Tuesday, September 24, 2013

267: The White Room

ENTRY 267: The White Room

Many egos, particularly infomorphs, find themselves with a virtual eternity on their hands and not much to do. Some educate themselves from the publicly available archives of transhumanity’s collected art and literature, socialize, and indulge in the near-infinite amount of free entertainment available on the Mesh; other get involved with different projects and causes, finding meaning, purpose, and rep boosts in original research, original content creation, or the endless cataloguing, shuffling, and presentation of data for the benefit of their fellow transhumans. A conscientious ego can live a comfortable life doing nothing more than giving thoughtful, carefully-constructed feedback on the right forums and product pages; some even become successful enough to go pro.

Most, however, find escape in the various virtual environments and settings run in the Mesh; ventures that range from religious depictions of the afterlife and extensive life-simulation games to commercial interstellar fantasy roleplaying games with memberships in the millions and dozens of spinoffs. Most infomorphs lack the credits or reputation to swing a full membership in these virtual environments, but by the same token the gamemasters running the simulations often lack sufficient egos to run the hundreds of thousands of complex NPCs demanded for many games—or at least, don’t feel like making their own forks do all the work. This mutual demand has led to the creation of an extensive work-for-play culture in the Mesh, where egos enter into agreements to play certain non-player character roles within one Mesh game in exchange for access time as a player character on a game or games they do wish to play. The key to these contracts is the work-for-play ratio—at 1:1, every minute of time spent as an NPC credits the ego with one minute of time to spend as a PC, though most egos start out at 2:1 or 1.5:1 until their skills develop; truly gifted digital actors are given challenging NPC roles and may earn ratios of 1:1.5 or 1:2, though this is rare and often exclusive to the most expensive and extensive virtual environments.

One of the most popular environments is the White Room, a virtual limbo that serves as a gateway to several clusters of afterlife-based virtual games, where a PC can interact with NPCs based on historical characters, observe (or participate in) the pleasures and punishments of various real and fictional heavens, hells, purgatories, and spirit realms—and even more exotic locales, such as the Celestial Planet of Kolob™ and the Thetan Astral Plane. The wfp ratio is strictly 1:1, though players are allowed to vote up NPCs that are particularly entertaining, educational, or in-character, and gamemasters regularly award bonus hours to NPCs with a high rep. Officially, players cannot purchase additional hours for credits or rep, but have to earn them through playing NPCs, but PCs are allowed to transfer hours to each other and there is a thriving grey market in buying hours in the shadier parts of the out-of-character game forums.

Using the White Room

Games-within-games are nothing new to science fiction or roleplaying; think of the holodeck adventures on Star Trek: the Next Generation…and all the things they did well and did wrong. Virtual environments allow a change of pace from the space opera reality of Eclipse Phase, especially during long trips between planets or habitats, and are handy settings for one-off adventures, since they are infinitely customizable and most of the hard bits are easy to dispense with. If keeping track of play-hours as another form of currency seems too much bookkeeping for example, just give a straight credit cost or let the PCs burn a favor—the explanation being that they simply bought some hours on a grey-market forum. Some characters can make a profession of being an NPC, which is represented by the Profession: Game Actor skill or Art: Game Acting.

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