Wednesday, May 15, 2013

135: Outcaste

ENTRY 135: Outcaste

Formal castes are often considered a relic of an unhappy past to most transhumans; a remnant of bronze age societies carried forward hundreds or thousands of years after they had served their original purpose. The truth is perhaps more complex, and individual egos are so bound up in social and ethnic identities that even in contemporary times some fragment of caste-mentality may exist—the Brahmins of New Varanasi, for example, or the subtle distinctions still maintained in Barsoomian society from when the rusters suffered under indentured servitude. Overall the caste systems of old Earth have slowly lost their grip on transhuman society, in no small part because the differences in education and relative wealth have grown smaller thanks to the Mesh and makers. The vast majority of transhumans are outcaste, completely removed from the ever-shrinking social stratification practiced by the remaining few traditionalists.

But some ideas die hard. While most transhumans today no longer hold to the old taboos against handling the dead or dealing with refuse, there remains at least one force that the majority of transhumans are raised to fear and respect: radioactivity. Radioactive morphs, contaminated through accidental exposure, improper shielding and equipment, or simply long periods working in radioactive environments or with radioactive equipment, are effectively untouchable—a burden, expense, and danger to the community by their very presence. If the morph cannot be decontaminated cheaply or effectively, most egos abandon them, at the encouragement of the habitat authorities. Radioactive morphs are barred entry from most habitats, often on threat of ranged destruction. On Mars, rusters who worked with badly-shielded radioactive materials were ostracized rather than treated, forced to live and work separately from the other indentured servants, feared and hated less they contaminate others, prone to cancer and radiation burns. Many scumbarges likewise have large segments of untouchables, usually those forced by poverty or circumstance to spend too long near the engines, and in extreme cases entire vessels have been forbidden to dock at habitats because of the radiation danger.

Using the Outcaste

Social commentary has its place in games; the topics that stir up debate and emotions in the real world provide strong motivations to players and characters in the game as well. That said, it is also easy to offend people if these issues are handled poorly or blithely—racism and caste-discrimination are still with us today, and a game that makes light of the suffering and seriousness of those topics can cause a game-conflict to turn into a real-world conflict at the gaming table. Gamemasters or players that want to address these topics without offending people can do so by paralleling or satirizing the issue; consider the Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” as an example. In this case, the idea of the untouchable caste—a concept familiar in many societies, for a variety of reasons ranging from profession to sexual orientation—is married to the very real hazards of radiation. How the players and other characters react to the afflicted versus to how they are treated can provide a very strong dynamic for an adventure.

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