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Neurally Enabled Content (NEC)
This document describes high-level concepts; for the mechanical underpinings refer to NET Mechanics.
Neurally Enabled Content is any content made available via the NET that is capable of transmitting data that is parseable in such a way that it stimulates the Human brain with false sensory stimuli. In other words, data that allows a user to participate in a virtual reality.
Conceptually NEC is a unit of programmed content, both in singular and aggregate form. Thus an interactive game Mindscape is collectively a giant bundle of NEC, but more precisely it's really a collection of millions of modular NEC units. For instance, in the popular Orb of Kreigerkraft fantasy game an AI controlled "Orc" is simply an NEC unit that bundles several other NEC units, such as the armor it "wears" and the axe it "weilds", as is every other object and entity that can be interacted with.
Each distinct unit of NEC in every Mindscape in existence was programmed by someone or someones. More importantly they can be reused, manipulated, and hacked by those with sufficient knowledge.
Large collections of NEC units composed together and designed to impart a specific sort of experience to a user, ranging from interactive games, to virtual locales (aka NetHoods), commercial shopping venues, virtual workplaces, teleconferencing facilities, and other more esoteric uses, are called "Mindscapes".
Creating a Mindscape is an extended Computer Programming task that requires the NEURALLY ENABLED CONTENT skill subgroup in addition to a industry specific subgroup (such as GAME SOFTWARE to design a Mindscape to support a game or BUSINESS SOFTWARE to design a Mindscape that services commercial transaction). The time required to develop a Mindscape varies widely by complexity and scope, but a simple one room "virtual den" would be something a competant developer could knock out in 8 hours or so from scratch or less time if they used commercially available NEC widgets, whereas a massively multiplayer immersive game would take thousands of man hours and be beyond the scope of a single individual's ability to accomplish on their own.
Unless a character happens to own their own hardware and act as a host (an unusual circumstance, generally limited to hardcore developers and entreprenuers), Mindscapes are hosted on remote servers and are connected to the NET via a Terminal the same as any other online resource. Some Mindscapes are private, but most are public or partially public (requiring an unlock, membership fee, or other commercial transaction to get beyond a certain point).
Mindscapes are discoverable via Search services, links from other locations on the NET, referrals via eMail, and so forth.
Using an existing Mindscape is a far simpler matter than creating one. Assuming they have access, a user simply "enters" the Mindscape through a provided entry point and then for all intents and purposes "lives" in that Mindscape. Due to the immersiveness of the format, the user interacts with the virtual reality in much the same way as they interact in the "meat" reality, by thinking, willing, moving around, and so forth.
There are several different styles of entry points to Mindscapes.
  • Queue: users indicate the desire to enter a Mindscape and enter a queue. While in the queue, the user is in a holding pattern and cannot interact with other users in or out of the Mindscape. This process is usually fast, but popular Mindscapes might have a longer waiting time. The period of time that the user is effectively isolated is an excellent time for various security checks to do their business and thoroughly scan the user's Avatar, similar to going through customs in the meat reality.
  • Lobby: there is an area between the main content of the Mindscape and the NET where users can mingle, group up, or chat. Often a Lobby will also present access points that allow a user to access information, maintain their account information, and possibly check on the status of various concerns contained by that Mindscape. However, typically, to do more significant things requires entry into the Mindscape proper. Lobby's are usually semi-public and typically allow Commerce level interactivity.
  • Bouncer: there is a simple portal, with a "bouncer" of some kind, sometimes literally a personified guard, but just as feasibly a scanner, security pad, or equivalent. A user seeking entry simply picks their Avatar and confirms any required access codes or identity check, and enters the Mindscape immediately.
While technically there is no "space" involved and it's all just an elaborate illusion, the vast majority of human users are far more comfortable when the illusion of distance is maintained. However, Mindscapes vary on how strongly they observe the notion of physical space and locality.
  • None: no illusion of space is provided, or at most merely a small area (perhaps a 10 x 10 "box"); the Mindscape is entirely barren and devoid of manipulateables. Interactions are purely "mental", and the experience is not "immersive" to the five senses. This style is very rarely used commercially, but a new Mindscape starts off at this state before it's designer(s) add NEC.
  • Stage: distinct areas or sets (like the sets of a play) exist, but the "space" between them is not filled in, and the content areas are finite. Travel between the various stages is controlled via some contrivance within the Mindscape itself, such as a public transit system, or a hall and door metaphor.
  • Zones: functionally identical to the Stage style, but Zones are considerably larger than Stages. This is the most common form of Mindscape.
  • Fluid: also known as "Open" (which is preferred by more pedantic techies who find the idea of "fluid" being applied to the strictest form of proximity management to be counterintuitive), this type of Mindscape allows a user to freely traverse it's entirety, providing open expances of lower-density content (such as "forests" or "plains" or "residential areas", etc) to fill in the gaps between high-density content areas. The concept of distance is strictly enforced and is effectively indistinguishable from the meat reality. Immersiveness is generally a focus of the Mindscape. This is considered to be the "ideal" form of Mindscape, but is also the most expensive to develop and is thus reserved for Mindscapes designed to a higher standard.
Some Mindscapes allow users "avatars" to have special abilities that are not normal in the "meat" reality, and they interface the usage of these abilities in various ways, but users of the Mindscape are aware of or trained via tutorials in their use. Similarly some Mindscapes have alternate "physics" or otherwise model an "alternate" basis for reality, which is handled the same way. While it might take a while to get used to a particular Mindscape's peculiarites (and some might even have flat penalties involved in their usage due to their alienness), it generally just requires a learning curve / acclimitization process to adjust.
Most Mindscapes are social or entertainment venues, and have very little relevance to a working Runner as a potential source of income. However, it is a very common practice for multi-national corporations to have "virtual offices" to supplement their actual "brick & mortar" physical offices, and the separation between the two can be very blurry (though this depends on corporate culture to some degree).
A lot of NET based hacking revolves around infiltrating coporate Mindscapes and passing as a legitimate user to gain access to various sensitive resources and information. Another common use is "social engineering" oriented.
There are a handful of specific "types" of Mindscapes that collectively make up the vast majority of the NET, which is simply a matter of usage and prevailing conventions rather than anything substantive. Regardless of what it's used for, a Mindscape is still at root a Mindscape.
  • Online Game: always a big driver of cutting edge NEC, immersive online game Mindscapes have a significant presense on the NET.
  • nNode: an open (unrestricted) Mindscape, typically set to allow Commercial interactions. Most commercial store fronts use this format. Another popular use is for "Virtual Cafes", basically places to hang out or meet up with friends.
  • Media: usually nothing more than an nNode with a focus on media such as trivid or music, but some are more "artsy". For instance, some follow an Art Gallery motif, or feature a virtualized open-air stadium venue for virtual concerts. Fees usually apply.
  • Library: Mindscapes oriented towards data and information feeds, archival stacks, research, and so forth. Some are public, but many require some kind of fee or membership to gain access. Information is power, after all.
  • NETHood: functionally, just a collection of small special purpose Mindscapes explicitly strung together into some kind of an aggregation. Colloquolly, a place to "hang out" on the NET with various distractions and things of interest, stores, and so forth. The NET equivalent to a mall, essentially.
  • Club: a restricted access Mindscape with a social and / or adult focus.
  • VO: "virtual officespace"; a virtualized parrallel to meat reality offices. Used heavily in the corporate sector.
  • Sanctum: some people maintain a private or semi-private NET-based personal base of operations that they self-administrate. This is beyond the skill level or resources of the mainstream, and is a province of the tech-savvy.
In Mindscapes users are represented to other users via an NEC entity that they control; this is referred to as an Avatar. This is a concept that is easy to understand; anyone that has ever played a 3rd person video game has used an Avatar before -- whatever the game used to represent the player's character in the game was in effect their Avatar.
Of course, Avatars don't just make themselves. Skilled users can write their own, a Computer Programming feat that takes a skilled person about four hours to do from scratch, with a -3 penalty to the Skill Roll. Less adroit users typically either have an amateurish-looking self-made Avatar or use one of several NET-based providers to either buy a stock Avatar (cheapest), or use a modular application to make one by choosing from a finite number of body shapes and accessories, or get someone else to make one for them either for money or friendship.
In theory a user's Avatar can be whatever they want it to be, but in practice many Mindscapes have their own rules regarding what constitutes acceptable avatars. This is used for a variety of purposes ranging from verisimilitude in immersive Mindscapes (i.e. in a Hyborean Age interactive game, allowing people to move around looking like futuristic space marines would disrupt the game for many) to the design aesthetics of a Mindscape's designers, and everything in between.
However in "open" Mindscapes such as interactive Chat rooms and NETHoods, users can generally use whatever Avatar they want, with the possible exception of "public decency" guidelines that might apply.
Casual users might only have one Avatar, but most serious users usually have many. Some use them interchangeably, but others are used for specific venues or purposes, such as in a specific chat room or to hang with a certain group of NET friends. Some people are open about who they are across Avatars, but some maintain their Avatars as if they were distinct people, attempting to hide the fact that they are the same person. Some people even share Avatars, adding to the paranoia.
Due to this potential for deception, the wise NET user is always careful about what they confide in others that they meet online, and never take people's identities for granted. Skilled users are adept at sleuthing out the truth of the matter, of course, and like practically everything else imaginable there are even various services revolving around this dynamic.
 There are services that will investigate / audit an Avatar to determine everything publicly available and cross reference activity with other Avatars to identify multiplicity. Similarly, there are services where serious business people and other people that need to cut through all the bs and establish a trusted relationship with potential clients can register their true identity and bond one or more Avatars to it. And of course there are services one can use to obfuscate relationships between Avatars and one's true identity, and permutations of that basic idea.