A blog about Science, Philosophy, Wargaming, Literature and other things, in three or more languages.
When playing a rpg you deliberately choose to be someone else, some characters lean heavily on oneself, some don´t, but in the end it is about trying something new, doing what you can´t or won´t do in real life. And of course telling a story while doing it. In the end stories are everything after all.
Shadowrun and Cyberpunk as a rules and spirit wise mentor of course, hold a special place among the settings I´ve played and I played many of them. Why? Because you deliberately play criminals.
In most settings the players are the good guys, heroes, some systems even name them such on their character sheets. Also I generally despise bad guys, I hate how bad people get away with so many things in real life. I want them punished and I want them to suffer. I want payback and the knowledge that honest nice people get to life their life. It is part of the catharsis and such part of the reason we feel good about it. We made a difference, we stood up against evil and saw the day through. We matter, things can be turned to a good end. That all this happened in an imagined place with irreal people doesn´t matter.
Criminals are generally seen as evil and bad. A lot of people know that criminals have their reasons and motivations for their actions. They are fallible human beings, who make mistakes. Most societies believe in re-socialization and thusly atonement for their crimes. Crimes are of course a society made thing, only when enough people outlaw something it becomes criminal. There are no basic laws, except the ones of physics. Just as if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns and thusly turning them into criminals without further action from themselves. Criminals are the ones who go against the consensus, not more, not less.
So they are threatening the fabrics of our society and thusly they are evil. To this day I struggle to understand people who become criminals, often a time I was tempted by opportunity, yet never I yielded. Being criminal is also a choice. You are not born criminal you become one. If you are raised among criminals, it is hard not to become one, as everyone shows you how to do it. Still not every progeny of a criminal is one. I always try to be an open individual, but I have a hard time understanding criminals.
So Shadowrun. Shadowrunners are criminals by definition. Most of the time their existence is basically criminal as they are not part of the social system. They are thieves, murderers, extortionists, blackmailers, weapons dealers, smugglers… the list goes on. All things I horribly despise in real life and mostly in other characters as well. Still I am happy to be a Shadowrunner.
What is wrong with me?
Better: What is wrong with the system?
Shadowrun is a dystopian setting, meaning that it is a distorted and disorienting place. With the return of magic and the availability of cyberware to augment ones´ body, one might think that the racism and the question of humanity are at the core of this dystopia. Well, it is not. Humanism, racism, segregation and the questionability of technological use are all established themes in Shadowrun and are basis for numerous good plots. The true dystopia is the capitalistic one.
In the world of Shadowrun money can buy everything and everything revolves only around it. It took me some years to realize this, but the capitalistic dystopia of Shadowrun is quite pronounced and terrifying.
Corporations are more powerful than nations, and if you are not a citizen of a corporation or nation your whole existence is basically illegal. In the boardrooms the commercial active masses are exploited to the maximum and people are killed for fractions of stock market values. Working in a small time job never yields the opportunity to rise. The only way up is by pure chance of lottery or over the carcasses of other people. Basically it is a four tiered society: The rich, the slaves, the poor and the criminal.
The rich: Either born rich or working in the management where they try to make more money for the corporation. Due to capitalistic logic making money yields money and in turn you get richer, the more people you exploit. If you earn the corporation 20.000.000 a year, it gladly pays you one of it. But dare you drop your rates! As long as you make money everything is fair.
The slaves: Wage slaves is the term used in the original Shadowrun books and when I was young I never understood the term. It describes everybody working for the corporations in normal/menial jobs. From the clerk to the salesman, from the mechanic to the construction worker. You work for your payment and spend it in the corporate supermarket and in the end you will be cremated in the corporate morgue. You work, you die and that´s about it.
The poor: The ones without an employment or very bad paying ones, basically depending o the charity of the rich to survive. The rich make a show out of it, the poor just try to get by. Death or crime are usually the two options.
The criminal: Well doing everything that is against the law makes you criminal. As corporations write their own laws, acting against a corporation is breaking the law. Criminals can be small time burglars or large scale frauds it doesn´t matter, when they are caught they either pay up or are generally disposed of. Indebted service is sometimes an option, turning you into a slave first and a poor afterwards.
Now there is a fifth category which doesn´t exist: The assets.
Assets are everyone which can deniably be used against other corporations or organizations, the epitome of which are Shadowrunners, the name givers of the game. Shadowrunners are hired by corporations to deal damage to other corporations. Officially they don´t exist and they are not members of the corporations so easily cut off, if caught. They take the money of the corporations, but are not obliged to do it. In a way they are the only free persons that remain. As a Runner you make the decisions which shape your future. You don´t like the job? Take another one. You hate a specific corporation? Work for their enemies and hurt them.
Of course at the end of the day you take the corporations money in order to live. Which directly turns you into a hypocrite. You claim independence but will starve without the oil which makes the system run. You turn the oil of the system to hurt the system, yet at the end of the day you are still a part of the system. If you destroy it you´ll go down with it. At least it would be your choice to do it, even if only about your manner of suicide you still retain a choice. Something neither the rich, nor the slaves or the poor really have. A criminal can choose, asset or not. So being criminal is the only way to be free in this world of Shadowrun.
An idea which of course heavily draws on the mental progeny of the hippie movement, whose most prominent supporters were in the perfect age to write social criticism when cyperpunk was inventend. Still they are right.
The worst thing about it? Look around you our corporate capitalistic world is on the best way to end up in a Shadowrunnian dystopia. Money already is more powerful than law, humanity or decency. To change that everybody has to do something about it.