Rod, Robbie, and I sat down on Discord to talk about giant robots, the influences and the games we have (or have not) played. It was a good discussion, and I will just hit a few of the highlights to open up the discussion here. Apologies for not recording it, none of us felt strongly one way or the other for recording. For another discussion of note, check this out: https://adeptplay.com/actual-play/what-if-catch-22-giant-robots
We began the chat by talking about our own first brush with the giant robot or associated media. Rod spoke about Macross (Robotech), while Robbie and I both mentioned Ultraman. In addition, I have fond memories of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets/G-Force etc…) and of course Bubblegum Crisis. These are not necessarily all giant robots, though we agreed Ultraman came close as the hero was in a giant metal alien “suit” and fought kaiju. Criminally, we did not bring up Robot Jox. Also did not talk Pacific Rim*.
Note: we did not talk much about human vs. nature ie robots vs. monsters as we spent a lot of time on fights between robots and the human side of that.
The topic of the actual games and game experience was light actually. We mentioned some of the more obvious ones like Palladium’s Robotech, various R. Talsorian games like Mekton, Bubblegum Crisis, and Armored Trooper VOTOMS. Rod ran myself and Jon H through a game of Heavy Gear from Dream Pod 9 and I have been itching to run some Jovian Chronicles for a while now.
All the basic discussions brushed on but did not dig deep into the idea that much of this has been imported and Americanized. My own understanding, such as it is, suggests a degree of influence from Starship Troopers and other military SF. However, and this is a point I am making, whatever one thinks of Starship Troopers, I think the influence here was largely one of designs as opposed to philosophy. The reason for that is related to what I think the two themes we discussed regarding the influential media, largely Anime, and their appearance in games.
The first is that the media of giant robots carries a largely anti-war message. We talked about several series and noted that, along with action and adventure, the militarism was often mixed with a reluctance to go to war and to fight. Many of the protagonists are not even professional soldiers, but civilians pushed into service in extreme emergencies.
This is something that seems to be lost in many of the associated RPGs, where tactical and non-tactical play seem disconnected at times and often favor the militaristic view. Though I will note that think Rod did a great job connecting the two in his Heavy Gear run. In terms of system there is not a great deal of connective tissue between the two.
The second theme was one of cosmic questioning and philosophy, with a helping of myth and religion, and this does seep into the rpgs as well as the original media. One example is that of the returning Clans in the Battletech/Mechwarrior universe. They are at first seen as unbeatable alien beings, somewhat godlike in their power. In Heavy Gear, an entire faction has a backdrop of religious dogma that can be central to the characters. It could be that much of attendant media and SF incorporates cosmic themes, or that could be a cultural artifact of the media itself.
Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and for Rod and Robbie for participating.