Whenever Anarchs get a new tool that isn’t about trashing things or making runs on Archives, there is always somebody who says that it doesn’t suit them. Many people have voiced the opinion that the whole idea of Caïssa is more suitable for Shapers, or even Criminals, than Anarchs. And although the community embraced Reina Roja as a solid card, people still go to Noise or Whizzard for basic anarchy, missing her importance in completing the thematic puzzle.
I disagree with all those notions and would like to paint a full picture of the dynamics surrounding the red faction, delving briefly into their origins. Since Reina’s appearance, Anarchs aren’t anymore (and in truth never were, they were just waiting for an opportunity to flourish) a cross between Criminal’s trickery and Shaper’s weirdness, but a distinct representation of a crucial element of pretty much every cyberpunk universe. Namely: social discontent and chaos accompanying it.
The biggest misconception was to equate Anarchs exclusively with Noise and Whizzard, to think that the faction can only ever be about what those two represent. It’s understandable since for the very long time they were the only identities available for Anarch and they were both born for destruction, messing with the Corp’s plans. It didn’t however take into account the fact that the game was still young in every regard – player base, card pool, gameplay mechanics and, most importantly for this topic, lore. There was a lot of space for existing themes to grow and expand. Core Set gave us a solid ground but, although it was certainly very rich in flavour, hasn’t exhausted all the possible tropes and angles. After all the game is set in a well developed genre; that should give people even only slightly familiar with it some clues about where the things were going.
I admit, my knowledge about the period of time spanning from the end of World War II to the ’90 – when I grew up – may be mostly coming from comic books and Hollywood, but (correct me if I’m wrong) anarchistic movements in real life were usually more or less driven by some sort of a goal. True, among popular causes we could find things like unwillingness to conform to the norms of society and simple boredom – Noise definitely fits here. However always present was at least a trace of a collective need to reshape the social and political structure, to change something.
Criminals are in it just for the money. Shapers do it mostly because they can – to fulfill and test themselves, maybe gain a bit of knowledge along the way. Anarchy can be a goal in itself, this was certainly represented well by the first two identities of that faction, but it can also be a tool. While we may not yet know much about Reina’s motivations and it is more likely that she’s currently driven more by a personal vendetta rather than ideals, she employs anarchy and uses it to reach a particular goal, not for the sake of it.
Viewed from that angle the picture of Anarchs suddenly becomes much richer and closer to the way their ideological sisters and brothers were portrayed in numerous cyberpunk forms of art. Noise does what he does for fun, so does Whizzard. For them it is all a game. However Red Queen is a war veteran, highly intelligent even if a little unstable. She expands the anarchistic theme in Android Netrunner by another important factor:
Determination – having a clear direction in mind. Possibly even “ideology”. After all, she is a “Freedom Fighter”.
Caïssa are another piece of this puzzle. Even on the most basic, mechanical level, they are very Anarch – from the beginning they were the faction that liked to have their programs on the Corp’s cards the most. And how to realise the chess theme in Android: Netrunner better than how it has been done. Setting aside all its possible implications, a chess move in itself is simple, directed, definite. That’s what makes Caïssa an elegant, appropiate embodiment of Reina’s vast intellect, tactical prowess and raw sense of purpose.
In other words – Shapers don’t have monopoly on “intelligent”. And Anarchs aren’t as simple a faction as many may think. They’re not all like children, motivated purely by desire to set things ablaze and watch them burn. If, or rather – when, creators decide to expand the cast of Runners by characters driven by higher ideals, patriotism or disillusionment about the social structure, you can be pretty sure that the background behind their portraits will be painted red.