Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shadowrun Returns - 12/20 hours

I've finished the "Dead Man's Switch" campaign, and it ends on a very noir-ish "everything you just did will be covered up by the powers that be" anticlimax. Which is just as it should be, given the genre influences of the story. Plus, there were giant bug-monsters who threatened to overwhelm the world, just so you don't forget that it's Shadowrun.

I think the thing that I noticed most was that I'm no longer quite so on board with the cynicism of the cyberpunk genre. It's like, sure, the people at the top of our society are more or less unaccountable, and beyond the censure of ordinary working class folks. But I don't think they are as powerful or as competently corrupt as they're often portrayed as being. Hell, I think even the ones who appear to be the most nakedly self-serving are often sincerely trying to help. They're just so insulated from the world of those beneath them that they don't really understand what the problems are. And they are so well-adapted to their particular niche that their proposed solutions aren't really practical for people without their advantages. And because all their friends and family, and most of their coworkers are in the same situation, they never have to confront the fact that their selective blindness is actually a kind of armor against the world, and that their ineffectual attempts to fix the world are also, simultaneously (and, I believe, mostly subconscious) actions that will reinforce the bubble of unreality that supports their power.

You don't have to be a bad person to be an oppressor. You just have to have a limited amount of energy and a limited amount of imagination, and enough pride to defend yourself when you feel like you're being attacked. Life would be a lot simpler if the evils of the world were the deliberate work of evil men, but too often, the people who benefit most from injustice have committed no crime but ignorance, and thus our problems often seem intractable.

Which is to say, Tellestrian, the arrogant elf who covers up the plot at the end is not a very good character. A real conspiracy is a comedy of errors, not an elite puppet-master pulling the strings. Case in point: leveling a threat at a dangerous criminal, a person so deadly that he's on your short-list for a daring commando raid against a hive of mutant super-bugs - not a move that would work in real life. But upper class villains always seem to think that antagonizing people who literally sneak into well-guarded buildings and kill their inhabitants for a living is a smart use of their time and resources. It's probably why there are so few elite assassins in real life. Smart people realize that if a person is so good at murder that they're worth the money, then that means exposing oneself to such a person is a good way to live in fear for the rest of your life. And, of course, dumb patrons don't last long enough to support a robust killer-for-hire market.

But, you know what, if I'd been unable to get past the implausibility of elite criminals for hire as a setting conceit, I'd have given up on Shadowrun years ago. It's just one of those genre conventions that you have to give a pass to. And with that pass in mind, "Dead Man's Switch" is a fine example of a noir caper story. Even playing it a second time, I was still entertained.

I still have eight hours to go, though. I can't wait to see what the fans have created.

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