Monday, November 26, 2012

cyberpunk thoughts with intentional lowercase

I've been reading a fair bit of cyberpunk games lately. I just picked up Technoir after looking at it longingly at Metatopia. I've read lots of Cyberpunk, CyberGen, Shadowrun in its various incarnations and something in particular has always struck me. It's got kind of this little bourgeois little dog whistle, doesn't it?

Wait, before the words bourgeois or dog whistle make you roll your eyes and leave the page hear me out. What I'm talking about in particular is how those games deal with poverty, and impoverished urban places because they all do them the exact same way. That way is OMG THERE ARE DANGEROUS POOR PEOPLE OVER HERE!

Let's break it down. Cyberpunk 2020 (and 2013) talks about the large mass displacement of people who have no actual social standing. Zeroes is the term that the game uses and while the Night City sourcebook does block by block, and building by building, through the city itself and it seems okay. Then you get to the nebulous COMBAT ZONE which is populated by the people who can't afford to live in the bad parts of Night City. There isn't much description other than it's a barren wasteland filled with gangs, gangs and bigger gangs who are more than willing to rip your head off for the button on your coat and live off of drugs, violence and sex all the time. All the time!  Even on the surface the Body Lotto seems like a wonderfully macabre idea, the various death counts in the various parts of the city give you the Lotto numbers.

Shadowrun does the same thing with places like The Barrens and Puyallup. Sure there are livable areas, but for the most part it's got a huge DO NOT ENTER sign on it. You don't want to go to the Barrens or worse Puyallup if you can avoid it. Of course, Puyallup does have some benefit of the doubt because there are magical reasons why you'd want to avoid a place like Hell's Kitchen but that's more like a natural disaster than a watch out for the poor people over there, they're dangerous.

Which leads me to what I've been thinking about. I want to do Cyberpunk, but I want to do it slightly different. I don't want it to be the cool, cybernetic mercenary doing the cool, cybernetic dirty work of the corporations in power. I want it to be more dirty, more street, and not street like it's going on in the games above. I mean, that's still very much the future based off of the "me" 80s generation where everyone is out for number one and the rest of you can go fuck off. People tend to try to form communities, even if we don't end up liking everyone in the community we've got something in common. Common enemies, a goal like survival, or even the fact that you all live in the same location.

That's why I think one of the projects I want to work on is going to be something that kind of mashes up cyberpunk with something like The Trailer Park Boys. You've got people who are friends, and are constantly in this boom and bust situation (though to be fair its mostly bust). I want the game to be wild, crazy and reckless and in the end you wake up in a jail cell waiting to get out again, ready to try to do it all over again.


seaofstarsrpg said...

I run Shadowrun regularly set in Seattle. While the barrens are dangerous, they are dangerous to outsiders and each neighborhood in the barrens has a fairly strong sense of community, but it is defined by opposition to those not part of the community. Player Characters, for some odd reasons, are almost always outsiders.

Jonathan said...

True, like it should. However, when you read the book the text has a distinct "OMG SUPAR DANGEROUS" tone to it.

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