Running with the Shadows

directorsCutKeyArt1920I’m a Rigger.

Drones? Yep! Submachine gun? I got it. Grenades? Of course. Slap on a few implants for enhanced deadliness and I’m a dimmer, an almost human killing machine. It’s a perfect blend of practicality and death. It’s a dark world out there, filled with mostly shadows that me and my crew slink beneath. Shadow doesn’t even begin to describe my dystopic existence.

Human includes all the races – trolls, elves and orcs. But there’s “normal” culture and all the rest are some variation of almost-human, monster culture.Funny how that works out because we all look like monsters down here, but what passes for normal is particularly gruesome. In the shadows we call the Others meta-humans. But in deep reality we’re all human in the only ways that matter. Shadowrunning makes a very strong point of that.

dwarfWe live in the service of faith which we call hope. For each other. For our whims and independence. For the sanctity of individuality. For the corporations who created the ashes that surround us, their decadent skyscrapers literally lording over the scraps of Earth we call free. Anarchy. We never knew that this is what freedom meant.

My days are spent hiding underground and my nights spent dusting, duping, or dodging, whatever it takes.I’m an equal opportunity killer. Take from me, I’ll take from you. Cross me and get creased. It never takes much to get that close to death and I do it almost everyday. Suspicion is the same as proof. Fear is my faith, because out here you can’t afford to take a chance. I’m packing a sure thing, always.

When someone asks me what I believe in, I don’t say “killing people”. I say …self preservation. I say freedom,but I really mean free from anything that I don’t approve of or understand – and of course not for everybody. If everyone had freedom then no one could deserve it. Freedom is for some of us, not all of us so the SINners get the warmth of Renraku while the SINless get coffins each night if they’re lucky, squatting in squalor or straight up lying on the pavement each night. Guess there’s not enough nuyen to go around.

renraku_skyline

There’s a hierarchy of humans fighting for rights and here in the shadows might is rights. From the Yakuza to the Valkeries, the Tong to the Azzies, flexing is a way of life, he with the most gets the most. In the fight against monsters, we often become them. Somewhere along the line we get too afraid to live. Don’t go here, because this may happen and not there because that may happen. Don’t trust anyone, don’t step on a crack or split poles. Prisoners in our own brain case.

How did it get this bad? When did the world become the rubble we sleep on? Very slowly, like  the creep of ghettos. It always starts with a few missing trash bins, then the few that are left get kicked and vandalized because the locals are pissed that it’s over-flowing and there doesn’t seem to be a city service that’ll pick up the drek. Creeps love creep. It gives them a place to hide, since badges don’t like visiting these parts. Soon, the neighborhood is two trash bags from a city dump and one dead body from a mass grave. Then communities form their own …associations. Order to check the disorder, make it safe enough to get by while they plead for real help. But in Seattle, it never came. In Berlin, we were alone. Soon the Azzies swoop in buying up the acreage one square mile at a time for a few fraggin’ nuyen. They’ll call it a project or Berlin Heights or something else progressive. The flats will cost more than any local can afford, which is a not too subtle way of them saying “get out.” That’s why we’re packing steal and worshiping dragons. Our commitment to keeping our homes runs hot like blood and deep like guts.

There was a time when people believed profit was truth, that everyone deserved what they had especially if they had nothing.

dragonAnd now, here we are. The filthy rich and the filthy. A world of anarchy and fascism, some parts “free”, some made in the image of unbridled capitalism which looks like a golden dragon with a toothy-smile and whose shine makes it appear much larger than it really is. The kind of dragon the rich can tell their babies is named Puff and it’s magical, bringing prosperity to all it soars above. They’ll believe in that dragon, like we all did …until the day they grow up and see the ashes left in the dragon’s wake. Some of them will blame the ashes for their fate, others’ll get chipped to flee from the horrors of the present and some will end up like me. Shadowrunning. Some will even become the dragon’s spawn.

Shadowrunning is the truth that’s all around us but that we cannot see. It’s named for the gargantuan shade of the dragon that we live in.

But …there’s always hope. Hope is for those who see the drek of everyday life and delude ourselves that this’ll get better. Everyone has faith in something. For me, it’s people – orcs, elves, trolls, all of them humans. Humans can change the way we live. We can change when and how we die. We can create the world in our image, even though the current picture ain’t all that flattering. I’m carving my square mile in the dirt one bullet at a time and one day I’ll lay in it. I fight because I believe we can change things. I believe that whatever happens tomorrow, it’ll be because of the action of some human somewhere – not a company, a dragon, a nuyen. Shadowrunning isn’t for the faint of heart. But if any one of us is worth sacrificing in the name of survival, then none of us is worth saving.

SR-GM-Screen-1680x1050

When it’s time to step out of the shadows, let’s hope we don’t emerge monsters.

Do You Have An Identity?

Blaugust 8th 


Do you? Are you sure?

Well in the US you don’t unless someone gives you an identity. Does that offend your sense of being? You don’t exist unless someone Official tells you that you do. Your appearance won’t change anyone’s mind about this. Simply occupying space isn’t enough to prove that you’re really there. You could claim to be anything, including human, if you don’t have an identity card. But if you have this card, we’ll know for sure that you have a right to breathe and walk around and do things like vote.

This is the stuff of sci-fi novels, denying humans rights on the basis of some arbitrary legal requirement that politicians know will disenfranchise the citizenry. I know there are those who would say that requiring ID to walk around a country makes sense because we have to be able to identify citizens from non-citizens. To that I say: and why is it important to distinguish the two? And they’ll answer with more legal justifications:

And probably more excuses that I can’t fathom the importance of when it comes to human rights. Here’s a question: if a poor family showed up on my doorstep, starved, sick from exposure, destitute and speaking only a foreign language, I have a right to turn them away and even call the cops. That’s the law. But don’t I also have a moral duty to feed them and assist them with their healthcare in any way that I’m able? Is turning them away simply because it’s legal somehow justification for not doing what is right?

Voter ID laws seek to undo what was done when Obama was elected president of the USA. For those on the outside, this reference to Obama has to do with how it was possible to elect a black man, the first time my country has ever had a President that wasn’t white and male. The minority vote was crucial and decades of voter data show that conservatives struggle to win the approval of certain minority groups, usually all of them. When more people vote, the Republican party tends to lose. This hasn’t been a problem for them in the past, as minorities were a minority and all these politicians needed to focus on was the white male vote. That’s changed dramatically since Obama. They know now that they can no longer win elections on this demographic. So their approach is to change who gets to vote. They’ll cry illegals, and criminals and all other things to mask the fact that they want to disenfranchise the voters who don’t vote for them. That’s the bottom line: if you’re not voting for me, you can’t vote at all. All of their policies seek to decrease the number of eligible voters, instead of increasing them which is what every politician elected to offices ought to do.

These charlattans use voter scams all the time and they find them unobjectionable when it’s in their favor. One cannot deny that Florida has been rigging presidential elections for over a decade, but since those machines tend to favor conservative candidates, blindeye is the policy. The bottom-line is that the more people that vote, the less likely the Republican party is to win that election. So they have a political interest in disenfranchising voters and their policies aim to prevent voting, not help get more voters to the polls.

A note about this rant: I don’t actually believe that there are two political groups in my country, conservatives and liberals, but I believe people use these labels anyway because they’re easy to understand. When I say conservative, I’m referring only to those who label themselves as such, the self-proclaimed conservatives. And these are the politicians bothering themselves over voter ID laws.

Second to note is that voter ID laws share a lot in common with poll-taxes and literacy tests, in that they conveniently are inapplicable to those who want to implement them because the criteria is based on things they have. The assumption is that only legitimate citizens can afford to vote, and others who are indeed citizens but who are non-the-less illegitimate in the eyes of the majority, can be prevented from voting by requiring things of them that they find it difficult to acquire.

Identification is one of those things.

Law mandates that anything the government requires us to have must be given to us. The law can’t say that we must have ID’s and then charge us money to get them. This is why voter ID law has been stricken down at the federal level. If conservatives want ID to be mandatory, then they have to distribute those ID’s for free. And we all know how they feel about government giving out anything. It’s about principles people. Stand on them!

I wish people had the fortitude to be honest in our modern times. It’s annoying to see so many cowardly politicians and citizens hide behind clever wording, and manipulative legislation instead of coming right out and telling us what they really believe. But these people know that they’d be rejected out of hand were they to be honest. People find people repulsive who slander others, citing the law, while refusing to help those others because they have dire need. Just like the poor family on my doorstep above. These self-proclaimed conservatives believe in principles, they say. And I’d have to agree. It’s just that these principles don’t include compassion for human beings. It’s all about sticking it to’em and rigid laws and following rules without ever addressing real people’s needs.

Escaping to Remember and Forget

Game bloggers are expected to write only about games. Happy articles. Happy articles are the sort that are always glad about games, and always have some awesome experience to share, or tell of some incredible event we’re all looking forward to. If the work doesn’t fall under this rule then it’s automatically the serious sort. Games are un-serious and all writing about them should be the same. Don’t bring anything else into it, or it will pollute the experience. It’s only an escape if we leave out all those things we’re escaping from. These serious articles are the ones that nitpick at popular problems or anything that deals with culture and politics. That last one isn’t really considered serious so much as totally inappropriate for gaming. XP Chronicles has a much sharper focus on gamer politics, a slight departure from T.R. Red Skies which focused much more on in-game experiences. I write now more about out of game experiences that affect the gaming community. Why the change?

My country and community has always asked me to be apolitical, to buy my coffee, enjoy my sofa, and have some popcorn with my video games. It asks me to not pay attention, to not be distracted from the fantasy, to not get involved. Society asks me to consume, consume, consume, to not count my dollars, not to miss a sale, to not worry about ethics. My community asks me to be numb and to ignore the messages in my games, because there are no messages.

Would that I could. There are politics in gaming. There is culture. There are people. We are living. When I’m swept away into my favorite fantasies, I can’t forget that there’s a world I return to soon after, that fellow avatars in-game are feelings, thoughts, and desires — not pixels. I can’t ignore the relationship of my fantasies to my reality.

Should we laugh more than we weep? About the same? 60/40? How many happy articles makes up for a serious one?

The Privilege of Games

As much as I as discuss sexism, racism and general bigotry, there’s one obvious thing that towers above and behind those, serving as the backdrop to them. It’s the fact that gamers are part of a very privileged group. Men and women, brown or white. Having the luxury of turning on a video game and escaping into virtual words is a privilege many people don’t have. The very act means I choose to escape the everyday. There are millions of people who cannot escape their reality.

It feels strange to think of gamers as this relatively wealthy group, which we are, all things considered. That’s doubly true for PC gamers. Our equipment is expensive to buy and requires upkeep (security software, peripherals, etc) as well as an internet connection — even as many of us are poor and impoverished. That “always online” lifestyle, regardless of income, means we have income and are part of a privileged group who can buy a respite from the real world and escape into the virtual.

To have the option to take a break from the emotionally exhausting work of activism, is a privilege for me. I grew up in the lowest class I could as a white male and have still managed to maintain a privileged position in this community. My life story was written in poverty. That fact is always hanging over me so I never forget that I can be homeless once more. That experience sits with me at my keyboard every time I write. This is why I write so much about the political. It’s my life.

I know of dozens of gamers who write about politics and culture, some of them all the time, some of them only occasionally. I also know just as many who actively avoid it because for them, this is a space to escape political realities. For many (a number we might all be uncomfortable with should it be revealed), this escape into games is what keeps them alive– their realities are unbearable. Gaming is survival for them. It’s important to have a safe escape, a safe place, and games give that to many of us.

Been There

Imagine you couldn’t turn on your computer ever again, couldn’t connect with fellow gamers, writers — and your circumstances were dire at home (abuse, poverty, homelessness). You could be easily forgotten in your dark place, no one caring, no one ever mentioning the fact that you’re not there. How lonely would that place be? How terrifying? How hopeless?

As futile as it may seem, I don’t think I could stop writing about the political. For me, it’s a responsibility, a promise to never forget my darkest days, when I knew no one noticed I was missing or there — passersby having their latte, in their cars, in their warm coats and full bellies — I was invisible. I was eleven. I’m political for my 11-year old self. There are more of me out there, different colors, different situations, all hoping no one has forgotten them. Writing for me is remembering.

When I’m not writing, I’m doing. In my old hometown, I established a safe routes network for the homeless, where they can pick up things they need no matter where they are. At home, I work with my wife to spread awareness and provide support to people in need. Since the birth of our last child, we’ve been able to do less of that than we’d hoped, but in the meantime we both write. Writing is powerful.

I had no purpose in writing this — it’s more of a diary entry than I ever do, but I wanted to today. I rarely write about the reasons I write, but perhaps it would be good to remember to do that as well.