My Little Pony: The RPG

Friday, August 19th, 2011

A few years back, as an April Fools joke, Wizards of the Coast, the folks behind Dungeons & Dragons, announced a My Little Pony roleplaying game.

This annoyed gamer-geek mxyzplk — because My Little Pony: The RPG was a great idea:

I put some thought into this when my daughter was younger. You could quite easily make a commodity RPG based on, for example, Dora the Explorer. Those episodes are very rote, the girl is on a quest and has to pass three different obstacles. You print up some “adventure sheets” with three to-do things, and a harried parent can “run the game” while doing housework. “Here, to get by the rhyming troll you have to write down a poem! Work one out together, Dora, Nora, and Whoever-you-are! Back in 5! Remember to play pretend!” It can be made appropriate down to a very young age. That article came out when my girl was 4 and I easily specced out some kid-compatible mechanics (who rolled higher on a d6 + arts & crafts!).

Of course, this is hard for most RPG companies to do. It’s not like they’re part of a huge corporation that owns the rights to a bunch of children’s properties! Oh, wait…

It’s pretty sad that we want to get a new generation into the hobby, but the most obvious and high value things that could do that are despised, and instead we think all we need is yet another 300 page rulebook slaughterfest game. Get a child psychologist, combine simple to-dos with pony figures, run a TV spot during the show (retask some of the money being flushed down the toiled advertising Green Lantern toys), and voila, the My Little Pony Adventure Game has more people playing it than every other extant RPG within weeks.

I knew that My Little Pony was back on toy-store shelves. I didn’t realize it had a new hit show:

The series had a reboot last year and is properly titled My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. While it is obviously a child’s cartoon, it is insanely well done: well-written, well-drawn, well-acted, with plenty of puns, sight gags, at least one Chuck Jones reference, and several very catchy songs.

To paraphrase the producer: “We knew parents would end up watching this show with their kids so we wanted to make it fun for them too. This includes male parents as well.” It worked! The series is now very popular with high school and college age students of both sexes.

It gets weirder:

Despite the target demographic of young girls, the show has gained a large following of predominately male teenagers and adults, calling themselves “bronies”. The appreciation of this unlikely audience is due to a combination of Faust’s direction and characterization, the expressive Flash based animation style, themes older audiences can appreciate, and a reciprocal relationship between the creators and fans. Elements of the show have become part of the remix culture and have formed the basis for a variety of Internet memes.


  1. At first I thought your post was about My Little Ponies armed with Rocket Propelled Grenades but the truth was even stranger and more disturbing.

  2. Zack M. Davis says:

    It gets weirder:

    I can attest that Friendship Is Magic is an awesome show; don’t judge it until you’ve watched it.

  3. Zack M. Davis says:

    I recommend starting with episode 11, “Winter Wrap Up.”

  4. Isegoria says:

    I suppose what’s weird is that many young men would (1) give the show a chance, and (2) admit watching it to other young men. Anyway, it seems like another Powerpuff Girls, which wasn’t really a show for little girls.

  5. Alrenous says:

    My physics training makes me want to account for forces. Skipping the forces you’ve already implied…

    Rationality: it’s becoming even more fashionable to evaluate things on their merits, rather than how others will see you as a result of the evaluation. It’s gotten to handicap principle territory — since the signalling is so negative, liking MLP must be due to rationality.

    Of course this just reduces to another signal, but…

    Feminism: Get in touch with your feminine side, signalling feminist credentials. This might be a tactic of betas, but betas don’t exactly see that as a downside.

    10% rule: Now that I’ve seen several references to MLP in the internets, and Zack’s linked a particular episode, I have the urge to see what the fuss is about. So, advertising threshold.

    Once that hurdle is passed — presumably by feminism/rationality signalling and suchlike — the show can deploy other tools.

    The pre-OP part of Winter Wrap Up demonstrates MLP isn’t the standard treacly, anvilicious children’s show. Honestly, the not-idiot factor is pretty impressive — reinforcing the rationality signal. (Success, then, is actually many small successes in a row.)

    Less cynically: to use anime terms, there’s good shoujo and pandering shoujo, just as there’s good shounen and pandering shounen. Dudes praising a good shoujo is pretty common. Making a show good enough to be enjoyable by many demographics is hardly impossible. Good shows are either becoming more common or the internet is getting them more exposure. As more people admit to liking a show that’s not ‘for’ them, it becomes weirder to condemn someone for doing so.

    Last Airbender is somewhere around good shounen, for example. Tween boys probably enjoy it the most, but lots of other people do too.

    This is one of the good points of progressive propaganda. Guilty pleasures rarely need to be, and progressives are effectively dispelling some of these guilts. “I can’t believe you watch MLP.” “So only girls can watch it? Sexist.” (Generally, anti-stereotyping fashions.) Hopefully they eventually get to, “Why do you care what I do in my free time?” but on this issue it’s good enough.

    From another direction, why would anyone make Powerpuff Girls? Why that art style, why that name if you’re making a show that isn’t for girls? Something has to cause the show in the first place. I’d say it’s more or less the same things that cause it to be successful.

  6. Isegoria says:

    The Powerpuff Girls were originally called the Whoopass Girls, which points to the source of their appeal: irony — which is quite fashionable with the hipsters these days.

Leave a Reply