It’s not that I’m a reductionist. If anything, I like to make everything more complicated. It’s just that providing imaginary structure to an interaction allows one to better understand the nuances of interactive effects, stochasticity, the bending of general laws, and the primacy of chance. “Even God’s model has an error”, they say. Life isn’t a game, and no game can accurately capture the infinite and eternal, and yet, we continue to cut into life and reality with so many razors, speaking the language of parsimony.
Yes, providing imaginary structure to interactions, the natural and the social, allows us to better understand how to optimally manipulate the matrix of variables, the perceptual and metaphysical fields, within which real humans operate and literary characters are molded. That’s the point of understanding each and every Xi, to produce the optimal outcome in Yi. We also, obviously, seek to understand the actual structure of interactions and the world, the mind, heart, and beyond. That’s actually more important to the novelist’s craft. In reality we literally seek to produce concrete outcomes in the dependent variables while in literature we aim to produce seamless illusions—representations, projections, that which is and that which could be. As such, our art can be seen as sculpture and hammer, photograph and projector, puppet and puppet master, cause and effect with each one acting upon the other.
Verily the world is a theatre, a cinema, an unfolding work of art, lyrical, epic, and dramatic. It might as well be interactive. Thus, games play a multitude of roles, those of the informal and formalized variety. You can find them throughout literature, references to prisoners’ dilemmas, stag hunts, coördination, collective action, signaling, and multiple equilibria. They’re merely rhetorical devices though, representations of more complex phenomena. We simplify reality within us to learn to navigate a complex reality that exists around us, creating and adjusting our theories, projections and expectations, as we encounter new information. Even the most acceptant individuals who seek not to project upon others at the very least create mental models, simplifications through which they structure their moral and economic orientations toward the world and living beings within it, equally so within reality between, during, and after interactions as within dreams. It’s how we develop expectations, control and realize desires, and learn.
Sometimes I just make references to adapted games, like people hunting instead of stag hunting. There are villains in my books and if the hunted coordinate more effectively, the villains can’t win; it’s when we become isolated, beyond anomie, that things like organized people hunting can take place in the shadows. There’s also this imaginary creature known as the ChupaViado who is capable of single handedly capturing three stags in one hunt, leaving entire communities devastated as their cooperative strategies turn up nothing but rabbits; thus, for them, a stag hunt becomes a ChupaViado hunt with even higher stakes. Then there are other times when I invent original games, whether for comedic effect or as I seek to provide structure to the objects of my formal academic studies. I also create these games in order to attempt to interpret and understand the peculiar experiences that I have while writing and creating art.
It’s a mostly harmless game, in theory, if it already exists. We could call the players Zi. The artist is Di and the book or the specific piece of art in question is Yi. Some artists present greater endogeneity problems though. I absolutely do not consent to play this game and I never did, unless informed of the period of gameplay, the starting point, the rules, and upon determination that the structure of the game is acceptable to me. I do not need to know the identity of the players, merely the structure of property rights given willful and consensual participation in the game, assuming that authorship might become joint, collective, or somehow altered due to Σ Zi’s participation; additionally, the rules of gameplay that protect the artist’s other rights to privacy, bodily independence, freedom from harassment and endangerment, etc. would need to be made clear. It would be especially nice to know whether the game is infinitely repeated or whether there is an end to the madness. These conditions not having been met, I’ll reiterate again that I’m not playing this game and I never consented to play this game. That seems important to make clear. The rule of law reigns uninterrupted, though the potential for something extraordinary persists.
Imagine it! It will be like Egger’s The Circle (2013), but for artists! I sent this idea to a major hospitality company in 2020. We could have these artists in residence playing the game willfully, with full knowledge of the rules and consent, within sites where players may visit and live amongst or near them with knowledge of the parks, cafes, etc. that the targeted artist frequents. It would provide a springboard for aspiring and emerging artists to secure financial support for their art practice. Hence, there are obvious power disparities that must necessarily be addressed, especially as the stakes rise, the investment, emotional and literal, of the players increases, and as one nears the conclusion of a particularly high impact round of play.
This would absolutely take place within a structure of acceptable regulations that are monitored and enforced. Thus, we will have to have Art Cops or some sort of alternative system of securing artists’ rights beyond copyright. We can call the challenges Art C.O.P.s though. C.O.P.s stands for “Create or Perish” in which an insurgent, or a group thereof, as an individual or member of a team enters into the artist’s bubble with a specific mission of ensuring that an idea, symbol, technique, or some other “implantable” becomes an enduring aspect of Yi.
There might also need to be maintenance missions to ensure that the artist decides to keep the implanted element, perhaps deepening its roots within a specific work or within their wider collection of works; within longer term projects, the implantable must be tended to—the artist, the Di that is, becomes as a bonsai. Alternatively, the mission may be planted and lodged so deeply that it sustains itself, lurking beneath the surface, autonomously spreading and entrenching itself ever more deeply. One must obviously know a lot about the human psyche, it’s individualized, generalized, and always dynamic nature. Military and intelligence experience might come in handy in extraordinary renditions of the game. I have in previous writing from 2019 referred to it as Art War, but I’ve also referred to it as Artception; we can probably come up with something even more original though. What about Artsepts, Artception Wars, Artdnd?
Anyhow, the game presents the possibility for the inverse of creation, a possibility in which opposing teams must determine the element implanted by their opponent, whether an individual or an entire team, and seek to remove it from the work prior to the end of game play. We can still call it creative; it’s just about earning more creativity points than the opponent within a system of rules that sustains all players’ desire to engage in iterative interactions within, between, and during future manifestations of the game. Create, create, together!
If we think of the tragic art form as a meeting of the Dionysian and Apollonian forces, the game is indeed “tragic”, with so much potential for comedy and triumph, resilience and revelation of the human spirt. It provides the artist and the players with a versatile experience of being the shaper and the shaped, spectator, chorus, and the hero who rises above in a quest to create an enduring work of art. It might turn out to be a shambolism, but I imagine that it will become a fruitful experiment, equally so in terms of the aesthetic of conflictual communal art and in its potential to generate funds for artists like myself. The hope though is that the cream will rise and the most talented and passionate of the artists within residence might leverage the opportunity to create their big break and jump forward into the artistic career they aspire to build.
Copyright. Thomas Christopher Elliott, 2021.