Sunday, August 28, 2016

Shadowrun: Hong Kong's Ending Choice

Interestingly, the ending of each of the recent Shadowrun games has presented the player a choice in career path, and each of the choices have a similar theme. In Shadowrun Returns, the protagonist is presented with the opportunity to become a personal security officer for some wealthy, powerful bigwig. And in Shadowrun: Dragonfall, a representative of Lofwyr, the tremendously powerful dragon who heads the largest corporation in the world, offers the protagonist the opportunity for her/his team to become a retained group of mercenaries for Lofwyr. I say this is interesting, because both of these choices are basically presenting the issue that defines the entire Shadowrun franchise: the choice between the comfort and security of being owned by the enslavers of man (government, religion, and, by far most of all, corporation), and the hard, usually short life of refusing to give up your freedom to those who see you as nothing more than a resource to be possessed.

Now, almost needless to say, in both of these games, I told the mouthpieces of oppression to fuck off, and stayed a Shadowrunner. If I was possessed of the opinion that trading away your self-determination for comfort and security was a worthy goal to pursue, I wouldn’t be playing a damn Shadowrun game to begin with! Easy decision, right? Of course. Screw personal luxury, a Shadowrunner stands on her or his principles!

Which is why it would probably seem odd to you that in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, when this choice was presented again, I totally had the protagonist go for it.

So, see, at the end of Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s Extended Edition (which basically adds a small post-game storyline, much like how Fallout 3’s Broken Steel DLC extended the game past its ending), a moment comes when you have a choice similar to that offered at the end of the Shadowrun titles I mentioned above: you can follow through with the deal you’ve made with Qiu and the corporation she represents, or do as Kindly Cheng, the leader of the Triad group that you’ve been working with until now, orders. The former option will earn a reward from Qiu’s corporate backers in the form of restored SINs (System Identification Number) for the protagonist and the protagonist’s adopted brother Duncan--essentially, they’ll both be able to go back to a legal life within the social system like they had before Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s events. The latter option will be giving the finger to all involved corps and supporting the criminal organizations that live outside corporate law.

So, you’d expect that I would have chosen to side with Kindly Cheng and tell the corps to fuck off, right? But I didn’t. My decision in this scenario is to help Qiu and her corporation out, as promised, and have the SINs restored for the protagonist and Duncan. It seems hypocritical, I know, but hear out my reasoning:

First of all, the end result, on the large scale, is the same either way. Hong Kong is still doomed to become a plaything of the Ares corporation regardless of whether Qiu’s company can fight back or the Triads have a better starting position. If this was a decision that made a true difference for the citizens and runners of Hong Kong, I’d surely side with Cheng, since, though in an unpleasant way, her gang represents the freedom from the system that the Shadowrunners live by. But because this decision changes only the fate of the game’s core cast, more leeway is allowed for selfish reasons.

So, with that understanding, here’s the big thing about this issue: being a Shadowrunner is ultimately meant to be about having control over how you live your life, and refusing to relinquish your self-determination to some unchallenged, unchecked, and undeserving authority. Being a Shadowrunner is a choice to live free to who you are, instead of submitting to who someone else wants you to be.

But the protagonist of Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and her/his brother Duncan? They never got to MAKE that choice. The circumstances of the game’s plot forced them to become SINless and to live as soldiers of fortune.

The protagonists of Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall were both Shadowrunners already when those games started. It’s right for them to reject the offers of the powerful to keep them in cages, because these characters’ lifestyle implies that they have already made that choice in the past. But Duncan and the protagonist of Shadowrun: Hong Kong are bound by no obligation to stay true to a past choice, because that choice was stolen from them by the circumstances of fate.

Additionally, Duncan and SHK Protagonist’s lives as Shadowrunners have not really been a particularly good representation of the freedom of living life in the shadows. They’re allowed to take jobs on the side, but ultimately, they answer to Kindly Cheng as their master, again as a result of circumstances beyond their control more than any choice. That’s basically almost the same as it would have been for the Shadowrun: Dragonfall team if I’d had them take Lofwyr’s deal: life as another’s pet, simply on a longer leash than most. In a case such as this, being returned to the regular social system would actually represent a life with more self-direction than the current life in the shadows allows. Hell, the protagonist could choose to have her or his SIN restored, leave Hong Kong, and then become a Shadowrunner again, this time on her/his own terms.

Furthermore, there’s Duncan to consider. It would be one thing if this choice only affected the protagonist, but the restored SIN deal is offered to both her/him, AND Duncan. Even if the protagonist wants to continue as a Shadowrunner, it’s not just herself/himself that she/he is choosing a lifestyle for, it’s also Duncan. Duncan eventually becomes resigned to a life of running the shadows during the events of the main game, but he doesn’t like it, and when the possibility is raised that he could have his SIN restored and live a lawful life once more, he jumps at the chance.

Like I said, if the protagonist likes being a Shadowrunner better than living a normal life, she/he can always choose at a later date to give up the standard life again and return to the underworld--and do so without being eternally indebted to Kindly Cheng, to boot. This isn’t the protagonist’s only chance at living as a Shadowrunner. But this IS Duncan’s only chance at getting out of the shadows and living a life he wants to. To give up on the chance to have their SINs restored is to screw Duncan, the longest and most loyal companion the protagonist has, over horribly.

And frankly? If you do that to Duncan, you’re no better than the careless, selfish corporations and wealthy assholes who are the villains of the Shadowrun franchise. No, really, how would you be any different? You’re taking a man’s ability to decide what he wants to do with his life out of his hands, deciding his fate for him with no regard to what he wants. That’s the thematic definition of everything the entire Shadowrun franchise stands against!

In Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall, I told the messengers of society’s oppression to take a hike, because I believe in self autonomy, in the freedom that Shadowrunners represent. But it’s because I hold that belief that I chose the exact opposite in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and allowed Duncan and his sister/brother to escape their lives in the shadows: because this time, that’s the choice that means freedom. And I say kudos to Harebrained Schemes for having the skill and creativity to flip the situation around in such a way.


  1. I'm not familiar with this series. Is the control exerted by governments and corporations in the series more like controlling citizens' identity and values, or would you still be able to do as you wish in private?

    I'm mainly asking since I don't mind my freedom being limited (such as being forced to retract lies or slander), and if the series focuses on issues (I find) trivial, then it might not be for me. Otherwise, it sounds like a game I may be interested in.

    1. Well, the question for most people living in Shadowrun's world is actually more what you consider "in private." Corps in Shadowrun consider you property, not a person (much like many corps in real life, only they legally can't act out this opinion), so while your free time is ostensibly yours to do as you please, anything you do during it that's found out to be contrary to the corp's interests is a problem for you. And since the police are owned by the corporations, not the citizens, accountability for your free time actions ultimately answers to the uncaring, greedy few, rather than (as it theoretically is supposed to in real life) to the many. Additionally, corps tend to provide your living quarters and expect you to limit yourself the areas of a town or city which they own.

      I guess it's best to think of this situation in terms of cattle. Is a cow free, during its grazing time in the field with other cows, to do as it pleases? More or less. But if that cow wants to go somewhere else, a fence keeps that cow confined, and if that cow somehow had a notion to do something that wasn't going to be directly useful to the farmer's plans, the farmer wouldn't suffer the cow to live. At the end of the day, the cow can do what it wants to in private, as long as it's not a problem for the farmer's bottom line, but it's still just a resource, existing solely to be milked for all its life, until the day it's turned into a steak. A debatably acceptable life for a non-sapient organism, of course, but to a creature such as a human, it's a deplorable existence that goes against that which makes us people. If cows could reason, create, and contemplate as we do, we would surely find the process unconscionably barbaric, as we are meant to despise the corporations of Shadowrun (and real-life CEOs' wet dreams) who are basically perpetuating the same process.

      At any rate, you don't necessarily have to care very much about this overall theme of the Shadowrun series to appreciate Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Shadowrun: Hong Kong. While they're very much present (particularly in the latter game) in the background, the core plots and characters of each game deal with more universal action and conflict.

    2. Thanks for your response. I'll probably check the series out eventually.

      Also, a different Chrono Trigger interview was translated ( that you're probably interested in.

      Something that struck me as kind of odd was that it states one the themes of Chrono Trigger were tears, but I always viewed the game as a light-hearted adventure (the video where the party finds Lavos ruining the world is interrupted by optimism instead of the characters dwelling on the destruction, for example). Maybe I'm not reading it properly.

    3. What a neat interview. Thanks for the link! And I'm with you as far as being perplexed by the theme of tears in Chrono Trigger. I mean, there were plenty of moments in the game that would work with that, but no more than many other RPGs, and as you say, there is, thanks to Marle, a powerful undercurrent of optimism, hope, and determination running through most of the hardest moments of the plot (or at the very least, soon after them). I'm as confused as you by that.