Little Grey

The Biggest Load of Unimaginative Junk, Ever

Spend enough time in a place and you begin to notice the local peculiarities. In Chiang Mai, it was the obsession with milk and bread as dessert — an unusual treat from my perspective, but the locals swore by it. I hadn’t realized until my last weeks there, but once I looked for it, the dessert was available on almost all menus.

In Penang, the oddity is even less apparent, but far more obvious once noticed. It’s the little grey cars. Tiny hatchbacks, barely larger than an insect, in a spectrum ranging from gunmetal to carbon. Everybody has one. They’re absolutely everywhere. Once I saw the phenomenon, I couldn’t unsee it. I also couldn’t think of a real reason behind it. Maybe the weather is too sunny here and locals need some grey in their lives? Or the surf is so thrilling that they each want a sensible depressant? I asked the locals at coffeeshops, in my apartment, and at the bar, but still nobody had a great explanation. The best one came from a drunken friend while playing FIFA: “I don’t know, they just work, bro”.

I guess… they do. And there is some inexplicable charm to the little go-carts — vrooming and beeping their way between pedestrians and motorcycles that have more weight than they do. Or perhaps it’s just my romanticized look at everything in this Asian adventure.

Either way, I loved watching Jezza hit one with a hammer.

Nobody Else Had a Moustache Half As Good.

Little grey cells are Poirot’s magic tool. When everyone else fails, Poirot gets his killer just by using them. And every Detective — capital D — has some version of those little grey cells: Sherlock’s “elementary” connections, Wolfe’s lip-pursing trances, Columbo’s “just one more thing”. These little grey cells also explain how our Detectives never fail: their intuition won’t let them! These characters can solve anything.

But, my players can’t.

The fun in detective stories is when the hero finally reveals the killer. In my game, you are the hero, so the fun has to be a little different; it’s found in overcoming obstacles, in being proud that you solved the murder with your own skills. That self-confidence — the delightful realization of your own abilities — that’s what I’m going for.

But, this comes with a difficult corollary: The Detective in my story must be able to fail. Otherwise, if the player always gets the killer, where’s the self-confidence? Where’s the delight?

My riddles will be more solvable than most Golden-Age Murder Mysteries. Those stories were written with the purpose of confounding the reader and magnifying the Detective’s grandeur. In fact, the plots can get so convoluted that the Detective’s final explanation often has many holes in it — of course, the killer always confesses.

No, my mysteries won’t be as opaque. But they also won’t be solved for you.

You’ll have to find a bit of your own little grey cells.

Background image by Wikipedia user Two Hundred Percent

First quote from Jeremy Clarkson, Second quote (slightly paraphrased) from Agatha Christie






One response to “Little Grey”

  1. Alice Gansfield Avatar
    Alice Gansfield

    Hi, Ben! Did Amanda get back safely? She said she was going to be in Borneo through 3/12 but I haven’t heard from her. I am worried. I love reading your blog! I hope all is going well with you. We will miss you in Hong Kong. Hugs, Alice