So I think Urban Shadows wiggles riiiight up to the line of one of my most hated things in gaming: letting the reality of human evil off the hook with supernatural explanations. I’m still deciding whether it crosses that line!
Let me explain how I got here. It’s a rambling thread that gelled in my skull on this morning’s bike ride.
I was thinking about whether or not I was disappointed that Urban Shadows doesn’t really systematically/procedurally address the dynamics of urban life. I’m thinking, If I wrote this game, I’d have stats or abilities or something related to the various settings of urban life: the halls of corporate and political power, street violence, migrant communities…
And then I’m like, oh shit, duh! That’s what the Factions are. Power is a stand-in for corporate and political power, Night is a stand-in for violent criminals, and so on. And at first I think that’s a pretty genius move. Take the game someplace a little less on-the-nose so you can build those stories without actually saying something like “the reason the barrios fail to improve is because it’s in the interest of certain political factions that there always be a scary other/outsider place they can point at to scare voters” or whatever.
Which brings me to the problem of providing supernatural explanations for real-world human evil. I call it the “Cthulhu Did It” problem; maybe someone’s come up with a better moniker.
It’s a dicey problem in Urban Shadows because the game also emphasizes that it happens in the real world, and that real-world urban pressures are important to address. Wellll…maybe? I feel a little weird thinking through that calculus though. It’s a very fine line between “there’s a werewolf living among the Salvadoran gang that runs the south side” and “werewolf gangs run the south side.”
Further complicating this is the fact that the game’s cosmology is (I assume) deliberately undefined, except where it’s very well defined. Is there cosmic good and evil? Well, there’s the Tainted, who serves a dark patron who lives in Hell and so on. There’s no equivalent for Team God, although it’d be trivial to skin nearly any of the playbooks that way. But you don’t have to when it comes to the devil. I think, honestly, this whole topic might be easier for me to wrestle with in a purely amoral cosmology: no good or evil, just humans doing good and evil things (with supernatural help if they have it available) for purely human reasons.
Something that’s on my mind. It was on my mind in my waning World of Darkness years as well, when White Wolf was struggling with similar issues throughout their various lines. As a grizzled old gamer I’m sympathetic to it, and perhaps oversensitive to the topic.