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"In an era of stress and anxiety, when the present seems unstable and the future unlikely, the natural response is to retreat and withdraw from reality, taking recourse either in fantasies of the future or in modified visions of a half-imagined past."
- – Alan Moore's Watchmen
You are here.
After the end of the communist regimes and the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended almost half a century of Cold War. The ideological, political and economical clashes between different ideologies that had had its apex during World War II had finally ended or gone underground depending who you ask.
Due to the entirety of this era being in the recent memory of our editors (as of the year 2020), how increasingly polarizing the events have become and the obvious fact that it hasn't ended yet (not to mention how discussion of what's gone on so far is all but certain to cause much shitflinging), we'll skip the overview of the events so far and jump straight into how you can use the Post-Cold War Era in your setting. What's the state of the world now? Well... that is something we will leave to future historians.
"We're living in the age of cellphone cameras. Fuckups ain't tolerated!"
- – Smiling Jack, Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines
The mass popularity of smartphones has made it increasingly difficult to write a plot that cuts characters off from the outside world. This has forced such plots to be moved further and further from civilization (which fights an uphill battle with ever increasing coverage), into massive disasters where cell phone coverage is disrupted and help won’t be coming anyways, or just straight up adding in supernatural disruption of communications.
The rise of mass CCTV and cellphone cameras of increasingly high quality and the ability to post the works taken with them on social media has made it increasingly implausible to keep a Masquerade going. The original World of Darkness just ends dramatically in 2004, the year before YouTube launched. The MCB of Monster Hunter International has all the resources of most of the worlds governments working together to censor the supernatural, but even then those in charge consider exposure an inevitability. Pretty much any conspiracy will be an open-secret, although it might still be popularly viewed as a conspiracy theory depending on how believable it seems. Paradoxically, in an era of limitless access to knowledge, what knowledge the individual chooses to subscribe to has itself become factionalized, and that can be a tool to uphold a Masquerade in itself.
Aside from the media and communications , other technological branches are seeing tentative emergence or applications beyond the lab. As of the New 10s (2010-2019) remotely controlled and autonomous UAVs and RPVs popularised as 'drones' have entered commercial usage alongside with multi-pedal robots able to walk, run and perform simple manual tasks while the militaries around the world are actively using aerial combat drones with land and sea variants in development. On another front virtual reality has become a viable entertainment and educational medium due to miniaturisation of screens and processors though it still has ways to go in terms of improvement.
After the Information Revolution of the late 90s and early 00s biotech is set to become the next big thing. With the Human Genome project completed in 2003 the rate of tech advancement has lowered the costs of individual genomic sequencing from ~100 million USD in 2001 to around 1000 USD making individual genetic screening viable with a popular commercial application being the identification of one's genetic heritage and disease risk. Later during the 2010s a method for targeted genetic editing in-vivo called CRISPR caused a stir among the scientific community as now scientist could genetically modify organisms at any stage of development, not just before birth.
Lastly - commercial space endeavors are picking up steam as private companies like Space-X, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are seeing wealthy tourists and corpo brass sent to space. Government initiatives are also getting in on the action with Artemis Accords updating the UN Outer Space Treaty and aiming to return humans to the Moon by 2024, China has begun the construction and assembly of it's Tiangong space station which will be their equivalent of the russian Mir and finally the James Webb telescope will eclipse Hubble in both size and capability.
"The great paradox of the 21st century is that, in this age of powerful technology, the biggest problems we face internationally are problems of the human soul."
- – Ralph Peters
While technology has generally advanced in fits and bursts along the lines predicted by most sci-fi works (major exceptions being AI, mass genetic engineering, widespread cybernetics and space colonisation), society has become somewhat of a mix between prior trends and predictions made by said sci-fi.
The predictions that the world will become more united and liberal in addition to the waning of nations in favour of corporations or some other modes of society were only partially realised. Globalisation has indeed made the planet more interconnected but the onus of international relations still rests on the state. Corporate entities have become more powerful and wealthy but they still cooperate with governments (if not slowly merging with them due to intertwining of corporate and political interests) while in places like China and Russia the corpos are merely another arm of the government altogether.
The trend towards social liberalism has held partially true with the increase in LGBTQ+ acceptance and diminishment of racism in some places. Political liberalisation has however entered something of a slump with the traditional left in EU and USA being relatively dormant though grassroots left is seeing something of a revival in the 2020s. On the other hand Russia and China have moved more towards autocracy and their increasing strength has presented an uncomfortable alternative to the supposedly singularly viable liberal-democratic order. Europe has also seen a resurgence of populist, if not hard-right political parties like the french Front Nationale or German Alternative Fur Deutschland with some countries like Hungary and Poland taking on an increasingly right-y colors. In short - politics be skub as usual.
Related to the above, the collapse of the cold war order has left many societies with somewhat of a need for soul-searching. This is namely due to the fact that while initially it looked like the triumphant capitalist-liberal-democratic order was the ˝end of history˝ it left many people unfulfilled and what's worse started showing flaws that were overlooked during the ideological fight against the USSR (hence the russian joke how 'almost everything we were told about communism was a lie, and almost everything we were told about capitalism was true'). To not get too deep into the political theory of the whole thing, suffice it to say that the guy who predicted the triumph of this system (Francis Fukuyama) also noted that the people may get so bored of it that they may intentionally choose to 'restart the wheel of history'.
On a more personal and interpersonal scale, the rise of Internet in general and social media in particular has transformed society to a great degree. The ability to connect with people world over and find hundreds or thousands of people with similar interests has lead to formation of digital communities that can be not only as powerful as the ones irl but sometimes even supersede them to a great degree, for good and ill. This has also made how one behaves online as important if not more so than offline - if you take a dump on a city street at most a few dozen people will see it and forget it in a year without a reminder, if you take a proverbial dump online it has potential to be seen by tens of thousands of people and potentially stay there forever, just look at Chris-chan for example.
On a final note, the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in the late 2019 also had an unintentional effect of forcing vast segments of society to adopt online business and communication models. What this means is that instead of working in a typical cubicle-monkey office one could work from anywhere there was internet - a beach, cafe or a public toilet. While things are still in flux as of 2021 the shift to ˝work-from-home˝ will probably redefine how a job is/was perceived before and after the New 10s.
Conclusion & Mineability
The Post-Cold war era is a strange one since it directly succeeded a period of history defined by a clear if at times clandestine fight between two superpowers who were politically and ideologically opposed with plenty of history and cultural distinction for each to have it's own strong flavor. A two-pole world collapsed into a unipolar one which is evolving into a multipolar with no clear ideological struggle to really differentiate the sides.
However this also provides plenty of opportunities to introduce plots and conflicts that are unburdened by vast preset ideologies and factions. Political intrigues between modern state, corporate or even NGO actors, dissolution of countries or formation of new ones upon the collapse of the old order, global terrorism and radicalism, technological, sociological, environmental or neo-ideological struggles and positioning in order to build 'your' faction's or even personal vision of the future!
Admittedly the more exotic genres that lend themselves best to the age are Urban Fantasy, post-apocalyptic scenarios and '20 minutes into the future' science fiction. You can also go down the route of Shadowrun and have some sort of event return magic to the world though depending on the intensity, it may radically change the setting into something no longer resembling modern world. There is also a somewhat neglected genre of New Weird/Weirdpunk which allows for a variety of historical settings, including modern ones, while having a potential for being truly unique (for example see such works as the comic Shutter, Dysco Elysium, Persona 4/5, Psychonauts...).
Impact on /tg/
/tg/ is, traditionally, a very low tech hobby. Despite this, it still has managed to incorporate some of the new technologies of the era.
One big thing is the rise of e-books. Rather than have a big stack of massive heavy books, you can keep all your books on a small, handy, e-reader. One particular advantage of an electronic book is that the contents can be searched through to quickly get answers to rule questions. The low cost of electronic publishing also means many small groups can easily publish a book and sell it, but this comes at the cost of electronic storefronts being flooded with low effort, poorly written garbage. Electronics also, in theory, lower the need for wasted paper and dice. In practice however, many groups find including any electronics at the table a major distraction and disruptive of play, while many players refuse to trust electronic RNG. Acceptance of computer RNG is actually worse among players into video games due to that medium's documented history of RNG cheating via uneven RNG, poorly randomized number generation, and being easily manipulated. Another issue with electronic books is that some companies are Luddites, and refuse to release PDF versions of their books, while others are hamstrung by the IP holder's retarded prior licensing agreements made with the devil and legally can’t, or just plain old don't exist anymore and can't do a PDF re-release, but we have a solution to all those problems.
Another nifty creation has been 3D printers that can create a variety of objects desired from scratch for cheap. Currently 3d printers are only able to print small, inanimate, plastic things (unless you have a very expensive and large one that can do weak metal) and are a far cry from Replicator technology everyone panicking about "ghost guns" thinks they are. Fortunately the hobby has substantial use for small, inanimate, plastic things. Eventually there will be a reckoning for the entire minifigure gaming industry over the full implications of 3d printing, but for now the technology still remains a wee bit too bothersome if not expensive for the average user to churn out a thousand point army. However if you have the means and patience to experiment, your imagination is the only limit on what you can do for figure customization.
The appeal of Post-Cold War world
Do you like stories of special force operators going on incredibly risky missions to take down terrorists, insurgents, and radicals of any ideological or religious flavor? Then this setting might be right for you, due to the prevalence of the Global War on Terror and the almost-extensive use of special forces such as the Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Spetznaz, SAS, and so on. Their chief foe is a new enemy that has largely replaced the Soviet Union in the minds of many in the West - the radical Islamic "jihadist" organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, the Taliban or ISIS and its branches (such as the West African branch, Boko Haram). Their goals range from either kicking all foreign influence out of their country to establishing a global caliphate. The current increasingly polarizing culture war can also be used as inspiration for stories regarding insurgents and radicals of any ideological flavor, albeit something where "handle with care" very much applies for risk of coming across as preachy or adding fuel to the fire.
Other potential foes can be found in the world of technology, serving as fertile ground for near future sci-fi stories. This era is (currently) as close as we can get to cyberpunk, which lends itself well to the genre. The concept of A.I. as threats or the fear of society undergoing a technological collapse can also find inspiration from here, given the Y2K problem at the turn of the millennium. Big-tech companies getting trigger-happy with censorship from the 2010's onwards also lends itself well to references and themes in cyberpunk stories.
Wargame wise, there is some appeal in recreating the various, drawn-out conflicts such as in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan (to date the longest war in American history at over 17 years if one doesn't count the Korean War, which the US never officially declared war during and has spent most of its existence cold.), pitting the well-equipped, organized, and disciplined forces of the Western powers against the zealotry, tenaciousness, and cunning of the various insurgent and terrorist groups that plague the region. Due to the rather asymmetric nature of these wars, as well as the murkiness that comes with it, it's not as popular as the more conventionally focused, more-or-less Black-And-White morality of World War 2 setting. Similarly, the COVID-19 Pandemic can also be used as inspiration for various types of stories regarding pandemics, especially if one wants to up the stakes with things such as a zombie virus.
Urban Fantasy and Superheroes are often set in the current Post-Cold War era. By making fictional, fantastical threats one avoids the question of what the hell is there left to fight. It also benefits from being a world that's largely prebuilt and known to players, allowing writers to focus exclusively on what's different.
|Historical Time Periods|
|Premodern:||Stone Age - Bronze Age - Classical Period - Dark Age - High Middle Ages - Renaissance|
|Modern:||Age of Enlightenment - Industrial Revolution - The World Wars - The Cold War - Post-Cold War|