I’m writing Altered States as an alternate history, which hews fairly close to real world institutions and people (as it is a technothriller setting, and verisimilitude is critical). Alternate histories ask the question “Given event Y, what might happen?” (The unstated parenthetical being “…that makes a good story.”) For example, “What if John F. Kennedy was never assassinated?” The critical event is called the point of divergence.
In the case of Altered States, there are two: VITAS and the Awakening of Magic. The campaign background is built around deciding how the real world might react to those two events. (The unstated parenthetical being “…in such a way that it creates an interesting campaign setting.”)
The first point of divergence occurs in July 2010, when VITAS begins spreading. Up until that event, the campaign world and the real world are nearly identical.
(I say “nearly” because I use fictional characters and organizations in building the background. Other than those, the background material uses real world elements and facts as much as possible.)
The second point of divergence is the Awakening of Magic, which begins in 2011 and culminates in the events of Dec. 24, 2011 (the first public appearance of dragons, and the escape of Howling Coyote from Leavenworth). The Awakening underlies much of the drastic changes in the world, including the NAN rebellion and the emergence of Feral Europe.
Taken together, these two points of divergence underlie the world of 2032. How each of them affects the world is the subject of most of the campaign documents of Altered States.