07
Jun
09

steel, steam and spit

This month’s RPG Carnival is hosted by Mad Brew Labs and deals with steampunk and klokwerks. Some have noted steampunk seems to comprise two divergent streams – the utopian steam-based science and dystopic punk social dynamics; you can mention Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine, Moore & O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. You may even mention the movie Wild Wild West (or it’s TV inspiration) without too many outraged looks – alright, maybe that last is a bit… colonial. You get the idea.

While there is plenty of the steam, there is not so much about the punk elements – a shame because there is an awful lot to rage against for any subversive. The historic eras that steampunk draw on were times of massive social upheaval and reform.

How do you consider poverty caused by massive industrialisation leading to slum living? Or the rocketing abuse of gin and opium? Maybe prostitution and the hypocrisy of the public towards the ‘unfortunates’ who were committed to asylums to reform or being subjected to humiliating inspections by public officials if suspected of having an STI?

Or child labour and exploitation? How about the conflict between creationism and evolution? And the rise of feminism and the suffragette movement? All at the same time? The enforced social mores and repressed conservative attitudes yield much for punk ideologies and ethos to illustrate and attack – whether it be Fabian ideals, patriotic socialism or an alternate morality.

A sense of manifest destiny grants divine right to conquer and exploit in the name of your nation, God, Reason or Progress. Ugly? Industrialisation isn’t always pretty. Finding the focus on technological marvels lets us embrace a sense of wonder inspired by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Yet there is a darker edge to steampunk, dealing with social ills that still hang over us.

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1 Response to “steel, steam and spit”


  1. 1 Nathan Abrahams
    07/06/2009 at 9:33 am

    This is rather timely…

    I'm about to start working on a Steampunk setting, maybe for Risus, but I'm looking at other systems.

    This will give me some good ideas for extra hooks and conflict in the various nations.


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