Possibly the greatest technomagical achievement of the 20th century, the WorldNet is a worldwide computer network that allows for near-instantaneous communication with people anywhere on Earth's material plane. Unlike our own world's Internet, however, the WorldNet has many domains that are completely immersive virtual realities -- a feat made possible by the integration of magic and technology.
The WorldNet's VR domains are not like Star Trek's holodeck; they do not produce physical, tangible illusions. (While Majestic Industries considered this possibility when designing the WorldNet, they ultimately decided it would simply require too much mana.) Instead, the VR world is constructed entirely inside the users' minds, courtesy of a headset called a spelljack that taps directly into the brain's sensory systems.
An individual who is "jacked in" to a WorldNet domain is effectively cut off from the outside world, and even from his or her own body. A user's avatar on the WorldNet can be almost anything imaginable, from a perfect duplicate of his or her own body to a flying eagle to a mass of sentient tentacles. Anything in the real world is completely irrelevant. (Some spelljack manufacturers, however, have begun including equipment to monitor their users' vital signs, forcibly disconnecting them if anything goes wrong in the real world. Most also have a maximum time limit for a single session, which ranges from three to six hours depending on the manufacturer.)
The WorldNet's incredible power for immersive experience has been used for a wide variety of applications, from the utilitarian to the decadent; the only limit is the imagination of the designers and users. Businessmen use VR domains to hold remote meetings with partners around the world; sociologists and psychologists conduct immersive experiments in human behavior to test their hypotheses; gamers take part in massively multiplayer online worlds, interacting with tens of thousands of other players as they act out fantasies of war, diplomacy and intrigue. But the most profitable application of the WorldNet, by far, has been in the sex industry, where anonymous patrons will pay hundreds or thousands of marks to act out fantasies that would be impossible, deadly, or ludicrously expensive in the real world. It is in these darker corners of the WorldNet that mortals continually demonstrate their almost limitless capacity for depravity. While the reproduction of the physical sensations is remarkably true to life, however, many users report that these encounters lack the emotional and spiritual connections that characterize a true, in-person sexual encounter. Thus, while it turns a tidy profit, the WorldNet has not displaced the Sensualist Guild as the chief agent for satisfying the carnal desires of the populace.
The WorldNet was first envisioned by Agemnos, and made possible by a heavy initial outlay of cash from Majestic Industries. MI's proof-of-concept network turned a lot of important heads within the Imperial government, particularly in the military, which saw it as the perfect tool for training their soldiers. Private investors were attracted, as well: Suspira saw immediate applications for her Church of Hedonism, while Talia envisioned virtual worlds where her subordinates could scheme and collaborate at length without fear of being overheard. With fresh infusions of cash from the Ministry of Defense, the Hedonists, the vampire syndicate, and numerous smaller contributors, the WorldNet quickly expanded across the continent, and eventually the planet.