Wednesday, April 10, 2013

100: Cousin Program | CommServ

ENTRY 100a: Cousin Program

“Comrade. Convict. Co-worker. This word means Cousin.”

Transhumanity has grown strange and, in many ways, far apart. Egos that first developed to deal with tribes of no more than a hundred individuals, to recognize kinship with others by smell, accent, and facial shape, are adrift in a community of billions that challenge any definition of what transhumanity is or might be—and with AGIs, uplifts, the Factors and other alien species, many transhumans become lost, unable to define themselves by their relationships with others, to others. With the vast host of transhumanity sometimes only a thought away from them, individuals become alienated, lonely, and withdrawn. Studies of this phenomenon point to how dangerous it is—the afflicted show high incidence of developing psychoses, low empathy, suicide, falling under the persuasion of charismatic individuals and movements—and have suggested a means to fight it: the Cousin Program.

Mostly popular in penal habitats, the Cousin Program forces casual socialization and fraternization by matching subjects up according to similar traits or interests, giving them common goals, and staging low-danger moderate-stress events that force interdependency and communication. Some habitats have even adopted variations of the Cousin program as alternative community service: an isolated hypercorp bigwig may find themselves scrubbing air filters alongside a hermetic digital archivist, the only two in the habitat that are conversant in Bulgarian.

Military units throughout the system have made extensive use of Cousin program, both for therapeutic purposes and as a tool to develop small, close-knit teams. Unlike civilian programs however, milspec Cousin “bonding events” tend to be moderate to high-stress and openly dangerous for the transhuman participants, involving combination of teamwork, survival, communication, problem-solving, and combat skills to achieve the stated objective—or just to allow the group to survive. Whether or not the group “wins” is, of course, secondary to whether or not they form the close-knit relationship that the military in question aims for.

Using the Cousin Program

The Cousin program provides several opportunities for players and gamemasters to expand on and interact with their characters. The forced socialization provides opportunities for individuals from disparate social, cultural, and economic groups to mix and mingle in a non-threatening environment; unlikely friendships and contacts may develop. Cousin events can force together individuals who would not normally come into contact, providing opportunities to inject a PC or NPC into a game. A PC group may start out a military unit forged during a Cousin program “trial by fire,” or the gamemaster can design such a scenario to encourage closer bonds and teamwork between players. The main consideration with the Cousin program is that the participants have some interest or trait in common, and usually not an obvious one like faction or morph type—both characters may speak the same language, or share an interest in similar media, be interested in the same authors or hobbies, etc. This small connection is at the core of the Cousin program, and provides a way for the characters to relate and open up to one another.

ENTRY 100b: CommServ

In post-scarcity economies, there is no place for debtor’s prisons, or for any physical incarceration at all, unless the safety of the individual or community is at risk. Still, there are systems in place to check when a morph does break local regulations or draws on an excess of local resources to the point of inconveniencing others. The typical penalty is simply restricted access: local makers and dispensaries will refuse to give the offending morph anything besides the basic materials needed for survival. Continued or aggravated demands on the system or efforts to defraud or hack their way past the limitation usually results in a blackmark or stigma being placed on the morph’s ID, which restricts their opportunity to obtain favors and often leads to a degree of social shaming. For particularly egregious offenses or longstanding patterns of abusive behavior, habitats typically tighten the restrictions, including filtering the morph’s Mesh content, and this penalty usually lasts without a time limitation.

While a pain in the ass, this low-key penalty system is advantageous in that it exhausts a minimum amount of resources from all parties involved; the morph under a penalty is still free to go about their business, live their life, and get things done. If the restrictions do become too much for a morph to bear, there’s always community service.

CommServ is voluntary and dynamically scheduled; any time the morph has hours to spare they can flag their status and the local matrices will spit out a list of tasks that can be done, the physical and skill/classification requirements, and where they can pick up the equipment. Typical tasks in most habitats include cleaning, basic maintenance, and beautification: running a vacuum brush over electronics panels, changing out air filters, scraping off and reapplying the safety stickers on the airlock, etc. More skilled or dangerous labor is valued more highly, but is often restricted to doublecheck that the morph has proper safety precautions (including spotters) in place. Most stations also organize group CommServ events on a regular schedule for larger coordinated procedures like flushing the pipes and security checks. Some habitats even count positive suggestions on how to improve the care and running of the community as CommServ, provided they’re good enough to implement.

Using CommServ

It can be easy for a player character who is new to the whole post-scarcity concept to go a little overboard or be a little wasteful; it’s also likely that during the extraordinary events that PCs regularly participate in they might piss off a few residents. Either way, the PCs may end up receiving any of the penalties listed above. Instead of suffering quietly (or with much bitching) to the cold shoulders they get when asking for something better than grey nutragoop and sterilized water, players can choose to have their characters do a couple CommServ jobs around the station—a great way for them to meet other people, practice or pick up a new skill, or familiarize themselves with aspects of the habitat that might be important later. In addition to minimizing the period characters suffer the rationing and restrictions mentioned above, sustained or substantial CommServ efforts can earn the character favors from local residents—trivial favors generally require 6 hours of CommServ, minor favors 24 hours of CommServ, and major favors 60 hours of CommServ or more.


  1. Two excellent entries! As a social scientist, I love these kinds of thoughts about how society might change if the parameters of life are changed. I think it's probably the most fascinating aspect of science fiction in general :)

    And congratulations on reaching 100 posts!