• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

School me on Transhumanist gaming

Caplin

Registered User
Validated User
Hey TRO,

I'm wondering about the transhumanist game genre of late. It's not a literary genre I'm super familiar with by any means—I think I find some of the tenets a bit dark/uncomfortable for my taste. I was raised on the SF of the 50s to 80s or so, and while I like some cyberpunk, I think they're sufficiently different to merit separate consideration.

the gaming examples of this genre I've heard of are Eclipse Phase, Transhuman Space, and Mindjammer as a distant third. I know a little about EP, and it seems very much about the darkness in the genre, what with earth being effectively depopulated, and horror explicitly a goal.

THS I know is a GURPS product, and I hear it's a bit more general in its approach. Mindjammer is a Fate-based system and I get the impression it's received very little coverage here, for whatever reason.

So, can you tell me about some less unpleasant aspects of this literary/gaming genre? How would you pitch its tenets to somebody raised on the less… alienating, for lack of a better word, SF of Herbert and Heinlein and, dare I say it, Star Trek? :)

If this is too broad, feel free to ask clarifying questions.
 

Axiomatic

I mix a coat
RPGnet Member
Validated User
First thing I'll point out is there's another Fate game that's transhuman, and that's Nova Praxis, although that one is kinda transhuman-lite.

Honestly, I wouldn't pitch transhuman SF to someone who doesn't want anything stranger or newer than Heinlein and Star Trek. Transhumanism, to me, is almost entirely made up of "Christ, wasn't that old stuff BORING? I mean, they just took 50's middle-class american culture and glued some chrome to it!"
 

Eled the Worm Tamer

Spider Jeruselem's Warior
Validated User
What is it about transhumanism (as opposed to its pessimistic older brother Cyberpunk) you find dark and or alienating?
 

Caplin

Registered User
Validated User
THat's a valid question, actually. :) I can't really put a finger on it. I think it might be the perception that "baseline," humanity really is kind of insignificant when compared to people who have had their genetics altered or are living in a shell which they can swap out at will.

I liked Neuromancer, and, for instance, what I know about the tone of early ShadowRun. There was a sense that the protagonists were rebelling against a system which was fundamentally terrible, and even if the people themselves weren't great ones they were still essentially human, whatever that means.

Maybe my perceptions are incorrect, or I'm too rooted in my older preferences to ever really "get," the new genre's appeal, but I want to be convinced that there's more to it than I see on the surface.
 

Axiomatic

I mix a coat
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Then you'll probably like Nova Praxis - the vast majority of humanity is still baseline, and even the transhuman element of undergoing Apotheosis is essentially "you replace a meat body for a technological one that nevertheless acts almost exactly the same as your old body, but better".
 

LordofArcana

Registered User
Validated User
THat's a valid question, actually. :) I can't really put a finger on it. I think it might be the perception that "baseline," humanity really is kind of insignificant when compared to people who have had their genetics altered or are living in a shell which they can swap out at will.

I liked Neuromancer, and, for instance, what I know about the tone of early ShadowRun. There was a sense that the protagonists were rebelling against a system which was fundamentally terrible, and even if the people themselves weren't great ones they were still essentially human, whatever that means.

Maybe my perceptions are incorrect, or I'm too rooted in my older preferences to ever really "get," the new genre's appeal, but I want to be convinced that there's more to it than I see on the surface.
At least in Eclipse Phase, a "baseline" person is nothing to sneer at. They might never be as tough or as strong as some trans/exhuman, but this isn't an era where that matters. Enough explosives or good enough guns can kill just about anything, and the vast majority of "quality of life" improvements can be used as external gear. The only real weakness they have is that they only have one life to live.

Don't get me wrong, all that genetailoring, cybernetic stuff, etc. definitely helps, but I would never call a human insignificant.
 

squidheadjax

Social Justice Cultist
RPGnet Member
Validated User
A bit of a tangent: Star Trek is actually violently anti-transhumanist. Starting from ToS you have the Augments, who were genetically engineered to be superior and were therefore evil. Then the Borg basically ended up as straw transhumanists circa First Contact and Voyager. And of course all the bullshit Data had to go through to get his rights of self-determination and procreation recognized.

Doesn't mean I don't love the setting, despite being strongly transhumanist myself, but I find the reactionary bioconservatism of the setting interesting as a contrast to the overall liberalism.
 

Caplin

Registered User
Validated User
I think another sticking point for me is my exposure to people like Ray Kurzweil, who has a reputation of being a champion for the real-world application of transhumanist ideas. I find what I've read on him troubling, because he seems to take things to extremes, personally speaking, and I fear that sense of something not quite right may have rubbed off on me in trying to appreciate the fictional takes on the idea.

The tangent on ST is interesting too—I hadn't considered the bioconservativism angle before. Fascinating contrast.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
The basic notion of transhumanism is that we can use technology to improve our individual human experiences in ways of our own choosing.

Taken at its baseline, the idea is fairly optimistic. We can live longer, healthier, happier lives by using the cool stuff we come up with. Not happy with the sex with which you were born? Change it. Not happy with the tetrapedal body plan? Change it. Not happy with toxins and diseases? Implant your body with filters, sensors, and an array of antidotes to carefully control what exactly it is that's hijacking your blood vessels. Not happy with the range of electromagnetic wavelengths your eyes can perceive? Hack your genome to add opsins with absorption spectra through infrared and ultraviolet.

The philosophy that drives transhumanism is in many ways about personalizing your own body to make you happier with your experience. Does some of it open up really horrific possibilities? Sure. That's what happens when you give people the ability to change the world. Some of them are going to do awful shit because they can, and some well meaning people are going to fuck up and do bad things. It's just that fiction tends to focus on the negative sides, because a book where everyone's happy because they've hacked their own body and they can live for extraordinarily long times while doing things that are completely fantastical is going to be pretty boring to read; you need conflict, and that comes from when people use the tech to do bad stuff.

You don't need to focus on the dark stuff that bothers you. You could have, I don't know, transhumanist relationship drama with a love triangle between an uplifted cephalopod, an artificial intelligence, and a biohacker. Because in a lot of ways transhumanism isn't really a genre. It's more of a premise for the sort of experiences going on in the fiction. You can approach whatever sort of story you want while exploring the tropes of transhumanism. Relationship drama, mystery, police procedural, war story, etc. All of them will work, because you just have to set them in a world with the proper technology and outlook, and bang. There you go.
 

Tantavalist

Registered User
Validated User
It's rather enlightening about the Transhumanist genre to think that the United Federation of Planets from Star Trek would be seen as the bad guys by large sections of the Eclipse Phase populace due to their oppressive bioconservatism. Not allowing people to backup their ego so they can be brought be from death and keep living indefinately? That'd be like people nowadays seeing a religious state banning a life-saving medical treatment on theological grounds.

To get the best summary of Transhumanism for someone not familiar with the genre, I like to paraphrase the slogan of Eclipse Phase:-

"The Mind is Software: Program it.
The Body is Hardware: Upgrade it.
Death is a Disease: Cure it.
Human is a Limitation: Surpass it."

Transhumanism is sci-fi with the social safety wheels taken off. How many times does a show like Star Trek show some groundbreaking technology that would change everything, only for it to be shown that it has some inherent flaw that requires it never be used? This happens because introducing that tech on a large scale would change the setting to the point that the inhabitants no longer resembled modern day humans with better toys. In Transhumanist sci-fi, they let the tech work and then change the setting to fit that. After all, why shouldn't replicators work on humans? Why wouldn't it be possible to save the transporter patterns of someone and then revert a dead or dying person to the last version when they get beamed through instead of the state they left in?
 
Top Bottom