April 2nd, 2008


Crushed Under the Weight of Metaphor

This is just too freaking cool to sit on until I can work it into a column in four months to a year.

But first, some prefatory ramble. We're on the penultimate adventure of the current game1 and I'm beginning to think about what we might run next. One contender2 (bred of seeing There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is Unknown Armies, set some time in the latter half of the 19th century. Just when -- 1870s? 1890s? -- is currently up in the air. But the following has made the 1890s a stronger contender.

The wise and devious robotnik  gave me a pointer to this entry in Paul Collins'3 blog, which contained the following snippet of almost unimaginably pregnant occult metaphor:

In the US, for instance, the War Department struggled with mountains of haphazard medical files until the newly touted method of card filing was adopted in 1887. Hundreds of clerk transcribed personnel records dating back to the Revolutionary War. Housed in Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC -- the scene of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination a generation earlier -- the initiative succeeded a little too well. Six years into the project, the combined weight of 30 million index cards led to information overload: three floors of the theatre collapsed, crushing 22 clerks to death.

Can anyone say Ascension of the Bureaucrat in 1894? [EDIT: Per Wikipedia, on June 9, 1893.] Blood sacrifice to begin the Information Age? Creation of the "mass man" from data (which is to say, DNA) and crumpled flesh (of 22 people -- where was the 23rd, necessary to complete the full chromosomal pairing?), intermingled on the blasphemous regicidal altar of America? The possibilities are limitless.

And I haven't even mentioned the ostensible purpose of Collins' entry, the Belgian Index-Card Wikipedia, the Mundaneum, which is so obviously an Informationale4 op, and which caused a rift in the highly occult (in my games, anyhow) field of architecture when Le Corbusier was hired to design a (never built -- or, never officially built) new Mundaneum Building in Geneva in 1929.

Yeah, I think there's some juice there, too.

[1] Immortal PCs, each adventure takes place a decade later, in the fictional idiom of that decade -- Western in 1870s, melodrama in 1880s, South Seas Adventure in 1890s, Edisonades in 1900s, etc. Truth & Justice, which is working about as well as any system-light system can be expected to under that kind of strain.

[2] The way we do things in my game group is that I solicit suggestions from the players and work them into about four or five proposed campaign ideas; then the players vote and I go with the winner. Other current contenders are a vampire-hunting game, a more traditional fantasy sort of thing that I'm likely going to set on the Island of Calyferne, and an occult-conspiracy game revolving around the secret history of the U.S. Presidency.

[3] Yep, that Paul Collins, the author of the immensely wonderful Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World, which covers in fine and sprightly style such folk as the Shakespearean forger William Henry Ireland, physicist-hoaxer Rene Blondlot, hollow-earth enthusiast John Cleves Symmes, and Baconian delusionist Delia Bacon.

[4] The Informationale being my term for the radical 19th-century group from which descended Steve Jackson's conspiratorial Network of computer-hackers; see GURPS Y2K for further details.