Though I may not be a hardcore gamer, I have been playing video games since I was five on my beloved Nintendo Entertainment System (which still works, btw). Through the last twenty-five years I have noticed that while a great in-game story and cunning gameplay are essential to a top notch experience, what puts some of my favorite games over the edge is the wonderful “fluff” that accompanies them.
Fluff (not a fluffer, get your mind out of the gutter), is that material which exists outside the game that helps build the background and world in which the game exists. In the beginning this was normally contained in the instruction booklet that came with the game. For anyone who remembers playing the original Legend of Zelda, there were great pictures that gave the player a sense of who Link was and the adventures on which he was about to embark. While those were great, they were just pictures and gave only the slightest glimpse into the rich world that was Hyrule. It took a few more technological generations for fluff stories to become more fully fleshed out, but it would be worth the wait.
In my experience, the next major step in this evolution was Warcraft II: The Tides of Darkness. This was my jumping on point for all that is the Warcraft franchise. The game was amazing for its time, but what drew me in even further was the booklet that came with the game, containing not only the instructions for the game, but page after page of lore and characterization, along with art that nearly melted my young brain. I spent hours poring over this knowledge to further immerse myself in the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. The more I read, the more it all came to life for me. Even the expansion set, Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, had these alluring little details, though on a scale fitting the size of the expansion. I’m nearly certain that I no longer have these books, but Blizzard has been kind enough to create novelizations of the fluff, which I have recently begun to absorb.
Fluff is by no means limited to video games. I have to be honest: paper and pencil roleplaying game books have been filled with these nuggets for decades. They serve to help set the scene for the game as well as provide inspiration to the GM and players. Looking at RPG books, I’ve found that a significant portion of the books are, in fact, this kind of background material. This is true for rulebooks in general. In my younger, although less well-funded days I played Warhammer 40K. Games Workshop prided themselves on giving each army a unique personality and feel. While at times this was done through major differences in the rules (Space Wolves, Dark Angels, etc) it was also often done through fluff. GW in particular enjoyed hiding little things in the fluff of their books. On one particular instance I discovered a piece of war gear deemed the “Holy Orb of Antioch.” I probably shouldn’t expect anything less from a company run entirely by Brits.
Even card games take part in the fluff game. Magic: The Gathering has been incorporating little bits of story into their cards since the very beginning. At the bottom of many cards, after the game related text, is lore text, which gives little tidbits about the ongoing story. Little did I realize that Magic has had a continuing story this whole time. It was only recently when I started to play the game that I realized how interconnected everything was. The most recent expansion “Battle for Zendigar” pulls cards and story points from other sets that stretch back years. And like any good fantasy epic, they are not above rewriting their own history in the middle of the story, so long as it makes things more interesting.
Fluff is an interesting beast. While not really complete unto themselves, the pieces added together, along with the rest of the in-game material create a deep and enveloping universe into which the player can dive. I can’t even begin to count the number of hours I’ve spent wallowing in the depths of fluff, but I can say that it’s been time well spent.