PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Games

The Politics of 'Netrunner'

Android: Netrunner - Mandatory Upgrades by Mauricio Herrera

As the card pool grows, opportunities for tidbits of political commentary grows. The cards act as interactive political cartoons, artistically and mechanically

Like so few games on the market, Android: Netrunner lives and breathes its themes. Set in a cyberpunk dystopian future, the game captures in cards the struggle between power-hungry mega-corporations and freewheeling hackers. Like the best cyberpunk fiction, the world of Netrunner is ripe with astute commentary on technology, society, and politics. From its broad theme to its card design, Netrunner provides ample proof that game designers can meld strong game systems, clever design, and political rhetoric into a fantastic and playful creation.

As an asymmetrical game pitting corporate bodies against rebellious individuals, Android: Netrunner is inherently political. At its broadest scope, Netrunner is about power struggles between agenda-seeking megacorps and individuals living within their dominion. Corporations, were it not for the law-breaking runners, would effortlessly advance their agendas and grow in power. In many ways, playing Netrunner is a exercise in roleplaying the maniacal forces of corporate greed against the dubious ethics of internet outlaws.

In that way, while Netrunner is inherently political, it is not necessarily biased. Even in the cyberpunk future of the game world, a future rife with corruption and oppression, runners can seem like they are merely out for their own good. Take the three runner factions for example: Shaper, Anarch, and Criminal. The rule book describes Shapers as motivated by the pure joy of hacking. They are makers and tinkerers in it for the marvel of creation. Anarchs, as the name implies, just want to sow chaos. Criminals, the rule book describes, are in it for personal gain. Yes, the struggle between individuals and corporations is a very real and ongoing one, but Netrunner also is playful with its themes in many regards.

Even so, Fantasy Flight Games does not shy away from the more openly political aspects of their narrative design. For example, the card art for Motivation, a Shaper resource, depicts Exile, one of the game’s identities, sitting despondently holding a picture of a presumably deceased loved one. The flavor text at the bottom is a musing on cyber-criminal motivation, clearly off the mark based upon the card’s tone. Another card, Interns, pokes fun at a modern labor trend with flavor text: “They’re the only labor cheaper than clones.”

The regularly released card packs consistently feature some tie-in narrative, often connecting back to existing cards as well. As the card pool grows, opportunities for tidbits of political commentary grows. The cards act as interactive political cartoons, artistically and mechanically. TGTBT, A recent addition to Netrunner, features an enormous digital logo that looks remarkably like the symbol for Bitcoins. The card’s title stands for “Too Good To Be True,” a hilarious and obvious prod at the digital currency fad. Perhaps more importantly though, the effect of the card gives runners a tag, which signifies their location has been traced by the corporation. When in use, TGTBT is both snarky commentary and minute lesson about privacy in the digital age.

Yes, Android: Netrunner a simple card game, one of many, and its fictional universe draws upon numerous science-fiction tropes established years ago, but the tiny ways that the game becomes political is important. The cyberpunk genre has always melded a sense of political revolution with technological revolution, and these themes resonate heavily today. Today, hackers literally shape global politics and breed fear in corporate oligarchies. We carry around tiny digital products that move us ever further along the cyborg spectrum. We watch as spy agencies run amok and whistle blowers are threatened with life in prison. We live in a cyberpunk present.

Few games try to incorporate political commentary at all, and few do who achieve such a thorough success. Netrunner is unique for so many reasons, not the least of which is its invitation to play in realms of political extreme, to exercise our agency in power structures we rarely have an opportunity to influence. If a tabletop game can present compelling political experiences with such force, then games as a whole are still ripe with opportunities to explore the politics of the present and the future.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.