I find Android: Netrunner to be one of the most thematically rich games I've ever played. The role of credits is obvious in many of the interactions and mechanics; in the game, much like in real life, everything costs money. One major use for credits, however, I find thematically elusive: the runner spends credits to strengthen their icebreaker programs and break subroutines. Much of the core action in the game, running on servers, comes down to whether the runner has made enough money and can afford to turn it into a successful run. How does this use for money make sense, in-world?
Imagine a team of criminals planning to rob a bank. They need money to:
- Buy and maintain equipment
- Conduct dummy runs
- Bribe corrupt police officers to get information or turn a blind eye
- Upgrade the getaway vehicle
- Pay for fuel/food/cool hideouts etc.
In my mind, similar espionage costs apply to the runner. Let's take the icebreaker Yog.0 as an example, which has the fluff text:
The Yog.0 database is a crowdsourced compilation of sniffed, spoofed, and logged passkeys. If the key to the gate is in the database, you're in. If it's not, change the gate!
Pumping up the strength represents that the gate you've come too is causing trouble and you need to 'emergency crowdsource' a key (read as 'pay some shady guy to give you the key for this gate'), or similar workarounds.