Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Human or not to Human Addendum: What is human?

In the earlier discussion I forgot to mention some games that I think pose particularly interesting questions about race (or more accurately identity), which I find to be fascinating.  In recent years we've seen the rise of transhuman science fiction where the body becomes nothing more than an interchangeable shell to contain consciousness.  This idea has led to what I think are role playing games with the most fascinating choices of race (or at least physical form); games where race is a in character choice. 

The first major transhuman rpg I know of is GURPS Transhuman Space, which is a fantastic setting of hard science, memetic warfare, and advanced genetics.  For my money though Eclipse Phase is the better role playing game because it asks more interesting questions and is more playable.  While Transhuman Space is great it does not provide easy answers to the age old question of "So what do the players do?"  while Eclipse Phase provides a built in campaign structure as agents of Firewall (a freelance world saving organization ala Global Frequency).  So I'll mainly talk about Eclipse Phase in this post.

Eclipse Phase I find to be fascinating on a number of fronts but the two that are pertinent here are these:
  • When you can change your body like you change clothes what does it mean to be human?  If you're a human mind in a robot, a body of a different sex, or a genetically uplifted octopus are you really the same person?  It is a game where race is transitory in such a way that makes you question what exactly it is to be of a species or race when the body of that species or race is removed.  This is fascinating to me.  Eclipse Phase assumes a lot of mental fortitude when it comes to changing bodies and that human consciousness could adjust to such changes relatively easily, but it does pose a lot of questions about what it means to be human.  There are those who take this ability to the limit, trying to become the ultimate predator or harness mental power beyond that of mortal man such that they completely reengineer their bodies.  Are they still human?
  • In addition to the various human sleeves (slang for bodies) there are aliens in Eclipse Phase, but they are not PC aliens.  They are too weird to be PC aliens.  They're effectively large mobile single celled organisms that communicate via smell and are supremely weird.  They're effectively unplayable they are so weird, but in the setting it works amazingly well.  They are a vast mystery that humans just don't get, and the feeling is reciprocated.  
So in effect you get a setting where all the PCs are human, but at the same time none of them are human.  It's a really fascinating premise.  

Pile on top of that the idea of a post scarcity economy and you get what is really one of the most thought provoking role playing games of the last decade.  Though I do wish the system was a bit smoother.


  1. Eclipse Phase suffers from the same problem as a lot of post singularity fiction, in my mind. We are humans limited by our physical existence. We might be able to imagine what it is like to be another human, or even some equally limited race. It is possible that we can't understand the subtle implications of being free of standard bodily restrictions. How can you have moral qualms about violence, murder, or any other egregious crimes when no damage is permanent. Even mental damage can be erased. We haven't evolved into that place so are limits play against us.

    That said, I still want to try the game out. I just don't know if it really can be played with all it's potential.

  2. I really like the idea of a setting where the primary conceit was exploring the effects of transhumanism on the world, but not enough to make me play GURPS. With a different ruleset, I might be all about it. Which is a roundabout way of saying I think I will look up Eclipse Phase and give it a read.

  3. Eclipse Phase also has the advantage of being released creative commons and free if you can find it online. The thinking was if you like it, you will pay for it. Minimal investment required.

  4. For added benefit Eclipse Phase is available as a pdf under creative commons, so you can find a free legal download. Or I can loan you a copy next time I am in town. The world is great, the system so-so. Lots of stats and skills with lots of large numbers and a percentile system, very simulationist/gamist with very little narativist.

  5. Will it make me cry like GURPS over too many skills on the Char. Sheet? (too many skills).

  6. I would say it is a much more unified and modern system than GURPs, but it is not uncommon for characters to have 20-30 different skills (though admittedly many of them are different specialties of the same skill, like Languages).