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Do you think that characters using their powers for personal gain are in the wrong?

  1. Yes

    22.2%
  2. No

    77.8%
  1. Archnenna
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    Archnenna Active Member

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    Why is it wrong for superpowered characters to use their powers for personal gain?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Archnenna, Jul 24, 2015.

    Almost every book/show/movie that features superpowered characters has them use their powers to help people, and the ones who choose to have fun instead are either labelled as evil or are shown as being in the wrong. Examples: Buffy, Charmed, Smallville...

    My question is why?

    This is an important topic to me because I'm writing an urban fantasy story and most characters are supernatural creatures and therefore have superpowers.

    They work in this agency that deals with the supernatural, and they all have superpowers. The reason they're working there is because it's just a job, they get to earn money and work and actually do something with themselves. They use their powers all the time to make their life easier.

    Why shouldn't they? I mean, if superpowers were real, you bet people would use them for fun. There is no obligation that you have to help anyone just because you're special, nor should there be.

    I'm a big fan of superpower-based stories and such a thing bothers me because you can still create great characters and compelling stories without instantly marking them as untrustworthy because, for example, they prefer to teleport to school instead of using the bus or peek inside a teacher's head to get the answer to that difficult test question. Why is that so wrong?

    I would just like to see what people think about it. Everyone's opinion is welcome. :)
     
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think people have innate respect and admiration for people who work hard and get by on the same merits as everyone else. A self-made person who was poor and becomes wealthy is often admired. Someone born into wealth is not, but is instead seen as having had special advantages in life.

    With super characters, I think it is similar reasoning. I don't know that teleporting to school would cause a problem, but using powers to cheat on tests or otherwise gain an unfair advantage over others isn't going to cause the reader to admire the character.

    Doesn't mean it can't be done, and it makes sense that some people with super powers would use them for personal gain. Those are the ones that are usually portrayed as evil, but you could do it with a more morally ambiguous character as well.
     
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  3. Daemon Wolf
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    Daemon Wolf Active Member

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    Because "With great power, comes great responsibility." Pretty simple. The reason why using superpowers for ones gain is bad is because power corrupts. You see it everywhere, governments, social groups, hell, I even know a guy who made his own forum who is "mad with power" and abusing it currently. Anybody can use their powers for personal gain but it takes a great man to use it to help others. Teleporting to school becomes teleporting out of restaurants without paying because you want to impress your friends and that leads to teleporting into bank vaults. Obviously not fast but you get my meaning.
     
  4. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on the superhero - Tony Stark uses his mind (his greatest asset) to create the inventions his company manufactures, thus accumulating the great wealth he uses to both defend the world and court attractive women.

    Ultimately it depends on the character and their ability to understand the consequences of using their abilities for personal gain. There could be situations where personal gain would come as a side-effect of helping others, but I cannot think of any this very second.
     
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  5. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know what you mean but wanna complicate this a bit by challenging the selfish vs selfless behavior thing. Most selfless acts have selfish motives. This doesn't mean somebody who donates money for tax write offs is bad. It's just kinda the way it is. I give money to homeless people because it relieves guilt. It also supports a personal unconscious claim I make to myself that "I am good." People also tend to want to gain approval from others, and appearing to be selfless is a great way to achieve that. Superheroes that are purely acting on behalf of the greater good and have zero selfish motives are, in my opinion, poorly conceived, unrealistic characters. Ones who struggle with worrying what people think of them are more interesting, and I can relate to them as flawed, conflicted people.

    ETA: Then there's selfless acts that help one live up to a particular moral code, which falls into the approval from others on some level. Maybe not entirely though.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2015
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  6. Sarah's scribbles
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    Sarah's scribbles Member

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    personally I have no problem with people using powers or advantages for their own gain. there will always be those in life who have and people in life who don't have. it's because of our basis of society.

    my answer to your question is somewhat mixed. for one. most super heroes, be it super man, spider man, batman, all have things in common and that would be the ancient hero's journey. the heroes journey or if you've ever read the book a hero with a thousand faces, sets up the character as having to be better, as having to live up to the powers they have been blessed with. it is Sherlock Holmes using his powers of deduction not to become a criminal mastermind, but however to in fact stop the criminals. their gifts empower them to be more. as uncle Ben said "with great powers comes great responsibility."

    this is because heroes are quite normally a basic character. they live by a code. they die by a code. stealing hurting is wrong helping and giving is right. they are a very black and white character, who are this way because they stand for something better than the average. you or I could easily argue the greys of life though, the stealing when you have nothing or stealing from the rich like robin hood. These are areas where heroes are lessened, and there is a time and a place for our hero to be lessened, to be brought back down to the levels of a human being, however these are not usually the time.

    Let's say in charmed like you said. the witches are somewhat forbidden from using their powers from personal gain. If the powers that be were to let up and allow them to use it "sometimes." Then when does sometime become too much. it's a thin line which separate hero, anti hero, villain, anti villain. There's a good episode where piper freezes her neighbor to stop his dog from going on their lawn. Leo ends up sending them to the future by command from the elders. Piper see's that in this future witches have been outed and that they are a threat to national security and are quite frankly equivalent to terrorist whether they be good witches or bad witches. there's a bit more to the episode. I'm not sure the name or season if you really wanted to see it you can find it somewhere.
     
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  7. Samson Michael
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    Samson Michael Member

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    If you want to experiment with the superhero genre go ahead. Just because the innate black and white nature of superheros has become a cliche that seems to transcend the genre as a whole, doesn't mean that you have to be apart of that. Experimentation brings new ideas to the table. Who knows, maybe you'll stumble on that happy medium and you're working on the next best seller. I'm assuming that your characters are basically human with superpowers, or at least humanoid. You seem to be talking about characters that are good, but have flaws and selfishness. In terms of superhero stories, Watchmen was a terrific example of this. The characters, while technically good, were severely flawed in their own ways. The line between good and evil was very thin and, by the end, it became clear that there were no true "good guys." While I don't think this is what you meant, I will also say that while a character can be good, they can also be a bad ass. Don't worry about the trends you see in stories, write what you think works. Don't be afraid to push boundaries, and never be afraid to stand out from other authors.
     
  8. Archnenna
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    Archnenna Active Member

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    It's not a superhero genre. It's urban fantasy. My characters have superpowers because they happen to belong to a certain species (be it werecreatures, vampires, nymphs, mermaids, etc.) and they happen to use them for basically everything. The world I'm writing is actually very grey and black - white is basically non existent. The characters are flawed and sometimes they do things that make them look more like villains than heroes (for example, the protagonist bonds with the villain and asks him to help her being a serial killer, a warlock grieves over his dead friend and attempts to bring her back to life, only to accidentally unleash a zombie apocalypse, a bullied and distressed girl turns into a vampire and goes murderous on her bullies thanks to her newfound confidence).

    I don't really like the black and white morality, which is why I started to write my own series with a different perspective and view on things. It's not the most realistic, it's just that I wanted something different. I'm really happy to see all these different opinions. about the superpower issue.
     
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  9. Samson Michael
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    Samson Michael Member

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    I'm sorry, I misspoke about the genre. Even still, I stand by what I said. Write whatever you feel is the truest to your characters, don't worry about the cliches that other authors follow, different is good. Some of the best advice I've ever gotten about writing is that you should never write for anyone but yourself.
     
  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using anything for personal gain isn't a problem.

    Using something for personal gain at the expense of somebody else's safety/livelihood is a problem.
     
  11. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    That's a useful distinction, @Simpson17866.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Sounds like a good idea for a refreshing plot if it's done right, plus what @Simpson17866 said. :)
     
  13. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    @Archnenna

    I know you mentioned it wasn't a superhero story but there are plenty of characters who have made money using their superpowers without being evil. For example the character Animal Man aka Buddy Baker made himself a superhero brand, him and his friend made t shirts got him in the Justice League and he marketed himself as such.

    He was also a devoted family man and animal rights activist.

    Really great guy but aside from the animals powers he was really good at marketing himself.

    The character Booster Gold was a failed football star from the future who got stuck working security at a museum and one night he stole a bunch of a technology (flight ring, his robot helper skeets and some other things) and time traveled to the present to make it as a superhero.

    He's not a bad person but his entire motivation was becoming famous and wealthy.

    Deadpool's a mercenary who's a wild card and makes his money by going after both heroes and villains. In the early days he'd switch sides in the middle of a fight.

    I could give more examples on the superhero but on the non superhero spectrum there are tons of genius detective characters who make a paycheck using their skills or Aresne Lupin who used his skills to rob people sometimes for himself and sometimes from people worse then him.

    Or a character like Kiritusgu Emiya from a Japanese light novel series who's entire mind set was based around killing the few to save the many and he butchered and slaughtered for a chance to get a wish that would end war forever (due to how he suffered as a child)

    All the stuff I just listed were just random examples from random places and I'm sure we could on all throw things from TV, comics, books and all sorts of places but superpowered characters using their skill for personal gain is common.

    The ones who don't are just more often well known or their acts of strict heroism outweigh their personal gain.
     
  14. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Dexter?
     
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  15. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    He built machines and potions for his scientific gain and arrogance.

    [​IMG]



    :p
     
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  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if it's "wrong", it just doesn't make us sympathize with the characters and if "everybody's got them", there's nothing special about it either, so there's nothing to admire and I guess it would make the superpowers less interesting.
     
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  17. Archnenna
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    Archnenna Active Member

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    No need to apologize. It's okay :)

    I really appreciate all the replies. In my current book, supernatural world has just revealed itself to the public and there are mixed reactions so, in a way, this thread helps to see all sides and all views on things.
     
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  18. clhiggins
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    clhiggins New Member

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    Its been done because in the past writers were writing the ultimate hero and a hero is innately selfless - its done because there is a human moral tenet that if you do something for someone else you don't expect to gain from it, you don't expect a reward. Its part of general societal mores that there is a higher honor given to someone who gives to others without expecting recognition or reward.

    Now, when writing a super HERO, that has been one of the rules written into the characters' personalities and rules they follow, and the higher the standard of that for the hero, the more villianous his enemies become when you show how they seek personal gain.

    However, what if you did create a hero who chose his jobs for personal gain? That would make an interesting story. THink about a psychic - doesn't any Psychic who claims their powers but only uses them being paid for their services lend an air of deception, chicanery, to their reputation? What would happen to your Super hero if he got paid for his work? Could he be corrupted? What if one person wanted a bridge saved and another person wanted a bridge taken out into space and destroyed? What if one offered the superhero more than the other did? How could he be corrupted? And, would a super hero who was not corrupt still be a super hero?

    Also, the moral tension created when a superhero who only uses his powers for others' good is stressed with the multiple needs of the public good and he, for example, can't be in two needy places at once, which will he choose to save, is lost, if the superhero makes his choices based on monitary or personal gain. There might be other interesting possibliites, though, but then, would your superhero, accepting personal gain for using his powers, still be a superhero?

    These questions might help the OP to answer his own query.
     
  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the characters only use their powers when it benefits them or because it is their job, then they are mercenaries, not heroes. Mercenaries are not necessarily bad, and can be heroic, but they are not Heroes with a capital "H".

    On the other hand, if they only use their powers to benefit themselves, it is more than likely that they will become super villains instead.
     
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  20. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Different shows have different reasons.

    Like Charmed, If I were a betting man I would say the reason charmed had the personal gain rule so they could explain why everything wasn't perfect. Thus adding tension and stress. I mean in the Charmed universe getting a flat tire sucked because you had to fix it like everyone else. If they could just magic it back then that would reduce tension.

    Another key issue in common with all 3 shows you mentioned. Magic or super natural powers were not common to everyone. If you have an urban fantasy then it is a lot easier to accept because well everyone has access. Right? I mean no one calls Harry Potter evil for fixing his glasses.

    Lastly a lot of personal gain ideas generally are 0 sum games or come at the cost of someone else. if for example I use magic to score that new job that means I stole it from the man who was rightfully going to earn it. While maybe not evil. It is certainly not a good deed.
     
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