Criticism 3: What would be your version of a dystopia?
This point came in the context of disconnecting from Shadowrun, but raised perhaps the most compelling questions of all. When I made Karma 1.0, I was intentional about trying to limit my own political views and creative vision. It leaked in some, but I held back. In version 2.0 and now 3.0, I let in slightly more of my personal vision.
This question, and the developing v3.1, has allowed me to drop all restraint and fully embrace what I want to say in this game. And yeah, it's political. To steal Andrew Gillis's phrasing in his Girl by Moonlight playtest document, this is a game about cyberpunk-fantasy, but really it's a game about oppression and violence, and how those two forces can twist our sense of identity.
My dystopia is defined by break down of relationships. This breakdown was inspired by the Gottman Institute's research into how to predict divorce, which discovered four so-called "Horsemen of the Apocalypse" for the relationship: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stone-walling.
I won't go through all of the mental gymnastics of my creative process, but at the end of the process, this is how I define the dystopia:
All of society is polarized along the lines of In Group vs. Out Group. In this polarization, people attribute all positive qualities to those "in" their group, and all negative qualities to those "out" of their group. This means people filter life not through facts or "reality", but through this black and white filter of "we are good, they are bad." This has ripple effects.
The groups are in fierce competition. The polarization causes fundamental and all-encompassing competition between groups. In truth, the world has abundant resources, but the us vs. them mentality drives a perception of scarcity that can push people to extremes to get success for themselves.
Society is stagnate. This polarization stops the cross-pollination of ideas, and the competitiveness stops collaboration or cooperation. This is reinforced by the entrenched attitude that "I only help people like me." Nothing can change.
Nothing is safe. This negative filter and competition means no one feels safe. Even if the chance of being assaulted is low, the innate suspicion of others causes heightened fear...which leads to heightened anger and aggressiveness. In some ways, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: because I fear you, I threaten you, and when you lash back in defense, you prove me right all along.
People are tools, not humans. This is objectification to the extreme. People are trained to see themselves as human and entitled to rights, but everyone else is an object: either a barrier or a tool.
Social bonds are weak. Because of the reduction of people to objects, many people lack close social bonds . . . which means they lack support.
People are weak. With the lack of social support, fear of the constant threat, and in-group assumption of being good (preventing need for introspection), society lacks resiliency. They are tired. They are bad at handling conflict. They have little support.
People are lost. There is a hunger for a sense of purpose, but none of the resources or resiliency to work hard enough to find that purpose. Purpose requires struggle; the establishment has sucked all of the energy needed for that struggle out of people.
To claim a purpose is to rebel. Those who fight to find a purpose, their own purpose, must rebel against the status quo. This is what distinguishes PCs from NPCs--they have a virtue. Their team has an ideal. Yeah, they want to claim a spot of relevance, but they also want to hold onto themselves as they do it. Unfortunately for them, the hardest thing to do in this world is to escape the polarization and all of the fallout that comes with it.
To value bonds is to rebel. The PCs and their allies are outcasts because they value relationships and they value cooperation. They work with each other and their contacts.
To change the world is to rebel. The PCs seek to change the world: to change their own relevance, to become a faction, and as players, to re-write the world through decisions they make.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.