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Ex Machina

Entry updated 26 April 2019. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (2004). Guardians of Order. Designed by Bruce Baugh, Rebecca Borgstrom, Christian Gossett, Bradley Kayl, Michelle Lyons.

Ex Machina is a game of all the many Cyberpunks, from the alternate 1980s of William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and Walter Jon Williams's Hardwired (1986) through Neal Stephenson's "Post Cyberpunk" novels to the animated visions of Masamune Shirow. The system is designed to enable play in any of these styles, allowing characters to easily adopt all of the archetypal Cyberpunk roles, from street samurai to corporate executive. Considerable emphasis is placed on the evocation of such characteristic tropes of the form as marginalized protagonists and the fusion of humanity and machinery, here perhaps epitomized by the existence of player characters whose bodies are completely prosthetic.

The most interesting aspect of Ex Machina, however, is its detailed descriptions of four original Cyberpunk gameworlds. The setting of Heaven Over Mountain is a living Space Elevator, grown around gigantic cables stretching from a purpose-built city in South America to an orbiting asteroid. In essence, the elevator is a world tree, an alien environment built by industrial biotechnology which connects heaven and earth. The future of Underworld is one in which a technologically supreme Imperial America rules the world, maintaining its power through a system of offshore economic zones populated by the workers of an enslaved global underclass. The Daedalus milieu is a totalitarian utopia; as in Syndicate (1993), the population is governed by implanted computer chips. In Daedalus, however, the control is not absolute. Instead, the technology is used to manipulate and suggest, creating a society in which conservative morality, concern for the environment and a Paranoid fear of "terrorism" are universal.

Perhaps the most original of Ex Machina's settings is IOSHI. The eponymous software is a form of Final Encyclopedia, a system which can be used to learn any skill or answer any question, for a price. Its users are the citizens of a geographically distributed metropolis known as Sparta, which takes the form of buildings and districts scattered throughout the world's Cities. Sparta is a culture made up of rational economic actors who cooperate without hierarchies in a fashion reminiscent of anarcho-capitalism, though Ex Machina is far more ambivalent about this vision of society than most Libertarian SF. In the heart of IOSHI, however, there is a flaw, a worm which can destroy its users' personalities.... [NT]


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