In 2048, Wikipedia does not exist. Without enough donations and too many copyright claims, it must be closed. In 2049, a new substitute rises: Omnipedia, built in the spirit of its predecessors as a free encyclopedia for everyone. Days after Omnipedia’s launch, key investor Xu Shaoyong, arguably the most powerful man on the planet, was assassinated.
This is the fictional universe of Neurocracy, an experimental storytelling project that takes place over 10 episodes, and starts on July 14. Through Omnipedia, it invites readers to solve Xu̵
Whether you see Neurocracy as hypertext fiction or an outgrowth of an alternative reality game, it is the first project of its kind, using a medium that we take for granted every day. The entire game takes place in your browser on the Omnipedia page. Each weekly episode represents a day in Neurocracy, and as time goes on, Omnipedia listings will undergo updates and revisions just like the real Wikipedia. There is other types of wiki-based metafiction – projects like Excalibur, which is designed as a fan-created wiki for a fictional TV show. But no one tells a story like this.
The game has been in the works for years, albeit in different forms. In 2019, the creators Joannes Truyens and Matei Stanca began to consider crowdfunding to keep the development going. author Truyens had started working on the project in 2016 based on an idea for a sci-fi world that he had 20 years ago as a teenager. The following year, they raised a modest £ 12,000 on Kickstarter, which allowed them to order art for Omnipedia from concept artist and illustrator Alice Duke. Since then, the project has cultivated a cohesive society that eagerly shares theories about Neurocracy Disagreement. The final project boasts over 30 different articles, each carefully constructed in the same familiar dry wiki tone with thorough quotes, each echoing with its own episodic variations.
But 2019 was an eternity ago. Our new coronal reality shares nervous parallels Neurocracy, which deals with overly familiar points in modern anxiety: pandemics, billionaires, AI, climate change and biosafety in the name of public health. “Even when an actual, real pandemic fell and began to prevent some of NeurocracyWith the world format, the Wikipedia format has allowed us to quickly adapt and incorporate the lessons of this first modern pandemic into our fictional one, ”says Truyens, who struggled to mention COVID-19 at all. “Finally, it’s one of those mass-scale events that divides history into a before and after, so I couldn’t leave it out.”
NeurocracyThe origins go back to the early 2000s when Truyens and Stanca met through Half life modding scene. They worked on a few projects, which led to one Deus Ex-inspired total conversion towards called Omnius Global, which followed Marc Laidlaw’s script-style format for Half life 2. While Omnius Global did not go anywhere – Truyens does not mince words about the quality of the old script – it contained an important element in Neurocracy’s narrative foundation, its wiki-style history bible. The text of the universe in Deus Ex had such a profound worldwide influence on Truyens that he included the lead author, Sheldon Pacotti, in Omnipedia.
“A large part of the depiction of AI in Neurocracy is based on his work, to the point that it is called ‘Pacotti architecture’ ‘, says Truyens, pointing to one of Pacotti’s articles as the basis for his fictional AI. On his blog he attributes Neurocracy“concept art is the latest art” approach to Deus Ex – a vision reinforced by illustrator Duke’s artistic direction for the world in 2049. “Neurocracy invites players to add their own meanings and interpretations to what they read on Omnipedia, and the idea is that the graphics should have a similar space of opportunity, says Truyens.
Pacotti has not been able to contribute Neurocracy (yet), but Truyens is far from alone. He has put together a dream team whose vastly different interests and writing styles only strengthen the game’s fiction about more people contributing to Omnipedia. Guest writers include award-winning narrative designer Leigh Alexander, sci-fi writers Malka Older and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and author / critic Axel Taiari. Elderly people teach predictive fiction and have led humanitarian aid work in Darfur, Indonesia and Japan. Wijeratne researches misinformation and online communities and founded the fact-checking group Watchdog. Alexander has been at the forefront of internet culture and almost futuristic writing for years, and Taiari has over a decade of experience in technical writing in the infosec sector. (He is also starting a doctoral program on hypertextuality.)
NeurocracyThe wiki format also invites us to explore our changing relationship with ubiquitous language technology, which includes everything from Gmail response suggestions to AI transcription services. As a researcher, Wijeratne works continuously with human-AI language technology; in one case, he retrained an OpenAI GPT-2 language model to write poetry for his novel Salvage Crew. He even had a language model trained on Wikipedia bios, which suited him well Neurocracy. In the future, Omnipedia listings will be compiled by artificial neural networks before human editors step in.
“I had trained it as a demonstration of what we could face in the next few years with human editing and AI ‘textual diarrhea’, combined to build authoritative looking websites with huge amounts of content in days,” explains Wijeratne. “I watched Neurocracy and thought: this is perfect. It gave me vibes off Deus Ex, SCP wiki and Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths. As with the other guest writers, for Wijeratne, the prospects to contribute Neurocracy was a no-brainer.
Given the episodic format of the game and the modern horror of spoilers, it is incredibly difficult to get hard details from any of the authors about their contributions. Malka Older, who specializes in disaster preparedness, geopolitics and world building, is understandably kind to her stories. Leigh Alexander uses his interest in the social and cultural effects of technology to balance the hard science. “I decided to come at Neurocracyher world through media, entertainment and play, ”she says, pointing to her narrative work in games, which recently included Love Island 2019, based on the British reality show. “And while I love all kinds of storytelling, I’m busy right now with reality TV and micro celebrities. It felt very important to me to have these elements in every vision of the future. ”
Even just going through the demo, it’s clear that Neurocracy is not just about a murder. It’s a corner of an intricate, multifaceted mystery calling for a Pepe Silvia conspiracy board. Taiari points out that building a great mystery just does not work for the hypertext format, which requires careful layers of storytelling. Truyens briefed guest writers on his extensive notes and plotlines and gave everyone the freedom to explore on their own. “None of our contributions are even close to being similar,” Taiari said. “And yet, because we all started the exploration from the same vantage point, and came back to it, everything is interconnected – like a cave system. On top of that, it adds the temporal, episodic angle of a Mr. Robot-like layer and provides a unifying thread. ”
When it comes to more information about fictional Omnipedia editors and mods and other features in the game, Truyens provides nothing. “The hope is that we establish a certain degree of feedback from the audience, where we release an episode, look at the story theories that emerge, and then adapt the next episode to these theories,” he explains, directing him closer to an experimental dungeon master. rather than a conventional author. “There are many threads where we have left things on purpose ambiguous or undefined.” New players are welcome to join Neurocracy Disagreement, which is already full of reader theories. “If we end up with a subreddit, that’s fine too,” Truyens said. “We know the end, it’s just a matter of what we want and do not want to communicate about it,” he adds quite cryptically.
Considering how attached we are to our devices, to the astonishing convenience of accessing the entire history of mankind with a few clicks and swipes, the idea of Neurocracy seems natural. Wikipedia is not just for niche interests; it is a part of daily modern life as a utilitarian descendant of early internet message boards and forums. “Having a futuristic storytelling experience that unfolds over a fictional Wikipedia feels much more accessible to me as a concept now than it would have felt even 10 years ago,” says Alexander.
Simultaneous, Neurocracy is a fantastic example of how Truyens and Stanca undermine our relationship to ergodic text – that is, text that you have to make an effort to understand, which some consider to be a downplay in traditional games where the focus is on games and mechanics. Ironically, many of the same people boast of never reading World of Warcraft world-building text and dialogue also spend hours attending arcane theorycrafting forums and convoluted game guides. “Most literature is, by design, as non-ergodic as possible. As a writer, it is my job to let the reader turn the page, says Wijeratne. “Hypertext is a niche because it needs the not-so-great effort to cross the story. The irony is that more people are also navigating in hypertext in connection with games: game wiki. “
Wikipedia is far more than a bone-chilling resource for basic information about history and geology or quantum physics theories that your girlfriend will not shut up about. It has become a sinkhole that for many of us is prepared to cross deep into the wee hours of the morning, and a perfectly shaped door to narrative experiments that question the way we examine real media. “There is no game to play if we tell you what to solve, or how to solve it, or if it can be solved at all,” says Taiari. As a result, all ingrained pattern recognition and habits that players have when it comes to wikis are encrypted. Is this page meant to help me, or fool me? Who wrote this and why … what does it mean to me as a player? What should I care about and try to decode? “
Ultimately, to borrow from something Truyens told me in 2019, Neurocracy is a story we tell ourselves – a way to make sense of the world given to us in Omnipedia, and perhaps come to some realizations about our current reality in the process. “If what we were trying to do Neurocracy works, players will generate their own read / play / decode strategies and in turn tell the world to themselves and others, says Taiari. “The stories that emerge as a result, whether they decrypt parts of the world or contribute to the occlusion – well, these stories are not ours to tell.”
For those who missed Kickstarter, the game will be available for purchase directly via Omnipedia at Neurocracy. Website.