Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Shadowrun Series Theory: The Shadowrunner's Motto

“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”

This is the classic motto of the Shadowrunner, a combination of survival advice and well wish that those who live outside the tyranny of corporate law in the Shadowrun universe espouse, the closest thing to a common code that those who run the shadows possess. It’s an iconic phrase of the Shadowrun franchise, which its fans recognize and hold dear the same way fans of Planescape: Torment do for the question, “What can change the nature of a man?”, and fans of Fallout do for “War. War never changes.” It’s a cool phrase, summing up the survivalist mentality and reality for a Shadowrunner in a manner that’s simple and straightforward. there something more within it?

This motto of the Shadowrunner is meant to be interpreted literally, yes. To survive as a free soldier of fortune, you must be wary and ready for attack, you must be competent and possess sharp skills, and you mustn’t be wasteful of your resources. And of course, to survive, you must not let yourself fall into the clutches of that which is too powerful and too clever for you to overcome, the mighty dragons who rule society and claim the world’s resources and people as their treasure hoards. And maybe that’s all there is to it, the literal interpretation. Still...I think that this motto, at least its final part, is also metaphorical. The motto is not just advice on how to stay alive as a’s also the guideline to how to live as a Shadowrunner.

It comes back to what dragons are in Shadowrun. On the surface, the great dragons of Shadowrun are both major characters in the overall story of the Shadowrun world, and essentially a foundational part of the series’s lore. Through one method of control or another (though most commonly via heading the mega corporations that rule and spiritually enslave humanity), the dragons have become the puppet masters of the world, using humanity and metahumanity as resources with which to play a long game of global chess against each other to see who can hoard the greatest wealth of resources.

But it might also be that we’re meant to see the dragons of Shadowrun as something other than just powerful, scaled overlords. More than just physical players in the plot, entities unto themselves and separated from humanity, dragons might also be allegories, representations of greed and covetous control in its highest form. After all, the Shadowrun dragons have, in their short time in the world of humanity, quickly positioned themselves into the places of power over countless others. They are the heads of government, they are involved in organized crime, they head social and religious organizations, and, most importantly, they head the colossal, international businesses, the “megacorps,” that control the peoples of the world over any other force. Follow the trail of any influential and powerful organization, particularly those which are for profit, and you’ll almost surely eventually find a dragon at its end, pulling the strings and consolidating the world’s resources and people as its own, its only true competitors in global manipulation its draconic peers. Sometimes, as in the case of the infamous Lofwyr, you don’t have to follow the trail for very long.

And yet, the ones who cut the trail, who pave it, who serve as its cobblestones, are humans, selfish, short-sighted, power-hungry, greedy little humans. It was no dragon that created the concept of a corporation that puts profits before people, no dragon that invented the concept of political groups and national governments, no dragon that first organized religion. These tools for holding humanity in place and subjugating the everyman were thousands of years old before the dragons arrived on the Shadowrun world scene, created, enacted, and even perfected by human beings. Dragons simply play the game better than people, and seat themselves in the throne that mankind thought it was building for itself. Or at least, its own elite.

In a sense, then, dragons are more than just the characters that the Shadowrun series’s surface presents them as. Dragons are not an alien, outside force, but a foe that lives within our own creation, our own being. I submit that the Shadowrun dragon is intended to be a representation of the extreme of certain faults within humans. They are the embodiment of greed, of corporation, of power lust...they are the embodiment of the desire for the one to make the many dance to his or her whims, and for no sake but simple, covetous want.

Having established that, then, let us look at what a Shadowrunner is. You can find a Shadowrunner in any person. The crusader against social wrongs. The narcissist desiring a bigger piece of the pie than his day job allows. The survivor trying to get out of a bad situation. The ex-soldier who’s lost her way through a combination of circumstances and bad decisions. The anarchist out to disrupt the dragons’ puppet show. A shy computer nerd. A framed cop. A light-hearted street rat with no taste. A selfless community leader. A former lead vocal from a punk band. A psychopath with a vision for humanity. From the virtuous to the deeply disturbed, for grand reasons or petty, it seems that you can find just about any kind of person running the shadows.

There is only one thing that unites them all, and that is the basic definition of a Shadowrunner: one who chooses to live outside the social system, by their own rules. Whatever else a Shadowrunner may be, at the core of their being, they refuse to live within the absolute control of another, refuse to be a cog in the machine, and desire to live free and true to themselves, with only the masters they themselves choose.

“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”

Thus, I think that the Shadowrunner’s motto is more than just advice or a slogan. I think that when it avows to “never, ever cut a deal with a dragon,” it’s an affirmation of the core principle of what it is to be a Shadowrunner, and thus, a free man or woman. The “dragon” is the system, the means by which the many are controlled by the few, and it is an absolute. You can give into it and be a part of it, or you can stand on your own and never relinquish your autonomy; there is no middle ground. Once you engage with the “dragon,” you are no longer a Shadowrunner, but a cog in the machine and a pawn in someone else’s manipulations, no matter what you may believe. To me, this motto does more than tell how to survive as a Shadowrunner--it also tells how to live as one.

I leave you now with Harlequin’s words of wisdom from Shadowrun Returns:

"The lesson is this - the game is rigged. The cards are stacked. The dice are loaded. It's the same as it always was. Every cycle. People in power exert power. Little people cower in their homes, think what they're told to think, and buy whatever product will help them forget how horrible their lives are for another day. And that's why we don't *play* their fragging game. We don't swallow their drek sandwich and politely ask for another. It's why we run the shadows. That's where real life is, kiddo."

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