An anonymous reader left this comment on "Humans of the Great Shift - Danny":
"Sadly, I don't like the Great Shift at all because the bodyswap lacks ANY originality, any real story. It just happens and where is fun in that? No plots, no greed causing being stuck, no experimentation."
I was going to reply directly to the comment... but was I was thinking about the comment, I began thinking about the function of universes in TG fiction. I think it's worth writing some of those thoughts up here. I do touch on why I think the Great Shift universe is a perfect setting for "Humans of New York"-style captions... but really, this post has less to do with that and more to do with the subject of TG universes as a whole.
So, I actually kind of agree with the reader's comment. The Great Shift is not my favorite universe, either to read or to write in, for all the reasons the reader said. It's hard to build a plot around the Great Shift. Not impossible, but it's more difficult than in other universes. The fact that the Great Shift is a global event makes it difficult to write in, too; it's harder to imagine how the world would react to a global body swap than it is to imagine how one or two people would react to a body swap. And the fact that 95% of the world population swaps bodies in the Great Shift universe makes it difficult to make the protagonist's experience unique. It's difficult to write a Great Shift story where the story is actually the protagonist's story.
And yet, I think the Great Shift is the only universe that can support a "Humans of New York" style concept.
Universes are useful in TG fiction because they allow the writer to tell a story without having to spend a lot of time explaining the mechanism of transformation and why particular transformation happened. Instead, you can focus on the character's inner journey, or their relationship with other people, or the conflict at the heart of your story. That's particularly useful in captioning, where space is very much at a premium. Take a caption I posted recently, "Something Unexpected". When I began writing that caption, I wanted to write about a character who swaps bodies with a woman, falls in love with the woman's husband, and doesn't want to swap back. Instead, I spent most of the caption setting up the transformation and explaining why it had taken several months to reverse the body swap. I think the caption turned out okay, but it wasn't the story I wanted to tell, because I couldn't use an existing ruleset to skip past the exposition.
Different universes lend themselves to telling different stories. The Altered Fates, MAU, and Master PC universes, for example, work well when you want to tell a story about a character who gets stuck unexpectedly in a particular body, since these universes all have a built-in mechanism where the transformation device shuts down or is easily lost. The Magic Taxi universe lends itself to a kind of "body shopping" storyline, because the protagonist has to decide what kind of body he wants to spend the rest of his life in. The Role Exchanger is great for exploring mental changes or unconventional, mix-and-match sort of transformations.
There are a few types of stories the Great Shift universe is particularly well-suited to telling. It's a good universe when you want to have several characters switch bodies. It's good when you want to explore how society would react to a global transformation event. It's good when you don't want a character to have to hide their transformation; unlike in many TG stories, where characters feel the need to hide their transformation from the world, in the Great Shift universe, there's generally no reason to hide your transformation from the world. And finally, due to its rather arbitrary nature, the Great Shift universe is one of the best universes when, again, you don't want to have to dwell on the reason for a character's transformation.
Incidentally, the Minor Shift universe, which I borrowed from tehswitcher, has all these strengths, but it also allows you to make the protagonist's experience more special, since only 5% of the human population, instead of 95%, switches bodies in the Minor Shift universe.
There aren't many universes that can support a "Humans of New York"-style concept. For such a concept to work, there has to be a mass transformation event that the public knows about; otherwise, it doesn't make sense for a photographer to go around asking random people about their experiences with their new bodies. There are a few universes that feature such a public mass transformation: the Great Shift, the Minor Shift, the Genderwave, the Role Exchanger, the FOSE, the FemVirus. I guess you could throw in things like Swap Class and the Swap Institute.
This concept also only works in a universe where a majority of the population is affected. In the case of the Minor Shift, for example, it's unlikely that a photographer would walk up to strangers in the street and ask them about their transformation, since the photographer would only have about a one in 20 chance of coming across a victim of the Minor Shift. The odds are flipped with the Great Shift; the photographer could assume that the vast majority of the people they approached were victims of the Great Shift. The only major universes in which most or all of the public is transformed are the Great Shift and Genderwave universes.
And finally, a "Humans of New York"-style concept works better with the Great Shift than the Genderwave because of the sheer unpredictability of the Great Shift. With the Genderwave, you end up with a body that's basically like your original body, only you're the opposite sex. Most people's stories would be kind of the same. But in the Great Shift, you could end up as anyone. Same sex, different sex; same age, younger, older; friend, family, lover, colleague, enemy, stranger; same race, different race; more fit, less fit; able-bodied, disabled; more attractive, less attractive; famous; living in the same house as you, or living on the other side of the planet. That kind of unpredictability makes for an almost infinite variety of stories.
As for the particular shortcomings of the Great Shift universe... I don't think they'll matter for "Humans of the Great Shift." My "Humans" captions are going to zoom in on the question of how people respond to their new bodies... and that's a subject that's suitable for virtually any TG universe.
Anyway. I thought the stuff about the purpose of established universes and the kinds of stories that work well in each universe was interesting, so I thought I would share. :)