Where you’re from has an influence on your ideas and thoughts, that’s true for game design as well as everything else – not that it’s a hard and fast rule, everyone’s individual. I grew up in the kind of ‘idyllic’ British village that could pass for Hobbiton or Sandford. It’s a sleepy little valley, largely taken over by second homes and retirees. My family is one of the old village families (at least relatively speaking) and some of the few ‘natives’ left.
There’s copses on top of the chalk hills and after ploughing you can often find fossils, laid down in the Cretaceous era when all of this was under the sea. You can barely go a dozen paces without finding some remnant of paganism, neolithic, bronze age or iron age culture – there’s even a Museum of the Iron Age in the neighbouring town.
I used to sit up in the woods with a portable radio and listen to The Lord of the Rings on Radio 4 and these green and pleasant (but also spooky) surroundings have definitely shaped my imagination. Parts of a Roman Road also run through the village, and digging in the ground with sticks at the school we found Roman coins on more than one occasion.
I spent a few years living in Basingstoke, which is only almost as terrible as people make out and is much less of a brutalist concrete dystopia than it was in the eighties. It’s kind of shifted from Clockwork Orange to Mirror’s Edge, in terms of grim, dark futures. It wasn’t so bad really, most of my gaming groups were based in and around Basingstoke, as was our World of Darkness LARP group.
I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time in London, so in some ways it’s like a second home to me, though I don’t go there half as much anymore, instead spending more time in Reading (which is kind of like a London overspill anyway).
Wherever I’ve been I’ve spent a great deal more time immersed in the science fiction of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties – a golden era as far as I’m concerned! Or making worlds of my own for games and stories, even before I was working professionally.
I’ve never lived in London but I’ve spent a massive amount of time there and have plenty of friends there as well as the other cities affected by the unrest that we’re experiencing in this country. I’m not the kind of person to shy away from talking about things or exploring them just because they’re ‘close’ but I am finding it hard to do some of my work as it relates to London in the wake of unrest and destruction and seeing it happen for real and how ineffective the forces of law and order are in protecting people really brings it all home.
Part of the reason I create is in order to affect people, to make them think. When I run games I like to examine moral issues. When I create settings I try to think about the plausible political and social implications of those settings an the effects of things like magic, gods, monsters, multiple intelligent species and so on.
When I wrote @ctiv8 I hoped that people would take it on board and think about applying some of the ideas of the heroic adventurer in their real lives and make a genuine difference. Naive? Probably. I took some of the ideas from Warren Ellis’ global frequency but where GF is very much based around a hierarchical structure around Miranda Zero, parallel to more conventional structures @ctiv8 was deliberately more of an anarchistic, self-organising structure, inspired by some of the earliest Anonymous actions and the early use of social media in protest movements. If anything those ideas and speculations have been shown to be inadequate compared to what has happened in just a few, short years.
There’s as much bad as good going on using these communications methods. The rioters are using BlackBerry IMs to organise flying raids and to group up to attack places but equally others have used Twitter to organise cleanups and pictures of rioters and looters have shown up all over social media to be identified through crowd sourcing.
The problems that have lead to these riots are societal and exist top to bottom. There are no excuses but there are reasons. Reasons that are being swept under the carpet by the narrative of ‘lawless scum’ and the PM has already made reference to ‘phony human rights concerns’ which is an appalling thing for a Prime Minister of a free country to say. People are being rushed through the courts, there are going to be miscarriages of justice.
@ctiv8 is a game that’s supposed to be about making a change and a difference in the real world and it’s worth just thinking about how that might be done or what might be done. To that end here’s some adventure seeds and ideas for @ctiv8 based around the problems we’re facing.
During the Riots
Vigilantism is rarely a good solution but @ctiv8 members who are part of the security services themselves or have appropriate experience may be able to more effectively counter riots and looting in a direct, physical manner.
Police and other forces are behind technologically. They’re even behind uneducated street kids when it comes to social media and are restrained legally and technologically from tapping into their information. A skilled @ctiv8 hacker has no such restrictions.
Police are often heavy-handed and evidence gathering can prevent miscarriages of justice. An ad-hoc citizen surveillance network, perhaps run over wireless from a cluster of cheap webcams, could protect people from false accusations and help finger genuine culprits.
There’s a big threat that the issues that are the root causes of this civil disobedience and thuggery, the reason that there’s these social problems are going to be forgotten in the mainstream media in the overriding scourge of Daily Mail outrage journalism. An @ctiv8 cell with the right skills could insert messages or get information out there that subverts the main narrative.
After the Riots
People have lost a lot and many of them don’t have insurance or a way to rebuild. Some don’t even have homes. They might have had more than the people that robbed them or burned down their shops but now they have nothing. A ‘Robin Hood’ scheme to steal from those who genuinely have too much to help those who have nothing would seem to be the thing to do. A ‘caper’ against the bankers and politicians who created the crisis to redistribute the wealth.
People aren’t going to ‘dob in’ those who did these things. Either through fear or a sense of loyalty. There might be other ways to find them that are available to @ctiv8 members and aren’t available to the Powers That Be.
So long as the disconnect between the people involved in the rioting and greater society exists these problems will continue. A more long term solution/campaign might be based around trying to re-engage the community with society, deal with some of its problems, ‘take out’ the problem people, drug dealers etc and create a more stable and invested local structure.
And, if you want to make a real difference in real life, think about these issues. Think about the ‘why’ without excusing the ‘what’. Find local charities and groups in London and the other affected cities and make the world a better place, one gamer at a time.