Iconic Antagonists: Government
When running the shadows in Shadowrun, you have to be mindful of the Grid Overwatch Division (GOD) when you dabble too long or too explicitly in the matrix. In Anima: Beyond Fantasy you must be wary of the machinations of Matthew Gaul and his Azure Alliance. In the various World of Darkness games like Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, secret government agencies such as Department X are always on the hunt for your kind. Similar government agencies such exist to try to register or imprison special individuals in games like the Marvel Universe Role-Playing Game and Mutants & Masterminds. In Star Wars, the Empire is a constant threat, as is the Coalition States in Rifts. Tyrannical dictators and evil monarchies are common villains in most good fantasy role-playing games like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, if role-playing games have taught me anything, it is that governments are evil and should never be trusted.
What does that tell you about how much faith we, as a people, have in our ruling bodies?
But I am not here to talk about politics. I am here to talk about gaming, and specifically, why governments and their agencies make for wonderful antagonists for your heroes. Firstly, they make for great antagonists because ruling governments are far more powerful than any individual can ever hope to be, making facing such a threat a daunting task even for the most stalwart of heroes. You cannot face such a foe directly, though you can certainly face off against scores of nameless peons, making them a great recurring enemy.
Secondly, they make for great antagonists because of the faceless nature of governments. Sure, most governments have a spokesperson or other representative, but how often do we see them as the real “power behind the throne?” With an entire government as your enemy, you can never really be sure just who your enemy is. Is every senator or congressman in on whatever diabolical scheme you are trying to prevent, or are there good and decent men and women who are little more than pawns in some greater game? How can you fight against someone who can be, almost literally, anyone? Facing down against a government is much like fighting a mythical hydra; for every head you sever, you can be sure that two or more will soon take its place. Your enemy is legion. You are not.
Finally, governments make for great antagonists because everyone has something about the government they do not like, and though play they are given a chance to give voice to those matters, even if it is only among friends. My players tend to be quite diverse. Some are more than happy to let anyone (and everyone) know their political ideals while others are fairly timid on the subject, fearing that they do not know enough on the subject to contribute to such a conversation. For both sorts of players, playing in a game where a political faction is your enemy is a great way of expressing those feelings without the fear of dejection or dismissal. Games make for great venues of expression, after all. It is one of the many reasons I feel so strongly about them as a hobby.
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