Friday, 22 May 2009

Captain's Blog 22.05.09

The Neon Age (A Cyberpunk/Dystopian Background)

As mentioned in the comment on the last post, this beast is an example of the "brainstorm" documentation I have knocking around on my PC. As I'll never get around to using it, I thought I'd post it here for dissection, examination or just perusal, as you will.

Bear in mind it was written to be used as a player handout for a campaign that never materialised, so it's a little rough round the edges.

Anyway, here it is...

In the mid 21st Century, the world fell apart…

America, long the “policeman” of the world, succeeded in alienating nearly all their former allies under a succession of increasingly right-wing, fanatical Presidents. When the “Big Drought” came in 2035, and the grain belt crumbled and blew away in the scorching heat, many of their former allies scoffed and pointed fingers: “this is the price of your continued stubborness on climate change”, they cried.

It didn’t help them when the drought struck them, too…

Isolated, cut-off from aid and alone, America was a prime piece of real-estate, ready for asset stripping…

Which is exactly what the Pacific Rim countries did.

Megacorps had grown into existence in the early 21st century, with many of the large Japanese “Zaibatsu” and Australasian companies having employee numbers in excess of the population of some third world countries, and an annual turnover that dwarfed that of some 1st world ones.

As part of an undisclosed “deal”, several companies combined their efforts and effectively “bought out” control of America from the appointed leaders; the state of the economy and worsening social unrest and issues were so bad that no one complained. Indeed, some parties hailed the move as the first step on the road to recovery.

It wasn’t.

Huge chunks of the political and socio-economic infrastructure were seized and sold off to minor companies, almost like “toys”. The big Megacorps held onto the choicest parts for themselves, aiming to use the whole country as a massive “trials and proving ground” for their latest products and services. With a captive audience of millions, hanging on their every whim, they were in heaven.

America in 2096
Urban America
Today’s America is substantially different on the whole from the America of nearly 100 years before. The USA no longer exists; each state is owned and run by one or more corporate bodies, half-jokingly referred to as “Corporate Congress”; as a whole, these representatives of their parent companies dictate policy for the whole country. Much in-fighting, bribery, blackmail… even assassination, goes on in the corridors of power, as lower echelon wannabes try to climb the corporate ladder on the backs of their co workers.

Society is rigidly stratified; the poor get poorer, the rich get richer and everyone else strives to be and buy the next, best thing.

Bloodsports made a return; in a parallel with Ancient Rome, the corps instituted dangerous games and pastimes, not only to feed the bloodlust of the populace (and keep their thoughts turned away from causing problems for their corporate masters), but also to push new product. Street Football, Iceblading; all the teams are draped from head to foot in logos and the sports stars continually appear in ads designed to get people to buy everything that’s being sold. Nearly all movie stars, musicians, writers, artists etc, etc are either owned outright (body and soul…) as a corporate “asset”, or “lease” themselves out to a company (usually only the biggest, self-made Celebs and business minds can do this, though it is not unknown for former corporate “stooges” to amass enough money to “buy” themselves out of a company contract and go freelance).

Entertainment is big business; really manufactured bands, tv, movie and net stars appear on a regular basis, disappearing into obscurity as they are replaced by the newest “fad”.

The average “Joe in the street” is a corporate whore; everything they are fed they eat, everything they are told to wear, they wear; they are pretty much told what to do, think and say by 24 hour continual entertainment channels.

Life for the middle class American is really no different than it is today; they are all mostly wage-slaves, getting up, going to work, coming home, slumping in front of the TV with a beer, going to bed and starting again the next day. They all aspire to be the next TV, radio, movie, pop star, to be the next Bill Gates, the next John Madden… but painfully few have the drive, the skill, the looks or the intelligence to ever rise above their lot.

“Mentoring” is one way. A pretty, intelligent, skilled and/or malleable individual gets noticed by a corporate “scout” (or a company guy who knows a good thing when he sees it); these people are destined to hit the top (if they do as they say, act how they’re told and produce the goods for their corporate “sugar daddies”). Many of the big names of today got their foot on the popularity ladder through corporate sponsorship; if you have the talent, and a Corp latches onto you (or the other way round), you can go far.

Of course, if the public trend turns away from you at any point, and you can’t repackage yourself to re-appeal, you tend to disappear into the backstreet circuit, merely a shadow of your former glory. A lot of former corporate “darlings” end up suicide cases, drug addicts or worse, when they can’t handle the loss of attention from their once adoring fans any more.

Certain areas of the big cities have become “sprawls”; huge areas of semi-derelict blocks, streets, wasteground and industrial areas, inhabited by the lowest of the low. Gangs, pushers, pimps, terrorists, artists, dreamers and the fallen all gravitate to these areas. Thriving communities can spring up around the waste-belching industrial plants; jobs can be found for those willing to slave away in the dark and grime all day and night, for the capitalistic public still want all their shiny toys, and someone has to make them (on the whole, although robotics and cybernetics have made stellar leaps forward in the last century, it’s still cheaper to get a man to do the job). Failing that, service “industries” (from whorehouses to bakeries, drug dens to hypermarkets, cyber chop-shops to furniture stores) have sprung up to take advantage of the market available here, and these zones still see some of the rare free enterprise areas available to the man in the street (though even here, it’s no surprise to find corporate sharks circling for an opening in an area, if they think they can make a decent killing… In more than one sense of the word…)

Next up are the “hab zones”; these areas basically still resemble the old streets and communities of urban America. The middle classes fill these zones, and most of them pass their blinkered lives away without ever glancing downwards at the sprawl dwellers once (they tend to have their eyes so fixed on the distant, diamond-studded horizon of the corporate enclaves that they can’t see anything else).

The majority of the populace aspires to the “enclaves”, the home of the “noveau aristocracy”; the corporate movers and shakers and their toadies, toys and hangers-on. Big corporate names are almost as well known and publicised as the royals and old-style Celebs used to be; the slag-rags (tabloid press) are filled with the comings and goings, ups and downs of the moneyed set, and a multitude of vid progs and net broadcasts play out their playboy lifestyles to the adoring middle class sheep that lap up every morsel and beg for more to take them away from their hum-drum existence.

It’s not impossible for someone to rise from gutter to penthouse; it has been done before, but the individuals who have done so have shown remarkable intelligence, looks, savvy, skill and talent in order to do so.

Rural Areas
Much of America’s former natural beauty has disappeared, either destroyed by the rapacious, resource hungry corporations, packaged up and moved wholesale to the urban areas to be parcelled out piece by piece to those who can afford it, or has simply gone to seed. Increased climate change has made the whole Midwest region a giant dustbowl, where barely an inch of rain falls in a year. Los Angeles is a shattered wasteland, testament to the huge quake of ’58, which shattered the San Andreas faultline and plunged most of Southern California into the Pacific. The madhouse of San Angeles is all that is left, and most sane people agree that the weirdoes that live out this way these days make the old Californians seem like Buddhist Monks in comparison. The Nevada Wall was constructed in 2069 to divide most of the extreme West Coast away from “right thinking” folks (i.e. what’s left of the West Coast cities and towns had very little to interest the corps, so they pretty much left them to get on with it with no influence, with the obvious exception of Hollywood).

Hollywood, or Sunset City as it’s now called, is a sprawling conurbation that spills from the Hollywood Hills out around the surrounding area. Sheltered from the acidic rains and Pacific hellstorms by the topography of the region, butting onto the Nevada Wall for a great deal of its Eastern border and edged by the Great Los Angeles Rift on the north-west, it is still regarded as one of the greatest movie cities in the world (eclipsed only by New York’s Movieville, which is rapidly growing and may well overtake Old Hollywood as a desirable location in a few short years).

It is experiencing somewhat of a slow down nowadays, as a lot of the “smart money” edges slowly to the better developing east coast cities with their easier links to the vast markets of Eurasia and the British Republic. Still, as one of the original areas first “conquered” by the corps, many of the Megas still have their out of Pacifica headquarters situated there (and, indeed, as time passed and the Austra-Asian companies saw what an opportunity America was, many of them moved their HQs there to better oversee their “corporate take-overs”.)

Crime and Punishment
In the sprawls, crime is a fact of life. The general rule of thumb is “If you have something I want, and I can take it away from you, you didn’t deserve to have it in the first place”; possession is pretty much 100% of the law here. Drugs are rife, as is prostitution, slavery (of many different kinds), black market and cheap surgery, and a million other crimes are all accepted as pretty much “business as usual”.

Gangs tend to have well defined territories and areas of “exclusive access”; certain “crime families” are well known for dealing in specialised criminal areas, and syndicates spring up, get butchered and wither away regularly. Big gangs, or those syndicates with a structured and well-organised system, tend to hold the “best” areas, or control the best paying “businesses”. Corporate cops in the sprawls tend to be those who either know when to look the other way, or are from the feared Megacorps subsidiaries (rent-a-cops, most of whom are ex-military or working their way into corporate security). Law here is corporate law; dependant on the city you live in, and which corp owns the local cops, what’s illegal these days may be perfectly acceptable in New America (and probably is, somewhere). However, certain crimes are still considered heinous enough to warrant the “full penalty of the law” (which can range from a rainy alley and a Tamagori 10mm Predator shell in the back of the head, to a full court of law); these are the ones which are usually focussed on embezzlement, destruction of property, etc (as material assets are very important to corps, as you would imagine).

Murder, sexual crime, slavery, abuse; in most places these are still considered crimes and will be punished as such (unless, of course, the individual guilty of these crimes is a member of a corporate family or otherwise well connected…). Some crimes can be punished by “indentured servitude” in certain places (i.e. you effectively work for the corp for nothing until your “debt to society” is paid off), enforced conscription into hard labour units or the military and, for certain offences, a choice between death or entry into the “Entertainment Rehabilitation Program” (i.e. the criminal is offered the chance to enter a Bloodsports team and, if they successfully complete their allotted “term of service” (i.e. survive to finish their stint), they are free to go.).

Several of the top-rated athletes, Icebladers and Deathmatch stars of recent years were crims who went onto great success and eventually made their names in the business; however, those who enter a criminal life in order to try this shot at stardom be warned; they start in the Gutter Leagues where every step forward in progress makes you more and more of a target for “up-and-comers” who want to make a name for themselves… and what rules there are are often overlooked for the sake of entertainment or to ensure that a big money deal gets completed….


Cathy said...

Dude - you are too prolific! I watched an obscure film by Neil Gaiman, "A short film about John Bolton," and the DVD also included Gaiman on a book tour for the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) He's another prolific writer and you are BOTH Englishman... so what is it? Is it the tea? The fog? What makes you guys such great writers? I must know! ;) Seriously, I enjoyed reading this treatment.

Killian said...

I hate drinking tea and I can't remember the last time I saw fog outside of a 1950's movie about London (I think), so we can safely rule those out ;)

I just write reams and reams of this stuff, mostly for enjoyment (or to clear out the stuff rattling around in my head, I guess). The beauty of it is, someone somewhere will find a use for it, so it's never wasted material.