When speaking to people about Solarpunk and browsing the Internet, quite often I encounter an interesting question: if you were to design a Solarpunk game, whether pen-and-paper RPG, a visual novel or something else, where should the conflict be? Should there be any factions? The world is supposed to be utopian, so where is any drama in that?
I could write essays and books on this topic, but just as an example I wanted to show you a quick sketch of a faction system which could be used in a Solarpunk world / game. Each of the groups below should be distinct and internally varied, allowing opportunities for both alliances and conflicts in any combination.
It's 2050. The impossible happened: we became carbon neutral and stopped actively decimating the ecosystems around the planet. Global warming is still in full swing, the oceans are out of balance, but we are not hurting the Earth anymore, we can start slowly healing it.
The price of such a rapid change has been huge: wars were waged, nations and cultures were wiped out - sometimes by nature, sometimes by other humans. Whole continents are in chaos, infrastructure is broken and no one knows how to sensibly rebuild it in a sustainable way. It might take decades, if not centuries. People are traumatized, future-shocked, hurting and confused, but they're alive and they no longer actively want to kill each other. They mourn their dead, they keep on living, they cling to hope that out of all this - something better will grow.
The Solarpunks won and in some sense, everyone on the planet is now Solarpunk: believing that the sustainability is more important than profit and that without each other's support we will all die.
Across the globe, there are some centers of civilization which survived and prospered enough to start helping others around them. They decided not to fall into hopeless faction warfare, but they have very different ideas on how to go on from here.
The five factions:
The Anarchists / The Social Experiment - Capitalism has almost killed the planet and the senseless hierarchies stopped us from interfering, putting blinds on our eyes and forcing us to solve a myriad of unnecessary problems. When faced with everything that happened in their lifetimes, The Anarchists say no to any rigid structure. They promote mesh networks and technologies, distributed systems and manufacturing, support - but - not - dependence. They're trying out new, different governance systems in different places and outposts, sometimes physically, sometimes online. One person preaches pure do-ocracy, another wants to connect a neural network to a vast fungal network to create an oracle or an advisor.
The Technologists / The Transhumanists - The problem of the Exponential Age is that we misunderstood the science. We abandoned cybernetics and governance, ignored the environmental sciences, but we shall no more. Wielding the knowledge we gained with the understanding of the priorities we can heal the planet and rebuild The Great Projects even greater, but sustainable this time. We can have the orbital elevator without polluting the ocean or the orbits, we can recreate the internet like it once was, but even more beautiful, allowing even the most remote village to join any cultural event or a university. If we find out that humans will fall in the same traps as before, we can change them with science. Brains can be rewired, traits modified. Being a functional part of the nature is more important than being pure in some way. Look at what pure did to the planet.
The Spiritualists / The Luddites - Our mistake was abandoning Mother Earth as our spiritual mother first. We forgot her to the point where we were blind to hurting her, where we didn't even see what sins against her we're committing. We must do better. We stopped causing her pain, now we can start tending to her wounds and begging her for forgiveness. Maybe, in a few millennia, she will accept us as children again. We can only hope for that - and in that hope, abandon all that was superficial, all that was unneeded, all that caused our hubris. If we find any artifacts of the days gone, we should never fall for them again, destroy if possible. Even if some fool would say they can save lives, we know that they will destroy much more than our lives - our mother-given souls.
The Academia / The Curators - The only way not to repeat the mistakes of our past is to remember them, to teach them to all the future generations. We need to be more careful, more responsible, double- and triple- checking our every step. No more revering at the magic of lead or single use plastics. No more killing the whales or burning the coal. We need to find and catalog everything about or past - and be very mindful about our plans forward, even at the cost of speed. We lost SO MUCH of our history, so many cultures, so much wisdom wiped out never to be learned. We weep with the colonized tribes of Africa, Americas and Asia, we see the mass graves of people who tried to rise and change the world before us, we remember them.
The Rescuers / The Normies - Everyone is shocked and traumatized and everyone has their own coping mechanism. Some look into the past, some into the future, but only we are looking at the now: the billions suffering, confused as we are. We should plan and dream, but right now we should help everyone who's still alive. Tomorrow we will find a better way forward, but there are so many cities, towns and villages without a stable source of water. Bringing it to them is the most important, even if we use the ruins of the old to do so. We know not to start the mines and the chimneys again, but a lot of carbon is already here, in the short cycle, isn't it? We can use the excavators with the last of the diesels, we can run the generators on the toxic batteries just to keep the hospital running. We'll dispose of them responsibly, but first and foremost, we'll help whoever's alive.
Please feel free to use these as inspiration - and shoot me an email if you find it useful!
As a side note, if you'd like to play a Solarpunk RPG, I can wholeheartedly recommend you a post-post-apocalyptic Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and its "Engine of Life" expansion. It's a beautiful game focusing on both characters and communities, where you can play with as much hope and despair or you want, following factions through generations of rebuilding the world.