TNB Night Owl – Hacker

Hacker by Steve Jackson Games

A prominent young Republican activist is likely to know better than to trust the government… but there are points at which point overreach becomes farce, and it’s certainly not expected during a Republican administration.

Steve Jackson – game designer, editor, publisher and former prominent member of the Young Republicans – learned how ridiculous and dangerous the government could be in 1990. That’s when the Secret Service unexpectedly arrived at Steve Jackson Games headquarters in Austin, Texas. The agents seized computers, computer files, paper files, and even a pocket calculator… all to fight computer crime.

The crime, in this instance, was the creation of a manual for potential criminals and terrorists. This manual was called GURPS Cyberpunk.

GURPS stands for “Generic Universal Role Playing System”. It was a Dungeons & Dragons-style game system with a flexible rule system designed to be useful in any type of fantastic scenario. There was a GURPS Conan, GURPS Discworld, GURPS WWII, GURPS Time Travel, and now there was to be a system for people who wanted to roleplay in scenarios like those presented in Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Neuromancer, and other popular movies and books. People could fight androids, hack into the brainchips of enemies, and send their highly-detailed avatars to interact in a glowing web world.

This, in the eyes of the 1990 Secret Service, was far too realistic. They had been raided because one of their writers ran an irreverent bulletin board (a predecessor to modern web sites) and when the Secret Service found the manual on cyber-terrorism, they thought they had an open-and-shut case.

They did… unfortunately, the case was for Steve Jackson Games. Not only did the Government lose on two counts filed by SJG’s attorneys, the presiding judge proceeded to publicly reprimand the agents.

Steve Jackson Games had been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the seizure of assets and their subsequent inability to fill prepaid orders, but they got something out of it… a new game.

In 1992, a year before the case was decided, the company created and playtested Hacker – The Computer Crime Card Game, having been inspired by the surprise visit by government officials. It was no surprise that the most damaging card in the game was “Secret Service Raid”. They were still recovering from the damage wreaked two years prior, though, and could not afford to publish the game.

When they received a judgment of $50K for damages accrued by the material seizure, a portion of that money was invested in Hacker… a concrete refutation of overreach which resided on the shelves of game stores for years to come.

Question of the night: Have you ever found yourself on the wrong side of law enforcement?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.