Playing the Game: Can I be a Collective Mind?

Jerry G. on our Facebook page asked, "Any thoughts on how you would do a Borganism PC?" I really ought to be working on the opening fiction for Hotfix right now; thank science for this enticing distraction! So, to complement the GMing posts I've been doing, my first post on being a player...

First off, definitions: a "borganism," according to Wiktionary, is, "An organization of autonomous organisms that exhibit collectivism: individual "units" that have merged to yield a unified construct. Such an amalgam may possess a collective consciousness, arguably an emergent phenomenon of social networking." (I had to look it up, although I had a feeling from the morpheme "borg" what it meant).

Sure, why not? Eclipse Phase is made to allow this type of experimental character. Much of what you need is already in the Core rules, and you can make up the difference with a little help from a cooperative GM. Now if you want to play a Borgy borganism that goes around assimilating people, you're going to need some house rules. But that'd be pretty antisocial for a PC, so let's assume you want to make a colony mind that's friendly toward those outside of it.

The possibility of emergent consciousness fascinates me. Hell, if you believe Marvin Minsky, we're all in effect colony minds made of many agents, and consciousness is just our analog to a CPU scheduler. If you look at it this way, the challenge has more to do with role-play than with the rules. You should lay out for yourself how your colony mind arose in the first place, what its constituent pieces want, and how strong various "factions" within it are relative to others.

Do the mental agents who take an aggressive tack toward the world outside their society of mind hold sway, or is there a faction of mental agents who just want to get along? Do agents that control making long-term plans tend to win out, or is your organism more one that reacts quickly to its environment? Really what you're doing is making a whole bunch of characters, making them share the same body, and then deciding who wins out in certain situations.

As far as mental traits/augmentations, several jump out as useful for representing this type of character: Multiple Personalities, Multitasking, and Oracles. Multiple Personalities lets you give different factions of agents within the character's mind their own skill sets. Multitasking reflects well the multi-threaded nature of the character's consciousness. Oracles is written in the rules as a subservient nano-colony that filters your experiences and reports back, but in a character like this, it could have a will of its own. There are a number of other mental traits and augmentations in the book that could apply if you simply keep their game mechanics effects but change the explanation of how they work under the hood to reflect a colony mind.

But I have a feeling what you're really after are some ideas for physically representing the character's mental state, and here you've already got three good options in Core rules (and again more, if your GM is on board):

  • Swarmanoid. The most obvious morph choice. In a character based on an emergent social consciousness, you can presume that rather than a single ego having been downloaded into the swarm, this particular swarm had been  programmed to operate autonomously (perhaps under the control of a number of pre-sentient AIs) and then, through complex interactions of the various agents, emerged to consciousness on its own.
  • Flexbot. Similarly, a flexbot doesn't have to have been created in one piece. It could have started out as part of a swarm of autonomous bots that emerged and joined together to make a colony.
  • Multiple pod morphs. This is a high-CP option, probably most appropriate as a long-term goal for a singularity seeker or similar character. Basically, take a bunch of pods (and/or synths) and equip them with ghostrider modules and puppet socks (which I think all pods come with stock anyway). Install a non-sentient AI in their cyberbrains to control autonomic functions. Then have a body-hopping infomorph that lives in one of the ghostrider modules and uses jamming/teleoperation on the rest of the bodies to control the group. That would be the game mechanics explanation; you're of course free to say that the consciousness is spread over the bodies and contributed to in varying degrees by the controlling AIs.
Hope that helps! Happy hiveminding!