Over the weekend I ran a very brief test run of the Marvel Heroic RPG. The test went well, with the only issues being inexperience with the system and everyone involved being a bit over-tired making for more silliness than would probably be good for the game. It is something I want to go back to for a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is the game, or rather campaign idea I have in mind, is one that focuses more on the social issues the characters go through due to being mutants more than necessarily on heroics or other superhero action. So, today, I want to talk about that.
A Touchy Subject
The first thing you need to remind yourself of when you want a game, or even just a few sessions, to revolve around social issues is that they are a touchy subject. Social repression, social acceptance, and fair treatment are huge issues that we still have today. Even with proxies like 'Dark Elves' and 'Mutants' there is a chance that you're going to touch some buttons with your play group. Make sure these people are ok with this, and that they're comfortable with telling you when they are uncomfortable. The last thing you want is touching off a deep emotional response that someone has been avoiding. At least not if that person isn't cool with that exact thing happening.
Proxies Are Good
More in the vein of keeping from making light - or having fun with - the very real issues people in your group may be experiencing, proxies can be a good thing. Marvel has made a business out of this with the X-Men franchise. In the 60's the Mutants reflected a lot of the trends of the civil rights movements for people of different races. In more modern times they've done the same thing with homosexuality. Heck, even the second X-Men movie has a parent asking her son if he's tried not being a mutant.
The key thing to remember with proxies are that they are proxies. They do something to help exaggerate the issue while still keeping to the core. With mutants, people have a legitimate reason to be concerned. After all, some mutants are so powerful they can casually wipe out an entire city before they even realized their power had gone out of control. For a more fantasy bend, Dark Elves have a long history of being evil and vile. Both of these gives others real reasons to be concerned for the characters seeking equal treatment. Both also make cases for being different enough that while you can shadow real social issues with them, there's always going to be that edge of difference to help people keep perspective.
Treat It Fairly
Unless your point is to totally vilify one side or the other, you really want to treat it fairly. It is very rare for both sides in an argument to not have their own extremists. Yes, this means in the real world too. There are some very nice people out there who would be against gay rights, or other race rights. Due to ignorance, maybe, but they're there. With things like mutants these people don't even have to be ignorant, they could just be concerned.
The point is that it is going to be easier on you, the GM, in the long run if you treat both sides fairly. Yes, it's fun - and you probably should have - extreme anti-mutant people in your mutant game, but there should also be some genuinely good people who just believe the way they do. Someone who could be a good person, and even a friend to mutants but is still pro-registration because "yes, it is unfair that you'd have to register just for being born, but it is also unfair that you can level a building with a wink of the eye and I can't. We have people register themselves as weapons if they practice a certain sport, and we have people register weapons they own. Them eyes you have there are a weapon, born with or not, and someone ought to know about it just in case."
The best thing about doing it this way is that you can cause some genuine drama with your players. It is hard to hate the other side just for being the other side when you know there are good people over there. It is hard to justify actions you want to take when you know that as well. It brings things into perspective.
I'm curious what your thoughts are on this. In general I don't advise using your game as a political soap box, but that doesn't mean you have to shy away from the drama that social issues can present to your game. Have you tried it before? How did it go? Sound off in the comments.