Friday, 30 January 2015

The Importance of Shadowrun

I played a lot of Shadowrun as a teenager. Christ, I played a lot of Shadowrun. I played a shark shaman from Hawai'i with a big tattoo of a hammerhead on his back. I played a minotaur from Corsica who was a member of the Corsican mafia. I played a hobgoblin jihadist from the Middle East. (Racial sensitivity was not my strong point, and nor was it the game's.) I played a street samurai who covered himself in jaguarskin tattoos. A friend of mine played a dwarf street samurai called Yosemite Sam and another friend played his troll sidekick, Bisskit. Another friend's younger brother played a physical adept who looked like Louise from the pop group Eternal. His older brother wouldn't let him smoke pot with the rest of us, and temper tantrums, sometimes escalating into full-scale fights, inevitably resulted. Once we got drunk eating brandy chocolates playing the game - I think it was shortly after Christmas. We were awful, greasy, spotty, horrible 14-15 year old boys, who went to an all-boys state school and consequently knew very few girls. We were as hateful as any group of teenage boys can be. But Shadowrun provided us with some light relief from our predicament(s), so it will always have a special place in my heart.

I've written before about Shadowrun and considered view on it is this: Shadowrun is the most fundamentally awful and crass idea ever invented, a crime against gaming and literature and culture in general, and yet I love it. I love it because I love fantasy fiction and I love cyberpunk, and despite the fact that ice cream and steak really shouldn't, no really shouldn't, go together, in the case of Shadowrun they mysteriously do. Through some weird alchemy, a William Gibson novel which has elves and orcs running around in it works. Or rather, it doesn't work - it fails terribly - but in such a charming way that it doesn't matter even slightly.

The activities we engage in as teenagers have a great deal of value. I don't want to credit Shadowrun with much at all - in fact that era of my life was full of motivation-draining and very mildly malign influences of which that game was one. (I'm sure I could currently be the Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge or Harvard Law School or something if only I'd applied myself, rather than spending so much time pretending to be an elf, commanding Space Marines, drawing pictures of people killing each other with medieval weapons, or writing abortive attempts at fantasy novels.) Yet I will credit it with this: it filled my weekends at that age, that and playing cricket. And the importance of that shouldn't be underrated; being a 14 year old boy is pretty awful, even if you've been well brought-up and have friends - you are pestilent, uncoordinated, socially inept and just about old enough to know it - and hobbies are little rays of sunshine, little zones of self-expression and creativity and emotion amongst the general atmosphere of hangdog weirdness. They give you space to aspire, and dream beyond the dull grey skies and dull grey lifepaths of Northern English suburbs. So let me raise a glass to you, Shadowrun, and wish you good health. May you long provide solace to spotty teenagers everywhere, especially the ones who go to single-sex schools.

14 comments:

  1. >>I played a hobgoblin jihadist from the Middle East. (Racial sensitivity was not my strong point, and nor was it the game's.)

    Pretty sure 'jihadist' isn't a race and we don't have to worry about hurting their feelings.

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    1. You know something? The anti political correctness brigade are getting to be almost as annoying as the political correctness brigade in policing what other people say, write, and think.

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    2. Amen.

      As for SR's racial politics... yeah, yikes. In a way it was probably productive, though -- I'm probably not the only person to first notice how toxic Tolkeinesque "race" tropes are when transposed to a modern setting, and then work backwards to realize how messed up they are in ANY setting.

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    3. I'm not normally one for reading that into fantasy settings - a fantasy creature is a fantasy creature, unless a clearly poisonous racial analogy is intended. But Shadowrun really was playing with fire, because it's not a fantasy world, and everything is a human, and there is a pseudo-scientific explanation for things being the way they are.

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    4. "The anti political correctness brigade are getting to be almost as annoying as the political correctness brigade in policing what other people say, write, and think. "

      I'd rather have someone tell me that I was censoring myself necessarily than someone tell me that I needed to censor myself.

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    5. Ever play Gamma World? There is the common scifi trope of "Pure Strain Humans," who are about as much fun as playing a Palidin. I've often wondered if Jim Ward had some particular experience with the klan or something, because nobody ever played such a character twice.

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    6. Ever play Gamma World? There is the common scifi trope of "Pure Strain Humans," who are about as much fun as playing a Palidin. I've often wondered if Jim Ward had some particular experience with the klan or something, because nobody ever played such a character twice.

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  2. > We were as hateful as any group of teenage boys can be.
    In high school I gamed with a guy who, in a separate group, ran a homebrew urban combat game called Gayslayer, I shit you not.

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    1. Haha. We were nothing like that bad, but I do remember one game of CP:2020 in which we imagined a certain pupil at my school in the year 2020 was still living in our home town - so our PCs tracked him down and killed future him. Even writing the words makes me cringe.

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    2. Oh, and "gayslayer" is definitely somebody protesting too much.

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  3. Gosh, your take on Shadow Run pretty much matches my own...and yet I still dig the hell out of it. To me, it's just "D&D plus guns" and how can that not be a big batch of awesome?

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  4. Shadowrun was an amazing example of how a game can be completely tilted towards players holding almost all the power over the game and still be fun. FASA's follow up game, Earthdawn, was pretty much the opposite but still fun. Those too games really defined everything I love about RPGs.

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    1. I'm actually sort of tempted to run a game of it on G+, now. I'll resist, though.

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