwback prior to magic when they were just flying reptiles, as they grew in magical powers they needed less wing-power to fly and more magic; however, magic is a relatively new occurrence for dragons. Only in the hundred’s of thousand’s of years not the millions for evolution. Well, it’s a theory for aiding your disbelief. I have a much harder time with War/Bladeforged.

  9. Although they are a sort of homage to every thin-scripted action movie, the bits that rip the fantasy veil for me are when the really bad guys come up with outlandish reasons for not putting the boot in. “Shall we all gang up against these well geared adventurers who seem to have successfully overcome every mob and trap in our dungeon so far? No, let my minions deal with them….”

    If the devs want to make my day, they could change the Spinners script at the end to something like “I’ll leave these troublesome mortals here then, because I’ve been trying to kill them for the past twenty minutes and its basically a score draw”.

  10. The flapping wings maybe how to spell is cast. And also I think you should be more focused on the liars, the confused, and the silent instead of flying dracolichs

  11. It clearly is a distraction mechanic. Like the magician using slight of hand. I mean picture Jeets walking into the dungeon…”Ha! Look at him there then. He doesn’t even have any….wait a minute how did he just start flying..thats amazing there isn’t any skin on those bones to push the air down. Cellimas look at this! Wait did he just say something important in his villain monologue? I didn’t … *GULP*

    And that was the end of Jeets. It wasn’t the powerful Lich magic, nor the immense strength of the dracolich. But curiosity. And we all know what curiosity does to cats….

    • Cuddles? Hmmm, nope, Jeets is dead so not cuddles. Well, whatever curiosity does in it’s spare time is fine with me: Jeets is Dead. Long live… dracolich? Oh Crankee? Girlfriend just cast Polymorph other; you are a cat and now she booped your nose. boop

  12. The thing that bothers me is the Reaver’s Refuge chain (not sure if Gianthold is similar, but it could fall into this category. I haven’t done Gianthold because I’m a noob.) When giants and dragons fail to defeat the resurrected giant, why would they expect some tiny, insignificant, members of the “lesser races” to succeed? Unless they’re wise enough to think tgat a different perspective (in two ways) could find the right answer…

  13. The question is … Does the Dracolich have lips?
    And do they move?

  14. I’m still trying to figure out many things from JJ Abrams and Michael Bay…

  15. Undead muscle memory πŸ™‚ Consider the wing movement more of a reflex than actually being a form of propulsion πŸ™‚

What do you think?

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