Nerd factor: My Version of 2020
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Several decades ago, I created a city set in the near future year of 2020. Time has now caught up to me.
My nerd friends and I basically played two role-playing games throughout school and college. The first was, of course, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. We accumulated piles of rulebooks, guides, and monster manuals so that we could roll our dice and guide our characters on adventures written out in longhand in notebooks and mapped on graph paper. This system became world famous and is basically the conceptual architect of all the RPG tabletop and computer games that followed.
The second game was a lesser known but equally alliteratively titled game called Villains and Vigilantes. As the title suggests, this was about superheroes. Commercially speaking, the game never caught on quite the way that AD&D did. Of course, as a consolation, V&V got to avoid being blamed as a Satanic influence during some moral panics of the 1980s. As a game, V&V was a bit clunkier too, relying upon complex numerical formulas to generate some character traits. We loved it despite its flaws. Or maybe for them.
In practice, my gaming group tended to bounce between these two modes of high fantasy and superheroics. My friend Eric, the other game master in the group, always seemed to get a little fatigue with running D&D right as I got excited about running V&V. And vice versa. As we got older and went away to college, our gaming would happen more in the breaks when everyone was home.
One summer, I got inspired. That’s when Metro City was born.
As the rather generic name implies, Metro City was an archetypal place for adventuring. More Metropolis than Gotham, Metro City was a place of spiraling skyscrapers and booming technological progress. However, it was a place full of danger. Supervillains were constantly bringing deadly weapons in or taking stolen treasures out of the city’s sketchy waterfront districts. Criminal masterminds either ran things behind a veneer of respectability from the city’s positions of power or skulked hatching their secret plans from many underground or submerged bases (in retrospect, there were a lot of submarines in that world). And wherever evil reared its head, virtuous heroes and edgy anti-heroes sprung forth to stop them.
I was cautious about how I imagined that future. I knew that scientific progress would not move forward to the point of houses on stilts or food pills or transporters. There were a few technological breakthroughs. I had prophesized the development of low orbital jets that would speed up global transportation (although I confess that was more so that I could set dangerous adventures on the edge of space). My future city also relied upon a kind of broadcast power. Again, this was mostly to make certain game mechanics go easier, but I did admire Tesla’s idea and thought it would be fun if it somehow worked.
Metro City went on to live in my imagination in a way that few other gaming creations ever did. I often hear creators talk about how their characters tell them the story and not the other way around. All I had to do was think about that place and its inhabitants and scenario ideas would pour out of it. My players found places to add their characters. Bringing their stories in made Metro City an even greater place to be.
By now I’m used to being nostalgic for places that never truly existed. And right now, it’s easy to wish for simpler places to be and for better 2020s. But I do really miss Metro City. It wasn’t a hometown so much as my own town.