15 Minutes with…. metamatik

Yes, it’s the time-travelling “15 Minutes” again, coming at you from the past while looking far into the future. This time, the hiccups were caused by life putting a few too many virus tokens on yours truly. Luckily, I managed to spent a click or two to remove a few of them (more Pandemic style than true Corp) and I got metamatik from the French meta(matik?) answering some questions today for your reading pleasure and general inspiration. Allons-y!

Vesper: Thank you for agreeing to the interview. First things first – how did you get into Netrunner… and was it in French? I know very little of cyberpunk in the French-speaking world (Renaissance was not bad and there’s always Jean Giraud’s influence on the genre), so I’m curious about your path towards “our” game.

metamatik: Hey! Thanks a lot for having me 🙂

My love story with Netrunner had in fact a very slow start. The core set must have spent a year barely open in my game closet — which might be, for better or worse, accurately described as an analogic equivalent to many people’s Steam library: a bunch of probably cool stuff I hope I’ll end up checking out.

Then around 2015, I finally started playing with a couple of meatspace friends, and that was it! I had never wanted to get into card gaming before, but everything just clicked perfectly: the theme, the universe, the intricacies of the gameplay itself of course. All in English though, as I am lucky enough, for a French guy, to have a reasonable proficiency in Gibson’s language — sufficient at least to feel like the official translation, while perfectly serviceable, seriously lacks in flavour

Anyway, life happened, my friends left Paris, and I found myself in need of new meatspace partners, as playing on jinteki.net, as fantastic as it is, definitely doesn’t scratch all the same itches. I tried to overcome my crippling social anxiety, a first time, in 2016, and arrived at the FLGS during the whole Whizzard vs. Controlling the Message plague. I promptly concluded that I would never be good enough, and then spent a whole year licking my wounds before giving it another try. Second time was the charm though, and I’ve now been playing and organizing events semi-regularly with the local community for a year.

Vesper: Ah, you reminded me about my Steam backlog (checks unplayed game count, sighs, goes back to writing). Netrunner is quite a tense and adrenaline-laden game and you mentioned social anxiety. I am not an expert, but I would assume that does not make it easy to “go out there” and meet new people, especially in a competitive gaming environment? What made the whole thing “click” in the case of the Parisian meta (that now, by the way and from what I know, you are all trying to revive, another thing we share :-))? Does Netrunner offer some good shortcuts for overcoming social anxiety? I know it used to cause quite a lot of (happy) stress for me, especially when I was playing as Corp.

metamatik: It is difficult indeed.

In my case, when I’m around a lot of people, like in a big tournament such as LaserRunner, social anxiety may manifest itself by growing feelings of inadequacy, of “not belonging there”; of being judged and deemed unwanted by everybody around. One could describe it as a mix of extreme shyness, awkwardness and paranoia, with a tendency to spiral out of control, which in turn may require to leave the social situation entirely. In a very intense and cerebral game such as Netrunner, it can make one very self-conscious about playing mistakes and self-deprecating about one’s performance — even more so as a relative newcomer, objectively lacking in knowledge about the history of the game, its archetypes and subtleties.

However, in the case of Netrunner, I have been very positively impressed and comforted by the spirit of kindness and inclusivity that I feel all across the community. From the very first time I set foot at the FLGS, I was only met with respect and friendly advice rather than the toxic atmosphere of domination-at-all-costs which plagues too many gaming communities to this day (and which certainly made me feel very unwelcome the first time I tried going to a D&D club as a kid, a few decades ago…). I feel safe enough in this community to openly mention those mental health issues without fear of being mocked or stereotyped because of them. I’m not expecting any special treatment or whatever, but the simple fact of being able to discuss this is very precious. Here goes a special shout out to the super nice folks of the Netrunner Mental Health Clinic Facebook group! Also, to the lovely people at LaserRunner who might have found me weird or just plain rude, I wish to offer a heartfelt apology, and I hope we’ll have other opportunities soon to break the ice (harr harr harr).

Now, what it is about Netrunner that promotes such open-mindedness, I don’t really know, I can only speculate. Might the relative complexity of the game draw a slightly older, more mature crowd? Older does not always mean more empathetic though… Cyberpunk itself, beyond the chrome and neons, has always felt to me as a very humanist current, chronicling struggles for survival in societies that are decisively less and less human, and the place of technology in these struggles. I guess the Netrunner lore, by portraying these struggles through multiple diverse characters, probably plays an important part in that.

Vesper: That’s an interesting point you made there – even though the universe portrayed in the whole Android batch of products (and, by now, several fan-made creations) is purely a sci-fi one, it definitely speaks more to where we are right here and right now than, let’s say A Game of Thrones, which to me is more theatrical and Shakespearean escapism starring several dragons and talks of rather basic human struggles. Android and Netrunner put more relevant and burning questions on our tables and in our heads, I guess.

Also, thank you for mentioning the Facebook group! As self-exile from that platform, I am very often the last one to learn about what’s going on in there.

As inspired by the futuristic milieu, the inclusivity and diversity are one of the most pronounced aspects of our community. Do you think making sure that they are taken into account and respected detracts from the general gaming experience?

metamatik: Uh, what? Is this some kind of Voight-Kampff test for Gamerg*ters? 😀

Vesper: Nope, a serious question about the side of being a community that we often may dismiss or take for granted, even though some of the problems that humanity has propagated across its structures and culture seep down even into what we consider “playing” and “having a good time”. 🙂

metamatik: Well, even though I’m a bearded cishet white male, actually wearing a Star Wars t-shirt as I write these lines — I mean, how much more of a gamer cliché can I be, right? —  I strongly feel like inclusivity and diversity tremendously improve my gaming experience. Beyond the simple activity aspect, gaming is a way to connect with people around us through shared interests, and in the case of Netrunner, I’ve found this interest to be, for a lot of us, a real passion we can spend hours talking and arguing about. Welcoming everyone into this passion is a no-brainer, really. Hearing everybody’s stories and perspectives enrich us all, and if that means taking a few extra steps to make sure they have a comfortable seat at the table, it’s more than worth it.

Vesper: Gotcha 🙂 So, let’s talk about a more local aspect of your gaming experience. What’s the story with France? How has the game caught on and developed there? What were the highlights and the lowlights in your opinion? How did the end of its official support affect the French meta?

metamatik: Well, first of all, I can only speak as a relative newcomer to the community, so everything I say on that matter should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt, since it’s mostly the result of forensic investigations.

I feel like the current state of the french meta could be accurately described as on life support. I might be wrong though, but it’s hard to tell because one big problem is the lack of a central discussion hub for (what’s left of) the french community. A forum called Run4Games used to play that part, but it basically spent the past couple of years slowly sliding into irrelevance before finally disappearing overnight a few weeks after the cancellation announcement. This is emphatically not why the French meta died though, I see this more as a consequence, an illustration of that fact; but it sure makes it difficult to even try to restart the machine, now that the people are scattered Jackson-knows-where…

Anyway, after talking to a few former players, I think I’ve identified some of the major issues that led to this disaffection. After a strong start, a lot of french players became disappointed by the direction the game took; not only during Mumbad like everybody else, but some of them as early as Lunar and the arrival of Near-Earth Hub and the asset spam play style. Add to that the untimely cancellation of the french translation of the game, and the terrible communication of FFG OP and it’s not hard to see why many people felt like it was basically time to move on to greener pastures — such as the Legend of the Five Rings LCG for example, which took a lot of Netrunner players away, more or less at the time I finally decided to join the community.

Another French specificity seems to be the relative popularity of the “sealed” play format, most notably supported by the impressive anrsealed.com “booster generator”. Among the few former players I have managed to get in touch with so far, some are vocal supporters of this format, even going as far as deeming it a superior Netrunner experience, oblivious or at least proudly indifferent to the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to share these views.

Anyway, what feels sadly baffling to me is that some of these former players have basically no idea about everything that happened since 2017. Boggs, the actually-useful MWL, the Revised Core, the Kitara cycle, Project NISEI… So many changes, so many course corrections which, I believe, make playing Netrunner today a fantastic experience. I only wish I could reach those folks for a little recap… and I sure plan to try!

Vesper: That’s quite a story – and a good primer to understanding how a national meta can rise and fall. Now that we know a bit more about the context in which you operate as a French TO, can you maybe spoil some of the plans regarding rallying the community in your local meta? Will there be a French Nationals in 2019?

metamatik: In a nutshell: more events and more communication.

First of all, I’m planning to write and publish an article, in French, to bring the community up to speed. I convinced the admins of a few relevant Facebook pages and groups to grant me publishing rights, which I fully intend to use for a little informational blitzkrieg just in time for the holiday break. Hopefully I can reach a few people and put Netrunner back on their radar.

Then, events events events! Because talking about the game is great, but the most important thing is actually playing it. After organizing a few little tournaments in 2017, and having the privilege of attending the weekend of pure awesomeness that was LaserRunner, I feel like doing more in that area. Increasing their frequency to maybe one per month, so that our little group always has something to look forward to — the NISEI kits are definitely going to play a huge part in that! And possibly organizing something bigger, akin to LaserRunner, Double Play in Berlin or your very own B-COM 2.0 in Barcelona. I mean, I’m not sure there are enough competitive players left in France to make the idea of a Nationals tournament relevant,  but I would definitely love to welcome the international community for a fun weekend in Paris — if my social anxiety allows it, of course ^^;

Vesper: I definitely can attest to the fact that attending a well organized and fun event stirs up urges to organize other events, haha. If the time is right, I would love to play some fun games in Paris or elsewhere in France! I mean, I already got up at 4:30 on a very rainy morning to go to the other side of Europe for a weekend tournament so… I can always visit neighbours 😉

Speaking of which – we have quite a lot of people around Europe who are deeply embedded in the competitive (or fun) scene and meet fairly often at different events. What do you think can a TO (or a local meta) do to make sure new players feel welcome and not intimidated by the game itself? I absolutely agree that “more events and more communication” is a good strategy here, but are there any more tactical bits and pieces that could help a new generation of players discover Netrunner?

metamatik: I’d say, maybe try to be super available and provide as frictionless a way as possible to try the game out? Like, keeping a couple of intro decks at your regular meetup place so you can always go through the basics with a newbie?

To be honest, I’m having a hard time with this question because even though I’m quite enjoying the idea of helping Netrunner survive by organizing events, I’m pretty much a newbie myself, and I still often feel intimidated by this game, in spite of loving it so much. Playing King of Lasers at LaserRunner, in that regard, was a very rewarding experience, thanks to the opportunity of receiving real time tactical advice from my more experienced teammates Euan and Daniel. Maybe a sort of “mentoring program”, for lack of a better word, would be interesting?

Vesper: Getting an intro deck or two is definitely a great idea! I’ve heard that the System Core decks put together by divadus are not half-bad for that purpose. And a mentoring scheme is something I would love to see happen, since we definitely need new players, but the game ain’t easy to get into as we all know…

Let’s hop out of the TO shoes for a moment and get nostalgic. A lot of great cards on both Corp and Runner side have come and gone over the years. What would be your favourite personal picks for direct reprints or slight remakes?

metamatik: As an essentially Shaper player, Personal Workshop immediately comes to mind.

Then, while they were not necessarily efficient or competitive, I think some cards were quite flavourful and/or just plain fun to play. For example, I loved the high risk / high reward gameplay around Accelerated Beta Test, or the positional intricacies of the Caïssa suite — sometimes those could feel like minigames inside the game. Smarter minds probably have dozens of reasons why those were bad for the game, but casual me enjoyed them 🙂

Also, I would love to know what happened to Kate, Caprice and Jackson. If they’re still alive, maybe their stories could continue on other cards? I just imagined Kate might now be working as a sketch artist for the NAPD, and Caprice as a fortune teller in some dimly-lit street market in Tangiers… New Connections for the new Runners?

Vesper: I can tell you that some of those characters may in one way or another show up again quite soon… but, without any spoilers, here’s the one thing I can tell you for sure – Zac, (Caprice’s twin clone-brother, the resemblance is striking, to say the least) keeps everyone engaged in an ongoing search for her, hoping to offer her shelter (and a position as event planner) in NISEI Plaza (it’s all named after her, after all). Just don’t tell anyone, walls got ears, etc. 😉

OK, and if you were to design your own set of cards (not even a full pack, just something that has a shared theme or flavour) for Netrunner, what would you go for?

metamatik: Among many other things, I love the fact that Netrunner made us travel a lot, including to places that had, to the best of my knowledge, rarely been explored in the classics of cyberpunk. As you can probably guess, I’m mostly talking of Mumbad and Kitara here.

I’ve seen pretty cool work on Stimhack in that spirit, most notably ZiNOS’s Balkans Cycle or ItsJustBusiness’s Hellas Cycle and I think another very interesting place to explore would be the Middle East. So much history, so many resources, so many conflicts… Given the geopolitical mess that it is today, however, I can clearly see how it might be a huge can of worms to try to integrate it in the game — and I definitely have no legitimacy to do so anyway, so, err, that’s kind of a non-answer I guess? ^^;

Vesper: It’s a “non-answer” we can live with 🙂 And it makes me think of a series of sci-fi books that are quite enjoyable (and original) in their approach to cyberpunk.

I personally would love to see more Europe on the cards! We definitely did not get enough attention in the cards released so far. Then again, I absolutely enjoyed the futuristic takes on India, Africa, and Mars. You know, the ninth continent 😉 There are so many places a future-focused mind could wander to… So, let’s travel a bit with our mind’s eyes – if you could live in the Android setting, where would you be and what would you do?

metamatik: I spent quite some time this afternoon pondering this instead of working, inserting myself in different scenarios and storylines, and I think I just might have been naive and idealistic enough to move to Japan and start working for the Jinteki Mental Health Clinic, in order to contribute to scientific research about mental illness. Then, somehow, finding out the truth about some of the less savoury endeavours of the company (*cough* Virus Weaponization *cough*) and trying to leak out some info? Not sure I would be brave enough though, but hey, I guess there’s no harm in a little bit of self-aggrandizement once in a while ^^

Vesper: Now I can be blamed for a productivity slump in France, great :-). Well, whatever you’d do for Jinteki (in your new job), better watch for those spiky door handles they have in all of their offices. I hear they zap you and your mind blanks out for a second, losing a bit of your memory, sometimes irretrievably.  

Right on, time for a “15 Minutes” classic! “In 2020, Netrunner will ….”?

metamatik: “In 2020, Netrunner will undoubtedly still be The Best Game Ever™ and hopefully I’ll suck a little less at it” 😀

Vesper: I hear you, same here. Although I have to say that the longer I play, the more I see that most games with players of equal experience are boiling down to that one lucky draw or one serious bluff that works (or doesn’t) – which makes them even more fun!

Time to slowly wrap up, so we can’t forget about the question from our previous guest: “What fan alt would you like to see being made? Not just a card though, I’m interested in hearing suggestions for the style, concept or execution.”

metamatik: Ah, fan alts… So much time spent tracking them… But the creativity of the community makes me so happy, it’s absolutely worth it! I guess it all started when I ordered Kysra’s Aumakua to hand them out as tournament prizes, and the addiction has only grown since then… Anyway. What I would absolutely love is to see more takes on Kit, who happens to be my all-time favorite Runner. Especially by Alexis Spicer, Miles Aurbeck or PandaLion ^^

Vesper: As we’re getting to the end of our chat, was there a question you wish I had asked? Also, what question should I pass to the next people invited to participate in “15 Minutes”?

metamatik: Thank Jackson you didn’t ask any more questions, I’ve been rambling quite enough 😀 Putting back the TO cap for a second: “What are the most important criteria for you when it comes to deciding whether or not to attend a tournament?”

Vesper: Thank you for all the enjoyable rambling and the final question that shall be passed on to our next guests, coming to nisei.net in 2019!

Yup, that’s it for 2018. We will be returning next year with a fresh batch of questions and answers – and some new faces and voices for you to say “hi” to! Don’t forget that we’re always on the lookout for new people to talk to and new questions to ask – speak your mind on Stimhack (or in the comments below). Have a great festive season and see you in 2019!