I got a chance to run my semi-dormant Traveller game this past weekend. The campaign has been running for a while; the earliest session notes I still have are from 1984. These days I only get to run it on rare occasions. Our last session was about a year-and-a-half ago.
The game went well, the crew of the Whatever3 managed to find trouble again, shot up another science outpost and probably got themselves added to someone else’s enemies list and everyone had a good time. I was glad to visit the old galaxy again but after it was over I felt a bit let down. Some of the shine seemed to have gone. The future just isn’t what it used to be.
I discovered the game way back in 1978 but I always associate the game with the 1980’s. And that’s what it feels like, really; it’s the 1980’s with fancier gadgets. Sure, you have interstellar travel, fusion power and antigravity, but that’s really about it. Take those three things out and it would be hard to find a scenario you couldn’t run as a game set on Earth in the present day. Wrist computers and personal communicators don’t seem so unusual when half the players are tracking their characters on iPads while checking in on a cell phone.
I suppose this is an inevitable result of any tech-focused science fiction. What seems advanced initially seems quaint later on. The best science fiction of course is about people, how the tech affects them, but with few exceptions that doesn’t come up much in most RPGs. Players are usually more interested in exploring or shooting than discussing how being part of an interstellar civilization has affected the local’s lives. The fact that most planets from Traveller are effectively independent of each other means that it pretty much hasn’t anyway. There is rarely a feeling that you are in a galaxy-spanning civilization. Basically it’s just “planet of the week” and none of them seem to affect each other that much.
So I don’t know. I still enjoy the game and still enjoy the thought of hopping on a free trader, hitting orbit and jumping to points unknown. But it’s a future of nostalgia, the way it used to be. Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical, but it doesn’t feel like the future anymore. Just another fantasy that never was.