Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › What We Played: Revolution in the air (Shock)

What We Played: Revolution in the air (Shock)

sev (Cheryl)
sevoo
Seattle, WA
Post #: 10
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Players: Cheryl, Fred, Martin

Issues: Astroturf politics, Personhood, Anonymity

Shock: The birth of the Herd, in which the serf underclass is networked together in a docile pool of interchangeable workers

The social system of this place consists of privileged citizens served by anonymous workers. People are sorted into one of these two groups at birth. The citizens believe they live in a democracy, but this is a sham: the candidates are all manufactured and the public is manipulated into “choosing” what the mysterious central computer wants them to do. And now the underclass is being “improved” into a networked mind called “the Herd”.

Idealistic, obsessive Evelyn Shaw is one of the engineers who’s creating the Herd. She’s tasked with the software end of the business, which means relies on wetware technician Pete Volnik to “install” her software into the brains of the subjects. He’s brilliant but bitter, and a constant thorn in Evelyn’s side. (Evelyn’s Story Goal is “lose faith in the Herd.”)

Communications Director Radha Thanawala works in Central, translating the directives of the controlling Computer into fake political campaigns. Her intern, Milo Beacon, can’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that these politicians don’t exist; Radha does her best to take advantage of his starry-eyed optimism. (Radha’s Story Goal is “tell the truth.”)

Director of the Aptitude Division, Marcus Davis’s cold, bitter, and disdainful attitude springs from one source: his child, lost to the Herd. If his kid wasn’t good enough to be a person, neither are most of the “people” he knows! His determination to improve the quality of his nation’s citizens frequently gets him into disagreement with Drew, the PR flak tasked with shining the reputation of Aptitude Enforcement. (Marcus’s Story Goal is “expand the Herd.”)

Evelyn and her coworkers are brainstorming disaster-recovery scenarios for the Herd, when they realize they should make sure the individual Units can recover from a temporary severance of the network. Evelyn volunteers to test it out. She trots off to Peter, tells him to unplug a unit from its herd and see what happens. Upon being unplugged, the unit, a hulking burly giant of a male, collapses in tears – and then objects to being plugged back in. A meaningless discussion of the endocrine system ensues, Peter rolls his eyes, and Evelyn goes back to the drawing board.

Radha’s got a simple problem: the electorate is suffused with ennui. To counteract this, she creates a James-Dean-esque rogue journalist, Jack Thorne, who gets people excited about politics again – and gets their eyes glued to their televisions –- by making brash calls for reform. Due in part to Milo’s enthusiasm, the campaign snowballs. Radha’s got people’s eyes glued to their televisions, alright – but they’re also joining “Jack Thorne” in calling for reform.

Marcus is interrupted by a phone call from Drew, who says there’s a crowd of people protesting the Aptitude division, demanding that the aptitude testing & sorting process be made transparent. Marcus grumbles – these people should just *trust* the system, it’s working for them! Drew bullies Marcus into making a public statement. Marcus ends up looking foolish, but he has the last laugh: when the protesters get out of hand, he “arranges” for them all to get called in for Aptitude re-evaluation.

Evelyn has a new experiment, and she believes she will be revolutionizing the future of brain-embedded emotion-management software. Her new software floods the Herd units with happy thoughts while they’re wired in. She then unhooks two units – one with the old software, and one with the new, and instructs Peter to “expose them to emotional input,” which eventually turns into “hit them with a broom!” That night, while documenting the experiment for posterity, she suddenly realizes what Peter has been passive-aggressively hinting at all along: these emotions aren’t software glitches. They’re actual *feelings*, because before they are Herd-members, these units are *people*. Oops!

Radha is riding high on the success of “Jack Thorn”’s popularity, and is confident that the citizens’ cries for reform are transient. Milo wants to know, though: why not capitalize more concretely on Thorn’s popularity? Well, we could totally set a fashion for leather jackets, Radha starts, but Milo ups the ante and points to Thorn’s political demands. Creepy totalitarian double-speak ensues. Eventually, they agree to have Thorn announce an actual candidacy, they cook up some political shenanigans, and Thorn is “elected.” Milo writes the acceptance speech, and embeds promises that Radha can’t keep. Oops!

Marcus begins pushing people more aggressively into the Herd, sometimes even sending people whose tests indicated they should be citizenry instead. Eventually Drew calls to warn Marcus that people have been noticing – even though the numbers for aptitude results are secret, there are so many more kids being sent to the Herd that the change has become obvious. Just keep the totals only 10% more than last year and we’ll be fine, begs Drew. Marcus has a better idea: we’re starting a campaign to convince people it’s their civic duty to volunteer for the Herd! Drew’s response is to begin a covert campaign to get Marcus fired. They both fail.

By now, we’ve said the phrase “well, they’re not up on ethics charges” at three different points.

Evelyn, shocked by her realization that the Herd units are people, runs down to the lab. Fortunately, Peter’s always there. She conspiratorially suggests that they adjust the Herd programming to remove the cognitive suppression layer, and allow the units – the *people* -- in the Herd to communicate & scheme together for their own well-being. Peter responds that removing that suppression layer would take *weeks* -- which is why he prepared the changes weeks ago, and had just been waiting for her to come around to his point of view so she could handle the software bits. What he *doesn’t* tell her is that he’d also removed the blocks that suppressed the Herd’s ambition. They make their changes, and the Herd becomes a sentient network, ambitious and free of its previous constraints.

Radha is in a terrible bind: The people are demanding change, Thorn promised change, and she cannot deliver that change. She confers with the Computer, in hopes of finding some small sop of change to feed the voters, but the computer is implacable; no changes to its plans are allowed. She determines there’s only one way out: Expose the whole scheme. Tell the voters that Thorn is a fake, and so was the previous president.

Marcus is visited by Drew, who has been co-opted by the newly sentient Herd. Drew dangles a temptation: secretly join the Herd, gain access to the massive processing power of thousands of brains wired in parallel, and keep his current cushy position as a citizen who can continue to funnel people to the Herd.

Evelyn and Peter have sown the seeds of revolution, and over the next generation, the Herd will silently increase its numbers, overthrow the political system, and eventually absorb all of humanity. Radha gets her message out, and the computer fails to ruin her reputation; the political system is shown to be a scam. Marcus is absorbed by the Herd and can continue his program of recruitment, but has to accept that in the end, he’s no better than anybody else.
sev (Cheryl)
sevoo
Seattle, WA
Post #: 11
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One of these days, I'll write one of these that doesn't go over the message-size-limit...

(I’m certain I screwed up Radha’s chronology. Sorry!)

At the last round, we realized that we’d skipped the mechanical ramifications of the outcome of conflict – we never added features or had protagonists roll more than three dice. This probably affected mostly me, because I’m the one with the “failing is Fun!” habit – but I know that there was at least one additional failure at the table during the second round.

Finally, while I’ll admit that having a Story Goal that runs counter to the motivations of the protagonist isn’t *easy*, I thought it was fun. (though again that might be mostly me; failing, fun, etc.)
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