Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?
Mentally ill supersoldiers programmed in virtual reality to fight dirty wars in 3rd World countries to defend the American way of life and Coca-Cola? Television reality shows that film said dirty wars for consumption by American viewers? First Amendment protections for 75 mm man-portable howitzers? Department stores making cloned customers biologically modified to prefer their products? Fast food cannibal cuisine?
Oh my yes.
Though not without its problems in terms of system, Ray Winniger’s Underground lands squarely where I want my superhero roleplaying games to be: with great power comes great amounts of mental fuckery. Characters in Underground, despite their ability to lay waste to entire city blocks without breaking a sweat, are fundamentally flawed, frequently drug addicted, and most times living on the streets after returning from their enhancement and tour of duty doing really bad things to people in impoverished locales at the behest of untouchable corporate masters. They aren’t natural heroes – they have to fight, hard, every day, to hold onto their humanity and do good in the world.
(You can easily run games where the characters are unapologetic baby-eating monsters as well, but that sort of thing isn’t for me.)
The world is cynical, bitter, and callous, with sardonic humor everywhere. You can buy guns from street corner vending machines. Washington DC is now a theme park, but yes the government still meets there (want to watch a session of congress? That’s an e-ticket!). Street gangs are the de-facto rulers of many areas while the rich stay literally above it all on fabulous anti-gravity platforms. The German government is now a theocracy based on Scientology, and the Vatican is now a banana republic in South America.
In short, the world is crappy in a gonzo, over-the-top way that used to be a source of wry gallows humor. (These days it’s actually getting a bit too realistic for my taste.)
And yet the intent of the game is very clear. The moral choices you make as your character may sometimes be difficult ones, but in Underground you are definitely there to help people, to make the world a better place. You may be mentally ill, you may have PTSD, you may have to take your meds every day, have no place to live except the streets, be rejected by the very society that cheered for you on TV as you gunned down children in Nicaragua, but by god you will fight your way through all that and help people, improve things, defend the innocent, and bring the guilty to justice – though justice itself is largely for the character to decide. You may not have bathed in weeks, your cape may be shit-stained, and just using your superpowers may risk a panic attack or catatonia, but you haven’t given up. Instead you will drag yourself out of your flop, strap on your gat, slide that rose-tinted targeting HUD over your eyes, and fight evil.
Because that’s what heroes do.