Cute Things!

One of the interesting things I found about my game was if in doubt, I could generally stall for a game by introducing a cute thing. Small and fluffy, childlike, prone to noises that could’ve been speech if it’d had the intelligence to support it—it really didn’t matter. It’s a recognized pattern, I think—or at least, that explains the prevalence of animal mascots in places where one might or might not otherwise expect them. But what makes a cute thing work?

The first key, I find, is to isolate one or two qualities that lead to the cuteness. For some people, this might simply be appearance—huge eyes, small size, fluffiness, you get the idea. Others key to a childlike personality, and others to an air of vulnerability or innocence, a surfeit of enthusiasm or a put-upon expression. Some people’s idea of cuteness is somewhat more esoteric, leading to things like my recurring NPC Ruby’s tendency to consider enormous battle-creatures as adorable or one PC responding to an enormous shark-whale-dragon-thing and its tendency to “wrgh” at him with, “Will you stop doing that, it’s so cute and I’m trying to capture you!” But anyway, choose one or two and stick to them. Too many different elements that are supposed to signal cuteness and you’re likely to cross the line into twee.

Try to keep the cuteness from being the self-sabotaging kind. Yes, there are people whose idea of cute is the critter who just keeps trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, or the babylike tendency to be oblivious until the accident occurs and then respond with an “oops”, or the endearingly clumsy type…. please, leave those at the door. Either it looks inconsistent when they somehow manage not to be their usual danger-to-self-and-others selves, or they’re bizarrely competent when the plot requires it, and both are bad for suspension of disbelief—and if you’re consistent and they do continue to make their ‘cute’ mistakes at the worst possible moment, they lose the goodwill they’ve gained fast.

Similarly, make sure that standing there looking cute is not the creature’s sole, nor even primary, function. Part of this is the avoidance of crossing the twee barrier with too many sources of perceived cuteness, but part is also just making it clear that the thing is in the story for reasons other than that you thought you were neglecting the “secretly prone to squeal at the sight of fuzzy juvenile things” demographic too much. The cute thing is also a character’s personality foil. Or a necessary part of another character’s growth for reasons that have nothing to do with its appearance. Or the heavy artillery. Or… you get the idea. If it’s just there to be cute and incompetent, think twice about keeping it.

If the character is there to be appealing, don’t forget to make sure that cuteness is a quality that your expected audience actually values. If you have your doubts, make extra sure that there’s some other quality that might appeal to those who aren’t in it for the fuzzy body and huge melting eyes. It’s a trick that applies to everything, but I find it particularly important when dealing with cute things.

Got through that? Good. THEN you can go for the squee.

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