Political Subtext in Modern RPG’s
There was an interesting moment in the marketing for Torg Eternity, when Ulisses Spiel started up their Near Now Twitter account.
Ever since its original publication, Torg has marketed itself as being a game set in the Real World Gone Wrong. The setting of the Near Now implies that all of this could – and perhaps really is – happen to us, sometime in the coming days. Coming out in the early 1990’s, just prior to the Internet becoming more generally accessible to the average person, it had to make do with the tech of the time to collaborate with its audience. The Infiniverse Campaign required gamers to buy physical copies and subscriptions, send physical replies through the Postal Service, and wait until the next round of queries was released to see what was happening.
Obviously, those days are past.
Calling on the tech of the day, naturally, they set up a Twitter account that mimicked the live Tweets of a news agency covering the confusing and catastrophic events that were unfolding during the Invasion by the Reality Raiders.*
As the invasion unfolded, there were the expected events that followed the original time frame: Blind prophets in France, storms over England, the US President going to watch a baseball game in New York City. Naturally, it was a fictional president, same as the first time around, but that’s to be expected. As we have seen, the political climate recently has seriously stifled parody (See: Recent productions of Julius Caesar, which only now are being accused of political fuckery), so wisely the writers chose to sidestep potential controversy that way.
But when it came to the invasion itself, there were a couple of noteworthy observations that came up. For one thing, the arrival of Pharaoh Mobius was heralded with the statement that he would “return Egypt to its deserved glory.” While it is entirely keeping with the character, it’s pretty clear that we were one step short of issuing red ball caps and talking of “Making Egypt Great Again.” And inevitably, there were a lot of people that signed onto this idea.
Similarly, the invasion of France took place with a solidly coordinated propaganda thrust by Jean Malraux’s agents, promising to heal ills and offer certain forms of salvation to any who willingly converted to the Cyberpope’s dogma. Given the occasional bits of Euro xenophobia (See: Anders Breivik, Brexit, etc.), it’s not hard to take this a couple of steps further and note that charges of Heresy by the Church are going to drive a lot of Muslims out of central Europe. (There’s even a note that people in Spain were clamoring for the “Blessings of Malraux” in their region.)
Interestingly enough, the invasion is being held back in Spain by the Alhambra, the Moorish palace in Granada, much as Mobius’ invasion is being stalled by Mecca and Medinah in the Middle East.
Later on in the book, there is a section (about half a page worth) that deals with how the average, non-heroic person is likely to deal with the Invasion. Keep in mind that Core Earth, as of this edition, is predisposed towards heroism and adaptation. Characters from Core Earth are more likely to fit into the mold of John McClain from Die Hard than simply stand by and let things happen.
That said, there will always be resistance. In game terms, these come in the form of what are called Uncooperative Inhabitants. These are normal, everyday people that will tend to stand in the way of things the Storm Knights are trying to do. It makes sense, from a strictly mechanical perspective, as there will necessarily have to be adversaries that are unexpected and less morally simplistic to eliminate.
What’s interesting is the description of why these characters are actively keeping the Storm Knights from trying to save the world. Some want so desperately to be on the winning side that they are willing to commit treason to do so, while others have come to believe that going along with the agendas of the Invaders is the only way to keep their families and themselves safe. There is even a faction of these people that are so wholly disillusioned with how the world was before the Invasion that they simply “want to watch the world burn.”
Honestly, all that’s missing from this section is a discussion about how these sorts of NPC’s are lacking in normal levels of empathy, else we’d have a Slate article profiling the normal Republican voter.
Not that I’m decrying any of this, mind you. This is a game owned by a foreign company, and as such, it’s going to reflect a more international perspective. And internationally, the United States looks pretty stupid for its continued support of a lying kleptocrat who claims that climate change is a conspiracy created by the Chinese. Foreign press is less than kind to the American people on that point.
And there is the dire possibility that all of this is a specific interpretation that occurs solely to me, based on my worldview.** I’m willing to entertain that idea. But there is enough of a thread to hold to that would allow a GM to be able to tie a game to current events and use the platform of the game as an extended allegory for world political events. If nothing else, it allows for some interesting moral dilemmas to bedevil the player characters with.
As noted before, easily available bandwidth and functional cybernetics are pretty enticing things. And if you can get people to sell out their morality for one thing, it’s really not hard to get them to sell out for something else.
*Just as an aside, the term, “Reality Raiders,” seems like one of those things that shouldn’t have made it past Editorial. It feels like a placeholder, much like Stormer and Darkness Device. Were I left in charge of the asylum, I think I would have insisted on new terms, perhaps borrowed from obscure linguistic sources or simply made up wholecloth. Have we learned nothing from White Wolf?
**As point of note for the future, I’m composing this post in the midst of new reports that the Trump campaign knowingly conspired with a representative of Russia, in hopes of gaining damaging information against the Clinton campaign. Which is backed up by now-published emails to that effect.