An Endzeitgeist.com review
This expansion for Cybergeneration 2027 clocks in at 82 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 75 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This book was gifted to me by one of my patreons for the purpose of a prioritized review.
Ah, cybergeneration 2027 - here we are again, and this time, we're talking about media and its role in the comparatively now retro and not-so-far future of 2027, and, once again, the sourcebook has undoubtedly aged a bit - but actually less than what one would consider at first. The introductory, in-character chapter that highlights the status quo of the combat against the powers-that-be is interesting, in that what it says, criticism-wise about TV and the like, still holds true to this date - as a n indoctrination form of media and as a kind of sedative, its social ramifications are pretty much as anticipated. Similarly, the notion of subliminal messages, while different in how it is considered today, has found application in psychology, advertisement, etc. - the way in which the like works may be different in reality, but the notion of messages and impulses being conveyed via non-explicit means is very much one that we can observe every day.
The book does contain rules to resist the more explicit and powerful subliminal messages that are considered to be existing in the game-world and the pdf also talks about music - here, the predictions ring less true than regarding other media: Considering the way in which MP3s and the internet in general have acted as a democratizing factor for the various types of music, the notion of corporate-controlled audio-media seems ridiculous from the perspective of these days, at least if you're like me and deeply entrenched in the more obscure types of music out there. Then again, it is hardly the book's fault that it could not anticipate e.g. the existence of obscure styles like doom jazz, the infinite iterations of strange music and the like. Taking a cue from Philip K. Dick, the addictive idea of braindance, addictive control over one's endorphins via so-called braindance chips, can be found here: Not as destructive as Shadowrun's BTL-chips, but still dangerous.
The way in which virtuality is depicted is another one that has not yet aligned properly - the virtual reality here is not yet a thoroughly suffused space, though the consequences of advertisement and its less nice components in the real world should allow for plenty of inspiration to further modify this particular section. Beyond this general overview, the media stations, as presented, make for perhaps the component of the book, where dystopia and reality come most disturbingly close: The big media agencies and how they cater to ideologies and agendas. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduct how Fox News, tabloid newspapers and private persons, politicians and terrorists alike nowadays spin media, how they bury crucial information.
Here's a disturbing experiment for you: Remember in the 80s and 90s, when we all were afraid of surveillance of the Orwellian Big Brother? During the war on terror and our panic, governments throughout the world have started using surveillance methods that would have resulted in massive protests a few years before that...and worse, due to the digital revolution in social media, we don't even need to be surveyed any more: For the most part, we take care of that ourselves via our accounts, our constant sharing of even the most ill-conceived of opinions...and we thus engage in struggles we wouldn't have a few years back. Worse, at one point, we, as a collective conglomerate of cultures, seem to have lost, at least to a degree, the ability to engage in a critical discussion. It took me many years to realize that, what at one point was simply a discussion on different points of view, is nowadays considered to be "rude", that discussing politics, faith, belief etc. has become all but impossible with many folks, as any diverging opinion leads to the fear of offending one another.
I frankly don't get it. This polarization is poison for the democratic process...but, to a degree, it is instilled by media, it is the product of a dystopian vision that is much closer to our state of affairs than the Orwellian: Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" - as he correctly predicted back in interviews (you can look those up on youtube),. we have arrived at a state, where the issue is not that valid and viable information cannot be found, but rather at a state where we have a VERY hard time distinguishing correct and crucial information from the incessant flood of meaningless drivel. It is this concept that has given rise to the notion of "fake News" in the first place - and it is devious. Why? Because the first thing any autocratic government needs to do, is to discredit media supportive of a non-autocratic stance; it is, to a certain degree, an immunization and indoctrination via doubts that hampers the ability of the opposed forces to act, while at the same time fortifying the resolve of one's followers. Never mind that, once sufficient disparity has been created, these very forces will generate what you'd consider "Fake News" by an objective point of view. As an aside, the same process has been applied, for many years, towards sciences, slowly undermining the credibility of FACTS in the public eye...but that is something for a different rant.
Sorry for the digression, but there's a reason for it: This book depicts a media-landscape that is very much the product of such a process - and as such, it remains frighteningly topical, at least as far as I'm concerned. Once again, btw., we have the respective media-outlets discussed in a way that shows players how to make use of them. Beyond these, different strategies of resistance are discussed from ski patrolling to the shotgun approach of CyberRevolution propaganda championed in Baton Rouge. We learn about erasing subliminal messages, about inserting their own in broadcasts (slippery slope there, from an ethical perspective...).
The state of the media and the history of its development (including direct cable and HDTV!) are talked about and while not all achievements of modern media structures have been anticipated, enough have been featured. Granted, the RAM-sizes discussed in the equipment-section, and the like don't look so staggering as they once might have, but as a whole, this chapter still holds up rather well, with small HDs, flatcams and the like. The pdf also explains, in detail, the jargon associated with the media landscape, which is a nice plus indeed. Media manipulation skill checks, cracking encoded information, the interaction with different forms of media - the chapter is pretty comprehensive and should allow for a rather easy upgrade to include changes since the book's original publication.
Signal piracy and all the tools for the trade are included in the respective chapter, featuring the shop-window-dressing-style classic visual representations of quite a bunch of the respective tools. Beyond these, we also are introduced to two new yogangs, the first of whom would be the lookers, who basically have mastered the art of manipulation - their yogang skill is based on ATT and is called The Look - it lets them bypass age-restrictions, score modeling contracts, money, etc. - basically, they are the good-looking style-guide. The taggers take the graffiti and tagging aspect and their yogang skill is based on EMP, allowing them to read and conceal messages in tags....which is significantly less useful than most yogang skills.
Beyond these two yogangs, we do get a new type of cyberevolved, the Jammer, a converter of sonic energy, both on the receiving and transmitting end, allowing for the modulation of one's voice, reception and stunning screams etc. The hexite-lined throat also lets them swallow contraband...some other interesting uses for the effects of the Carbon Plague have also been provided, but, as a whole, I wasn't too impressed by the jammer.
The Gen GM-section provides rules for audience approval...and it helps codifying tasks and tells the Gm to NOT follow the rules when it would hamper their enjoyment of the system. Sample NPCs are up next, with two fully depicted, including stats...
...and this is how far I can go without delving into MASSIVE SPOILER TERRITORY. The book's final third is taken up by the module "Occult of Personality" - and if you want to play this, you should jump to the conclusion RIGHT NOW.
All right, only GMs around? Great! We begin this module with propaganda: A whole bunch of it, including buzzwords etc. - namely pertaining the persecution of the Evolved, which has been on the rise for a while. The sample angles for the various forms of media we receive here add a nice level of detail (and probably uncomfortable feelings) to the proceedings. If the characters have partaken in EcoFront's module, they will remember the vidiot-yogang nightcrawlers, who are embarking on a counter-propaganda wave. The module then assumes that a family member (or nearby NPC) embraces the cold, hard logic of the propaganda and turns them in - which results in a fun assassination attempt. Yay. While the book does mention the serious impact this can have on trust between PCs and adults, it is also a VERY dark turn - not all cybergeneration games will be particularly stoked by it. Particularly if you're running the game for kids, it should be mentioned that I'd strongly suggest toning down the potentially rather disturbing fallout this can have. (Then again, a lot of movies do exactly this plotline, so I'm not penalizing the module for it - it's just something to bear in mind...)
The module continues with the nightcrawlers trying to deduce what happened, to a pretty solid guy from the CDC who vanished at one point - Dr. David Chiang. The trail leads to a killed Facer and from there, it is a series of interactions, not all of them nonviolent, with aspects of yogang street-culture, all in order to gain a V-card...and there's a mole subplot here as well. Ultimately, the information and potential crackdows should make clear that they are on to something - and while they do have the information to proof media manipulation, Chiang is still missing - and the legwork to ferret out leads is very detailed and requires some serious skill on parts of the players. With some serious legwork, the PCs can piece together enough of Chiang to make a digital V-Chiang to get on air and fight a propaganda battle - and that makes for a rather amazing and uncommon climax indeed. I really, really liked it - and yes, I only grazed at the subplots and actual tasks before the PCs...but you do want to play this, right?
Editing and formatting are a bit less concise than usual for Cybergeneration supplements - I noticed a few typos here and there. Layout adheres to the nice, classic 2-column b/w-standard with a lot of original, well-made and internally concise artworks. The scan this time around is qualitatively solid and didn't sport blemishes. As a huge downside, though, we get NO BOOKMARKS. Pdfs sans bookmarks make navigation a big hassle. I can't comment on the dead tree version, since I do not own it.
Edward Bolme, Will Moss, David Ackerman, Justin Schmid and Eric Heisserer's MediaFront is actually my favorite of the 3 "-Front"-expansion books. It has aged remarkably well regarding its tone and overall tropes. While its module requires some tact to pull off properly, it is also one of my favorites, as its focus on legwork and being smart is very pronounced; the uncommon finale in particular adds a sense of unconventional gravitas and tension to the proceedings, one beyond "bad guys shoot at us" - this makes the book, as a whole, by far my favorite in the expansion-series. That being said, at the same, there are aspects here where the book has aged, and where a careful facelift would make sense. The new CyberEvolved isn't that glorious and I'm not the biggest fan of the taggers either, but those remain two minor complaints in an otherwise compelling and interesting sourcebook that is well worth checking out, even beyond the confines of the rules-system.
The flaws, however, in conjunction with the lack of bookmarks for the pdf, do unfortunately prohibit me from rating this as highly as I'd like to - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.