ENTRY 081: Skincast
One mutation of the ages-old broadcast entertainment that has adapted to the syntax of transhuman existence are Skincast and its various affiliate, derivative, and supplementary programming. A variation on the episodic trial-reward program, the conceit of Skincast is that member-participants can compete in a series of original and sometimes absurd weighted-scoring challenges, with the ultimate victor or victors of any particular series of trials being rewarded with a new or upgraded morph. While most popular in the Planetary Consortium due to cross-licensing agreements between participating hypercorps (“Our Beloved Sponsors”), the show or something similar to it exists in at least 65% of habitats in transhuman space, with the largest outliers bioconservative communities that frown on exotic morphs.
The in-character backstory of Skincast is that the contests are being judged by alien intelligences (who may be influenced by up to 45% by a send-in fan vote), who choose the participants that are worthy and desirous for the competition (pseudo-random pick from a pool of volunteers, paid actors, and charity cases in desperate need of a new morph) and subject them to “Xenochallenges” set in locales throughout the solar system (usually Mars or Luna) that prove them worthy of receiving the gifts of the space-gods. Those who accumulate sufficient points are deemed the “Select” and allowed to resleeve into a brand new and exotic morph, supposedly custom-designed for the winners. The truth is that the whole debacle is a mix of scripted drama and gameshow, sometimes cruel and often more than a bit ludicrous; viewers on video or XP are as likely to see a crippled synthmorph and an aging flat grapple to see which can place a gold apple on a pedestal as they to see a blatant pleasure pod plant try to sow an X-rated romantic subplot and pitch “Our Beloved Sponsors” latest synthmorph polish. Skincast continues to be seen by millions, and hey—you too might be a winner!
At its basic, Skincast is the kind of background element you can drop into a game almost anywhere and pick up when convenient: the guard missed the PCs sneaking past the camera because they were streaming Skincast on duty; the Barsoomian contact makes small talk about the latest series of Skincast challenges set in Europa; the target is devoted to the show and will give up anything for a pair of tickets; the bouncer at the club’s morph is actually one of the old Skincast morphs from six seasons and twelve users ago, etc.
On the other hand, gamemasters may choose to use Skincast as the focus for one or more adventures, even letting the PCs compete to become one of the Select. Most challenges are not simply physical, but contain some element that requires players to outthink or outwit their opponents; rarely the judges even include a Moral challenge designed to test intangibles like courage and self-sacrifice, setting up scenarios where the PCs may complete their stated objectives or do the “right” thing. Unlike modern game shows, Skincast averages 2.73 “deaths” (destruction of morphs) per episode, so the danger in any given challenge, as insane as it may be, is very real. Forks of each participant are kept secure by Skincast Inc. just in case. The reward morphs are typically the latest corporate models from Our Beloved Sponsors, or standard models with enough cosmetic bodywork to appear new and flash; rarely the morphs are unique or experimental, and the GM is encouraged to get creative and go nuts—if the PC isn’t interested, the morph can always be donated to a charity of their choice.