Gamebook store

Thursday, 1 April 2021

The Cancel Crew

Here's a roleplaying campaign based around a time-travel agency. In the not-too-distant future, the world is run by Outthink, the crowdsourced gestalt decisions of groups of Humanities undergrads who have purged their professors and other patriarchal authority figures, along with oppressive cultural constructs like facts, knowledge and qualifications. (Think of the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree only without the intelligence part.) The PCs are agents of O.U.T.R.A.G.E. who receive instructions from Outthink. Each mission they are given the name of somebody they must go back in time to cancel. This is known as ‘deplatforming them from history’.

Three stipulations make the agents’ task a little harder than just murder hoboing. First, you have to get the person you’re cancelling to name names, ie speak on record about two acquaintances of theirs whose opinions on sensitive topics make them possible candidates for cancellation.

Second, you have to arrange the cancellation in such a way as to ensure the person is remembered by posterity (if they are remembered at all) in a way that belittles them. That ensures they serve as a lesson for others. Simply causing them to be forgotten by history is not as useful and may lead to you being assigned to self-criticism classes. (As for getting to them in childhood and steering them on a more acceptable path… oh no no no, where’s the satisfaction in that? They can repent, but they’ve still got to have done something to repent of.)

And that's the third stipulation: you score extra points if you can get them on record confessing the error of their ways so that posterity can see they were appropriately contrite for being so unwoke.

So to summarize:
  1. Get them to give you at least two more names for the proscribed list. 
  2. Don’t erase them from history, have their fame live on in a belittled and neutered form. 
  3. Don’t mend their ways, have them admit the error of their ways.
  4. Oh, and while you're in the past, be careful not to comment on the cuisine; that's culturally inappropriate.
It's okay to frame the target with a trumped-up charge, incidentally. A target's unpopularity alone is enough to make any charge stick. 'So what if it isn't true?' your superiors will say. 'It feels right to us, that's what counts.'

After each cancellation the present day will be subtly (or sometimes not-so-subtly) altered. It needn’t be a drastic world-shaking change. Life just becomes a little bit more impoverished with each sweep of the doctrinal red pen. The time travellers remember the timeline as it used to be, but nobody back home does, so gradually they’re drifting out of cultural sync with their era. If they don’t keep their mouths shut, eventually they’ll be up for cancellation themselves.

Possible candidates for cancellation? I’d steer clear of the big guns of history. Hitler, Stalin, Genghis, Mao – too obvious, not only from the GM’s point of view but from Outthink’s too. The defining characteristic of cancellation is its pettiness and futility – not correcting huge injustices for the benefit of humanity (sorry, hupersonity) but simply getting a boost of self-approval by sweeping history's dust under the carpet. So how about: Wernher von Braun, H P Lovecraft, Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi, Ernest Hemingway, Walt Disney, Thomas Malory, or Cecil Rhodes?

As an easy-in, you could start with contemporary figures whom the players might know of. That way if the campaign hooks them they'll be more willing to do some historical research further down the line. J K Rowling is a clear candidate by reason of egregious wrongthink. Both David Hume and George Bernard Shaw have excited the revisionists' ire. William Shatner supports an autism charity, but that can be exactly the same as supporting Nazism in O.U.T.R.A.G.E.'s book. Michael Richards is surely ripe for cancellation, and as a result the time travellers will return to a future where Seinfeld episodes are fifty percent less funny. They might have to chastise journalist Andy Ngo for assaulting Antifa activists' fists and boots with his face. Or maybe the singer Bryan Adams who, for pointing out that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from a live animal market, was declared "so, so, so, so racist" by a clear forerunner of Outthink -- although Adams arguably perpetrated a more unforgivable offence by inflicting "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" on the world's music charts.

They can build up to cancelling Harlan Ellison for injudicious improv. And jolly good luck to them taming the robustly irascible Ellison. Later on see if you can find figures from history who the players have never heard of. That way they don’t bring any preconceptions to the table.

And here’s one further wrinkle in time to introduce as the campaign progresses: a further-future agency with very different mores is coming back to edit your timeline. ‘Who SJWs the SJWs?’ as Juvenal said. (That was in a cleaned-up version of his life; obviously the original Juvenal had to be cancelled.)


What rules should I use?
Paranoia springs to mind, and GURPS has a whole campaign based around parallel worlds, but here are some other time-travel games. Or how about James Wallis's Fugue system, which is free on DriveThruRPG?

What's the PCs' time machine called?
Since you asked, it's the Huntigowk.

What does O.U.T.R.A.G.E. stand for?
I'll tell you after midday.

No comments: