Monday, 2 December 2013

Traveller, the epi-character and a very long game

First go read this. Epigenetics focuses on the idea of meaningful genetic change being passed down the generations by means other than DNA. Lamarckism is the supposedly discredited thinking that change to an organism in a single lifetime can also be inherited.

The article suggests that life has developed methods to transfer by reproduction not only genetic information, but even the experiences of the parents, a form of actual knowledge.

The significance of this is difficult to downplay, and the ramifications are going to keep people occupied for a long time. This is something traditionally fantastical, hard sci-fi at best. Before I come back to what this could really mean, a quick detour through gaming.

As mentioned in the comments to the last post, the early sci-fi RPG Traveller is getting a lot of love lately, possibly because Starter Traveller is free to download until the end of the month. If you're wavering, classic Traveller had a major influence on later games, and quite possibly 40K too, plus it's a fine system, and fairly rigorous too. There's more on the many versions here. One of the things the game is well-known for is its character generation, which can generate long lives and even a character die before play proper begins. But one thing that system doesn't cover is an epigenetic or Lamarckian heritage.

Imagine a character generation mini-game to find the relevant aspects of the character's parents, or ancestors further back. It could get to be almost Microscopic. This thinking also suggests an expansion of the minus level approach, not simply that when your character is killed, the next character you play is someone in the vicinity, but that the game is played over multiple generations at once, with parents, siblings, cousins and so on being essentially insparable, part of a broad and deep 'epi-character'. Now that's epic.

Back to the science then. If the results hold up - not all do of course - the epi-character idea seems to translate well to our own world. Again, not so very long ago the idea that specific life experience could be transferred at reproduction down the generations was largely beyond the pale. What could future research reveal..? How complex might the model of life on earth get? Could it be that all earthly life really is one vast symbiotic organism, and not only resisting entropy in ways we don't yet suspect, but maybe in some form actually planning after all? We hear misleading talk of selecting for, as if life thinks ahead, but this understanding could now be a step closer. Is this a perigenetics?

And if living matter really has arrived or been ejected on troids, as per panspermia, could we be part even of a single interstellar organism, the stake in a gamble that we one day make it back out and deliver the experience of billions of years to a galactic melting pot?

That's a myth for our time, for a species ready to replace itself with artificial forms, and on the verge of interstellar travel - read this gameblog post and Centauri Dreams. It's Baruch Spinoza meets Olaf Stapledon, with a dash of Orion's Arm or even Omega Point.


garrisonjames said...

Generations of characters is an fascinating aspect of a campaign that we really enjoy. Lineage and parentage, inheritance and all that sort of thing is wonderful plot-driving and imagination-sparking stuff in an RPG context or in a fictional milieu.

Deliberately building something like this in a more forward-looking manner, using technology like cloning, for instance, opens the way to all sorts of things--good, bad and very ugly--making it a great thing for certain factions, forces or societies...and a complete nightmare for others. There's an intriguing conflict to explore.

Genealogy has a good deal to offer. With or without complicated family trees, birth records/death certificates, the legal definition of undead, the rights of the dead/undead/resurrected, lines of progenitorship and inheritance among extremely long-lived beings who may have multiple lineages that they've personally started/ gets massively complex and convoluted fast...and that means there's a ton of stuff to consider, explore and examine...

Marc Pavone said...

I put out a scenario setting for a zombie apocalypse with aliens as the catylist a while back. The PC's are kids (unaffected by the aliens) and I wanted a way to give them a backgroung and some reason for knowimg what they know. My solution was to base their skilss on what their parents did for a living and inadvertently passed on. I can provide a link later when I have access to my laptop. My system and what you're talking about seem to go hand in hand.

Nurglitch said...

I recall epigenetics being less about some sort of Lamarkian modification of genetic code so much as being the heritable changes in its expression.

The Inner Geek said...

Deep as usual!

Up here in the shallow end I can see some excellent use for the ancestral mini-game. It could really help to flesh out a characters past and, therefore, motivations and even some personality quirks. For example, if I knew my grandfather was a starship captain, I might have an acute inferiority complex stemming from my job in the ships galley. Especially if it was the same ship!

Porky said...

@ garrisonjames - That thinking and those ideas are a reason your cosmos has such depth of course, and Bujilli is a good example of the work in action, especially recently. Elaborations of the point about about definitions, rights and even ownership of various shades of life and unlife is something relatively rarely seen, but likely to be important.

@ Marc Pavone - I think I remember reading that, and if I remember rightly I thought that core concept was outstanding. Children do often take pride in what their parents do, and soak up at least odd details, if not follow closely.

@ Nurglitch - Hello there. Yes, both my phrasing and yours seem correct. I think we'd need a quorum of relevant specialists to tell us for sure. It's a pleasure to have you visit by the way. Would you consider lifting the restriction we once discussed? I'd be sparing.

@ The Inner Geek - Not such a deep end. That's a pretty good example of how it might be used practically, and evocative in itself too, and it could lead to some subtle influences on individual events, or turn the flow over the course of a campaign.

Trey said...

As usual, Porky hints at interesting depths and Jim plumbs them.

Porky said...

It's what the pink-faced fellow is here for, and what he - if even a he - does in general. You guys get it already of course. The target audience are the people reading who hardly ever or never comment, because they can't or won't, or just don't, maybe because they worry about what they might say. If it's that last case, we're probably moving at a good speed.