Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality

Gladden, Matthew E. Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality. Volume 02 in the Posthuman Cyberware Sourcebook series. ISBN 978-1-944373-20-7. Indianapolis: Mnemoclave, 2017. 36 pages.

Summary. Whether it’s adding a night-vision cybereye or acquiring a full cyborg body, the process of cyborgization reshapes the way in which an individual relates to the physical environment around her. But how does it transform her ability to dive – or to be pulled – into virtual worlds?

Cyborgization and Virtual Worlds: Portals to Altered Reality is a resource for designing campaigns grounded in near-future hard-SF settings in which synthetic bodies and VR cyberware offer characters entirely new ways of perceiving, interpreting, and manipulating the analog and digital worlds…

It’s easy to know when you enter a virtual environment if the tools you’re using are a VR headset and haptic feedback gloves. If the virtual experience is too much for you, you can always just rip off the headset: the digital illusions instantly vanish, and you know that you’re back in the ‘real’ world. But what if the VR gear that you’re employing consists of cranial neural implants that directly stimulate your brain to create artificial sensory experiences? Or what if you’re wielding dual-purpose artificial eyes and roboprosthetic limbs that can either supply you with authentic sense data from the external environment or switch into iso mode, cut off all sensations from the real world, and pipe fabricated sense data into your brain? What signs could you look for to help you determine whether you’re in the real world or just a convincing virtual facsimile?

This second volume in Mnemoclave’s Posthuman Cyberware Sourcebook series explores the two ways in which neuroprosthetic technologies immerse a cyborg in her environment and allow her to sense and manipulate the world: through embodiment and embedding. The process of cyborgization not only grants its human subject an augmented body with enhanced, reduced, or simply different capacities; it also embeds him in a particular part of the real physical world and provides the means by which he senses and manipulates that environment. And it may be the instrument through which he dives into virtual worlds, as well. Among the topics explored are:

The paths of cyborgization

  • Different approaches to cyborgization, including the creation of full-body, partial, extended, sessile, and ‘hollow’ cyborgs
  • Differing types of neurocognitive interfaces that can exist between a piece of cyberware and its human host
  • The extent to which cyberware can be concealed from visual or remote electronic detection
  • The operational lifespan of cyberware and its potential health impacts on users
  • Obstacles to characters’ acquisition of cyberware, including cost, legality, and required maintenance and customization
  • Problems like neurocoupling resection syndrome (NRS) that affect full-body cyborgs and other augmented individuals

Cyberware and virtual worlds

  • Distinctions between virtual, augmented, and refracted reality
  • The mechanics by which cyborg characters can recognize and adjust to transitions between the real and virtual worlds
  • The use of digital avatars as cyberdoubles or cybermorphs within virtual worlds
  • Plot impacts of cyborg characters’ maximal, partial, temporary, or long-term immersion in VR environments

The book is written especially for GMs who are designing adventures or campaigns set in near-future worlds with a cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, or biopunk atmosphere in which posthumanizing cyberware exists and societies are tilting ever further toward the dystopian. The text draws extensively on the best contemporary research regarding neurocybernetics and the bioengineering, economic, sociopolitical, and cultural aspects of human enhancement, to aid GMs who are looking to give their campaigns a hard sci-fi edge.

The volume includes dozens of special textboxes with plot hooks, character traits, equipment descriptions, and ideas for successfully GM-ing the ontological puzzles and narrative twists that cyborgization and virtual reality make possible – to help you incorporate the material directly into your game, regardless of which rule system you’re using.