The Solar System After the Fall
Before the Fall, the solar system had a population of approximately eight billion, with all but five million of these people living on Earth. The Fall wiped out almost ninety-five percent of transhumanity, and today the population of the solar system is slightly less than half a billion, with almost all of these transhumans living off the Earth. The lifestyles of these people were almost unimaginable thirty years earlier—the vast majority are immortals living in sealed habitats on hostile alien planets or in sealed space colonies, the largest of which hold more than a million inhabitants and are many kilometers long.
In this vastly changed setting with its vastly changed inhabitants, the core concerns of humanity remain much the same. People seek both material abundance and social status, and they wrap themselves in various public and private ceremonies. Like generations of humans before them, transhumans separate themselves into different cultures and subcultures, all of which enjoy a wide variety of physical and virtual entertainments. Politics and economics remain vitally important and as always, those who are wealthy, powerful, and famous have a large degree of control over the lives of those who are poor, relatively powerless, and unknown.
Humanity as a concept has been replaced with transhumanity. Most people now alive left Earth as infomorphs and were subsequently resleeved into new morphs. Bodies are things that can be modified and replaced, much as someone can alter or exchange a suit of clothing. Identity is centered in the mind, which can exist as a disembodied infomorph living in virtual worlds or dwelling in a vast array of strange and exotic morphs. While there are bioconservatives who resist these many changes to identity and physicality, they are very much in the minority.
To most people, transhumanity has also been expanded in scope to factor in non-human persons such as AGIs and uplifts, though the rights and status of these sentients is sometimes contested.
As transhumans continue to absorb the ramifications of this new way of life, they face a new crop of problems and issues. Two of the largest and most important are the increase in inequality and the splintering and separation of transhumanity into many different clades.
The technologies first developed in the decade before the Fall and refined in the decade after its end have transformed humanity. In all but the most backwards, impoverished, and repressive regions of the solar system, the vast majority of humanity is smarter, healthier, and richer than any humans have ever been. Additionally, individuals can improve their minds and their bodies in almost any fashion their imaginations can dream up. Those who can afford the right augmentations can think faster, never forget anything they have ever learned, become mathematical savants, and heal from injuries many times faster than an unmodified human. When resleeving is combined with implants, transhumans can gain even more amazing capabilities—but these benefits are far from free.
During the first decade after the Fall, most of the surviving population was relatively poor. Many were grateful to have any morph at all. While the economic situation has improved, significant inequalities remain and seem unlikely to change. Hundreds of millions of people must make do with very basic splicers, worker pods, cases, or synths, while a few million are wealthy enough to have custom-designed morphs created for them, complete with all the augmentations they desire. These same members of the elite live in luxurious villas and mansions, and in a few cases privately-owned asteroids, while most other people must make do with a few hundred cubic meters of dwelling space. However, while inequities of living space are ancient, the issue of economic inequality producing inequities of physical and mental capacities is both relatively new and considerably more problematic.
In regions using the old and transitional economies, differences between the rich and the poor are expressed in terms of money. In habitats using the new economy, wealth is meaningless and status and opportunity are denoted with reputation scores. In all three economies, some people have more than others, and because of this, technology allows the better off to be better than the people around them. Skillware lets people buy knowledge and expertise, while multi-tasking and mental speed implants allow individuals to get more done at once. Someone fortunate enough to acquire large numbers of such augmentations is capable of significantly more than someone who lacks them, and so can do even more to increase their money or rep, thus serving to further perpetuate inequality. This problem is less serious in the reputation-based economies of the outer system, however, as it significantly easier to build reputation through hard work and dedication, as opposed to the rigidly-controlled monetary economies of the inner system and the Jovian Republic, where class stratification is institutionalized and upward mobility is largely a myth. As many supporters of the status quo are fond of pointing out, even the “have-nots” are smarter and healthier than any previous generation of humans and carry as much potential immortality as the wealthiest member of the elite. It is equally true, however, that in many ways the divisions between rich and the poor are significantly greater than they have ever been, especially in the inner system. In the past, the members of the elite might be somewhat healthier and better fed than the have-nots, but both rich and poor still lived in relatively similar and fundamentally human bodies. Now, the very nature of humanity has been called into question. The least fortunate can be forced to inhabit bodies designed specifically for the pleasure of those wealthier than them or even denied any body and forced to live as infomorphs until they can find some way to acquire a new morph—typically by selling their services to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, the well-off can customize their bodies and their minds, enabling them to accomplish far more and to be considerably more impressive and charismatic than anyone lacking their advantages. These inequalities may seem insurmountable, but some anarchistic groups and even some entire habitats have dedicated themselves to reducing inequities by producing low cost (and occasionally highly unreliable) versions of many of the more impressive morphs and augmentations.
Clades and Separation
In many habitats, hyper-augmented elites rule a mass of humanity that is stuck using low-end morphs and minimal augmentations, or even infomorphs living in rented morphs, but this is not the only option found in the solar system. Transhumanity has splintered into a wide variety of subcultures, some of which are based upon an individual’s choice of morph. Some of this separation is due to the necessity of inhabiting difficult environments. From aquanauts living in Europa’s aquatic environment or rusters on Mars to the fact that zero-g habitats are relatively inexpensive and are best inhabited by microgravity-adapted morphs like bouncers, many unusual environments require those living in them to choose from a very limited range of morphs. Sometimes, though, this separation is ideological in nature, such as the rise of groups like the ultimates or some of the separatist uplift communities that seek to define their own space separate from human cultures.
There are dozens of specialist morphs and an even greater number of habitats or other settlements that are inhabited largely or exclusively by individuals using a single type of morph or a limited number of specialist morphs. In the asteroid belt and in the rings and smaller moons of Saturn, there are more than one hundred habitats that do not rotate, with all portions in zero or near-zero gravity. The inhabitants typically use bouncer or novacrab morphs, along with a small number of synthetic morphs and other pods.
There is also a vast number of other habitats that are segregated in various other ways, including ones where all permanent residents are uplifts inhabiting one of the various transgenic morphs, like the octomorph or neo-avian morphs. Other habitats are only open to residents with various enhanced morphs like exalts or mentons. There are even habitats where all residents must inhabit morphs that are all clones of one another. In almost all of these habitats, residents are free to add whatever augmentations they wish to their morphs, but some habitats forbid residents from changing their morph’s external appearance, and individuals who violate this rule are forced to leave the habitat if they refuse to reverse these changes.
Some habitats do away with the necessity of both life support and gravity. In these locations, all residents are infomorphs who either inhabit their own synth bodies or, in a few very eccentric cases, where all of the inhabitants are infomorphs who spend most of their existence in the habitat’s central computers. When they need to interact with the physical world, these infomorphs are free to use one of the many synthmorphs that the habitat owns and that the residents share among themselves. Although considered quite eccentric to many and horrifying to bioconservatives, habitats inhabited solely by synthmorphs or infomorphs are among the least expensive to build and maintain and are a low-cost way for groups of infomorph refugees from Earth to gain independence. Because individuals who choose this way of life have often spent a decade or more as infomorphs, this option often seems both familiar and in many ways more comfortable than inhabiting a living morph. As Earth becomes more distant in transhumanity's collective memory, its traditions and social norms hold less sway and people feel more free to create and use new bodies and new ways of life to go along with them.
Sidebar: First Contact
Ironically, the first contact between transhumanity and alien life was made by a group of isolates with no interest in the rest of transhumanity. A brinker doomsday cult habitat in the Neptunian Trojans, patiently waiting out the prophesized return of the TITANs, suffered a severe life support systems failure. Not expecting anyone to respond to their distress signals, they were simultaneously relieved and shocked to have an alien starship come to their aid.
Shortly after this event, three unknown ships of alien design simultaneously approached Mars, Luna, and Titan, meshing with local networks to announce their presence and peaceful intentions. Though their arrival initially raised alarm and panic, their assurances of non-hostility and the fact they had rescued the brinkers allowed cooler heads to prevail. Coming just three years after the silenthostility of the TITANs, the new aliens were pleasantly non-threatening.
Quickly dubbed “Factors,” both because of their claims to act as ambassadors for an assortment of alien civilizations and because of their interesting biology, initial communications between species were confusing and jumbled. The Factors made a number of veiled warnings and expressed concern over certain technological developments, particularly unrestrained artificial intelligence. They have refused entirely to deal with digital entities and broken off negotiations with anyone currently engaged in AGI development. They have also issued stern warnings against use of the Pandora gates. The Factors claim they were aware of and watching humanity for some time, but chose to wait to make contact...implying some implicit fear of the singularity.
The Factors deal commercially with multiple transhuman factions. Though they are often dismissive of transhumanity’s technological achievements, they are interested in our scientific development and breakthroughs, particularly in the biosciences, as well as our art, history, and culture. They remain tight-lipped about their own civilization and other xenomorphs, though they have on occasion traded alien artifacts of unusual design and peculiar function. It is widely assumed that these are simply trinkets of limited value and that the Factors are careful not to share anything of true worth to transhumanity, particularly anything that might drastically affect our growth.
Biologically, the Factors appear to be some sort of evolved slime mold colony. As far as is known, they communicate purely by chemical signals and receptors, requiring any interactions with transhumanity to be computer-mediated. Several different types of Factors have been sighted, implying that they engage in heavy biological modification. Factor starcraft appear to be lighthuggers capable of near-light speeds. Due to the frequency of their visitations to the solar system (2–3 times a year), however, it is speculated that they either have a nearby base or that they possess the capabilities for faster-than-light travel—or possibly they have Pandora gates of their own.
Given the wide dissimilarities in psychology between transhuman species and the Factors it would be presumptuous to speculate concerning their true feelings and agenda towards transhumanity. It is hoped, however, that by continuing negotiations with them, transhumanity may learn more about the nature of the galaxy—and possibly even our own history.
Culture and Society
The Fall and its aftermath continues to be a major influence on transhuman culture and society. Prior to the start of the evacuation, more than ninety-nine percent of the people who survived the Fall had never been off Earth. For them, space was a distant realm where other, more daring and adventurous people lived, a place Earth dwellers only saw on videos. Earth was their home. Then, in the course of a few short years, hundreds of millions of people were forced to leave Earth. The fortunate few first evacuees left with no more than a dozen kilograms of possessions, while the vast majority were infomorph refugees who left Earth with nothing, not even their bodies.
Today, transhumanity is divided into three groups. The first group contains the true veterans of space life, the less-than-one-percent of humanity that was already living in space before the Fall. The second group is the ten percent of the population that was either born after the Fall or is too young to remember living on Earth. The remaining eighty-nine percent of the current population of the solar system lived generally happy and prosperous lives on Earth before the Fall forced them to flee for their lives. These refugees from Earth form a powerful social force, but as time goes on memories of Earth grow dim, and people adapt to their new homes and lives.
The Longing for Earth
Most of transhumanity, especially those who were forced to flee from the dying Earth, still mourn their former home. Their longing for and nostalgia of Earth has profoundly affected transhuman culture. Artifacts from Earth, including ones as trivial as coins or bits of dried vegetation, are considered to be treasured mementos that have great economic and emotional value.
The interdiction of Earth makes acquiring such artifacts quite difficult and dangerous. As a result, the trade in Earth artifacts is a lucrative portion of the black market, enough so that fearless scavengers are willing to risk being shot down by a patrolling killsat just to get to Earth, where they also face death from numerous lingering dangers. The mesh is peppered with stories of daring explorers who traveled to Earth to retrieve all manner of priceless relics, as well as an equal number of stories about explorers who died or simply vanished on such expeditions. More than one team of gatecrashers has funded their expedition through a preliminary relic-hunting expedition to Earth, which serves to test their mettle while they work to raise funds.
Nostalgia for Earth also affects the way transhumanity has redesigned itself. In the decade prior to the Fall, humanity had begun to freely alter itself, with both radical body modification and the first commercial resleeving resulting in a growing number of obviously non-human morphs. The vast majority of current morphs, however, are relatively human in appearance (if not in internal structure). Even for people too young to remember the Fall, asserting individual humanity is an important part of post-Fall culture. Some people keep a resemblance to the traditional human form as a remembrance of Earth, while others do it to celebrate humanity’s victory over the monstrous and inhuman TITANs that attempted to destroy them. With the exception of a few eccentric groups like the ultimates, the majority of humanity values looking human and preserving human traditions and institutions. Also, even the ultimates’ current version of their remade morph is considerably more human looking than the versions their predecessors designed before the Fall. As a result, while synthmorphs are relatively common, most are made to look humanoid. There are a few radically inhuman morphs like the novacrab, the arachnoid, and the flexbot, but they are almost exclusively used for highly specialized purposes. Until recently, anyone who used one as their primary morph was considered deeply eccentric (or worse), but attitudes have gradually begun to soften, and these morphs are gradually becoming more acceptable for regular use.
This mixture of reverence and nostalgia for Earth sometimes has a darker side. Individuals who choose to have morphs that look visibly non-human experience a mild degree of prejudice in many habitats, and militant bioconservatives denounce those who look sufficiently non-human as being covert allies of the TITANs. Uplifted animals also face significant discrimination from many humans. These prejudices are relatively common in the inner system and can be quite extreme among bioconservatives. As a result, uplifts and individuals who prefer inhuman-looking morphs often live in separatist communities in the outer system. In much of the inner system, uplifts and individuals using a visibly non-human morph as their primary or only morph are viewed with suspicion and occasionally treated as second-class citizens. While most habitats have laws mandating morphological freedom and many also have laws making prejudice based on morphological choice illegal, these attitudes remain quite resilient.
Sidebar: Nostalgia Jewelry
As both a reminder and a visible marker of their lost homeland, a significant number of refugees from Earth wear jewelry containing a coin or, more rarely, an old stamp from transhumanity's former home. Popularly known as nostalgia jewelry, most of these items are made into pendants or lapel pins, but a few are rings. Before the Fall, coins and stamps were largely curiosities primarily of interest to collectors, having fallen out of use forty years BF. Already scarce, few were saved during the Fall as carrying such useless mass off Earth during the evacuation was discouraged or forbidden. A few extensive collections already existed off-world, however. Even so, less than a million authentic samples survived, meaning the vast majority of people wearing such items make do with exact copies made in cornucopia machines. Actual coins or stamps are very expensive, meaning that some daring scavengers are willing to risk the interdiction of Earth for the express purpose of salvaging relics.
Fear and Paranoia
The Fall left behind a persistent legacy of fear. This has faded over the past decade, but a great many humans still unconsciously expect the other shoe to drop and the TITANs to return at any moment. Others worry that their agents are already among them, preparing for the complete destruction of humanity. The arrival of the Factors caused widespread panic, and even today a substantial minority of people assumes they are cat’s-paws for the TITANs—or possibly their creations.
There are a few (often insane or deeply eccentric) people who worship the TITANs or otherwise support their agenda (including self-described “singularity seekers” who hope to find and be uploaded by the TITANs to join their ascension to super-intelligence), but all of them must keep their beliefs carefully hidden. Even now, expressing any support for the TITANs or advocating the creation of self-improving seed AIs is illegal in most habitats. Anyone who does so runs the risk of becoming the target of mob violence that the authorities are unlikely to investigate too closely. Merely being suspected of being a supporter of the TITANs, or worse, someone who has been secretly infected by them and is now their agent, is enough to get someone shunned or even killed. While such incidents are now far rarer than they were in the first few years after the Fall, people who act too eccentric and who lack someone with a sufficiently high rep to defend them or explain their actions are occasionally killed, typically by being thrown out an airlock. Those responsible for these “spacings” are dealt with quite harshly in most habitats, since in almost all cases later investigation reveals that the victim had no connection to the TITANs.
There are also periodic rumors in many habitats, especially small and isolated habitats, that one or more other habitats have been taken over by the TITANs, leading to a variety of inter-habitat problems. Such rumors are usually resolved fairly quickly, but the most persistent can seriously harm relations between habitats. Claims that other habitats are infested with or even controlled by agents of the TITANs are frequently employed by extreme bioconservatives hoping to demonize radical habitats populated entirely by infomorphs or synthmorphs. As more people manage to put the fear and horror of the Fall behind them, such claims are less likely to be believed. Unfortunately, on very rare occasions, people are still infected by TITAN-created relics and actually become their unwilling agents. Since such incidents are rare, however, they have become easy to dismiss.
Sidebar: An Exsurgent Threat?
[Incoming Message. Source: Anonymous]
[Public Key Decryption Complete]
Ok, you asked, so I’ll tell you. There are some elements within Firewall that don’t buy into the TITANs-ran-amok-and-considered-us-a-threat idea, or even that the TITANs are solely responsible for the Fall. These people think that the TITANs found or encountered something when they started their takeoff toward the singularity—something that changed them. They point to the wide range of multi-vector virii that ran loose during the Fall, and how even many of the TITANs seem to have succumbed to these infections. They also reference a disturbing number of accounts of events during the Fall that are inexplicable … things like people being transformed into strange, alien creatures … or phenomena that seem to defy certain physical laws, as if something was at times ignoring what we know of physics and just doing whatever it felt like … Some of these voices within Firewall even think that the TITANs may not have been responsible for the Pandora Gates … They have a name for this mystery infection. They call it the Exsurgent virus.
Solarchive Search: Singularity Seekers
Singularity seekers are those with an unhealthy fascination in so-called singularity events, such as the hard takeoff of the TITANs to super-intelligence. Some are part of a radical sect of “ex-humans” who believe that transhumans are destined to become godlike super-beings and are determined to get there ﬁrst. Others act on a defensive impulse, believing that the only way humanity can survive another threat from beings like the TITANs is by becoming as hyper-intelligent as their enemies are. Still other singularity seekers are researchers and spiritual seekers who are frustrated with the limitations of their own minds and seek to become something greater. Some of these people become gatecrashers, searching for advanced alien artifacts to help them in their quest. Others experiment with employing conventional technologies in new and exotic ways, such as creating mentally-linked networks of forks or incorporating extra-fast and powerful computers into synthmorphs and pods.
A few of the most daring seek artifacts left behind by the TITANs, hoping to incorporate techniques and technologies created by these inhuman beings into their minds. This last group is the most notorious, in large part because of the spectacular nature of some of their failures. On occasion, these artifact hunters have awakened devices that have lain dormant for a decade and caused local outbreaks of TITAN technologies. These incidents have caused many people to regard singularity seekers as everything from potentially dangerous eccentrics to unknowing pawns of the TITANs.
Real and Social Distance
The vast distances between most habitats give all communications—with the exception of those using the rare and expensive QE communicators—a significant time lag between asking a question and receiving an answer. In most cases, the time lag ranges from ten seconds to several hours, and it makes real-time communications between distant habitats difficult or impossible. Communication problems only serve to further isolate habitats from one another, and as a result people socialize primarily with members of their own habitat (or habitat cluster, if their habitat is part of one of the various groupings of between two and twenty habitats that abound throughout the solar system). Within a habitat or habitat group, communication between residents is effectively instantaneous, thanks to the omnipresent wireless grid known as the mesh. Anyone wearing a mid-range ecto or using basic mesh inserts can communicate with others in ways that go far beyond mere voice contact. Both devices allow AR communications that are in most ways barely distinguishable from in-person communication, so people can effectively spend in-person time with anyone in their habitat at any moment when both of them are free and interested in communicating. Unless someone deliberately wishes to turn off communication because they are sleeping or otherwise busy, people can always get in touch with one another. Many close friends and romantic partners regularly communicate anytime they have a spare moment, sharing comments and jokes. This communication is far more awkward and distant if there is a time lag of several minutes between every comment, so inter-habitat communication is never as informal or close.
Although travel via egocasting (transmitting an ego to another habitat, where it is resleeved) is as easy, if not as cheap, as communication, a trip to another habitat is considered to be a significant journey with a range of costs. Individuals traveling to a different habitat will no longer be able to engage in real-time communication or shared real-time entertainments with people back on the habitat they left, so the traveler will have to find a new social environment. In addition to the trouble and expense of acquiring a new morph in the new habitat, the social distance between individuals and the social network they leave behind is part of the cost of travel.
Before the Fall, refugees from Earth were accustomed to being able to easily communicate with anyone else on Earth. Wealthier individuals could easily journey just about anywhere on the planet in a few hours while still being able to communicate with everyone back in their home city with no noticeable change. The exodus of transhumanity from Earth, though, means that an individual’s social world is only as large as their habitat. Even a relatively brief communication lag, such as the two to thirty seconds that is the average time lag between any two of the Jovian or Saturnian moons, greatly hinders the flow of back-and-forth communication. When time-lags are involved, most communication consists of messages rather than any attempt at continuous conversations. In situations where a more in-depth discussion is necessary and time is limited, someone can send a fork of themselves—a digital copy—to hold the discussion remotely on their behalf, and then return for re-integration. Since there is already a large time lag between sending a message and obtaining any possible response, most people do not hurry to answer messages from distant habitats except in the most urgent circumstances, further isolating people residing in distant portions of the solar system.
The Rise of Cultural Regions
The only exception to the social distance between different habitats occurs when colonies are located on or in relatively close orbit around the same planet or moon. The inhabitants of Mars can all communicate with one another instantaneously, as can everyone on Luna or in Lunar orbit. However, the rivalry between the various Martian city-states—and between the primary hypercorp domes and the rural Martian poor—imposes its own social distance. Individuals from different city-states do socialize, but among the elite social cliques, spending too much time communicating with members of another city-state is viewed as somewhat odd and potentially even disloyal. As a result, Martians tend to be relatively isolated even from their close neighbors. Nevertheless, the short distances between the Martian city-states and the orbiting habitats mean that there remains a general Martian culture that is different from the cultures of the rest of the solar system.
Distance barriers have produced similar levels of cultural differentiation in other portions of the solar system. The colonies in the vicinity of both Jupiter and Saturn each form a separate cultural unit, as do the colonies in Earth orbit and on and around Luna. The same is true for the Jovian Trojan and Greek asteroids. In each of these regions, people communicate and travel more between habitats and settlements than they do with outside regions.
Social scientists refer to the different sections of the solar system as separate cultural regions. The different regions of the belt also each form a similar cultural region, but because asteroids in different orbits eventually drift quite far apart, the cohesion and unity of these cultural units is somewhat weaker. Habitats on the edge of the solar system (around Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) form very small cultural regions, but the few habitats in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud have no cultural region since the distance between them is so extreme.
Though communications between habitats within the same cultural region is somewhat awkward due to intra-regional cultural differences and small time-lags, it is usually fast and easy enough for people on different habitats to keep in regular contact with one another. In addition, most habitats within the same cultural region are sufficiently close that egocasting between them is affordable by most people. In contrast, egocasting between cultural regions is relatively expensive. Many social scientists predict that within one or two decades, different cultural regions will be at least as different from one another as distant nations of Earth were from one another during the first half of the 20th century—perhaps even more so due to the physical alterations that cultures introduce as they continue to evolve.
While nostalgia for Earth remains a powerful social motivation, the break from Earth led many inhabitants of the solar system to experiment with new forms of culture and society. Since the Fall destroyed physical links with the past and the defeat of the last old-Earth governments ended ideological ties with the old political and social forces, many transhumans saw themselves as living in a new, free era where the past was dead. Even people who always wear nostalgia jewelry and spend several hours a day in simulspaces set on old Earth are very interested in the possibility of social and political experimentation. Those without criticisms of Earth’s nation-states and their many failings still rue the day when Earth fell.
Many of the most extreme social experimenters moved to the numerous small outer system habitats that were created in the decade after the Fall, but people interested in social and cultural experimentation can be found throughout the solar system. In addition to playing with various interior structure and design ideas, the inhabitants of many stations experiment with all manner of unique social and political rules. A few habitats do so quite deliberately, either because the members are interested in social innovation or because researchers associated with a hypercorp or university have offered them goods or services in return for testing one of their latest theories. Such experiments have included establishing stations where all of the residents are sleeved in hermaphroditic morphs in order to measure the impact on customs and language when gender is abolished or spurring the residents of a particular station to freely switch their morphs based on the responsibilities and duties they have on a given day. Such staged experiments are, however, relatively rare—the vast majority of unique customs and social structures that have come about since the Fall naturally evolved from groups of like-minded individuals living together in the same habitat and working, consciously or not, to make life better fit with their aesthetics or ideology.
Gender, Sexuality, and Relationships
To many transhumans, gender has become an outdated social construct with no basis in biology. After all, it’s hard to give credence to gender roles when an ego can easily modify their sex, switch skins, or experience the lives of others via XP. Though most transhumans still adhere to the gender associated with their original biological sex, many others switch gender identities as soon as they reach adulthood or avidly pursue repeated transgender switching. Still others examine and adopt untraditional sex-gender identities such as neuters (believing a lack of sex allows greater focus in their pursuits) or dual gender (the best of both worlds). In many bioconservative habitats and cultures, however, more traditional gender roles persevere.
Sexuality has also expanded into new frontiers and taboos. With basic biomods providing contraception and protections from STDs, casual sex is the norm. Many people pursue careers as well-paid companions and escorts. In fact, sexual experimentation is standard thanks to several new technologies. Virtual reality allows sexual encounters without physically touching a partner, not to mention bringing all manner of fantasies to life. For those that prefer the touch of real skin, AI-driven pleasure pods can fulfill any and all needs and are a legal form of prostitution in many habitats. Sex-switching also lends itself to new experiences, whether via bio-mods or a new sleeve. Even AGIs, having been socialized as humans, exhibit sexuality and desire.
The extension of lifespans and the decline of religion have drastically impacted social institutions like marriage. Given the possible changes to both cognition and biology over a transhuman's lifetime, lifelong relationships are no longer considered realistic. The idea of long-term relationships as a social contract has grown exponentially. While this has resulted in a number of marriages that are political or like a business transaction, most people continue to view marriage as a bond of emotional attachment and trusts—in particular a bond that transcends bodies, as either partner may change morphs at any time.
The Diversity of Habitats
The ability of a few thousand like-minded people of moderate means to acquire a small habitat where they can create their own society resembles the ability of inhabitants of the United States in the 19th century to set out for the West and found their own ideologically based communities. The primary difference is that creating such communities is faster and easier in the modern era. The mesh is filled with all manner of virtual communities where members hope to eventually gather the means to create their own habitats. In most cases, these are merely idle dreams; most participants are not willing to sacrifice the time and rep or money needed. Occasionally the members try, only to find out that some of the people promoting this effort are con artists. Occasionally virtual subcultures manage to raise the necessary dedication and trust to build their own habitat and begin the process of creating their own physical society. A decade of this sort of cultural experimentation by many hundreds of habitats has produced a number of unique and strange societies.
As an example, there are habitats where the inhabitants wear garments and AR images that cover their bodies—and, in the most extreme cases, their faces—and residents only reveal their morph’s true appearance to their closest friends and immediate family. There are also stations where all members use cosmetic modification to adopt the same ideal look, as well as ones where all residents use morphs that are clones of one another. Some of the most eccentric habitats are populated by extreme bioconservatives overcome with nostalgia for the past, leading them to model both their society and all visible technology after some earlier period in history, typically some time between zero and 50 years BF.
There are even a few habitats that totally disregard commonly held feelings about forks and merging. Such community members regularly split off multiple forks when they awaken and plan their day and then merge the various forks when they go to sleep that night. Some forks remain infomorphs for the day, while others use one of the various morphs the individual owns or rents, which means that each resident typically lives between two and six separate lives every day. A few societies, like the home of the infamous Pax Familiae, go even further—all residents are forks of the same individual. In some of these solipsistic habitats, the forks are all expected to use cloned morphs, while in others each fork is considered a separate person who should go and forge their own unique life. Some of the less extreme manifestations of this type of habitat include places inhabited by families that are partially or entirely composed of forks of one of the members (the various forks tend to be treated as siblings).
Technology pervades all aspects of existence in Eclipse Phase. Most individuals understand that unless humanity suffers another event like the Fall or they personally suffer some very serious and unlikely accident, they are unlikely to permanently die. More people are now planning for a very long future. For most people these schemes are fairly minimal, but they often include an awareness that few, if any, relationships are likely to last an entire lifetime. However, functional immortality is only one of the many wonders of the modern world.
Living With Infotech
For anyone with basic mesh inserts or an ecto (meaning about ninety-six percent of the population), life is filled with data. For people with the best implants, all information available on the mesh is available at a thought. For everyone else, it only requires a brief pause to access and understand it. When someone pauses and looks a bit distracted in the midst of a conversation, everyone understands they are accessing data and lack the implants to allow them to do this subconsciously or via multi-tasking. As a result, when a group of people are discussing a topic and no one immediately knows an answer to a question, such as the title of a performer’s first vid, within a few seconds everyone has this information. Similarly, when someone walks through a garden, with a glance and perhaps a brief thought or small � finger motion, they can call up detailed data on each and every species of plant that sits in front of them. Individuals going to remote areas that are out of normal mesh broadcasting range almost always either carry a farcaster link with them or download truly vast amounts of data into their implants or ecto so they can continue to access all the data they might need. Since even a basic implant can hold vast amounts of data, lack of storage space is rarely an issue.
Access to such a vast amount of easily available information has resulted in a variety of cultural responses. Being able to quote from any vid, old movie, book, or historical speech is now trivially easy and can be done with a few seconds of thought. While children and young teens often play by interjecting large amounts of semi-appropriate famous quotes in their speech, most adults only do so for emphasis and in moderation. People who quote from other sources too often are considered dull and unimaginative. Recognizing such quotes is quite easy, since someone can simply set their muse to alert them to the nature and identity of all lengthy quotes they hear.
All experienced mesh users also learn (typically as children and teens) how to avoid taking too much time out from conversations to check facts or access information via the mesh. Teens regularly mock their fellows who pause too often or too long in conversations to look up further information on a topic someone mentioned, or who spend too long trying to assemble facts to support an argument. Terms like “meshed out” or “drooler” are used by teens to mock each other into learning how to be both discreet and faster in their information searches, at least when also interacting with others. While adults rarely engage in the same sort of direct and obvious mockery, people who get too lost in casual or conversational meshbrowsing are widely viewed as socially inept. As a result, implants that allow multi-tasking or temporarily speed up thought are in great demand, since they allow individuals to do extensive research and rehearse each statement they are going to make without a moment’s pause. People who can afford such software almost always seem more suave, charismatic, and intelligent than those who do not.
All this means that those who lack all mesh and AR access—individuals known as zeroes—present a stark contrast to the rest of transhumanity. To most people, zeroes seem slow, forgetful, and almost unbelievably dense, while to zeroes, even people who only possess ectos or basic implants seems brilliant, witty, and able to comprehend things with almost inhuman speed.
Going Beyond the Known
One of the oddest experiences for gatecrashers and others who explore unusual environments such as the ruins of Earth is the unavailability of data. They look at an alien plant or a TITAN-mutated person, and their search returns various error messages meaning that there is either no data at all on the subject or that the only data is purely speculative and should be regarded as dangerously unreliable. This can be especially troubling when the subject in question is a small creature that has just landed on the person’s shoulder and the individual wants to know if it’s harmless or deadly. Most people who are less than sixty years old have never been in an environment where they could not gain basic information about everything around them at a glance. Learning to overcome the shock of not knowing anything at all about something is one of the first and most crucial skills all gatecrashers must learn.
Most individuals have a dedicated AI that serves as their media agent. Commonly known as a muse, this AI has been a lifelong companion for most people less than seventy years old. Muses learn their owners’ tastes, habits, and preferences, and do their best to make life and technology use as easy as possible. Muses can be alarm clocks, data retrieval gophers, appointment schedulers, accountants, and many other functions often limited only by their owners’ imaginations. Some of their tasks do not even need to be assigned them—muses are skilled at figuring out people’s needs and acting on them. For example, the muse’s scheduling function may tell it when its user needs to be up in the morning, and it will act as an alarm clock without any additional instructions from the user. If a muse is uncertain about its owner’s preferences, it asks, but after working with a user for a few decades muses rarely need to do this. Most people keep multiple back-ups of their muse, because the loss of a muse can be almost as traumatic as the death of a loved one.
Using a generic muse who must be informed about all aspects of a user’s individual preferences and fed a constant stream of instructions helps people appreciate the value of their own personal muse agent. Muses generally learn the basics of a new user’s preferences in a month or two, but during that learning period the user tends to be irritable and forgetful, since the tasks they generally trust their muse to do automatically are not being taken care of.
Attitudes Towards AGIs
The vast majority of transhumanity blames the Fall on rogue seed AIs (self-improving artificial intelligences). As a result, any AIs that are not crippled or somehow limited from improving themselves—including the AGIs (artificial general intelligences) that were common and growing in number before the Fall—are completely illegal in many habitats, or at least heavily regulated. The Fall ended only slightly more than a decade ago, and many transhumans consider AGIs and the TITANs that murdered their homeworld to be one and the same. In addition to strict anti-AGI laws, there have been occasional riots and mass panics surrounding facilities still performing AGI research, which has pushed most such research into isolated settlements. Nevertheless, there are still people passionately devoted to AGIs; some see them as the next step in posthuman evolution, others value all sentience, and still others actually worship them. However, AGI supporters have learned to keep their opinions private in mixed company, lest they be branded an agent of the TITANs.
In some spots, mostly in the more anarchistic outer system, attitudes towards AGIs are more relaxed and AGIs may even be openly welcomed. These places recognize that AGIs are not the same threat posed by seed AIs and it is unfair to punish one for the actions of the other. Naturally, these places are havens for the AGIs active in transhuman society, who otherwise must disguise their true natures.
In the tightly-controlled inner system, the hyper-corps and the Planetary Consortium foster anti-AGI sentiments both as safety measures and as protection against possible competitors. This latter point is one of the things that makes them attractive to some people in the outer system; they understand the great advantages their factions gain … assuming, that is, that those AGIs share your goals and ideals.
Attitudes Towards Mental Alterations
In the post-Fall solar system, technology can alter people’s minds; controversy about many of these alterations remains. Few people have trouble with the idea of creating short-term forks using the multi-tasking augmentation or some similar process that insures the forks will be re-integrated within a few hours. However, the idea of long-term forks, and especially of allowing forks to gain access to their own separate morphs, troubles many people. Since there are not enough morphs to go around in the first place, providing morphs to a fork strikes many people as selfish and wasteful. As a result, on the rare occasion that people sleeve one of their forks, they typically provide it with a synthmorph to avoid the social stigma associated with using more than one body at a time.
Forks that exist for more than a few hours inspire discomfort in many people because the forks begin to diverge slightly in personality. Most people find the idea of two different and distinct versions of themselves to be somewhat disturbing. While there are habitats (mostly in the outer system) where forking is a regular part of daily life and forks often exist independently for a day or two, most visitors find such habitats distasteful and bizarre.
However, while voluntary forking is still regarded as somewhat odd, involuntary uses of this and the associated mental technologies are so horrifying that they form the basis of much lurid crime fiction. Some-one being unknowingly mind-napped and having an involuntary—and often secret—fork created is something that people regard with abject terror, despite it being quite rare. Similarly, while mental surgery to correct psychiatric problems or as punishment for various serious crimes is frightening and disturbing in its own right, illegal brain hacking draws horror and disgust from almost everyone in the solar system. Penalties for involuntary forking and mind hacking are exceptionally high. In many habitats, they are among the few crimes punishable by death (including the destruction of all backups and forks).
Travel between habitats and other transhuman colonies is both exceedingly easy and fairly costly. Long-range egocasting is expensive, as is acquiring a morph at the destination. Travelers have developed various ways around this obstacle; for example, if someone only needs to visit another habitat for a few days and is visiting primarily to engage in real-time communication, they often choose to remain an infomorph for the duration of their visit and to communicate via AR, thus saving all resleeving expenses. For visitors who require a morph but will not be staying long, most habitats offer the option of renting a generic splicer or synthmorph or, for a slightly higher cost, a generic exalt morph. Habitats or worlds with unusual requirements, like Mars, Europa, or the various zero-g habitats offer ruster, aquanaut, or bouncer morphs instead of splicers. These morphs can be used for up to a week without much difficulty, and using one for up to a month is usually possible with sufficient negotiation and payment. Meanwhile, the traveler’s previous morph is kept in medical stasis back in their home habitat, waiting for their ego to return.
Another technique is morph trading by people from different habitats who know each other and who are traveling at the same time. A few people do this with strangers they meet on the mesh, but vids and other entertainments are filled with tales of people having their morphs or their identity stolen. A few of these horror stories are based on actual accounts. Very few people are willing to let anyone they do not know and trust use their body, and many people simply will not lend out their morph to anyone at all. Some people, however, are willing, for a fee, to act as a living “taxi” for a visiting infomorph, carrying it around with them. In these cases the “ghostriding” infomorph is not permitted to control their host’s morph directly and is simply a passenger along for the ride, issuing directions and communicating with their transporters electronically.
Travelers who wish to either immigrate to a new habitat or visit one for several months or longer must acquire their own morph. Usually, they reduce the cost of acquiring a new morph by selling their previous morph to a body bank. Alternately, some individuals sleeved in expensive custom-designed morphs who are traveling relatively short distances will rent a generic shell for several weeks and arrange to have their old morph shipped to them on a fairly rapid freighter. Doing this is rarely more than a moderate expense, which makes it less expensive than the costs of buying or replacing high-end custom modified morphs.
Privacy is a prized possession for most inhabitants of the solar system, but it is so rare that for many people it might as well be a foreign concept. In the 20th and early 21st century, privacy consisted of two concepts that are now completely separate—the ability to remain unnoticed or anonymous and the ability to avoid unwanted intrusion. The first is largely absent from the lives of most people in the present day. Anyone who uploads anything to a non-private portion of the mesh understands that anyone who wishes to do so can gain access to it. Likewise, anyone who spends time in a public place understands that anyone can learn where they went, what they did, and what they said due to the ubiquity of meshed, sensor-enabled devices. As a result, everyone’s public life, both on the mesh and in person, can be transformed into an easily searchable database. Almost everyone keeps such a record of their own lives, commonly known as a lifelog. Most people allow their lifelogs to be public, understanding that anonymity is now an archaic concept.
While the interiors of private dwellings remain free from continuous surveillance, almost all habitats have emergency sensors in every building providing a full record of events to emergency service workers and AIs in case of problems such as dangerous chemical leak, a sufficiently large fire, an explosion, loss of air pressure, or some other equally dramatic and potentially dangerous event. Both the events of the Fall and the fact that almost all of humanity now lives in habitats surrounded by hostile environments mean that such sensors are standard fare. A few habitats do not allow emergency sensors in private dwellings, but most people regard these habitats as potential death traps. These emergency sensors do not record anything other than the absence of potential dangers if they are not triggered by specific events. This limitation allows individuals privacy within their own residences—as long as they are certain no one has planted a secret recording device in their home. Ultimately, remaining unobserved is a matter of both care and trust, and everyone understands that most of the time everything they do will be part of the vast public record.
In vivid contrast, the freedom to avoid unwanted intrusion is carefully prized by the inhabitants of the post-Fall era. Unwanted personal or data intrusion into someone’s private dwelling or personal electronic files is a crime in most habitats and a serious crime in many. Also, while both the mesh and augmented reality are filled with all manner of AI-mediated adware, most of it has evolved to be relatively benign and to provide non-intrusive suggestions about goods, information, and services that are likely to be of legitimate interest to the targeted person. An individual’s muse filters out unwanted advertising. While it is certainly possible to create advertising that can hack through any muse’s filters, doing so is usually illegal.
Unwanted AR intrusions are similarly limited. During the early days of AR technology, there were serious problems with users being overwhelmed with unrequested and distracting input—as many said, the mist got very thick indeed, so both law and custom changed to prevent such invasions. Today, most people expect to only experience data that they are looking for or that they might be interested in, and that any data they are not interested in will quickly vanish. Being surrounded by a large amount of unwanted AR data is not just annoying and distracting, it is also deeply frightening, because it means that there is a serious problem with either the habitat’s mesh or the person’s electronics—it could even mean that the entire habitat is under direct attack by infowar weapons.
Solarchive Search: Incapacitating Inputs
During the Fall, the attacking TITANs used a variety of AR and online intrusions that interfered with or even incapacitated their targets. The most basic of these were deceptive AR illusions made to convince people that their physical environment was very different from what it actually was. This fooled people into attacking their fellows or simply instigated mass panic. More advanced versions targeted the empathic elements of AR, triggering fear or other emotional responses. Still others blasted their targets with overbearing sensory input, so strong that it bypassed ﬁlters and inﬂicted neurological damage.
Despite rumors and fears of so-called “basilisk hacks”—visual or other sensory-input attacks that allegedly subverted transhuman minds by exploiting the way brains processed such data—no credible reports have been verified.
More than ninety-five percent of humanity inhabits artificially created morphs. Most of them also possess basic implants, and the vast majority of the rest wear ectos with retina displays and other simple peripherals that allow the user to fully perceive and interact with the vast network of information around them. However, slightly less than four percent of the remaining population inhabit flats or splicer morphs without basic implants and also lack access to ectos and other basic technologies.
Since an ecto is both a relatively trivial expense and a piece of equipment vital to existence in the solar system, the only individuals who lack such technologies stand on the very lowest rungs of the social ladder. A few are the poorest members of the most marginal habitats, but most are slaves or the next best thing to them. The lowest social classes in the Jovian Republic lack personal infotech access and so do the lowest class of people indentured to the hypercorps and the Planetary Consortium, particularly on Luna and Mars. These individuals are either indentured criminals or people sufficiently lacking in useful skills that they are assigned mindless physical tasks that cannot be more efficiently performed by AIs.
The lack of mesh access makes these unfortunate “zeroes” into mental and social cripples, unable to perceive the vast wealth of AR that most people take for granted. They are also unable to communicate with anyone beyond the range of their voice or to access almost all information, including traffic signals and shop displays. When necessary, the managers and overseers in charge of groups of zeroes allow them access to handheld meshbrowsers. These devices resemble the handheld terminals common in the early 21st century and have limited functionality, typically forbidding communication and restricting mesh research to carefully filtered topics. Because of their inability to access AR or the mesh, zeroes are almost completely isolated from everyone else, meaning they are also unable to organize effectively or to otherwise cause trouble for the people who control them. In much of the outer system, the existence of zeroes is considered one of the greatest crimes against transhumanity perpetrated by the Planetary Consortium and the Jovian Republic.
Life, Death, and Morphs
While death is no longer a certainty for transhumanity, it remains a possibility. During the decade preceding the Fall, most of humanity was growing used to the idea that immortality was in their grasp. Then, in just a few short years, the TITANs wiped out more than ninety percent of us. Faced with the horror of so much needless death, efforts to insure the lives of surviving humans became a top priority. Now, the technology of immortality—uploading, cortical stacks, and other related wonders—is commonplace.
Today, most of the residents of the solar system have adjusted to this fact (except for the most extreme bioconservatives); everyone expects both to live forever and to have their friends, loved ones, and enemies do the same. While death is rare, though, it is still possible. Severe accidents can destroy someone’s cortical stack as well as their brain, and egos can also be wiped away in punishment for sufficiently heinous crimes—though the process of execution is considerably more difficult than it had been a few decades earlier.
For most people (with the exception of those too poor to afford a new morph), non-permanent death is an annoyance equivalent to events that most people in the late 20th century regarded as moderate misfortunes, like a bad stomach, flu, or a broken arm. In almost all habitats, if anyone is responsible for someone’s temporary death, either accidentally or on purpose, they are also responsible for paying for the person’s resleeving in an identical morph, especially if that person does not have some form of resleeving insurance. People who have temporarily died can expect to receive visits from everyone they are at all close to after their resleeving, as well as a host of e-cards and perhaps a few gifts from their acquaintances and colleagues, all expressing sympathy at their death and welcoming them back to the world of the physically embodied. Exchanging such “life gifts” is an accepted part of belonging to many professions such as emergency service workers, where members regularly risk temporary death.
Deliberately choosing to change morphs or to temporarily become an infomorph is treated differently. People typically spend at least a day or two between deciding to change morphs and actually doing so. During this time, it is considered polite for someone to inform everyone they know well or work with about their upcoming resleeving. Along with personal visits, as well as calls and e-cards detailing the time of the upcoming event, the person who is resleeving is expected to include an image of what their new morph will look like, so people they know will be able to easily recognize them. However, it is considered gauche for someone who is upgrading to a better morph to include details about their new morph. Within a few days of resleeving, a “resleeving party” is typically held to introduce everyone they know to their new morph. Depending upon how well-off, well-known, and social the individual is, these parties range from lavish affairs held in hotel ballrooms to small intimate gatherings in the person’s home.
Permanent death is treated very differently. Because it is both relatively rare and no longer expected, the old funerary rituals surrounding death have faded and new traditions have grown in their place. Since every death reminds many people of the billions who permanently died during the Fall, most of the few funerals that are held honor both the person who just died as well as the victims of the Fall.
Sidebar: Lost Lore
The accumulated knowledge and media of Earth, spanning the history of human intelligence, is a vast and impressive amount. Even before the Fall, many orbital settlements had acquired complete records of all previous human lore and creativity, including copies of every book, painting, song, ﬁlm, TV program, console game, newspaper, and magazine article that had ever been translated into digital format, as well as backups of Earth’s entire internet archives. Numerous destructive programs unleashed during the Fall corrupted much of this information, however, in some cases permanently wiping it from existence.
This means that what remains of Earth’s archived history and data is patchy and incomplete. Much survives, but some treasures have been lost. In particular, media from the era of the Fall itself is particularly hard to come by, given the consistent attacks the TITANs were making on information systems. Proprietary data that was withheld from the public domain behind electronic gates on Earth is even more likely to have been lost, except for a few hypercorps that managed to transfer their Earth-bound data off-world in time.
Retrieving lost data is a lucrative task for scavengers and archaeologists, though looting the dangerous conﬁnes of Earth or derelict habitats destroyed during the Fall is a risky proposition.
Entertainment and Media
A substantial amount of media survives the Fall of Earth, and a significant number of modern transhumans make their living creating new songs, stories, reports, or other media. All of this is easily and swiftly accessible through any basic implant, ecto, or (on very rare occasions) archaic handheld terminal. However, most of this media is not to the taste of any particular individual, and vast amounts of it are mediocre. As a result, most humans keep two layers of evaluation between them and anything they might consider exposing themselves to.
The first layer is based on popularity and critical reviews. Every piece of media has a rating, often weighted by the opinions of critics with high rep scores who comment on their virtues and faults. Specialized AIs also evaluate the responses of consumers, so individuals can use reviewers they trust or they can seek out media that is either widely or specifically popular in their particular demographic and subcultural niche.
The second filter layer is the individual’s muse. Muses learn their owner’s tastes and moods and automatically search out and recommend various sorts of media. Individuals can do everything from asking their muse to select something they will enjoy, to asking for a something that will challenge their opinions, to looking at all current events news that will be of interest to them. Muses use their understanding of their user’s preferences, mixed with ratings and reviews, to make their decisions. Individuals can even set their muses to edit all media so that they better fit with the person’s interests and preferences. In the most extreme cases, this process can twist and edit news so that it bears no relation to real events. This same process is used to make the characters and dialog in novels and vids more appealing. More commonly, the muses merely edit out aspects of a news story or article in which the individual is not interested.
Ratings, reviews, and muses allow individuals to avoid media overload, but they also reinforce subcultural barriers. A great many people only seek out media and news that reinforces their existing opinions and beliefs. Xenophobic individuals who distrust all non-humans, from uplifted octopi to the Factors, regularly view news stories and AR dramas about evil aliens and devious uplifted animals who commit heinous crimes. Similarly, individuals who are only interested in their own habitat have all external news altered by their muses so that it refers only to the effects outside events will have on their station.
In a very real sense, individuals from radically different subcultures and demographics inhabit completely different worlds. The one force that works against this separation is the fact that many people wish to follow the lives and opinions of those with the highest reputation scores. In many cases, a large portion of these individual’s high rep scores comes from their interest in and willingness to interact with (or at least acknowledge) a wide variety of different sources of information. As a result, listening to opinions by a high-rep celebrity can expose people to information that they might never encounter otherwise. Also, in many habitats, AIs responsible for media distribution tag some news as being sufficiently important that it should be immune to filtering by muses. This tagging is a regular and expected occurrence in some habitats, while in others it is reserved for only the most important and potentially life-saving information. Bypassing muses for any less important reason in these stations is considered a gross invasion of privacy or even a crime.
Popular Types of Entertainment
The most popular forms of electronic entertainments are vids, vidgames, VR worlds, XP, and AR games.
Vids and Vidgames
Vids are passive entertainments that can be enjoyed either as high-resolution audiovisual entertainment or as a fully immersive experience where the viewer can augment their experience with smell, touch, and taste while experiencing the point of view of one of the major characters. Viewing them purely via sight and sound is much like watching an old 20th-century film, except that it’s interactive and in 3D. In contrast, full sensory viewing is much like actually being present in the story.
Most modern vids have variable theme and preference settings enabling viewers to adjust the content of what they are watching, including the level of violence, the amount and type of sexuality they prefer, as well as the appearances of some or all of the major characters. In addition, many vids have several alternate endings for people who prefer happy, bittersweet, or grim endings. As a result, two people watching the same vid could have very different experiences if they use radically different settings.
Vidgames are like vids, except they are much more flexible. In vidgames, the viewer not only experiences the story with the protagonist—they become the protagonist, shaping the story through their own actions, similar to sophisticated early-21st-century console games. Some games allow the participation of up to a dozen individuals or link thousands of players via the mesh, while others are designed for a single player. The degree of freedom in vidgames varies. Some are almost fully interactive realms similar to many VR worlds with all but a few characters controlled by AIs, while others are considerably simpler and more limited, with player interaction limited to a few crucial decisions. The precise dividing line between vids and vidgames is blurry, but both media have the common trait of being designed for either solitary use or for use by a few players or viewers who are all located relatively near one another. Vids and vidgames are the most popular forms of entertainment, with vids and vidgames set on Earth before the Fall being especially prevalent.
Experience playback (XP) is a specialized type of vid that consists of the recorded sensory impressions of a single individual. Almost all of the inhabitants of the solar system lead relatively quiet and risk-averse lives and are naturally eager to be able to vividly experience adventures such as climbing Olympus Mons, spending a day in one of the most luxurious and exotic private habitats, going on a scavenging mission to Earth, or gatecrashing. There is also a thriving fringe market in less savory XPs, including records of people committing all manner of violent or dangerous crimes and XPs of actual gun battles between well-armed criminals and law enforcement personnel, which often end with the death of the morph providing the point of view.
Anyone with mesh inserts can create an XP of their past experiences, and anyone with an ecto or mesh inserts can access the sensory recordings. Selling a particularly exciting XP, such as a record of the first meeting with the Factors, can bring in a lot of money or rep. Most XPs consist of both sensory recordings and the surface thoughts of the individual who made them. Many people who access XPs are only interested in the sensory recordings and feel that having another person’s recorded thoughts and emotions in their head is intrusive and uncomfortable. However, some hardcore XP aficionados feel that accessing the full XP, including the recorded emotions, makes the experience more immersive and real.
A significant minority of XP fans becomes fascinated with one or two daring people who regularly sell XPs, known as X-casters, viewing all of their clips, including both the experiences and the accompanying thoughts. Some of these XP fans become more interested in the person who recorded the clip than in the individual experiences, and they often come to believe that they have a special, clear understanding of this person, to the point where they strongly identify with this person or even fall in love with them. In addition, individuals who access XPs from a single person often enough sometimes begin to mimic various habits or figures of speech of this person. Particularly popular X-casters are sometimes rather disturbed when they see tens of thousands of people imitating one of their more idiosyncratic expressions or habits.
A few serious fans—known as Xers (pronounced “ex-ers”)—alter their morphs to resemble their favorite X-caster. Some obsessive Xers actually attempt to contact and stalk certain X-casters, perhaps hoping to become part of an actual XP clip. In most habitats and subcultures, Xers are widely regarded as having particularly dull and meaningless lives. Hardcore Xers are often viewed as being insecure and potentially unstable.
Augmented reality (AR) games involve players interacting both with events in the physical world and with augmented reality imagery that recasts the people and objects the players see. For example, instead of seeing another player in a splicer morph and ordinary clothing, a player of an AR game might see a horrific rotting zombie, a bizarre alien life form, or a well-armed soldier. These games tend to be locally focused within a particular habitat or city as they allow players to interact when they are within physical proximity, but some games link habitats within the same cultural region.
The nature and intensity of these games varies widely. Some are long-term games involving people imagining that they are deep cover spies or some other exciting and unique role. Players may pretend to be anything from time travelers attempting to prevent some horrible disaster to covert agents attempting to uncover plots by TITAN-infected people on their habitat—who happen to be camouflaged as snack designers, personal assistants, etc. During their daily lives, players exchange messages with each other as well as with the people running and maintaining the game. Some of these long-term AR games have gone on for many years, with the oldest being almost twenty years old.
Short-term AR games, on the other hand, last between several hours and several days. The people running these games typically rent out a hotel or a park and various public buildings for the duration. These games are almost always highly dramatic and consist of everything from the players having to deal with a massive zombie attack or alien invasion to them participating in some simulation of an event on Earth, like the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. While such AR games can be considerably less detailed than VR worlds or vidgames, many players value the “realism” of being physically present during the game.
Since participants in AR games take actions in the real world, including actions that could be disruptive or even dangerous, designers of AR games take great care to prevent problems. In some early AR games, most of which took place more than twenty years before the Fall, players were occasionally seriously injured. A few unscrupulous AR game designers used their game as a cover for an actual robbery or act of terrorism that was abetted by unwitting players who thought their actions were simply part of a game. Since that time, law enforcement observation drones have kept careful track of people playing AR games. In almost all habitats, people running AR games must register their games with local law enforcement or face serious fines.
Virtual reality (VR) worlds are entertainments that involve the creation of a large and highly immersive simulated environment—a simulspace—where many major characters are played by transhumans or other sentient beings. Unlike vids or vidgames, simulspaces are specifically designed for a large number of participants. VR worlds consist of everything from duplicates of various eras of Earth history to elaborate and strange fantasy worlds with magic, dragons, and similar wonders. All manner of alien worlds or settings based on oddities like time travel are also common. As is the case with vids, the most popular simulspaces are those set on Earth some time before the Fall.
VR worlds can have from dozens to tens of thousands of participants. For the best experience, many users prefer to access simulspaces through hardwired server connections as they offer better quality and less disruptions than accessing wirelessly via the mesh. Since people immersed in virtual reality are cut off from their bodies and often thrash around, most users ensconce their morphs in a tank or special couch for the duration. VR parlors typically offer private hardwired pods for participants to physically jack in. Many habitats also have hardwired systems used just for this purpose, so users can experience VR from the comfort of their own dwellings.
Due to distance and communication lags between habitats, even the most popular online simulspaces run each habitat as a separate realm, limiting interaction with users in other habitats/realms. The popularity of VR worlds like Gilded Empire, set in England in the 1880s, means that someone moving from one habitat or world to another could continue playing in the same game, albeit with a new set of players.
One of the other unusual features of VR settings is that a large number of infomorphs, including many infomorph refugees, play these games. As a result, while even most novice players can learn to easily tell the difference between a character played by an AI and one played by an actual person, there is no way to know if the person playing a character has a physical body or not.
In addition to a vast array of electronic and electronically-mediated entertainments, people also still enjoy a wide variety of physical sports, ranging from soccer to new sports like low-g air races, where the participants strap on wings and engage in tests of speed and acrobatics. In addition, the ability to both heal any injury in a healing vat and to remove a cortical stack from a dead or dying body and place it in a new morph has given rise to a new variety of extreme sports. Starting a decade before the Fall, various individuals began realizing that, barring unlikely circumstances, they could not die unless they wanted to. This set off a brief trend in extreme sports and even a few wealthy suicide hobbyists, who repeatedly killed off their current morph in a variety of unusual ways. The Fall and the permanent death of more than ninety percent of humanity greatly reduced the interest in playing with death for many years. Killing yourself just to experience death is considered at least mildly distasteful, and many believe such actions belittle the mass deaths of the Fall. Though interest in risking death in the line of entertainment has been growing, deliberate suicide remains an eccentric and dubiously regarded hobby.
In some subcultures, dueling has been a popular fad for almost a decade. Swords, knives, and pistols firing single-shot soft lead bullets are all popular choices, because none of these weapons poses any threat to a cortical stack and most do not instantly kill someone hit by them. However, there are other more exotic options, including aerial duels with microlights fitted with blades on their wings. On rare occasions, duels take place in space, with the participants wearing non-armored vacuum suits. Certain criminal groups make money with underground dueling circuits, pitting biomorphs against robots against uplifts. The seedier circuits engage in distasteful pit fights featuring illegally-acquired backups sleeved into non-sentient animals, often outfitted with lethal cybernetics. Such creatures are typically quite mad.
In addition, dangerous non-combative sports are also popular. The highest levels of competitive rock climbing on Mars are regularly done with no safety equipment. There are similar climbing competitions in many habitats using artificially constructed climbing walls as well as regular free-running competitions through almost every city and habitat. Also, there is an entire class of sports, including both diving and parachuting, where perfection of form is seen as a far more important goal than avoiding injury or even death. As a result, current high dive records for morphs not specially modified to survive high impacts are held by individuals who required either time in a healing vat or resleeving immediately after their successful breaking of a previous record.