Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Veronica Monsterhearts - Hardboiled Inequality

I've been working on Veronica Monsterhearts for over a year and I haven't had a lot of opportunities to play it. I've had one or two play tests myself, and then Cheyenne ran at Gen Con last year so it's been a lot of theoretical kind of stuff rather than hard physical testing.

That said, something came up with Cheyenne's play test that I feel I really should talk about. An important part of the first session is the Welcome To Blank part of the game, where you build the city that you're going to be playing in. This sections was created because when we did our first play test, one thing that came up was that there was little to care about where the action was taking place. In a noir story, the location is just as much of a character as the players. In Veronica Mars the city of Neptune shapes the narrative in a lot of important ways and so I think it became important that there were some questions that were answered ahead of time. 

The questions that you ask in Welcome to Blank revolve around the city, and why there are large sections of inequality. It also focuses on the corruption of the police and local officials. Both of these are important for a Noir story because they end up creating the circumstances that create the need to go outside what's the "socially acceptable" method of handling problems, which is through the police or the authorities.

Corrupt officials are a standard part of the noir genre. It feels currently prescient with the current focus on police misconduct and the "blue wall" where organizations exist to protect officers regardless of what actions they might have done. It's currently nothing new, when you read Chandler that's one of the reasons why Marlowe decided to be a PI rather than stay a police officer in the 20s. Marlowe felt that the corruption was too much, and he's rather be a PI barely making it through than stand with the police. Through Chandler's novels the police are shown time and time again to be easily bribed, interested only in their immediately benefit, with the few exceptions frequently meeting bad ends. It isn't just the police, but really any authority figure. They have their own agendas, and desire, none of which are part of the public good. This attitude, and these actions, are what makes the detective, or to generalize it further the outlier, necessary. They become the foil against the police, doing what is necessary to bring a sense of justice to their clients that the authorities refuse to do.

This refusal stems from the authority's understanding of inequality. All those in power want to be on the side of the haves rather than the have nots, and will curry favour with those with greater power and influence than themselves. Which brings us to the point that noir stories have a kind of Aristotelian quality to them. They are frequently about people with wealth and power laid low by their own hubris. However, instead of fate or circumstance causing their fall from grace it is the outlier who provides the push that causes the fall.

The outlier's existence is just as that force for retribution. It can be violent like Continental Op in Red Harvest, enduring like Marlowe, subtle like Sam Spade, or the outcast like Veronica in Veronica Mars. It's the inequality in the society that forces people to look to them for justice. That's in part why I was interested in doing a Veronica Mars inspired game. There are many levels of inequality in a high school. There's the same societal inequality reflected in the school, where those with money have a higher social standing than those without. There's also a power imbalance between the students and the teachers, where if there is little recourse and few options for the students who need help from the teachers. That inequality is essential to a kind of hard boiled, noir story that I'm hoping Veronica Monsterhearts can give to people.

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