Saturday, 4 July 2015

The USA as a setting

Happy Independence Day to America-connected readers!

It occurs to me that I’ve written articles about using a lot of real-world locations as game settings here and on the Who blog, including Canada, Russia, Scotland and particularly my home town, but not one for the USA. I suppose this is because it’s the default setting for so much real-world-based media, including gaming. I’ve set plenty of games in the USA for no particular reason, where I would set a game in somewhere like Russia to play up its cultural differences.

So this might be a bit of a funhouse mirror for readers from the US, but here goes...

Being British and geeky, I largely associate the USA with imported geeky things, even having been there several times including a year of my childhood. We share a lot of the international geekosphere, but some things still feel distinctly American.

It’s familiar enough that everyone has loads of source material, from the news to the media to games supplements. (This can give a skewed view of the US, of course, like you’d get of the UK if you only see news stories about the royals and no fiction except our murder mysteries...)

It’s exotic enough to catch some interest at the same time. The USA is where you have cowboys and astronauts, and cowboy astronauts. Cowboys never surpassed Cops And Robbers or War (Probably WWII But Never Specified) at playgrounds, but the Cops And Robbers were pretty heavy on shootouts as well, in a way only The Sweeney ever got to be in UK portrayals while the likes of Starsky And Hutch certainly fit that style. Come to think of it, I had a Starsky And Hutch car but not one for The Sweeney. (Toy merchandising for cop shows is a weird idea in and of itself.) New York is the city of skyscrapers and Spider-Man - superheroes in London always feel a bit odd.

It’s distant enough that I can readily fictionalise it. I can fudge something like the law more readily. My current V20 game is set in the non-specific fictional City, which ended up being in the US because there’s no space for an extra city of eight million people in the UK and I used London last time. Likewise, TWH was set in the UK to differentiate it from Buffy but my last Buffy game went back to a fictional smallish college in the US because I wanted it to feel traditionally Buffyish.

It’s big enough that you can drop cities into it. You can get lost in the country in the UK, but it’s a lot harder to travel for days on end without seeing anyone like you can in the US.

One downside is that its recorded history doesn’t go back as far - there were people there before 1492 but we don’t know many of their histories like we know about Celtic, Roman, Mediaeval and Renaissance Britain, for example.

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