Because there’s nothing I like more in life than some good emotional dissonance, on the same night I watched Chappie for the first time, I also watched the 2015 live-action Cinderella for the first time (to tell the truth, I figured I would need something cheerful and lighthearted after Chappie, and by god I was right). And, as I usually seem to when I watch movies, I got to thinking.
Cinderella is often considered to be one of the more boring Disney princesses, along with Snow White and Aurora. They’re the least edgy, they’re nice and sweet and kind and pure. Some throw accusations of these three being the princesses who spent the most time waiting for a man to save them, rather than saving themselves (I won’t go into all the reasons this is inaccurate; I’ve covered it before). I think when I did a Hogwarts House sort of the princesses, I put all three of them into Hufflepuff (also often considered the most boring Hogwarts House).
I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but when I first started doing that series (which might make a return at some point), I considered doing a similar series of characters’ D&D alignments as well. I ended up choosing not to, but I had figured that those three classic princesses definitely would’ve all been Lawful Good… which is also often regarded by some groups of D&D players as the most boring alignment to play. So, Cinderella’s boring, Hufflepuff is boring, Lawful Good is boring… so what’s the common element here?
In the end, what I keep coming up with is the same reason people think Superman is boring – he’s just too good. Characters who are purely good don’t have that aforementioned edge to them that more morally conflicted characters do. The plotlines and growth arcs they can undergo and still remain realistic and in-character are more limited because of the character’s morality. Or at least, that’s certainly the opinion I’ve heard some people express, which I do not share.
I am not bored by Cinderella, or Superman, or Hufflepuff, or Lawful Good. I self-identify as a Hufflepuff, and I have on several occasions played Lawful Good characters. I can understand some of the misconceptions about Hufflepuff because they’re the most poorly represented House in the Harry Potter books, Cedric Diggory notwithstanding. In some D&D groups, you can say “I’m gonna play a Lawful Good fighter” and at least one person will groan “ughhhhh, you’re gonna be that guy.” That guy? What? Why is playing a Lawful Good character a bad choice? How did that come around?
I think a decent amount of it is just down to poor roleplaying, in that instance. A lot of newbie roleplayers will pick a Lawful Good character because it seems like most cut-and-dry. Your choices should be clear as a Lawful Good character. And in more simplistic stories, I’d say that they are. But the longer a campaign goes on, or the more intrigue makes it’s way into the story, the harder it gets and the more those lines blur. My question is, how many of the people who groan at a Lawful Good character are not roleplayers? How many of them are here for hack-and-slash, not story? I haven’t exactly conducted a formal survey, but I suspect it’s quite a lot of them.
I suspect Cinderella’s reputation as a boring character stems from the older Disney princess movies being more poorly regarded in general over time – they contain the fewest “twists”, they adhere the most closely to the traditional fairy tales, and in a lot of ways, they also adhere the most closely to certain gender roles. I get it. If you compare Cinderella to, say, Frozen or Tangled, there is less “edge” to it, depending on how you define edge. The 2015 Cinderella put a lot of emphasis on the words “Have courage and be kind”, which is not the type of thing I’d normally define as edgy.
That is, until I read a certain analysis of Cinderella as being about breaking the cycle of abuse – Cinderella had the courage to remain kind even in the face of the cruelties that were done to her, never sinking to the level of her abusers, either in retribution against them or in lashing out at others. And that completely changed how I interpreted that story. After all, anyone who knows or works with children can tell you that kids with difficult or stressful home situations are more likely to become bullies themselves. And that’s when I learned something else about my affinity for Lawful Good characters.
It’s not easy to be Lawful Good. It might be easier for a newer player to roleplay, but in universe? For the character? It’s not easy. In a typical D&D campaign, the characters quickly outpace most of the people they encounter in terms of skill, equipment, experience, and everything else. The player characters have access to magic and weapons and money and all kinds of things the NPCs don’t. How easy is it for someone in that situation to become a bad guy, or at least to skirt the edges? How easy is it to decide that the rules don’t apply to you? As someone who has certainly played her fair share of characters who slaughtered their way out of every problem, it’s incredibly easy.
It’s choosing to adhere to a more rigid moral code that’s the harder choice. Just like choosing to have courage and be kind is the harder choice. And being loyal and honest and hardworking is the harder choice. Outwardly, I think, it may seem like Lawful Good characters are boring, because you know what choices they’re going to make. But I think if you look a little deeper, you start to see how hard it is to make that choice and keep making that choice, and I think that’s part of why I love the Lawful Good. Because I think it’s about choice, and I think there’s more internal conflict there than any Chaotic Neutral may ever know.