Why I Love Psionics

July 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

So once upon a time, when I was a starry-eyed college student, I met a guy who made games. I thought that was pretty cool, because my dad made games too, and as a result, I tended to like gaming a lot.

We met at his LARP, which I fell in love with, but I eventually started playing some of his other games as well. He had a bunch of them that he’d been working on since he was young and, as a compulsive creator, kept making more. Around the time I started really hanging out with him a lot, he introduced me to one in particular – Psionics.

Psionics RPG kickstarter

Art by Ian Llamas

Psionics really struck a chord with me. To this day, it’s probably my favorite game he’s ever made – and he’s made a lot of games! When we first talked about going into business together, this project was the one I most looked forward to; it was also always the one we had slated for a Kickstarter campaign.

He’s asked me in the intervening 8 years what it is that draws me so much to Psionics. I’ve given it some thought – I was never acquainted with Akira, Firestarter, or Scanners before I met him. Psionics was really kind of my first introduction to the genre we refer to as “Brainpunk” (troubled youth with psychic powers vs. the Man). So I had no initial fan-basis for being so enchanted with it.

What I did like about it was threefold. Firstly, as a creator and consumer of media, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of merging the impossible with the now – sure, high fantasy and far-future sci-fi float my boat, but not nearly as much as urban fantasy and science fiction. I love conceptualizing what our world today, as we know it, would look like with the sudden addition of something spectacular and supernatural. Even before I’d ever heard of Shadowrun, my largest ongoing project could essentially be boiled down to dragons vs. helicopters. I often wonder how certain people in my life would react if they were suddenly gifted with the ability to do superhuman things.

Second, I liked the fact that this was not a superhero game. So often, people take psychic powers and couple that with heroics, justice, goodness – or evil, on the other side of the coin. But I liked exploring human beings that, perhaps, would be more focused on their personal survival and well-being than altruism. I liked thinking of individuals who didn’t really have lofty goals or ideologies, who – perhaps – weren’t at a developmental stage wherein their ideologies were fully formed, and considering what they would do with that “Great Power” uncle Ben talked about so much, with an absence of that “Responsibility” part.

Finally, I wasn’t too far out of teenage-hood myself, but far enough out to recognize my own retrospective insanity. Being a teenager means that you are not rational; as a teenager with mood disorders like MDD, I made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of crazy decisions, and took everything (and myself) much too seriously. To bestow a kid like that – like ME! – with dangerous superpowers seemed like the making of a very intriguing story.

When I got through college, Psionics stayed with me – it even became the basis of my senior playwriting showcase. The piece got a lot of interest; in particular, my leading man told me later that he’d had his hopes pinned on that part. When I asked him why, he explained that he enjoyed conceptual fiction because it tends to be a better reflection of reality than anything else – through the distorted mirror of head-exploding, fire-starting, mind-reading, comes real insight on the human condition. I think he probably said it better than I could, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it did make me think, and reflect on my own love of the genre.

The times we live in now are trying for the young. Most of my peers are saddled with debt that will never be paid off, and unable to move into the careers that they trained for due to a glut of workers and an absence of jobs. We’re recovering from a devastating recession and the geopolitical sphere is, in a word, terrifying. Politicians make the rights of human beings their battleground, using rhetoric to take away civil rights and bodily autonomy. We are expected to take up the mantle of adulthood in a world that we’re not ready for. We will do it, because we are adults, and some of us will make a splash and make a change and hopefully make this world much better than we found it.

But these are volatile times. Which makes me think that it’s definitely time for a volatile game, about volatile people, trying to make their way in a very confusing and dangerous world, exploding heads along the way.

That’s Psionics.

And that’s why I love it.

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