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A poisoned imagination? (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted October 6, 2014

This article is based on a draft of a presentation read at the conference, "Poisoned Cornucopia: Excess, Intemperance and Overabundance Across Literatures and Cultures" (Opole, Poland: University of Opole) September 12-14, 2012.

It should be noted further that the whole science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk (pioneered by, among others, William Gibson in Neuromancer, first published in 1984), is often characterized by highly transgressive bio-tech (genetic manipulations of the sort which, e.g., give a human being one lizard-like arm), and nano-tech (the notion of micromachines altering human mind, body, and perception). There is often in cyberpunk the notion of human beings shoving various things into their brains and bodies (from mind-altering drugs, to electromechanical implants of various kinds). Some of the GURPS modules contain the ideas of often gruesome genetic engineering – or "gengineering" (Bio-Tech), and of technological and magical manipulation, i.e., so-called techno-magic (Technomancer). All this points to the malleability of human beings/human nature, as one of the main themes of both cyberpunk, and of current-day society's "future shock".

Another type of roleplaying is LARP's (Live Action Role-Playing) games. This is certainly taking the RPG concept even further. Among the most popular LARP's are those involving horror subgenres such as the Cthulhu mythos or vampires.

Three main conclusions can be drawn from this burgeoning tide of society's playing around with dark themes.

First of all, there is the uttermost and thoroughgoing atheism and/or nihilism of many young people today. For such people, the notion of surrounding, powerful dark forces is the basis only of diversionary, jaded entertainments. It should be made clear that they do not actually believe in vampires, demons, and conspiracies -- but are even more remote from believing in God.

Secondly, RPG's can flourish only in a mostly history-less milieu, where there are few identifications with the long history of one's nation or people.

The third point is that, in the late modern milieu, RPG's serve a role similar to the Violent Passion Surrogate (VPS) described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The life of these young people is in many cases all too comfortable, all too boring, and lacks real meaning. The RPG supplies a kind of VPS, ersatz meaning, and (in some cases) "sense of history" (virtually all RPG's of whatever subgenre have highly elaborate backgrounds). One notices the catchphrase of the Call to Power II computer game from Activision – "History is what you make it."

It may be remembered that the advertising catchphrase of the hit-movie, The Matrix, which brilliantly portrayed a dark future based on extrapolating both AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (Virtual Reality), was simply that: "Reality is a thing of the past". Our own life in late modernity is often so fluid and malleable that it may seem that there is no "hard reality" to ever get hold of. The information traffic we are all caught in leads to a "postmodern blur". The notion of reality may be tied to the sense of both a personal and historical past, of having a sense of ongoing continuity in our daily living. Insofar as we tend to become wrapped up in a never-ending series of fantasies and phantasms, our sense of reality may become profoundly fractured.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.






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