Friday, June 6, 2014

A Time of Eclipse

RPGs, for better or for worse, are seldom emotional. Why that is and how to change it are lofty subjects, and not actually where I'm going with this blog entry today. Today, I actually wanted to talk about a game that has hit me on an emotional level. That game is Eclipse Phase.

Released in 2010, Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi role-playing game that takes place in the distant future. Humankind has learned how to digitize their own brains, uploading them into quantum computers, downloading them into new bodies, making copies of themselves, and even engaging in "psychosurgery," hacking their own brains to remove mental defects, personality adjustments, and the like. The replication technology from Star Trek: The Next Generation is a reality, too, making economies based on money seem primitive. Instead, your reputation, based on what you do for humanity as a whole, dictates what kind of stuff you can replicate and own.

But for all the advancements in technology, humans are still fundamentally assholes, and as a result of infighting and war, we have lost the Earth. Humanity (now called transhumanity to account for the changing definitions of what a "human" actually is) is scattered across the solar system in different habitats. Some are full-fledged city-states with a government (and a dissident faction trying to bring it down). Other habitats are social experiments in progress, such as a habitat that's all just one person with a population of copies of him/herself, or a habitat that exists entirely online, with the inhabitants downloading into a communally-owned body whenever they need something in the real world. In this role-playing game, you play members of an organization called Firewall. Your mission, basically, is to protect the fragile, scattered remnants of our race from any other existential threats that could threaten our continued existence.

What strikes me about Eclipse Phase is the world itself. I have never been so fascinated by such a setting. Imagine a world where you can swap your body out for another one. All the problems you have, whether it's cancer, diabetes, arthritis, simply pull your consciousness out of that body, and plop it into a new one with none of those issues. Just think of how many problems this could solve. Sexism, rascism, can those even exist in a world where anyone can change their gender or skin color? As long as we are capable of hate, I'm sure we can find a way, but still, just being able to raise that question...

Hell; you don't even need to have a body in the world of Eclipse Phase. You can exist entirely in a digital world as a disembodied consciousness (called an infomorph), maybe never even missing the "real world" and all its problems. Ever been so busy you wish there were two of you? That can literally happen in this world; make a copy of yourself to go run your errands, then have him come back after he's done and merge with you. You'll have all the experience of doing those errands without actually doing them. Though you did do them. Crazy!

And replication need to ever worry about money. Everything you need to survive, available with literally the press of a button. How amazing is that? Screw playing a game in this world; I want to LIVE in it!

Eclipse Phase is not the only transhumanist sci-fi RPG out there. There's also Nova Praxis, and the recently-released Mindjammer, and GURPS has a whole line of transhuman sourcebooks. But Eclipse Phase was my first exposure to the sub-genre. I wasn't much of a sci-fi fan until I discovered this game. Up until now, I had never been impressed with modern, "space opera" sci-fi. It just seemed like fantasy with laser guns. But real science fiction, the stuff of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke...that kind of science fiction was all about exploring a new world, one where our everyday problems are petty and ridiculous by comparison. A world where we are not black or white or gay or straight, but human. A world that forcefully makes us question what being human even is. 

Emotions of wonder and amazement enter me when I think of all that stuff. And those same emotions flow through me when I read Eclipse Phase. I can't speak for those other games as I haven't read them, but the brilliant minds at Posthuman Studios, who wrote Eclipse Phase, feel those emotions, too, and want to tell those kinds of stories with their game. You can see it with every word written about the setting. And you can see it even beyond the page, in the very way they do business. Eclipse Phase was released under what's called a Creative Commons license. You can download the pdf of it and all of its sourcebooks, for free, no questions asked. Not only that, you can redistribute the books freely and copy or edit the source material for your own use (though there are some strings on that one). Posthuman Studios even seeds torrents for their own books. In other words, exactly what you would expect of a game about a post-scarcity economy. Posthuman isn't just creating a sci-fi world. They're doing their small part to make it reality. 

Eclipse Phase is a beautiful, spellbinding, captivating game. Reading it took me on a journey. I don't know if I'll ever get this game to the table, but that's not even the point. The point is, this game made me dream.

(here's a link to the game itself, directly from the blog of Rob Boyle, one of Eclipse Phase's designers, if you're interested in looking at it):

1 comment:

  1. As you said, what makes Eclipse Phase so good is because it's not as much as the science in science-fiction but about human and humanity which is really what good sci-fi is about. Another thing is that it's not really so far fetched, if you read about transhumanism and singularity, if you read or listen to what some of these people have to say you will realize that many of those things you see in EP could start happening in the next 30 years. We already have some of that stuff, as primitive as they are right now, we have 3D printers, you get Google Glass that's bringing internet even closer to us, and so on. Small steps, but steps nonetheless.


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