When RPGs Turn Out to Be Pranks

In season 2, episode 4 of She-Ra and the Princess of Power,Roll With It,” a tabletop role-playing game is a key part of the Rebels plan to retake a Horde-controlled fortress. Only a month earlier on March 31, an announcement of an official She-Ra tabletop role-playing game turned out to be a hoax. These pranks tend to reveal more about the prankster than perhaps originally intended, revealing curious biases about what's funny in gaming. But times have changed and for an example of how a negative jab at gamers can be turned into something positive, there's another Hasbro property that provides a blueprint.

Yes, It Was a Hoax

The reboot of the She-Ra franchise on Netflix was very well-received by fans despite concerns about the shift in animation and tone away from the 80s He-Man franchise that spawned it. Hot on the heels of the announcement of another RPG based on a Netflix franchise, Altered Carbon, licensed to Hunters Entertainment, a Twitter account had a surprising announcement: There was going to be a She-Ra RPG! 

The She-Ra announcement was believable for several reasons. For one, it wasn't announced on April 1 for many people around the world. For another, Noelle Stevenson, creator of the Netflix series, was included in the tweet, lending it the air of an official announcement. And it didn't hurt that the account was launched with a poster just compelling enough to make fans of both tabletop role-playing and She-Ra believe it was true.  

But it wasn't true at all. It was a prank on April Fools’ Day. The reveal that it was a prank roiled Twitter, not the least of which because She-Ra is considered by some in the LGBTQ community as trans-friendly. The timing mattered too -- March 31 is also the International Transgender Day of Visibility

This Has Happened Before

There's another franchise that was launched as an April Fools’ Day joke by a company who most certainly knows better. And that's the My Little Pony franchise, owned by Hasbro, who also owns Dungeons & Dragons through its subsidiary, Wizards of the Coast. It was posted on April 1, 2006 and explained how “mothers and daughters will be delighted to be the first to experience the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game.” The obvious hoax explained how “leveraging opportunities between Hasbro’s core girl brand and Wizards of the Coast’s most popular game formats, the My Little Pony RPG marks an exciting d20 experience for girls ages 3-7, a previously unexplored segment of the roleplaying game marketplace.”

The joke was that surely "mothers and daughters" wouldn't be interested in a tabletop role-playing game, much less "girls ages 3-7." To be fair to Hasbro, this was before Lauren Faust rebooted the franchise, in a change that made it appeal to people of all ages and genders. Given the franchise's newfound popularity, it raised the question of why there wasn't a serious attempt at crafting a My Little Pony tabletop role-playing game.

Fast forward a decade later and in March 2017, we had our answer: Shinobi 7, game studio co-owned by Ninja Division and Seven Seas Publishing, acquired the rights to the My Little Pony tabletop role-playing game from European game development studio River Horse Games. 

Times had changed. Wizards of the Coast couldn't possibly have predicted the enormous shift in popularity both in Dungeons & Dragons among women and girls and My Little Pony with men and boys. Which makes it all the more surprising that someone would think announcing a She-Ra role-playing game would be a funny prank. 

Why Is This Funny?

The joke behind the My Little Pony prank was that a D20-licensed game seemed absurd because it was so far outside the typical target audience of young men. The She-Ra prank seems to be largely along the same gendered lines. The prankster didn't think it was a problem...at first. “Maybe the world needs to lighten up a little?” said the prankster on Twitter. “If you can't play a prank even on the one day of the year when HEY EVERYBODY PRANKTIME!!!!!! that's a sign people are taking thinks waaaaay to seriously.”

The massive response changed the prankster's mind, as the anonymous prankster explained in a follow-up tweet. “I do feel that there's an overwhelming heavyheartedness that requires stupidity and levity and pranks in order to alleviate,” said the prankster. “I've since had plenty of discussions about it and I do regret this particular target. I am sorry for that.”

 In the end, something positive may come of this. Satine Phoenix and Crystal Frasier both expressed interest in making the game a reality. We can only hope all this outpouring of excitement and support results in an officially-licensed game everyone can play.

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