Playing with the Company 7: Dissipating Shadows

"Almost the first thing the Company discovered, when it went into this time travel business so many ages ago, was that history cannot be changed. Recorded history anyway. But if you work within the parameters of recorded history, you actually have quite a bit of leeway, because recorded history is frequently wrong, and there are always event shadows-places and times for which there is no recorded history."
Kage Baker, The Children of the Company

Recorded history is a complex and elaborate thing. The cyborgs of the Company play in its shadows, slither between the footnotes, in the gray area where lack of detail or sheer inaccuracy allows them to operate. Sometimes, the lack of information allows them to enjoy a great deal of freedom. A sense of uncertainty and adventure lurks in the event shadows.

The concept of the event shadow strikes a familiar chord with all authors, but especially those who write derivative fiction, or designers who create games based on existing "properties" (the dirty word for "beautiful worlds"). When you create content within the framework provided by an existing narrative, such as historical records or a science-fiction story, and when you aim to stick to the canon of how everything happens (which is but one possibility), you have to forego some potential interactions. This happens whether the derivative content is created by a filmmaker or co-created by participants in a roleplaying game. Event shadows are those loose ends in the existing narrative you can take over and create meaningful content with, without feeling too much entangled by the existing content. They are spaces of freedom for you to seize and use to express your voice. Whatever is not preordained, can be changed.

Escaping the panopticon
The Company series, brilliantly, highlights the shadows: adventure takes place behind the scenes of History. Event shadows are important events in Kage Baker's novels. In ancient times, they span countries and decades -or millenia. As time passes by, they get smaller and more localized. The advent of the information age narrows these spaces of uncertainty up until the point where almost everything seems to be under supervision. This is the panopticon age.
The Company knows what its employees do, too. Except when, for whatever technical reason, it does not. Those are event shadows of a special kind: turning points, when you can breathe away from the surveillance system of the Company, places and times when you can be a criminal, advance your own plots, tie and untie your knots. They are the beacons of hope in a History crushed by the watchful eye of the 24th century.
In a game set in the Company setting, event shadows should be both feared and hoped, as they provide unique opportunities to change things and settle accounts.

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