Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Transhumanism in RPGs

From time to time, various RPGs present themselves that are billed as being transhumanist in nature. As a transhumanist myself for more than a decade, I find myself both disappointed and annoyed by the vast majority of such outings, as they clearly do not understand what transhumanism actually is.

My own bona fides; I've been a transhumanist for more than a decade, served on the board of directors of the World Transhumanist Association for two years (now HumanityPlus), have given lectures on transhumanism, and wrote the WTA's pamphlet on human cloning. I think I know whereof I speak.

One of the greatest misunderstandings about transhumanism is that it is merely high-tech, technophilia, genetic engineering, bionics, cyberpunk, virtual reality, a technological Singularity, or a combination thereof. It is not.

Simply put, transhumanism is the process of consciously improving oneself, or a group of people, beyond the limitations of "baseline" humanity, and thereby create a new, post-human species. Without that conscious desire to exceed humanity, one is neither a transhumanist nor a transhuman. One can be a technophile, or a cyborg, or genetically enhanced, but unless that is coupled with the goal of moving beyond "humanity", it is not transhumanism. There is a reason that a common transhumanist symbol in the early days was >H.

Now, transhumanism certainly can involve all those things I mentioned above. Space exploration, nanotechnology and post-scarcity economies, cybernetics, virtual realities, cryonics, artificial intelligence; all these things and more are staples of transhumanist interests and projections. But they do not, in and of themselves, make something transhumanist. For that, one must have the desire to create (or become) a new, post-human species.

In game terms, as well as in fiction, the ripest field for exploring this theme is the conflict between baseline humans and the transhumans (and/or posthumans). Conflicts between different transhuman factions are also possible, maybe based on their attitudes towards the baseline humans. (And yes, there are definitely "factions" among contemporary transhumanists along such lines, as well as how transhumanist-potential technologies should be distributed or made accessible.)

So when I see a game, or read a novel, that makes the assumption that having a bionic arm or having a virtual reality world is de facto evidence of someone being a transhuman or posthuman, I get irked. On the one hand, I'm happy that transhumanism is gaining more mainstream acknowledgement, but on the other hand I'm bothered by the fact that it's being misunderstood, watered down, and made "safe" for the corporate, mainstream world (which is a phenomenon certainly not limited to RPGs).

Sort of like punk music. The punk label got noticed by the mainstream, and once that happened, it started getting applied to all sorts of things that were anything but punk:



Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter ends at midnight (ET) Saturday! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

No comments:

Post a Comment