From the Wiki
Characters in Shadowrun can be humans, orks, trolls, elves and dwarves, as well as certain diverging subspecies (known as metavariants) such as gnomes, giants, minotaurs, etc.
The emergence of magic, the outbreak of the VITAS plagues (Virally Induced Toxic Allergy Syndrome), the Computer Crash of 2029 (caused by a complex and nearly unstoppable computer virus called “The Crash Entity”), the Euro-Wars, in which the western-European countries once fought off an invasion from neo-communist Russia and then a pan-Islamic invasion like that of 800 years ago, and the fevers for independence of Amerindian tribes, Chinese provinces, etc. left the world governments tumbling and falling. With the fall of the existing political structures, mega-corporations emerged as the new superpowers.
As the world endured the string of state changing events and conflicts, the political landscape fragmented and reformed. In North America, for example, some nations broke apart and reformed, as was the case with the Confederated American States and the United Canadian and American States; others became havens for specific racial or ethnic groups, like the councils of the Native American Nations or the Elvish principality of Tír Tairngire; and some, like the California Free State, simply declared independence, or became defacto corporate subsidiaries like Aztlan to Aztechnology. Despite the new role of megacorporations, many nations still hold considerable sway through economic, social and military means.
The monolithic “enemies” of the Shadowrun world (borrowing heavily from cyberpunk mythos) are the Corporations, dubbed “Megacorporations”, “Megacorps”, or simply “megas” or “corps” for short. Megacorporations in the 21st century are massively global, with all but the smallest corps owning multiple subsidiaries and divisions around the world. They are the superpowers of the Shadowrun universe, with the largest corporations having far more political, economic, and military power than even the most powerful nation-states.
Despite the Crash which caused much data corruption, technology advanced at a tremendous rate. Cyberware, technical implants, and Bioware, genetically engineered implants which enhance a person’s abilities, emerged.
Originally, direct neural interface technology enabled humans and metahumans to directly access computers and the Matrix, the global computer network restructured after the 2029 Crash. Access to the Matrix was accomplished by “deckers”: individuals that have cyberdecks which are futuristic equivalent to modern day laptop computers. These interface machines are connected to the brain through a Datajack generally located at the temple or behind the ear. The “deck” would then be plugged into a port that is connected to the Matrix at large. The Matrix was originally based on ideas by William Gibson and the cyberpunk literary genre.
In Shadowrun 4th edition, the Matrix rules have changed, thanks to the setting’s constant evolution and a drive to match real world technological developments. After the second Matrix crash in 2064, Matrix technology was moved away from the wired network and led into a wireless technology. This technology was originally proposed in the early 2060s by Transys Neuronet and Erika, now part of NeoNET.
The most noticeable difference between the Matrix in the 2070s and the earlier editions is the widespread use of wireless technology. Communications and Matrix access is done through a Personal Area Network (PAN), managed through an individual’s Commlink, a combination personal computer/cell phone/PDA/wireless device that hooks into the Matrix through wi-fi nodes placed in every city’s infrastructure.
The other major difference in the Matrix of the 2070s is the use of Augmented Reality, where a person hooked to the Matrix through their Commlink has their vision imprinted (through direct neural implants or special glasses) with the same files and images that one would see on a computer desktop. This allows many users to stay on the Matrix constantly while walking around in normal space (though the traditional full-immersion Virtual Reality is still accessible).
In 2075 the Matrix was again modified by megacorporations, renewing the need for cyberdecks.
Cyberdecks are no longer obsolete, so “hackers” have once again become “deckers”. In addition, the otaku of previous versions (deckers who did not need decks to access the Matrix) have metamorphed into technomancers, who have an innate connection to the Matrix and are capable of entering into a wireless network with no special equipment.
The use of the term ‘Matrix’ in the Shadowrun game to refer to an immersive virtual world predates its use in the popular feature film The Matrix. In Shadowrun, the Matrix is not a simulation of reality but rather is the global communications and information network that is a successor to the internet.
Those able to actively interact with the magical energies of the Sixth World are known as “awakened.” An awakened character’s power in magic is linked to their Essence statistic. Because of this, most magically active individuals attempt to avoid cybernetic enhancement, which lowers Essence.