We’re Back! After a hopefully restful and relaxing break, Rob, Gita, and Cado are here on this most auspicious of Mondays. We avoid the Great Slack Crash of 2021 by podcasting through it and talking about our breaks and how we spent the time. Gita got back into the God of War series and began to draw connections to the works of Michael Bay, and Cado got really into the “dead” Android: Netrunner card game while looking for his cyberpunk fix, and somehow ended up playingX-Winginstead.
I posted and then deleted a flippant comment on the Discord about the name of the Netrunner fan reboot, NISEI, which intentionally appropriates the Japanese word (二世) for second generation, mostly used to refer to children of first generation immigrants in the US, Europe, and other countries. But I need to get this out of my system so I’m going to post something longer here after sitting with it overnight.
First of all to be clear: although I’m of Japanese descent I would not use nisei to describe myself because I grew up in the US with my American mother, which is a very different background and experience. (I would use ハーフ/hafu or 日系アメリカ人/nikkeiamerikajin) So it’s certainly possible that I’m off base here.
I also don’t really have a background with Netrunner, I played it really briefly in 2016 and have a copy of the base set from back then with card still in shrink wrap. I have no exposure to any of the surrounding novels or media… so I genuinely don’t know if this description from a NISEI staff member is true:
I think that the usage is fine. It’s a reference back to the game/fiction (The Nisei Project, Nisei MKII, Nisei Division, Caprice Nisei, Akiko Nisei) which took great pains to display that Jinteki was a Japanese company without being overly fetishistic or othering them.
I didn’t find a lot of discussion about their use of “nisei”, although shout-out to this dissertation which throws some side eye at it in a footnote.
It’s certainly possible that great pains were taken in the development of these cards, however I’m not sure that I can agree with the conclusion that there’s no orientalism going on here. Here’s one of the characters referenced, depicted trimming a bonsai tree. I guess this person is a clone? Which is why her last name is “Nisei” but to me that seems a little weird instead of giving her a Japanese family name.
Lowercase “c” cyberpunk as a genre has a lot of unpleasant stuff in it coming from its origins in the 80s, so this isn’t really surprising. I can see how this happened where people feel that they’re trying hard to have respectful representation, but the end result is kind of weak. At least one expansion was developed by someone describing themselves as “not Japanese and I’m not totally fluent, but I have lived here for a few years and I study a lot”, which does seem like a sufficient resume for cooking up some Japanese sounding sci-fi words but I’m not sure that extends to the cultural representations
This isn’t really something I expected them to bring up on the podcast, I like it when the hosts have spent a long time sitting with something and researched it and bring articles to link in the show notes, but I also enjoy the kind of off-the-cuff we’re Googling this right now while we’re live discussions like the one we got in this episode.
Like I said, it’s certainly possible I’m missing something and I’m out of my lane here. So feel free to call me out, I just wanted to get this off my chest, especially if I’m actually going to try playing Netrunner again, I know it would gnaw at the back of my brain.
I don’t think you’re out of your lane at all here. I’m a huge fan of netrunner (like you I haven’t played it in years, but one of my goals this year is to re-learn it and get involved with it). As such I’ve seen a lot of the cards in a lot of the expansions and I think the original fantasy flight Netrunner game especially definitely has issues with appropriation and orientalism. However, the game tries really hard to be inclusive and have lots of different kinds of representation. Especially now that its in the hands of its fans and not a corporation. There is an excellent episode of the podcast Doomer vs Bloomer where one of the people who currently works on Netrunner was on to be interviewed/talk about the game. They discuss the current process and what they’re trying to do with regard to being better politically than the base game was. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still mis-steps, people are people after all, but I do think there is some kind of a conscious effort being made to do better than Fantasy Flight did. Most of the appropriation is probably an unfortunate hold-over from both 80s cyberpunk and the previous iteration of the game.
Currently, Netrunner is being “squatted by a group of queer anarchists” to quote the particular podcast I referenced. You can freely print out all of the new cards and there are “proxy cards” that can be used in place of any of the Fantasy Flight cards you might not have anymore. It’s really community minded that way and I think that’s really cool. That and the way they’re producing art for new cards is cyberpunk as hell imo.
I genuinely hope they are receptive to criticisms like what you have put forward here. It would only make the game better.
While I’m not in any way qualified to speak on behalf of those who use the original term, I can contextualize its use in the game’s lore. It is IMO one of the better uses of Japanese culture, when FFG was definitely prone to stepping into orientalism with Jinteki themes. As a summary, the Nisei line of clones - of which Caprice is the most visible - are the first line of clones with psychic abilities, and clones all use their “product line” as their last name. “Nisei” is also partially meant to invoke some “Human 2.0”/Newtype ideas from the “second generation” meaning. It’s a cute concept, and with a fan’s understanding it made sense for the founders of Project NISEI to pick that name when they inherited the game from their corporate predecessors. All this is part of the worldbuilding done before the fans took over.
I don’t want to undermine your valid concerns, though. Just add context. Your comment is a pretty good example of how these things would not be apparent to anyone outside of the dedicated fan base.
This is basically why I deleted my snarky comment on Discord, the more I thought about it the more I felt bad for an off the cuff dunking, especially when I saw other folks getting excited about organizing games and onboarding beginners. I’m glad to hear that my impression about the fan project putting the punk back in cyberpunk was accurate. I appreciate the additional background on the team working on it, I will definitely give the podcast a listen!
I think this gets to something at the heart of my reaction. Because I have ~complicated feelings~ about my own background along with other media consumption, when I read the word nisei there’s a lot of baggage associated with it, across the spectrum from anime fandom to WW2 history, so there’s a weird disconnect that I have to push past to engage with the game at all. The broader tabletop scene is rife with appropriation of Japanese culture and aesthetics so this isn’t really a new feeling, but this particular word does feel like it hits closer to home. Without digging deeper it’s not clear this reaction was something they took into account when adopting the name for the reboot, even if it makes sense for lore reasons
Minor note I’d also like to clarify since the podcast was confused about this too, the timeline of Netrunner versions is roughly:
1990s: WotC prints Netrunner 1.0
2012: FFG prints Netrunner 2.0, called Android: Netrunner. It’s setting is unrelated to the original.
2018: FFG stops supporting Netrunner, and Project NISEI is formed.
NISEI didn’t reboot anything, just continued the FFG version. The heavy Japanese theming of one of the factions and associated world building came with that, for better or worse. How NISEI handles that baggage is obviously still worth discussing.
So, after FINALLY listening to this episode I want to say that I don’t like the implication that if something is no longer corporately supported or funded that it’s… dead? That language really makes it feel as though independent revivals or continuations by community backing a thing is NOT VALID or something. Just, hard disagree from me on that premise.
I had to raise an eyebrow at the NISEI branding as well. My (adopted) grandfather was an Okinawan nisei, and I grew up in Hawaii where nisei status was kind of a big deal. Most immigration from Japanese territories like Okinawa occurred in the early 1900s, so first nisei came of age before and during WWII and had to live through internment. The huge cultural significance of that means that “nisei” is pretty much exclusively used in reference to that specific generation. Someone whose parents immigrated post-war would be nisei by the strict technical definition, but it would be very unusual to hear them described that way.
It’s one of those things where I’m pretty sure even mainland Japanese would see the word used generically to mean “second generation” and not even blink, but to Japanese-Americans in particular it’s a very loaded word.
They were kind of all over the place in that segment, but from context I think they were using “dead” in the sense of like you can’t go to your local game shop and expect to find a Netrunner tournament on the schedule like you could for MTG or whatever, because the tournament structures that trickle down to the local game shops are ultimately supported by the publishers.
This is still kind of what I’m talking about though. The idea that corporate support is what lends legitimacy to a game.
Before the pandemic, Netrunner tournaments were still happening in local shops, the only difference is that prizes and things like that were put together by the people who organized the tournaments and not necessarily by the shops or fantasy flight. The tournaments are smaller and less frequent, but they were still happening and I have no doubt that they will continue post pandemic as well. I actually expect there to be some growth for several reasons but that’s not really relevant to the point.
Rob said on this episode “give Netrunner to the people.” That has happened. That’s what Nisei and that one website represent. It was kind of bizarre to hear them talk about it being dead and then have them perform a live google search, see nisei and that one website, and then continue to lament the game but resolve to play it amongst themselves when the thing they had just talked about represents seizing the means/“giv[ing] Netrunner to the people.”
This also struck me as an extremely weird take. What happened to Netrunner feels like a community success story, and the lack of corporate monetization of the game feels good. Jinteki is an extremely good way to play the game, if you want physical cards, the community has cardsheets you can take to a printer, and ways to create a custom decklist and print just that.
No need to go ebay trolling at all.
But I’ve had more time to think about this as an original Netrunner fan (and I’ve toyed the idea with writing a good solo AI for Netrunner for a while) so I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt of just assuming the default position that “out of print” = dead.
Now that I’ve spent a week reading about Netrunner and playing a few learning games, seeing how active the various blogs, subreddit, Discord servers, etc are I totally understand the reaction folks are having because the discussion on the pod DID make it sound like the game was inactive in a way that is clearly wrong.
But to give the Waypoint crew a little credit, the current state is preeetty confusing to a newcomer, between one thing and another. And it does exist in a kind of legal grey area (I mean we’re literally not supposed to talk about Jnet on the Waypoint discord at all, not sure if that applies to the forums) but with official support there would obviously be no question what the status was. I laughed out loud when whoever it was (maybe Gita?) blamed Mickey mouse for the hell that is our copyright nonsense… they are not wrong
Like I said earlier I really do enjoy these kinda hot mic morning style discussions but in this case maybe a little preparation would have made things a little clearer. Or if Austin was on the episode since it sounded like he had a lot of experience with the game. hopefully if Gita, Rob, and Cado get deep into it they’ll revisit it
Oh, hm. I didn’t know this because I don’t hang out in the discord. If mods want me to go back and edit mentions out I can, but I would like to point something out about the legal grey area.
When you buy the print on demand cards from Drive Thru the box says they are “compatible with Android: Netrunner” not that they ARE Netrunner. I think that distinction is important. It’s like Mega Blocks saying you can use them with LEGO. I think that one website functions in that same space (the cards even have the Nisei backs on them by default now, rather than having the old FF card art and backs). Also, that one website isn’t monetized! So as long as those things remain the case I think it’s probably fine to talk about. I will edit my posts around it if mods would prefer, however.