Using Internet in Sci-fi RPGs
Posted on Jun 29, 2011 | 0 comments
Science Fiction is the genre that speculates about the future and examines the impact of science and technology. Unfortunately, Sci-fi RPGs are often stuck in the past, still examining the consequences of the 19th and 20th Century technology, including the giant engines of industrialisation and atomic destruction of the cold war. Seldom does science fiction include the massive online wireless networks of the 21st century information age. Contemporary Science Fiction RPGs needs to keep up, it simply doesn’t make sense not to have the advantages of our everyday Internet reality.
Sci-fi is, by nature, a genre in response to Science or Technology. How a Sci-fi RPG handles the social and cultural consequences of Science and Technology, is essential. There are several general approaches a Sci-fi RPG can take to integrating the Internet into the system and setting:
The Star Trek approach is common for many Space Operas, including Traveller and FASA Star Trek. In this approach, the Internet is divided into a couple of core technologies; the “Ship Computer” and the “Holodeck”. The “Ship Computer” is the exposition machine, available for research, engineering tasks, feeding plot points, and is the ultimate search engine. The entertainment aspect of the Internet is handled by the “Holodeck” including vacations, games, addictions, and plothooks. Neither of these amazing technologies cause great social change, indeed there are few changes to human culture since the 20th century.
The Cyberpunk approach is common for gritty near future Games, including Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020. The Cyberpunk approach has a fully integrated Internet much like our contemporary world, however the Internet has evolved into a place, a virtual world. This is traditionally a fully immersive separate world though, which the PC’s research, hack, and basically dungeon crawl. Technology has had a vast and terrible effect on society creating more problems then it solves.
The Transhuman approach is usually for far future games about the transformation of humanity into our next stage of evolution, including Eclipse Phase, Transhuman Space, and Free Market. The Transhuman approach tries to predict a world where the Internet and other technologies fundamentally change humanity. This approach attempts to essentially merge the physical world and the Internet, the real world now acts much like the internet.
Making a Contemporary Sci-fi RPG
One of the design pillars for Free Spacer is to be a truly contemporary Science Fiction RPG, therefore, we cannot ignore the impact on society of the merging of technologies, it’s mobility, and ease of use. This typifies the 21st century Internet . One obvious example is that at one time, one would need to buy even the cheapest camera as a separate device, but now most gadgets have built in cameras. It seems obvious that in the future, most devices will be networked, have infinite data storage, full sensor inputs, allow instant communication, and Hi-speed internet access. In this sort of future you are unlikely to need cashiers, physical banks, or tour guides.
Free Spacer will be accepting some of the consequences that Transhumanism predicts, but not all. A major design pillar of the game is to not allow technology to compete with the players, it can’t act on its own. For Free Spacer the Transhuman approach pushes things too far, yes the internet will change the galaxy and how people live their day to day lives, but it won’t replace people’s fundamental needs.
Still the internet becomes a difficult design problem, destroying balance and punching holes in plots by doing too much for the players. To solve this problem I made some fundamental decisions about the science available in the galaxy. I decided that true AI impossible, anisable (faster-than-light Communications) is short range, and gave everyone encrypted networks. The future of Free Spacer embraces the internet, but it is not the internet.