Federal agents in Dirty Secrets

This was a response to a playtest thread for Dirty Secrets.I discovered that this response actually brought out something personal in me, so I figured that I’d share. For context, the playtester lives in Switzerland.

Whereas legal status didn’t have too much impact, even though it could have helped to resolve the Clothilde Guerdat’s murder as she was an ex-convict. By the way, what’s the difference between a police officer and a federal agent? In Switzerland we have a similar politico-administrative set-up of the country (mini-states with quite a bit of autonomy form the country), but the federal government has no police of their own. They do have secret agents and spies though (yeah!), so I put that in it’s stead. I’m worrying though whether I’m missing some deep grown rivalry between state-level police and federal agents (which seems to crop up all the time in American films).

First, I’ll point at what Ralph said and say, “Yeah, that.” It’s definitely one of those things that Americans will get, almost instinctively, while others will go, “Huh?” I recall some discussions on the Unknown Armies mailing list that boiled down to “translating” the fundamental American nature of that game. I’m guessing that Dirty Secrets will be similar.

So, part of the reason for dividing them up in the game is to allow for that conflict between local/state and federal police that Ralph describes. The other reason is just the general reaction of the public to the Feds vs. the cops. By definition, the cops are local or regional. They are from “around here”. Federal agents aren’t. That’s not really fair, you understand. I don’t know if there’s an FBI office in Peoria, for example, but if there is, it’s probably staffed by people who live in the Peoria area. However, their allegiance (if you will) isn’t to the Peoria area; it’s to the central government. So it’s a different vibe. As such, I thought that the game should allow for that vibe.

Okay, time for a detour. I’m not totally sure that I’m going to be able to express this well, but I’ll give it a try.

I’ve discovered that one major aspect of Dirty Secrets is the players’ developing of a connection to their immediate locale. In the initial post, you said:

Julien and Gaétan thought it was a brilliant idea to set the game in our city last week. It really eases up descriptions and allows for a lot of private jokes and quick meta-discussions.

That’s exactly what I mean. The game provides an opportunity to interact with your real-world surroundings through the game. This can be a celebration of your locale, or it can be a critique. Regardless, at least for me, the game has brought me closer to where I live. I find myself looking around more, especially at the hidden nooks and crannies of Peoria, because now, I’m curious to know what is over there. Now, maybe that’s just me, but it’s something that I’ll be looking for in AP reports, as they come out.

All that to say….

In light of this, federal agents feel like they come from outside the locale. They are not part of the community, nor are they beholden to it. That’s what sets them apart. This is purely emotional and, as I noted above, not even totally accurate. But that’s why federal agents are a separate category in the game.

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