Rusty Zimmerman is a friend and peer of mine, working in the word mines of Catalyst Game Labs. Today, he tells me what he’s done to try to change the perceptions of Shadowrun fans (and wanna-be gatekeepers) about what “does” and “does not” belong in the Sixth World.
The catalyst for my latest Jimmy Kincaid yarn, Chaser, came from the real-life political climate and how it all-too-often shows itself in geek spaces. I’m a moderator for a sprawling (8,000+ member) Shadowrun Facebook community, the Shadowrunner’s Union. While the vast majority of our users are terrific, and while we do everything we can to keep the place inclusive and welcoming, sometimes a little ugliness seeps through the cracks.
That’s what happened when someone posted some artwork of their character in this magic-rich, cyberpunk/transhumanist setting; a catgirl. Only a few people commented on the artwork itself, or asked our intrepid poster for more about his character. The majority of the memorable conversation was, instead, the dully predictable attacks of angry geeks against someone they thought was a little geekier than them. A pack of nerds descended on someone they thought was having fun wrong, and the joy of an artwork post was taken away as gamer after gamer insisted catgirls and furries have no place in ‘their’ game (and that’s without even mentioning that he was a male-presenting player with a female-presenting character).
First, I swung the banhammer around and took out the garbage. Next, I politely reminded everyone that Changelings—people affected by SURGE, Sudden Recessive Genetic Expression, who mutated due to a spike in magic—had been a part of Shadowrun since 2001, nineteen years ago in real-life and nineteen years ago in-universe, and that the first artwork AND first in-character lore about them both featured a catgirl. After that, I reminded people that furry-style cosmetic modifications had also always been an option in Shadowrun (and even in Cyberpunk 2020), literally for decades, even prior to Year of the Comet introducing SURGE.
But then? Then I decided to really show that catgirls belonged in Shadowrun more than gatekeepers. I messaged the original poster, and asked him to tell me more about his character.
I’d had the idea for a Kincaid story brewing for a while, you see, where our hard-boiled paranormal investigator shows that not all of the classic noir-PI tropes hold true. Like a lot of aging media, some of the original private dicks are, well, kind of dickish. Not every genre ages well, not every trope is the same almost a hundred years later, and maybe it was time to be a little clearer that Jimmy Kincaid—and Shadowrun and I—want readers to feel welcome, regardless of their gender, orientation, skin color, or, yes, even their other fandoms.
It was time for Jimmy to work on some hate crimes, and to tackle head-on the metaracism and bigotry that’s so often sidestepped in Shadowrun work. This submachinegun-firing catgirl from some artwork, then, was the last ingredient I needed. With my new friend’s blessing and a few new notes, I got to work making a bullied player’s favorite character into a canon character, and the final puzzle piece fell into place, completing the story I’d had idly bouncing around in my skull for a while.
I hope everyone will enjoy Chaser, not just because it’s an important reminder that Shadowrun has room for everybody, but because it’s a heck of a story, too. We find Jimmy racing all over his Puyallup neighborhood, staking out, interviewing, roughing up, and being roughed up by all manner of Shadowrun troublemakers—from troubled priests with dark secrets to racist cops, Humanis policlub bigots to the mutated shadowrunners they target.
It adds to the existing Jimmy Kincaid stories, Neat and Shaken (and includes the first chapter of Stirred, my next novel), and it does so in a way that I think readers will have a great time with.
Rusty Zimmerman (“Russell” when he’s writing, so he sounds less like a dog) is a Texan who took the long way getting there from California, then Kentucky. He, his wife, and their princess-pupper Bodie can be found in the DFW Metroplex, slinging dice, playing Overwatch, and telling stories with their friends. When he’s not gaming face-to-face, he can be found on Discord and Twitch at all hours of the day and night, hanging out with his geeks and, as he insists on calling it, “researching for work.”
He is a full-time freelance writer in the gaming industry, known for credits ranging from the Warmachine and Spinespur wargames to the award-winning Satellite Reign PC game, but most of all for his work in role-playing games in particular. While he’s always eager for another game world to play in and another notch on his gunbelt, he’s still investing most of his word count into Shadowrun, particularly writing novels, novellas, and anthology fiction in the Sixth World.