Resistor

I’ve heard people bemoaning the lack of a comprehensive science fiction roleplaying game and I see what they’re getting at – the epistemologies of roleplaying tend to underestimate the relationship between the capacity of the SF Megatext and the specificity of particular subgenres of science fiction.

Games that try to take on the whole shebang – old stalwart Traveller, say, or Ashen Stars from Pelgrane Press – benefit from a certain fixity of theme and narrative shape (Technology noir in the case of Traveller, the Television mystery procedural for Ashen Stars); games that, conversely, concentrate on particular modes or motifs of Genre SF, such as Psi*Run (strong on the emergent properties of a shared story arc) or Starfall (strong on the scientific and historical accuracy that underpins its 1950s alien-invasion theme) rely on “zoning in” on what they’re trying to do, very often over a single session or mini-season of play.

A great many science fiction games, however, fall somewhere in-between these two approaches, usually by (a) offering those playing the chance to “hang out” among familiar science fiction Clichés, or (b) adapting particular “sci-fi” properties, or (c) combining both; games like this find it all too easy to confuse their thematic delivery mechanism (Space Opera, Planetary Romance and so forth) with its emotional payload (a Sense of Wonder or Transcendence or some other group affect).

Ashen Stars Front Cover

Even popular and deeply-examined themes such as Cyberpunk suffer from this misalignment of tone and ingredients, in part because (a) science fiction tends to inherit its narrative shapes from other genres and (b) cyberpunk takes a Postmodern approach to genre, mixing and matching the ways in which its tropes – Cybernetics, AI, and so on – interact with its story arcs, primarily as a means of interrogating the process by which our world is sold back to us in a diminished form by the corporations that define the terms of everyday lives. Here are two of the narrative modes most associated with cyberpunk:

  • Noir: nothing is clear and everyone’s motives are murky.
  • Hard-Boiled: the plot is constantly interrogated out loud by the characters.

These flavours are often combined to memorable effect – The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Rashomon (1950) are just two outstanding examples from the world of Cinema – but it’s all too easy to go wrong by trying to answer the questions posed by one approach with the narrative responses of the other. A Roleplaying Game with Gamemaster and players might waste a good deal of its time by allowing its player-characters to pontificate about “what is really going on” (a hard-boiled question) when what they really need to do is engage with the Psychology of the story’s characters (a noir response), whereas a story game might deliver a precisely-engineered structure whose mechanics elicit little or no emotional response from those playing due to its focus on delivery mechanisms over emotional payload. Narrative is transmuted into story when feelings are involved and feelings are better suggested or improvised than dictated or quantified.

By adding a hard-boiled voice-over to an essentially noir narrative, the first theatrical cut of Blade Runner (1982) obscured the much more interesting question of whether or not Rick Deckard was a replicant – and, therefore, of whether or not any perceived difference between replicant and human is simply a matter of who is interrogating whom. The who am I? character arc of Deckard is a vital dramatic corollary of the what is real? what is human? theme that underpins so much of the work of Philip K Dick.

Dick understood that any shift in Identity for his protagonists needed to apply at the societal level in order to function fully as science fiction: a character’s domestic dilemma was usually the solution for a world-sized threat in his stories and this – be it alien invasion, an all-powerful demiurge or an uprising of enslaved replicants – usually became the key to the personal dilemma of his main protagonist. One of the major disappointments of Blade Runner 2049 (a film I otherwise liked a lot) was its failure to (a) bring this implication of social change to the foreground and (b) examine the role of gender in the Slavery of the replicants. Deckard “retires” sex-slaves… until he learns to sleep with one. Blade Runner 2049’s focus on the subjugation of people due to their body-type implies that gender might easily be an important signifier of social change but the film’s screenplay allows none of the correspondents of Dick’s “dark-haired girl” archetype – K’s hologram girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), corporate enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) and virgin Messiah Dr Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) – to change themselves, their material circumstances, or indeed one another; the society-sized insurgency of replicants-in-the-bodies-of-commodified-women is almost entirely consigned to the background as a consequence.

New-Wave science fiction roleplaying game Dream Askew (a game in which plurality of gender and representation + white space = a brighter future with better Sex lives for all) is the outstanding exemplar of an approach that posits the free expression of gender identity as a possible solution for the false consciousness of a patriarchal society. There is every reason to apply the same principle to other subgenres of science fiction.

“Many cyberpunks defy binaries too,” says the introduction to volume one of the cyberpunk zine Resistor by Leslie Anderson, Banana Chan, Elissa Leach and Kira Magrann, “taking on complex identities that aren’t easily checked off in those info forms like M/F or Black/White or Straight/Gay or American/Other. Cyberpunks are also liminal, existing partially out of body somewhere in digital spaces, expressing those parts of their identities through words, sounds and images only interacted with on a screen.” Our everyday world is rendered as an incessant scenario owned by multinational corporations: games, flash-fiction and live action roleplay provide the means by which we might re-represent ourselves in order to be ourselves.

Kira Magrann’s solo-game Emoji Sigil Rose offers a player the chance a create a sigil for sympathetic magic by drawing a single, uninterrupted line between five-to-nine relevant symbols from the emoji on her phone; Leslie Anderson’s story Student – “Hey girly, need a job! Soft beds! Less hours than your factory gig!” – communicates the supply-driven onslaught of a dominant ideology that wants to reduce everyone to a product; Banana Chan’s live-action conspiracy roleplay Zero is played in an internet chatroom and is about an untellable text with a terrible secret: “It’s actually code for what is happening in the world now.” Diagrams by Elissa Leach of ID badges and other corporate paraphernalia connote the imposition of privately-owned space over public life: there are photographs of photographic equipment, games laid out as business presentations, drawings of outmoded pieces of technology ready to be re-appropriated from the overwhelming control and falsity of corporate life.

Resistor B
Photo: Kira Magrann

In Resistor (as in the best cyberpunk) the question of what is real? is everywhere enclosed by the simulated version of the world sold to us by corporations; what is human? are those acts of reterritorialization that allow a protagonist to represent herself, however briefly, as an avatar of self not yet owned by a corporation. “Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulation,” writes Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (1981; trans Sheila Faria Glaser 1994). Baudrillard goes on to outline a three-stage historical process by which any idea of distinguishing between reality and representation has become impossible:

  1. The image is clearly a substitute or representation of something real (e.g. painting).
  2. It is possible to distinguish image and representation despite the mass production of imagery (e.g. photography).
  3. There is no difference between the reality of something and the representation of it (e.g. social media).

This third stage of the precession of simulacra – what Baudrillard and other postmodern theorists term “hyperreality” – was allegorised in The Matrix (1999), and forms much of the dramatic action in many forms of cyberpunk, which is to say one in which real human experience is intermittent, transformative and meaningful. Liquidity of representation and identity is used to counter-balance an all-encompassing corporate simulation of human experience; it’s this metier that makes Resistor (in my opinion) thematically superior to many of the cyberpunk RPGs out there, the greater part of which tend toward a resolutely hard-boiled, masculine aesthetic in which players end up as unthinking reflections of the dominant ideology, festooned in guns, kit and cyberware. I’ve played these sorts of games quite a bit over the years – and hey, I like them a lot – but they form a fairly small part of the overall attitude and sensibility of cyberpunk.

The McGuffin in a fully science-fictional form of cyberpunk is very often a matter of unravelling the representation of something in order to comprehend its transformation into something unexpected; in both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 this is a Memory appropriated from a real person in order to be simulated which then again becomes real (and therefore meaningful); in Akira (1988), the transformation is between human and artificial life; Resistor’s untellable texts, cyberwitches and online avatars describe similar processes of self-alteration, mediated not only by cyberpunk’s dominant mode of action (transgressive violence = revolutionary transformation) but also by its creative agenda (revolutionary transformation = personal freedom).

Feminism functions so well as an operating system for cyberpunk because it is (a) an idea designed to produce a Conceptual Breakthrough throughout society, and (b) was there at the inception of science fiction, when Mary Shelley first dramatized the idea of a human constructed by human agency in Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831). By refusing to separate issues of gender and class, by setting its games amid the hyperreality of image-centric networks and by using feminism to inform the identity of its protagonists, Resistor succeeds in addressing both the specificity of cyberpunk and the capacity of science fiction to describe societal change, and in doing so describes a widespread impulse to resist being owned by people who have no interest in any living thing but themselves.

Dick-DarkHaired

White Knight


In 1539 the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels – but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day –

With
Humphrey BOGART as Dashiell HAMMETT
and/or
Sir Lanzilot on the Bridge of Swords

“He did what he thought was right.”

Also Starring
Mary ASTOR
Peter LORRE
Sydney GREENSTREET
Gladys GEORGE
Elisha COOK, Jr.
&
Space MONKEY as The Demiurge

Screenplay by
Wolfram von ESCHENBACH

From a Story by
Chrétien de TROYES

“World of Shit” is from the album Souljacker by Eels (2001).

A City Unborn

 

“I’m blind to all but a tenth of the universe.”
“What do you see?”
“The city… as if it were unborn. Rising into the sky with fingers of metal, limbs without flesh, girders without stone. Signs hanging without support. Wires dipping and swaying without poles. A city unborn. Flesh dissolved in an acid of light. A city of the dead.”

Stage One: An image is clearly a substitute or representation of something real.
Stage Two: Distinguishing between image and reality is difficult but possible.
Stage Three: There is no difference reality and representation.

Add your own code at your own pace.

imagesCA65IGHB

The song “What is the Light?” comes from the album The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips (1999).

City of Eyes

After you there are Two

Art is arriving from the good and kind people that I know for the second issue of the fanzine Machineries of Joy – this one is on the Nørwegian Surreal – and it is wonderful.

The collage in the main image is by John Rose and is called City of Eyes.

Above and below is a small selection of the beautiful images provided by artist Jeanette McCulloch to illustrate a conversation about Matthijs Holter’s game-in-development Draug II. I sent Jeanette some of the setting material for Matthijs’s game and it turns out she has an intuitive grasp of the way a game like this exchanges and interrelates the inner truth and outer reality of the natural world.


End of Year

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The rules of money are precise and invariable. Money attracts money, money seeks to accumulate in the same places, money is naturally attracted to scoundrels and those who are entirely bereft of any talent. When, by an exception which proves the rule, money finds its way into the hands of a man who, though wealthy, is neither a miser nor has any murderous proclivities, it stands idle, incapable of creating a force for good, incapable of even making its way into charitable hands who would know how to employ it. One might almost say that it takes revenge for its misdirection, that it undergoes a voluntary paralysis whenever it enters into the possession of someone who is neither a born swindler nor a complete and utter dotard.

When, by some extraordinary chance, it strays into the home of a poor man, money behaves even more inexplicably. It defiles immediately what was clean, transforms even the chastest pauper into a monster of unbridled lust and, acting simultaneously on the body and the soul, instils in its possessor a base egoism, not to mention an overweening pride, which insists that he spends every penny on himself alone; it makes even the humblest arrogant, and turns the generous person into a skinflint. In one second, it changes every habit, upsets every idea, transforms the most deep-seated passions.

Money is the greatest nutrient imaginable for sins of the worst kind, which in a sense it aids and abets. If one of the custodians of wealth so forgets himself as to bestow a boon or make a donation, it immediately gives rise to hatred in the breast of the recipient; by replacing avarice with ingratitude, the equilibrium is established again: a new sin is commissioned by every good deed which is committed.

But the real height of monstrosity is attained when money, hiding the splendour of its name under the dark veil of the word, calls itself capital. At that moment its action is no longer limited to individual incitations to theft and murder, but extends across the entire human race. With a single word capital grants monopolies, erects banks, corners markets, changes people’s lives, is capable of causing millions to starve to death.

And all the while that it does this, money is feeding on itself, growing fat and breeding in a bank vault; and the Two Worlds worship it on bended knee, melting with desire before it, as before a God… Either money, the master of the soul, is diabolical or else it is beyond explanation.


– J K Huysmans, Là-Bas (1891)

Inland Empire

Inland Empire differs from Lynch’s previous films Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001) in that it does not divide – albeit confusingly and possibly only in retrospect – into sections of fantasy and reality. Those movies marketed themselves on there being a solution embedded within their nightmarish Möbius strip narratives. The structure of Inland Empire is more akin to that of the metaphorical web from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to which Lynch himself referred, one supporting a network of hyperlinks to the repeating themes of Lynch’s career, the process of making films and the city of Los Angeles, “Inland Empire” being a named suburb of the City that conquered the world by commoditizing its dreams. From Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet (1986) to Laura Palmer in the Television series Twin Peaks (1990-current) and its feature film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), the key to the lurid and surreal world of David Lynch has always been sexual abuse. Lynch shot Inland Empire without a script, handing each actor new dialogue each day on set. “I write the thing scene by scene and I don’t have much of a clue where it will end,” he said in a 2005 interview. “It’s a risk, but I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room.” Lead actors Laura Dern and Justin Theroux said they had no idea what the film was about while they were shooting it: a sentiment echoed by many viewers who have seen it since. Monologues delivered by Dern’s character towards the end of the movie strip away some of the artifice of filmmaking to disclose the sex-work that Lynch seems to feel underpins the Hollywood dream and the damage done to those sufficiently mesmerized to enter the dangerous alleys and backrooms behind its marketplace.

– See more at:

Inland Empire



 

Black Dog (epilogue)

0. Absolute Zero.

  1. Black Dog.
  2. Suicide Tuesday.
  3. Bright Colours.
  4. Emotional Terrorism.
  5. Attack the Zone Like a Radiant Suicide.
  6. She Leaps at Humans.
  7. Anonymous Partial Object.
  8. Circumscribe the Zone of the Nameable.
  9. Garden Gone Wild.

 


Black Mass

Abstract Peregrinations of the Emeritus Professor X


Given the mass of evidence, there is no plausible hypothesis but reality.
Given the mass of evidence to the contrary, there is no solution but illusion.

Jean Baudrillard, Le crime parfait (1995).

  • X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963) directed by Roger Corman and written by Ray Russell and Robert Dillon, American International Pictures.
  • Music is What is the Light? from the album The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips on Warner Bros (1999).