Friday, March 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Dystopias - Part 2

In yesterday's blog post, I mentioned how I had reacted with contempt to the first advertisements for the Shadowrun roleplaying game. I assumed at the time that the game would be a flop, because its players would quickly realize that the game did not present an experience faithful to the cyberpunk genre.

I was young, and naive, and I underestimated the power of marketing. Whereas the Cyberpunk game produced by R. Talsorian was (in my opinion) thematically superior, Shadowrun was released by industry giant FASA (assuming any 1980's hobby gaming company could reasonably be called a "giant"). So, while I continued to faithfully purchase every supplement released for Cyberpunk, I kept seeing new Shadowrun books appear at my local gaming store.

More significantly, I kept seeing evidence that Shadowrun had been adopted by the gaming community at large as their archetypal concept of cyberpunk. For example, I kept hearing my peers use the word "decker" to refer to computer hackers. This is a Shadowrun term; the equivalent term in the Cyberpunk game is "netrunner". The quirky but entertaining hacking game Decker used the Shadowrun term for its title. When I went to see Terminator 2, the gamers in front of me compared the protagonists to a team of Shadowrun PC's, pointing to the John Connor character and suggesting "He's their decker."

It was vexing to me to find that when mainstream gamers thought of the cyberpunk genre, their first thought was of a roleplaying game with elves in it.

Yet Shadowrun had clearly become a well-loved property. One sign of Shadowrun's success are the four Shadowrun-based video games that have been released to date, on the SNES, the Genesis, the Sega CD, and on the PC and Xbox.

Crowdfunding has provided the development costs for a new Shadowrun computer game, called Shadowrun Returns. This is planned to be a roleplaying game with turn-based tactical combat, and with tools to provide player-authored content.

This is where my resistance to Shadowrun finally evaporated. The more I read about Shadowrun Returns, the more it appeared to be a labor of love, produced by folks who loved the roleplaying game (including Jordan Wiseman, one of Shadowrun's original designers). I've become less of a gaming snob in my advancing age, and I figured that if people had this much affection for Shadowrun, that maybe it was worth me taking a look.

I've backed the Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter. In my e-mail box right now is a video of the alpha version of the game; I can't wait to get home and watch it. I also bought the fourth edition of the tabletop RPG, which is an absolutely gorgeous book. The art is fantastic, and the contents are presented in a clear and organized fashion. The combat and hacking rules are a bit more complex than I currently care for, but I expect I could easily port the game to Fate.

If the four editions of the tabletop game and the four (and counting) video games show anything, it shows that Shadowrun's mix of machine and magic is quite popular. I still have a hard time classifying the game as "cyberpunk"; I'd say it was urban fantasy with cyberpunk elements. But, again, I'm not as much of a gaming snob these days, and I'm willing to try anything that lets me tell cool stories about colorful characters.