The EarthTech Trials is a near-future dystopian setting. A world torn asunder by failed weather experiments and where corporations and their media outlets vie constantly for the attention of the masses, settling their various disputes through live video-streamed gladatorial combat. Borders between countries have lost their meanings because a person's allegiance is pledged online to those they choose to Friend or Follow.
It was created during Episode 2.
When speaking of this world, it is almost impossible to separate the subjects of government, culture and entertainment because they have all become inextricably intertwined.
Much of the world’s entertainment revolves around games in which teams, sponsored by various companies, compete to the death. It is not only entertainment, but it is also the way in which ruling organizations settle their disagreements and determine matters of foreign policy. Individuals declare their allegiance – and therefore citizenship - with a particular entity by joining it online, much similar to the way one joins a fan page on the Internet. Citizenship is not required, but it is only through it that people can receive aid, support and - in many cases - employment.
Two main corporations vie for control of the world’s
population: RingCorp and the Prime Foundation.
RingCorp is a company whose operations cover much of Asia and the western part of the former United States (which are now, like most of the rest of the world, made up of individual city-states). The company focuses on the development and implementation of artificial intelligence and biotechnology. They create a variety of cybernetic implants for their citizens and customers. Among the advances they’ve made are the direct neural interface, which allows a line right from the user’s brain to the web. Users can have video and audio streamed directly to the appropriate nerves. All citizens registered with RingCorp are given free neural implants (which are compulsory) that allow communication between users, and which can be used to locate them. Other enhancements they’ve been able to provide to customers include rapid reflexes and a variety of vision implants.
Because RingCorp has led the field in adaptive biotechnology, they are able to leap ahead in discovery of other new technologies. Their Artificial Intelligence is very advanced because they’ve been able to make more accurate models of the processes of the human brain. Similarly, because of this they have been able to create AI-driven robots (in addition to those that can be remotely “inhabited” and controlled with a user’s wireless neural interface).
RingCorp’s primary outreach to its citizens is through the Fenghuang Broadcasting System (or FBS). Through it, individuals who generate sufficient content and attract enough followers can be given Virtual Baronies to oversee. These Baronies are the major means through which the company governs the population. The Baronies are often dedicated to concepts or ideals, such as a particular product or program, a particular virtue (charity, chivalry, etc) or a particular activity or subject matter (snowboarding, anthropology, etc). Baronies are also granted to governors of a particular location (e.g. the City-State of San Francisco), organizations (e.g. college fraternities, social clubs) and businesses (which often become subsidiaries and are required to deal exclusively in RingCorp’s virtual currency). Each Baron employs people referred to as Knights to carry out policy. In most things, RingCorp’s citizens are encouraged to take an aggressive stance – this is at least partially due to the idea that the company perpetuates that everyone must band together to survive the world’s troubles.
RingCorp itself has a Board of Directors, a Chief Executive Officer, a Chief Information Officer (who is head of the company’s secret police) and a Chief Operations Officer.
The Prime Foundation is a conglomerate who operate primarily in the eastern area of the former US, parts of Europe and Japan. Where RingCorp focuses on biotechnology, the Prime Foundation excels at the production of external devices and communications. Their companies manufacture enhanced vehicles (ground, sea, air and even some space vehicles), exoskeletons for different work applications, mechanical battle-suits and advanced weapons among other things. They also have primary access to the Earth’s satellites and solar power relay stations and lead advances in wireless communication, fiber-optics and minor weather control. Overall, while the company is not as advanced as RingCorp when it comes to scientific breakthroughs, the Prime Foundation has more funding and better access to sources of power. They are also praised for the synergy of their technologies and how well everything fits together both aesthetically and functionally.
Overall, the Prime Foundation’s outreach to its citizens, mainly through its media-based subsidiary, the Prime Network (or TPN), is seen as very democratic in nature. There is usually something of a cult of personality surrounding the company’s Presidents, most of whom have, through the years, been lauded as great innovators. The company has a CEO and a Board of Directors, who are all internally appointed, but its President and Vice President are voted for by its citizens in regular elections.
In fact, Prime Foundation citizens decide most matters by popular vote. People are often encouraged, through various media, to vote for preferred government policies, candidates for various offices (which can just as easily involve governing a particular area or group of citizens as they can involve overseeing different technological, scientific or entertainment-based projects). The voting process is, like everything else, conducted online and is generally fast and convenient. There are rumors to the effect that the Prime Foundation secretly controls the outcomes of some of these votes, but no evidence has yet been produced to substantiate such claims.
It’s also rumored that there’s a third major player, a Shadow Company who pulls strings on both sides. The rumors state that this mysterious group may have been involved in the One World Government that was in place before it collapsed and the corporations took control. Aside from the name and the occasional report of double-dealings, no information has come to light to suggest the Shadow Company exists as more than a fairy tale.
Aside from the two major corporations, there are still millions of minor companies and other groups that people follow. These largely independent entities can be found all over the world, but are most greatly concentrated in places like Australia, Africa and South America. These groups (often seen collectively by the two major powers as, simply, the Unincorporated) are as often dedicated to the management of a region or city-state as they are to following particular concepts or ideals.
When settling disputes, the different groups will typically sponsor games. These contests are usually lethal, and are streamed live over the web. Some games, such as the Olympics (which are considerably more dangerous than they were in the old days), are still played purely for sport. Others can have the fates of hundreds, thousands or even millions of individuals riding on them. Every major city has a sporting arena used for these games, but depending on the game in question, the event can take place anywhere.
RingCorp and the Prime Foundation have established gaming zones on each continent (including Antarctica) to create a variety of environments and to bring different potential hazards into play. When planning a season of matches to be held between the two companies, a cooperative council schedules the games and will generally hire a neutral entertainment agency to stage them. The two most popular game zones are located in Uluru, Australia (also known as Ayers Rock) and Tombstone, Arizona. Both of those locations now house media outlets (sports subdivisions of FBS and TPN) to report on the games, and entire industries - both local and global - have grown up around them. The series of contests between the two major companies are branded as the EarthTech Trials.
In the early part of the 21st century, a single world government formed to combat what they thought might be a threat from beyond the stars. For the first time, the whole world was united against a common enemy. There were transmissions intercepted that experts claimed revealed potential plans of attack by extraterrestrial beings – or perhaps they were extradimensional; it was never clear.
Individuals were recognized as citizens under this One World Government by online registration. It was a simple process, and all that was necessary. Everyone was considered equal, regardless of race, religion, gender or any other factor. It seemed like a new age, and that out of the struggle might come a Utopia of unparalleled equality. Online everyone was the same. International borders became meaningless. It no longer mattered where you lived – you were considered a citizen of the world and that was enough.
People would still always form groups of course, and as always, the most popular groups gained the most followers. The two largest corporations, the Prime Foundation and RingCorp, through their major media outlets, garnered a huge number of followers, for they were the companies who were planning to save the world. The Prime Foundation developed the technology for the World Dome, a system that had the potential to actually control the Earth’s weather and use it as a weapon or as a shield. The World Dome’s technology also allowed unprecedented network connectivity between people online and with the world’s satellites. At the same time, RingCorp produced biotechnology that could connect people directly to these networks as well as enhance them cybernetically, giving mankind an edge over potential threats.
It all fell apart, however, when two things happened.
First, the World Dome suffered a serious malfunction. An experiment in slowing the effects of global warming using the Dome’s technology instead resulted in massive storms covering much of the northern hemisphere. After several days of this chaos, when they finally settled down and what was left of the Dome’s functions were wrestled back under control, the northmost portion United States upward as well as the northern halves of Europe and Asia had become icy wastelands. Of those who survived, some braved the harsh environment and remained living where they were, but most fled south to warmer climates. In the aftermath, the Prime Foundation apologized for the malfunction in the World Dome and handled itself well in the public eye while making what reparations it could to victims and their families.
Second, once things began to settle down again and the One World Government was trying to reestablish control, it was discovered that the threat of aliens was nothing more than a hoax. The transmissions had been faked. The stories of invasion by outsiders had been perpetrated by elements in the then-existing United Nations to frighten the people of Earth into uniting under a single umbrella.
Waves of riots and protests followed. Those in the government who were believed responsible for the hoax were punished, but it was too late for that. The trust had been broken, and the government no longer had the resources to enforce its policies. Without the ability to maintain control, the One World Government was dissolved. In its place, the populace, who were now accustomed to identifying themselves by what allegiance they’d pledged online, effectively became citizens of whatever faction they’d joined. The lands were lawless, death was now common and life had become cheap, so the most people felt they could do was to cling to whatever banner emerged.
The major media outlets – and the companies that owned them – took advantage of this state of affairs to earn greater allegiance from the world’s population than ever before. They found that people responded best to content with shock value. Live broadcasts of executions topped the list. So, they took a page from television’s history of success with reality shows and created potentially lethal games to show to the world. At first the games involved prisoners that had previously been scheduled to be put to death during the One World Government’s reign.
The ratings were phenomenal. Soon they moved to prisoners with lesser sentences. Then when the remaining prisons emptied, they began taking volunteers from the general public. After a while, when disputes between major companies or other groups arose, they took to settling it through games of the same type. Since any individual with a camera (either internal or external) had the ability to stream these games live, everyone stood a chance of their ratings increasing from it, and thus their number of followers.
The most important of these contests – usually those that were between representatives of RingCorp and the Prime Foundation – were soon held on a regular basis. The matches displayed the latest in biotechnology and personal defense devices. These contests became known as the EarthTech Trials.
And so it has been to this day.