This has got me thinking, however, about how to blend these ideas into something more coherent.
Are the themes that arise within us signals for what could make our own settings unique?
Can we blend the themes that fascinate us into something fresh?
Let's take SF for an example.
What makes SF gaming interesting?
This question has different answers for different people. Whilst some like the wild and wholly Space Opera of Star Wars, others will prefer the hard and scientific stories of Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke.
Personally I have always like the idea of a blend. I enjoy the harder scientific feeling of Asimov's writing but I also like the high adventure of other, less scientifically-minded, authors. As a believer in a spiritual reality, as opposed to the commonly assumed atheist worldview of much SF writing, I also want to visit the social, religious and psychological future as much as the scientific and technical one.
My SF, like my modern-era gaming, frequently nips at the edges of the following elements and themes:
1. Collapse of our World Order
Maybe it's because I view our Western way of life as fundamentally corrupt and bankrupt (these days, it seems, literally), but I prefer to tell stories of either the process of collapse or of the attempts to move humanity forward afterwards. Whether a near- or far-future tale, my games often involve some form of apocalyptic collapse of all that is currently held dear. I like to sweep away governments, nationality and capitalist power structures in favour of the challenge to survive, adapt or become extinct.
2. The Reality of the Supernatural
Ever since my own dramatic entry into the real world as a University student, I view the universe as infinitely more wonderful and as being filled with far more possibilities than are often dreamed about in most SF philosophies. My futures are often spiritual in nature, allowing for the reality of the angelic and demonic; magick is often a tool I like to include, as are the miraculous blessings of the divine. Religion, spirituality and questions about the purpose of humanity will surface in my games; moral questions, dilemmas of ethics and similar challenges will sneak into any adventure.
3. Travel is Necessary
Inevitably the heroes in my tales will travel. It might be from city to city, or across a wasteland; it may be interplanetary or interstellar; it might even be psionic or magickal in nature. The means is less important than the journey itself. Destinations are metaphors for psychological questions and purposes, and the human desire to explore seems to pour through into my settings over and over again. Maybe that's why I love the name of the best SF game I have ever played: Traveller.
4. Human Struggle Involves War
For some reason, ever since first learning to recognise World War II tanks as a young kid, I have been fascinated with the weapons and methods of war. Humanity might kid itself that it is on a pathway of progress towards a peaceful and fulfilled future, but the reality is that we cannot stop fighting each other for resources and power. The future will always feature rough men and women who, in the cause of protecting and safeguarding the masses, stand ready to do dreadful deeds of violence.
5. THEY are Watching
Conspiracy looms large in my futures. Whoever THEY are, they are watching and acting in dark places to fulfill their own agenda. Perhaps it is my deep-seated fear of authority, the understanding that all power ultimately corrupts and destroys the wielder, but the theme insinuates itself into every setting I write. This is why I loved Star Wars and The Lord of The Rings alike: power requires dark deeds done in the shadowy corners of life.
What can we do with such themes?
It seems to me that a setting which is built upon those five themes would be an exciting one indeed. A conspiracy to control, wars which are tearing down the social order we once took for granted, the incursion of the supernatural, the push for heroes to travel in order to survive, and the inevitable pull of entropy scream of something fun.
What future can we envision that would include these themes and bring to life as a campaign? I have many thoughts awash in my mind... and yet I'd also love to hear what others might suggest.
Do you have a suggestion? If so, please post it in the comments so that I can give it consideration. In the end, perhaps, your small suggestion might prove the catalyst to a new setting that we can all enjoy.
In the meantime... well, I am going to let the mind fly free and brainstorm some ideas.