I’ve figured that in order to keep some momentum going, I need to be less prejudiced about my writing. Word count is word count in stories, blog posts, whatever…as long as it gets you to think in that way which gets ideas on a page. I’ve said many times before I was going to try for regular entries here, and I’m going to do it again. Only now, I know better than to try and make promises.
So I have this new story, which is actually somewhat woven in to this “Street Level” setting to some degree. Though I doubt any of the more blatantly Cyberpunk themes will come out in the story (or that it’ll be game canon at all), it does help establish what social issues are interesting to look at and poke at a little. I had a little back and forth this morning with my father about an article he sent me having to do with retail automation. My primary issue was that it had a lack of relevance, and not only because the author thought it would be cool to namedrop brand names for “street cred”. Ultimately, being able to try on clothes with your Kinect is not a social issue. Augmented Reality is not a social issue, barring privacy, and is not a science fiction issue, because at this stage in implementation it is neither science, nor fiction. It is engineering, and some company’s “near-term product adjacency”, consulting speak for being up on deck development-wise.
So what are issues I want to address? How about automation and employment? This was the conceit of an earlier writing project of mine, and it’s coming up again in my current one as well. I do believe that the nature of “jobs” is going to change fully and completely within the next 20 years or so, and this may be the speculative frontier that the internet was to the likes of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. Even if we solve the ominous economic issues with systematic (what we’d call today) underemployment, what about the social ones? Also, though a little more far out, what’s the next frontier in self-sustainability? And what’s going to happen as our government becomes more and more disconnected with how people actually live? These aren’t questions that can be answered so much as issues to explore.
These issues get addressed very differently in a game context and in a written one, mainly because of mechanical constraints of the genre. Unless your group is the philosophical type, getting into debates on the nature of “work” won’t translate well into a game system. On the other hand, sneaking into a government building and planting a bomb is probably a relatively ham-fisted plot device in all but the most pulpy of technothrillers. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions on both sides, but where I operate, there are fewer overlaps.
So in the story, the conflict is around “work”, and around what the characters do instead of society-mandated work. I am making a thesis that humans tend toward creativity and productivity, but that’s mainly because I do. In the game, I see the primary conflicts being around wealth and lack thereof, and the interesting mechanisms of wealth transfer that come up in a society with ineffective rule of law. It may be logical to introduce an earlier discussed topic into the game, that of the “mercenary as effective agent”. Mercenaries are effective agents in particular circumstances, and designing a setting that conforms to those circumstances enables games that center around small groups of self-motivated agents (i.e. the vast majority of roleplaying games ever written) to flourish. So really, the restrictiveness is on the game side, because it needs to be designed in such a way as to make running around and doing things in the world fun.
So Street Level is predicated by an absence, scaling back, or severe corruption of the rule of law. The former United States is an example of scaling back, and the first game had the conflict between a re-emerging government and the entrenched elements of a lawless society as its backdrop. I definitely want to keep that in. Europe is a mix between absence of rule of law and not…the most cogent way to bring this about is to focus on the lawless areas, and their effect on the rest of the region. In my original setting, I had imagined two major lawless areas: the black market port of Tel Aviv, and a fictional city existent around the strait of Gibraltar. Those two can continue to be focal points, but instead of having Europe being a nuclear ruin, let’s instead have the EU pockmarked by both the physical and social scars of a ground war, along with the Czech mobsters pushing their wares throughout. This way, the Czechs can be disfranchised, caught between East and West when everything went down. And indeed, while they may not be the center of the legal world, a combination of factors could still see the renaissance of Prague as a major city.
Other geographic areas I wasn’t as clear on, but maybe it’d be better to leave them like that for now. Focus will serve the setting well in a quest for consistency and vision. Also, my admittedly Euro- and Ameri-centric historical context will need serious updates before I can make any even vaguely interesting intellectual leaps in Africa and Asia. South America could be easier, but I think I’d lean on one turn of phrase: Cyber-Brazil.
So at least the game setting has a platform. However, it may not be clear exactly where it’s going until I start writing a game. As for the story, I have no lack of material. I just need to get it written down.