Beyond the Black
The most popular forms of electronic entertainments are vids, vidgames, VR worlds, XP, and AR games.
Vids and vidgames
Vids are passive entertainments that can be enjoyed either as high-resolution audiovisual entertainment or as a fully immersive experience where the viewer can augment their experience with smell, touch, and taste while experiencing the point of view of one of the major characters. Viewing them purely via sight and sound is much like watching an old 20th-century film, except that it’s interactive and in 3D. In contrast, full sensory viewing is much like actually being present in the story.
Most modern vids have variable theme and preference settings enabling viewers to adjust the content of what they are watching, including the level of violence, the amount and type of sexuality they prefer, as well as the appearances of some or all of the major characters. In addition, many vids have several alternate endings for people who prefer happy, bittersweet, or grim endings. As a result, two people watching the same vid could have very different experiences if they use radically different settings.
Vidgames are like vids, except they are much more flexible. In vidgames, the viewer not only experiences the story with the protagonist—they become the protagonist, shaping the story through their own actions, similar to sophisticated early-21st-century console games. Some games allow the participation of up to a dozen individuals or link thousands of players via the mesh, while others are designed for a single player.
The degree of freedom in vidgames varies. Some are almost fully interactive realms similar to many VR worlds with all but a few characters controlled by AIs, while others are considerably simpler and more limited, with player interaction limited to a few crucial decisions. The precise dividing line between vids and vidgames is blurry, but both media have the common trait of being designed for either solitary use or for use by a few players or viewers who are all located relatively near one another. Vids and vidgames are the most popular forms of entertainment, with vids and vidgames set on Earth before the Fall being especially prevalent.
Experience playback (XP) is a specialized type of vid that consists of the recorded sensory impressions of a single individual. Almost all of the inhabitants of the solar system lead relatively quiet and risk-averse lives and are naturally eager to be able to vividly experience adventures such as climbing Olympus Mons, spending a day in one of the most luxurious and exotic private habitats, going on a scavenging mission to Earth, or gatecrashing. There is also a thriving fringe market in less savory XPs, including records of people committing all manner of violent or dangerous crimes and XPs of actual gun battles between well-armed criminals and law enforcement personnel, which often end with the death of the morph providing the point of view.
Anyone with mesh inserts can create an XP of their past experiences, and anyone with an ecto or mesh inserts can access the sensory recordings. Selling a particularly exciting XP, such as a record of the first meeting with the Factors, can bring in a lot of money or rep. Most XPs consist of both sensory recordings and the surface thoughts of the individual who made them. Many people who access XPs are only interested in the sensory recordings and feel that having another person’s recorded thoughts and emotions in their head is intrusive and uncomfortable. However, some hardcore XP aficionados feel that accessing the full XP, including the recorded emotions, makes the experience more immersive and real.
A significant minority of XP fans becomes fascinated with one or two daring people who regularly sell XPs, known as X-casters, viewing all of their clips, including both the experiences and the accompanying thoughts. Some of these XP fans become more interested in the person who recorded the clip than in the individual experiences, and they often come to believe that they have a special, clear understanding of this person, to the point where they strongly identify with this person or even fall in love with them. In addition, individuals who access XPs from a single person often enough sometimes begin to mimic various habits or figures of speech of this person. Particularly popular X-casters are sometimes rather disturbed when they see tens of thousands of people imitating one of their more idiosyncratic expressions or habits.
A few serious fans—known as Xers (pronounced “ex-ers”)—alter their morphs to resemble their favorite X-caster. Some obsessive Xers actually attempt to contact and stalk certain X-casters, perhaps hoping to become part of an actual XP clip. In most habitats and subcultures, Xers are widely regarded as having particularly dull and meaningless lives. Hardcore Xers are often viewed as being insecure and potentially unstable.
Augmented reality (AR) games involve players interacting both with events in the physical world and with augmented reality imagery that recasts the people and objects the players see. For example, instead of seeing another player in a splicer morph and ordinary clothing, a player of an AR game might see a horrific rotting zombie, a bizarre alien life form, or a well-armed soldier. These games tend to be locally focused within a particular habitat or city as they allow players to interact when they are within physical proximity, but some games link habitats within the same cultural region.
The nature and intensity of these games varies widely. Some are long-term games involving people imagining that they are deep cover spies or some other exciting and unique role. Players may pretend to be anything from time travelers attempting to prevent some horrible disaster to covert agents attempting to uncover plots by TITAN-infected people on their habitat—who happen to be camouflaged as snack designers, personal assistants, etc. During their daily lives, players exchange messages with each other as well as with the people running and maintaining the game. Some of these long-term AR games have gone on for many years, with the oldest being almost twenty years old.
Short-term AR games, on the other hand, last between several hours and several days. The people running these games typically rent out a hotel or a park and various public buildings for the duration. These games are almost always highly dramatic and consist of everything from the players having to deal with a massive zombie attack or alien invasion to them participating in some simulation of an event on Earth, like the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. While such AR games can be considerably less detailed than VR worlds or vidgames, many players value the “realism” of being physically present during the game.
Since participants in AR games take actions in the real world, including actions that could be disruptive or even dangerous, designers of AR games take great care to prevent problems. In some early AR games, most of which took place more than twenty years before the Fall, players were occasionally seriously injured. A few unscrupulous AR game designers used their game as a cover for an actual robbery or act of terrorism that was abetted by unwitting players who thought their actions were simply part of a game.
Since that time, law enforcement observation drones have kept careful track of people playing AR games. In almost all habitats, people running AR games must register their games with local law enforcement or face serious fines.
Virtual reality (VR) worlds are entertainments that involve the creation of a large and highly immersive simulated environment—a simulspace—where many major characters are played by transhumans or other sentient beings. Unlike vids or vidgames, simulspaces are specifically designed for a large number of participants. VR worlds consist of everything from duplicates of various eras of Earth history to elaborate and strange fantasy worlds with magic, dragons, and similar wonders. All manner of alien worlds or settings based on oddities like time travel are also common. As is the case with vids, the most popular simulspaces are those set on Earth some time before the Fall.
VR worlds can have from dozens to tens of thousands of participants. For the best experience, many users prefer to access simulspaces through hardwired server connections as they offer better quality and less disruptions than accessing wirelessly via the mesh. Since people immersed in virtual reality are cut off from their bodies and often thrash around, most users ensconce their morphs in a tank or special couch for the duration. VR parlors typically offer private hardwired pods for participants to physically jack in. Many habitats also have hardwired systems used just for this purpose, so users can experience VR from the comfort of their own dwellings.
Due to distance and communication lags between habitats, even the most popular online simulspaces run each habitat as a separate realm, limiting interaction with users in other habitats/realms. The popularity of VR worlds like Gilded Empire, set in England in the 1880s, means that someone moving from one habitat or world to another could continue playing in the same game, albeit with a new set of players.
One of the other unusual features of VR settings is that a large number of infomorphs, including many infomorph refugees, play these games. As a result, while even most novice players can learn to easily tell the difference between a character played by an AI and one played by an actual person, there is no way to know if the person playing a character has a physical body or not.
In addition to a vast array of electronic and electronically-mediated entertainments, people also still enjoy a wide variety of physical sports, ranging from soccer to new sports like low-g air races, where the participants strap on wings and engage in tests of speed and acrobatics. In addition, the ability to both heal any injury in a healing vat and to remove a cortical stack from a dead or dying body and place it in a new morph has given rise to a new variety of extreme sports. Starting a decade before the Fall, various individuals began realizing that, barring unlikely circumstances, they could not die unless they wanted to. This set off a brief trend in extreme sports and even a few wealthy suicide hobbyists, who repeatedly killed off their current morph in a variety of unusual ways. The Fall and the permanent death of more than ninety percent of humanity greatly reduced the interest in playing with death for many years. Killing yourself just to experience death is considered at least mildly distasteful, and many believe such actions belittle the mass deaths of the Fall. Though interest in risking death in the line of entertainment has been growing, deliberate suicide remains an eccentric and dubiously regarded hobby.
In some subcultures, dueling has been a popular fad for almost a decade. Swords, knives, and pistols firing single-shot soft lead bullets are all popular choices, because none of these weapons poses any threat to a cortical stack and most do not instantly kill someone hit by them. However, there are other more exotic options, including aerial duels with microlights fitted with blades on their wings. On rare occasions, duels take place in space, with the participants wearing non-armored vacuum suits. Certain criminal groups make money with underground dueling circuits, pitting biomorphs against robots against uplifts. The seedier circuits engage in distasteful pit fights featuring illegally-acquired backups sleeved into non-sentient animals, often outfitted with lethal cybernetics. Such creatures are typically quite mad.
In addition, dangerous non-combative sports are also popular. The highest levels of competitive rock climbing on Mars are regularly done with no safety equipment. There are similar climbing competitions in many habitats using artificially constructed climbing walls as well as regular free-running competitions through almost every city and habitat. Also, there is an entire class of sports, including both diving and parachuting, where perfection of form is seen as a far more important goal than avoiding injury or even death. As a result, current high dive records for morphs not specially modified to survive high impacts are held by individuals who required either time in a healing vat or resleeving immediately after their successful breaking of a previous record.