For my tastes, not enough people talk about Sci-Fi RPGs.
Remember, it isn't called Barking Cowboy, Barking Faerie, or even Barking Cape. It's called Barking Alien and there is a reason. Science Fiction is my first love, my default field of interest. It is my go-to genre when I'm running what I love to run most.
Mars 2030 - Concept Idea and Art by Рем Борейко
The Play On Target Podcast recently posted an episode in which the group discusses Science Fiction gaming. You can, and you should, listen to it here.
This isn't the first podcast on Science Fiction gaming, and it won't be the last, but it is, in some ways, typical of the SF RPG podcasts I've heard before.
It is also a Play On Target episode, so it has an identity all its own, and for that it is definitely worth listening to. It made me think, and to me there is no greater praise I can give to such an endeavor. At the same time, it didn't do what I was hoping it would - explain why Science Fiction gaming is so awesome.
I'm in space, by M0tt0M0
Although it was the Play On Target episode in question that inspired this post, I don't intend this to be a review of that episode. I don't really feel much would be served by overanalyzing the podcast, and what each individual said. Rather, I want to address the big picture elements I heard, and didn't hear, from the discussion, and tell you my feelings on the subjects. This is more what I took from it, mixed with what I already think, if that makes any sense.
First, there seems to be (generally speaking) a difficulty in locking down what one is talking about when they say Science Fiction. This was evidenced clearly by the PLOT hosts, who seemed to feel that everything from Shadowrun, to RIFTS is Science Fiction.
Well...it is. And, it isn't. I'll explain...
I have one hard and fast rule for identifying the genre, or subgenre of something (be it books, movies, games, etc.), and that is:
'If you can identify something by a name, other than the genre heading, then it is that thing, and not the genre heading'.
In other words, Cyberpunk 2013-2020 are considered Cyberpunk games (duh). Although Cyberpunk is a subgenre of Sci-Fi, it is also it's own entity. Therefore, Cyberpunk isn't (IMHO) a Science Fiction game. It is a Cyberpunk game.
Eclipse Phase is Transhumanist Science Fiction.
Gamma World is Post-Apocalypse, though possibly crossed with Science Fantasy.
RIFTS is a Multi-Genre game. If you Google, 'What Genre is RIFTS' it will say just that.
So what qualifies as straight up Science Fiction for me? Anything that doesn't easily qualify as something else in Science Fiction, is plain ol' Science Fiction.
Traveller, especially 'Classic Traveller' is to me, Science Fiction.
I guess it could be said there are few others. At the same time, I would place Star Trek, Star Frontiers, Ringworld, and Dune in this category as well, even though it could certainly be argued that some of these are also Space Opera.
Second, I often find these kinds of episodes are done by a group of people who aren't especially fond of the subject. A Science Fiction podcast by people who aren't into Science Fiction...well...perhaps not the easiest thing to do.
The members of the group who do like Science Fiction didn't really assert their opinions, or their past, successful experiences, over those who haven't had such experiences, or have negative opinions.
Taken from the final thoughts, it felt a little like a Science Fiction podcast that said, "Yeah, Sci-Fi is OK I guess, but isn't Fantasy awesome!"
Sardu Reef, By Alex Ries
At one point Sam notes that modern gamers are more sophisticated because of our increased exposure to both Science Fiction, and Science Fact. I would word it differently. Spoiled is the term I would use.
Because of this more extensive exposure he speaks of, modern gamers expect to be spoon fed all the ideas they will need to play Science Fiction (or any genre for that matter, but that's a different conversation).
When I started running, and playing Science Fiction games, we made up a lot of stuff. How? We read freakin' books. We loved Science Fiction novels, and comic books. We looked at issues of National Geographic, DISCOVER Magazine, and other sources of information on technology, and science. Also, tons of easy reference existed/exists for Science Fiction in pop culture in the form of movies, TV shows, computer and video games, and animated series.
For reasons I've mentioned before, but to this day do not understand, D&D, and Fantasy overall has always been viewed as more understandable, and accessible, but there is barely 1 Fantasy movie for every 5-10 Sci-Fi movies. I don't remember a single Fantasy TV show on television while I was watching Lost in Space, Star Trek, and Space:1999. Somehow everyone knows what medieval Europe looks, and feels like. How? How at 8 years old was I supposed know Fantasy better than Sci-Fi?
Sorry. I was ranting. A little.
Lowell notes that Fantasy is easy, conceptually. It is. And how much is an easy thing worth?
The thing is, if Science Fiction, the genre, is something you know, and love, you will make the effort to understand the elements that make it work. This goes from the basic tropes, to the basics of the science, to more advanced theoretical concepts.
You will then figure out what works, and what you want, in the Science Fiction Role Playing Game you want to play, if indeed you really want to play a Science Fiction Role Playing Game.