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Mutant City Blues, an excellent setting for a GUMSHOE system, is set "ten years in the future" of whenever the game starts.

However, as I want the game to be about powers (the heightened) and not about the world-changing tech that may appear in 10 years, what are some effective ways of explaining the preservation of the status quo?

Obviously, phones are better, the net is faster, but there are no new killer apps (like the internet), no Rainbows End style Augmented Reality meshes, no singularity, and so forth.

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It seems that the point of a "ten years into the future" timeline is exactly so that there isn't great change. It takes 10 years or more for a cutting-edge technology to go mainstream, so anything you've never heard of today is still experimental, and anything you'd like to make ubiquitous is, but nothing has to be. The reason is that it takes time for things to be adopted. – Sean McMillan Nov 28 '11 at 14:11

11 Answers 11

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Well, there's always the option of setting it "today" and beginning the power divergence ten years ago.

Besides that, just posit there's a couple small and not that important developments as a conceptual sop. Between 2001 and today there's not a lot of big changes that are that interesting from Joe Cop's level. Our cell phones are spiffier, mainly. Take a couple three things like that and think out the ramifications and make sure they won't mess with you, then put those in, and the players will spend time playing with them instead of other stuff you haven't thought of. "You can type by just tapping the air because everything has a mini-Kinect built in!" is cool but doesn't help any skill checks. Heck, it can also help in terms of justifying uses of skills - the "CSI" kinds of skills are pretty boring to do realistically, so getting quick answers to "run that DNA" or "is that a virus" or whatnot can be part of the advancement.

It's easy enough to mostly tread water for ten years. Opposing administrations were in power so privacy busting got canceled out by privacy invading (this is the most relevant tech to law enforcement - the first thing PC cops in 2021 will ask is "so can I get everyone on camera everywhere and tap anyone's cell phone at will and..."). People tried augmented reality but some hacker messed with people's glasses and caused some tragedies and popular sentiment went to "I don't trust that stuff enough to look through it."

Also, once powers appeared a lot of public focus, government worrying, and R&D money went into that instead of the other areas where it had been focused. So we got new "SuperFacebook" instead of anything more meaningful, and the power detection/prevention/understanding tech mentioned in MCB was really expensive/hard to make and siphoned off resources.

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If you look back over the developments of the last 10 years, there hasn't been a great deal of new technology - just an increase in pervasiveness and appeal (usenet to Facebook) and consolidation of some devices (PDAs and Phones) with some facelifts that made everything available before so much more usable and integrated by more people.

Perhaps more prevalent will be additional laws and policies regarding technology - for example, everyone may have a TrueID, or cameras in devices may be implanted with technology that stops them from being used for nefarious purposes (much like many color copiers cannot actually copy some printed money). Maybe someone cracks network and communications protocols so badly that the only way to ensure privacy is to use closed network systems (ie the return of the telephone booth) - that's what appears to be the case in the revisioning of Battlestar Galactica.

What you might want to focus on, instead of the technology are new sets of friends and adversaries in the world. For example, consider a really vast, untapped supply of oil found in Mexico, turning that country into everyone's best friend and suddenly a very wealthy neighbor to the USA. Maybe one power comes to dominate the entire Middle East.

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I'd suggest not worrying about preserving the status quo and focusing your narrative energies elsewhere. If someone needs to use a phone, it is a phone. A computer is a computer and it does computer things. What's important to your game are the powers, so lavish loving detail on those and let the technology be a background element. If it becomes a plot point, ask your player: "Cool, how small and fast and efficient is it?" It's still just a tool, unlike the cool powers at center stage.

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Let's see... the big tech break of the last 10 years...

My cellphone is 1/10th the volume, and 1/20th the weight, and is also an MP3 player, 1.2MPx camera and mini-comp. Most cars are pretty much the same. Most people's home computers are more powerful, but not much else has changed with them.

Oh, and social media have launched big.

So, figure out what has changed, and what's likely to continue to change (better cell-net, better and smaller net appliances,probably more cloud computing)...

But the distribution of wealth has changed, and is likely to continue to do so... the few rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting more and poorer by comparison, but the basic standard of living is holding about the same...

And just point out that most of the rest has't changed much, and for the average person access to the neat new gadgets just isn't affordable.

Edit, 26 Nov 2011: I will note that several new criminological technologies are emerging. DNA 26 allele testing is likely to be doable on a chip in minutes within the next 5 years. Already, DNA testing on-chip is developed ( ), just not readily available. That's going to be a game changer... unless the courts intervene.

Even then, the ability to take a court order and determine on the spot if they are in fact a high-allele match will change the nature of DNA use - moving it more to grounds for arrest. A DNA positive in the field will then be arrest immediately and sort out the details.

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That's a nice plot element to use - sort of a Minority Report type of thing, but for DNA. A DNA crimes division, especially if the device is highly technical or fragile. Keep files on known felons to immediately tag a likely suspect, or rule them out. Not quite pre-crime, but if you use it as a deterrent, then any crime that the DCD is called in for is immediately high profile... – SnakeDr68 Nov 27 '11 at 4:02
@wraith808 (unfortunately/fortunately) that tech is expected to hit 1L or smaller and field ruggedized as much as a laptop within the next 10 years. The chip is only 2cm x 2cm. – aramis Nov 28 '11 at 4:38

You can build the future without inventing new technology.

  • Today's high tech will be more ubiquitous in 2021. Everyone in Africa will have smartphones and tablet computers, and most people will be driving electric cars. E-books will be the norm.
  • Things will be better and more efficient. Faster networks, longer lasting batteries, fuel efficient jetliners…

Other than that, you can assume that any newtech in 2021 isn't world-changing because it hasn't caught on yet. Your characters won't encounter 2021 newtech on their daily lives, unless you decide to make it important for your adventure, in which case you can give it more attention.

But I'd still suggest that you hint about peripheral advances that won't impact lives directly, such as a manned mission to Mars, in order to create the atmosphere of living in the future.

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It's a challenging setup, and the easiest way to deal with it, for me, is to ignore the issue. You don't have to explain away alternative, hypothetical futures, or failed predictions - you're not the one who made them, futurists did. Sweep the whole issue under the carpet with something along the lines of "yeah, they were all wrong and are deeply embarrassed by it, turns out the world didn't actually change at all" and instead focus on powers and what changes have come along with them.

By ignoring the details and making the changes unimportant portions of the background, you can:
- Make sure that your adventure stays focused on the interesting portions of the system
- If the technology ever does become important to the plot, you can god-hand it into the right setup. Phones can suddenly be small enough to fit in a keyhole if that's important (but maybe only super-spies have that version), holographic displays can be advertised and be available at exorbitant prices (so maybe one will become briefly available to characters to advance the plot, and turn out to be mostly useless otherwise), etc...

Whether this works or not, of course, depends on you, your players, and your combined interests. If it turns out that, despite best efforts, the most interesting portion of your play is constantly the potentially advanced technology that will be available 10 years from now, you also, by having ignored the details at the start, can slowly flesh out a different kind of adventure series. For example, you can turn your campaign into one where you're slowly making your way through a developing singularity...

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+1 for people's predictions about the future being wrong. It's the only gess that's consistently accurate. – GMJoe Jul 2 '12 at 6:30

You don't necessarily have to set it in the industrialised, western world, set it somewhere poorer and whatever groundbreaking super technology the west might have is inaccessible to you.

eg. Imagine 10 years from now, everyone's cars run on hydrogen, the result is a collapse in the economies of the middle east (and texas :) ) turning them into impoverished, fanatical, war-torn areas full of low-level radiation which is perfect for your characters (assuming you need a reason for mutant powers), and all your PCs are thus stuck in those areas, and not allowed out to threaten the peaceful 'gated enclosures' the rest of the world threw up to protect themselves from "mutant scum" like you. They have the fancy mobile-internet-direct-brain-connections and virtual reality visualisation softwares, and the clean and fast road network, and the super-powerful AI-controlled lasers (you know, the ones pointing at you at the border)

And all you can get is an 2010-era mobile phone, with 200 texts per month on your local phone network. Don't you just wish you lived in clean Germany where everyone has their own personal domestic robot, or sunny France where everyone works just 10 hours a week and spends the rest of their time having sex and writing poetry.

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Bufferbloat! Why you've got many times as much bandwidth as ten years ago but your connection does not feel many times faster. It's also satisfyingly techy, depressingly stupid, and basically comes down to corporate profits and arrogance :-)

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Natural disasters such as major earthquakes/floods could set a world back tech wise.

Also many literature use virus/plagues/infections that wipe out majority of the civilization back a step technology wise but forward a step forward mutant/magical wise.

Are these the types of answers or ideas you are looking for?

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Not ... quite. I'm looking for subtle reasons why we don't get any of the predicted revolutionary tech advantages, not things that would strongly impact the setting otherwise.. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 13 '11 at 5:28

I agree that the world has changed significantly over the last decade. So it will be hard to make it realistic that very little will change in the next 10 years.

One reason you can give is that there was a great disease, which targeted people with the greatest IQ, or the more creative people. Hence why innovation has stalled over the decade.

Another reason is that most countries have gone bust, and there wasn't any money given to any innovation. Or the innovative people went to China and India because they were the ones with the money.

Or new government policy has been passed as law a decade earlier, where any new innovative idea has to get past a lot of government red tape.

Basically, anything that will slow down or stop creativity and innovation is the best way to explain it.

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Just tell the players that SOPA was made into law in 2012, and all of the innovation-killing warned by critics happened. Also, something about patents...

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