The Witcher

The Witcher (2007) is a single-player role playing game (rpg) for the pc, created by CD Projekt from Polish short stories and novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski.

If you are one of those people who have somehow avoided being bitten by this particular computer game bug, here we are to poke at you. We’ll start out with intro info that will at least explain my take on some tropes.

The Witcher (2007) is a single-player role playing game (rpg) for the pc, created by CD Projekt from Polish short stories and novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski.

If you are one of those people who have somehow avoided being bitten by this particular computer game bug, here we are to poke at you. We’ll start out with intro info that will at least explain my take on some tropes.



Computer Role Playing Games (crpgs) are games in which you play a character (or a team of characters) that progresses through levels of a story, periodically gaining a series of skills and abilities (“leveling up” is when the character has gained enough experience points to assign skill points in the field of your choice). Within the parameters allowed by the game, you get to choose what your character is good at, and how your character interacts with other characters. You take on a role as different from or similar to your real life persona as you like (and as the game provides for). A good crpg includes enough variation in the story telling that playing as different characters means a notable difference in playing the game. If you are a noble-born thief, sneaky and cocky, you would expect a different story line than if you are a lowborn cleric, or an elven warrior, because people would realistically expect different things from you and you would be a different person. (Yes, I used the word “realistically” in the same sentence as “elven warrior”; this is only one of the many perqs of being a science fiction reader and game player.) Frequently this difference is mostly in how the fight mechanics work. Does the game have fights that work for a sword-wielding barbarian–close in and physically strong but susceptible to magic, as well as a wispy elven archer–excellent reflexes and usually smarter, but not as strong, as well as the frail mage–smart and will powery, but physically weak? (And yes, as should be obvious from these examples, most rpgs exist firmly in the realm of tolkienesque mythology, with orcs, dwarves, elves, demons, etc, as well as religious hierarchy. For example clerics are stereotypically healers and magic users.) But in the best games, the difference is also in how you can solve problems – when faced with a recalcitrant body guard, do you steal the key, persuade, threaten, sneak in the window, bribe, or kill? The writing of most games allows for a single distinct fork: one path of good, and the other of naughty, with subtleties in dialogue depending on whether you’re rude good (for example) or polite naughty.

One of the interesting things about playing games in general and these games in particular is what they tell you about yourself. A friend of mine, for example, ruefully admits that it took her years to figure out that she always chooses the skills that go with a thief (sneaky, smart, reflexy, persuasive) but always fights like a warrior–going straight in, using swords, no running, no traps or poisons. (She denies that this has anything to do with her real life.) To the bewilderment of her friends, another person has been known to play the same game multiple times, cheating outrageously through the fights (after the first time). She explains that she is trying to follow all of the dialogue and relationship options to see where they lead. This really highlights crpgs as interactive fiction*, and the similarities between crpgs and books, like stephenson’s cryptonomicon series, like vonnegut’s works (like our lives): each quality crpg has multiple books contained within. If the character or the world or the situation or the humor is compelling enough, then it’s worth the time to follow all the options.

Philosophically, role playing games are all about ambiguity: we can be and are many different people. In real life we are usually not encouraged to explore or even acknowledge the variables that we incorporate. We want to save people, but also to kick their asses for needing to be saved, and then maybe to make fun of them for relying on random saviors. We want to be heroes and to be left alone, to be lauded and to have no expectations put on us. Rpgs allow us to do these things that are normally considered mutually exclusive.

In the context of crpgs, moral ambiguity in particular is the term used to discuss three distinct (but connected) things: a) you’re allowed to make decisions that are seen as bad in real life (kill or abandon the desperate witch); b) you can make that kind of decision and it doesn’t impede the game (you kill the witch and you continue to have as many options to play the game—even if they’re different options—as you would if you’d chosen not to), and c) the level of moral complexity in the choices you’re presented with (the witch needs to be saved from corrupt villagers, but she is also a blackmailer).

This last example was taken from The Witcher, and is a perfect example of one of the main ways this game shines. The story is full of choices that are not easily distill-able to good and evil. You make the choice you do for reasons that are about your own values, which encourages you to think about what your own values are, in a world that is enough like our own to be useful, and enough not like our own to be fun.

In The Witcher you are Geralt–white-haired, un-sleeping, soft-spoken, potion-dependent–part of a small, elite but failing, group of monster-killing mutants. You get drunk, fight in bars, have cheap (or sometimes meaningful) sex, protect princesses and prostitutes, and try to recover your memory, to rediscover who you are. And as a being who exists somewhere between human and not-, at some point you have to choose a side, either with knights or with outcasts. (I haven’t yet played an ally of the knights. I keep trying but I just haven’t been able to force myself. I’m a bad rpg-er. )

Here are my problems with the game: occasionally dreadful voice acting; clunky sex scene handling; oddly disconnected cut scenes (Hello? There’s a troop charging you! Walls are collapsing! Monsters are threatening! Why so languid?), and my own preference not to have to play as a guy, much less as a guy who has to choose between two women.

But this is more than made up for by the richness of the world (building on multiple short stories and novels by the author), the depth of the decisions, the consequences you deal with, and by the fighting, which is just twitchy enough to keep you engaged without having to micromanage, realistic enough to make my martial arts friend happy, and pretty to watch.

Games are getting more sophisticated and cynical — the anti-hero is alive and well — but this polish import offers (along with its somewhat unfamiliar mythology) a dark weariness that u.s. games just don’t have. It’s not as simple as the sense that the only choices you have are bad ones – the geneforge series does that more brutally (and is too depressing for me to play anymore) – nor is it that you can choose to be bitter and rageful – since most rpgs offer threads with those components. Perhaps it’s the nuanced choices combined with the music and design (the loading shot is a beautifully bleak landscape with two small dark birds flying by), but the nihilism (for lack of a better word) of this game is very appealing to those of us who, like Geralt, keep acting in the world without expectation that our behavior will have any major effect.

p.s. Throughout this I have used “in real life” as a way to distinguish our characters from the lives that we live where other people can see them. But (as even that description concedes) this is a false dichotomy. Much in the way that we are alive through our imaginations, games are not false. They are differently real. This different realness is increasing in our lives, and it serves us to think about it, to incorporate it into our understanding more quickly than we seem to be doing. (An internet community is not the same as a meatspace one, how are they different? What does safe space mean in a world of anonymity? How does this world of a cyber imagination reflect and differ from the worlds of, for example, religious, spiritual, and/or drug-aided imagination?) But these are questions for a later time: they will be revisited.

*(IF is usually used to refer to games that have no significant graphics, games in which your interaction with the game is through reading and typing text.)

About Us

Contestation

We are those who think about, write about, and are involved with this world. We suffer the fate of writers. We have lived too much of our lives in books. We desire worlds that we know are possible and yet are out of reach. We are observers of this world.

But we are also participants in the contestation of this era. We are not satisfied with simple solutions to the large problems of this world or with its discontents. We live lives, freely chosen, of contestation and The Anvil is a record of that choice.

Transgression

Contestation

We are those who think about, write about, and are involved with this world. We suffer the fate of writers. We have lived too much of our lives in books. We desire worlds that we know are possible and yet are out of reach. We are observers of this world.

But we are also participants in the contestation of this era. We are not satisfied with simple solutions to the large problems of this world or with its discontents. We live lives, freely chosen, of contestation and The Anvil is a record of that choice.

Transgression

We are boundary crossers. We are travelers across a landscape where we are not invited to anything but shopping and auto-annihilation. We suffer labels and resent them. We work and we are precarious. We play and feel the emptiness of not playing for keeps. We suffer for being bridges and are thankful for this.

This world is one of circumscription. The Anvil is a place to temper tools for digging and cutting our way out.

Engagement

Given the troubles we face it is hard to believe that we still choose engagement, even when “checking out” could be so much easier. The people in our lives demand nothing less than our attention and every effort to our project: whether simple or large. Therefore we are engaged in many aspects of social life from the politics of the newspaper, the street, and a thousand back rooms, to the theories of other lands and this one, and the devouring of our media rich, digitally disconnected world.

The Anvil is not a review site of detached observers but of people utterly engaged in the tensions of our times with our bodies, our minds, and each other.

Strike the iron of this world while it is hot!

The Theory Of Bloom

In a sense they foreshadowed what was to come, in their own sad and skeptical way, which led them one by one to the abyss.

-Roberto Bolaño

Tiqqun was a two volume journal published in France at the turn of the 21st century. The first volume appeared in 1999 and included a text entitled Théorie du Bloom. In 2000, the text was augmented by the authors and published by La Fabrique Editions. In the two volumes of Tiqqun, the idea of the Bloom appears throughout the interrelated texts. Its clearest articulation resides in the augmented, book-length version of The Theory Of Bloom.

In a sense they foreshadowed what was to come, in their own sad and skeptical way, which led them one by one to the abyss.

-Roberto Bolaño

Tiqqun was a two volume journal published in France at the turn of the 21st century. The first volume appeared in 1999 and included a text entitled Théorie du Bloom. In 2000, the text was augmented by the authors and published by La Fabrique Editions. In the two volumes of Tiqqun, the idea of the Bloom appears throughout the interrelated texts. Its clearest articulation resides in the augmented, book-length version of The Theory Of Bloom.

The book begins by narrating a scene of total, entropic disconnection between passengers on a train. A woman yells through the phone at her ex-husband, the two of them negotiating time with their child and time with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. While she talks she is propelled forward on a train, sitting in a seat identical to all others in a car which is identical to all the others. The detachment of everyone on the train, the “strangeness” between them, is something we all share in common. This “strangeness” is also called the Bloom. We only experience it as a “strangeness” because we are so separated and so masked to one another. But in fact, the Bloom is the common power we all share. Bloom is the name given to the nameless.

From there, the book dives into the history of the 20th century, narrating the development of Biopower from 1914 onwards. Biopower, the science of control, is the “ benevolent power, full of the solicitude of a shepherd for his flock, the power that wants the salute of its subjects, the power that wants you to live.” Working hand in hand with Biopower is the Spectacle, “the power that wants you to talk, that wants you to be someone.” You must have a social role in the Spectacle, you must be recognizable and clearly distinct so as to be better classified in its shows, magazines, soap operas, social scenes–its theater of masks. As Biopower and the Spectacle’s control grew more total in scope and effect throughout the course of the 20th century, the Bloom had to survive and adapt. It had to exist with the bombardments of the radio, the television, advertisements, moral duties, mandatory military service, and the conditions in modern factories.

But soon, the Bloom caused the strategies of Biopower to shift. Too many people concentrated together would produce too much resistance. The common ground had to be pulled out from under the Bloom. The workplace had to be diffused, more and more had to become automated, and the workers had to be stripped of their collective power. By being made easily replaceable and anonymous, workers fell deeper into the grips of Biopower. At the same time, the worker became disinterested in crumbling truths regarding living wages, job security, and fair employment. All ties the Bloom once had to economy started to fade, and are still fading.

KEEP A GOOD FACE, before the domain of ruins.

-Tiqqun

The Bloom is forced to fixate on certain social roles in order to survive. Worker, housewife, professional, student, citizen, all of the roles are but masks, donned and rarely removed. The Bloom must remain positive while wearing these masks, ignoring its own power and sovereignty. “The Bloom is the masked nothing.” But underneath the mask is the pure potential of every person.

To catch a glimpse of one’s pure potential most often causes either fear or destructive elation. On one end, the fear invoked by one’s own freedom makes people cling ever more tightly to their masks. “At first I was lost without my cage,” said the canary. This produces the western hipster, the devotee of nothingness, the champion of the mask. Hipsters are neutralized beings, forever terrified of what they could do, might do, and will never do. “The hipster is the Bloom who offers himself to the world as a bearable form of life, and in order to do so forces himself into a strict discipline of lies.” The hipster is a finished being, “ever-already disappeared, ever-already forgotten.”

On the other end, the intoxication of one’s own freedom, finally experienced, causes the Bloom to lash out, to affirm its power as the ability to kill and destroy. The school shooters, the cop killers, “the maniacs of nothing,” expend themselves asserting their sovereignty over the systems which once dominated them. The book references the Columbine shooters and children killing their parents as examples of these eruptions of pure potential as death. But the authors stress that their “aim is not to lend an ordinary revolutionary signification to such acts, and hardly to confer an exemplary category to them. Instead, we wish to understand the way they express fatality and to seize upon it so as to explore the depths of the Bloom. Whomever follows that view will see that the Bloom is NOTHING, but that this NOTHING is the nothing of sovereignty, the emptiness of pure power.”

One path leads to the nothingness of commercial society, the hipster. The other path leads to the nothingness of death. The authors of The Theory Of Bloom suggest a different path, one which leads to neither death or perdition, but towards the “strategic community of the Invisible Committee.”

At the conclusion of The Theory Of Bloom, the positive objectives of the Invisible Committee are elaborated. After having taken the reader through an erratic genealogy of western literature, religion, philosophy, and capitalism, the authors lay out their prescription. They ask the reader to not “merely struggle against the dominant schizoid state, against our schizoid state, but to begin there.” By making use of our dual natures of public and private, of worker and party animal, of criminal and model citizen, we are to “coordinate in silence a sabotage of grand style.”

Only those who know the meaning that they will give to the catastrophe retain calmness and precision in their movements. By the type and the proportions of panic to which a spirit allows itself to go, one can tell one’s rank.

-Tiqqun

The goal for the reader is to understand the context and significance of their situation, to not run in terror from their pure potential, their total freedom. They recommend experimentation, massive experimentation in which the reader detaches themselves from their detachment “using a conscious, strategical practice of dual self.” In this way, one becomes part of the Imaginary Party, the anonymous sea of actors who cannot help but hinder the movements of civilization. But rather than be a hipster or a school shooter, the agents of the Invisible Committee move anonymously through their environs, composing strategically within a collapsing system, refusing to be frozen in popular culture or sacrificed to the Spectacle as a psychotic killer.

To embrace the Bloom in oneself is “the practical experience of the self as trickster.” Everything which exists in the world of the Spectacle and Biopower can be utilized but must never be embraced or championed. It is all at our disposal, every bit of it, ready to be re-appropriated. “To not only survive in the constant immanence of a miraculous departure, to not merely force oneself to believe in the job that one does, in the lies that one tells, but to begin from there, to enter into contact with other agents of the Invisible Committee.” The Invisible Committee is “an openly secret society, a public conspiracy…the name of which is everywhere and the headquarters nowhere.” All defectors, all deserters, all escape artists can take part in the “inassignable plan” of the infiltration of every echelon of society. The book ends by telling the reader, very simply, to leave the rank “without appearing to.” The authors tell the reader when to do this. NOW.

“In the metropolis, man purely undertakes the trial of his negative condition. Finitude, solitude and display, which are the three fundamental coordinates of that condition, weave the decor of the existence of each within the grand village. Not the fixed decor, but the moving decor, the combinational decor of the grand village, for which everybody endures the icy stench of their non-places. ”

-Tiqqun

It is very difficult to synthesize the various conclusions in this book. All I have done here is present a few of their main points. The book itself, according the Junius Frey, the author of the books intro, does not act like a book. It is what he calls an “editorial virus” which “exposes the principle of incompleteness, the fundamental insufficiency that is in the foundation of the published work.” It is not meant to leave the reader feeling satisfied as they would be with a book they could read on the beach and then throw away. It is meant to bring the reader to a position where their withdrawal from its conclusions “can no longer be neutral. ”

The Theory of Bloom is a very dangerous book, filled with warnings against fascism, laziness and stagnation. It describes our era as one whose defining characteristics are display, finitude, and solitude. We display ourselves to each other because it the only way to be seen. We are finite beings, forever sealed off from each other, only able to display our masks in a grand masquerade. And we are all alone, solitary, stumbling over each other when the dance is over and the masks have grown uncomfortable. In times of decadence, people get to the bottom of things, growing disgusted and tired with their masks. We are all orbiting around the gravity of our potential power, unsure of and afraid to use it. But that power is not something which only one group may access. Fascism is simply another response to glimpsing ones power, ones pure potential. Fascism is the mass-experience of freedom as death. It is a very real, ever present danger.

The book is terrifying in its simplicity, nearly overwhelming in its descriptions of modern culture. The fact that it was written over a decade ago is a testament to the resonance it still carries within it. There are dozens of passages describing familiar scenes which still hold true today and are no less potent because of their age. This book is one of the main keys to the two volumes of Tiqqun and the later work of the Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection. It holds everything which was to come later, and contains to seeds of what is still to be sown. This book should be read and read again.

Evidently, it has no other end but devastating this world; this is even its destiny, but it will never say so. Because its strategy is to produce the disaster, and around it, silence.

-Tiqqun

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is civil conversation?

The fact that this has to be stated explicitly speaks to the way in which "new media" is actually bad media for many people. Something to avoid rather than to participate in. Radical content attracts people who are marginal and that is a pleasure and a curse. A curse because every attempt at having a certain kind of conversation (in this context we will call it a building-idea kind) can be disrupted by nonsense. A pleasure because the place where people are starting the conversations can be enlightening.

1. What is civil conversation?

The fact that this has to be stated explicitly speaks to the way in which "new media" is actually bad media for many people. Something to avoid rather than to participate in. Radical content attracts people who are marginal and that is a pleasure and a curse. A curse because every attempt at having a certain kind of conversation (in this context we will call it a building-idea kind) can be disrupted by nonsense. A pleasure because the place where people are starting the conversations can be enlightening.

The Anvil will enforce civil conversation by the subjective view of the editors. This probably means that we will use Drupal to "unpublish" comments that are shrill in tenor. We will try to keep the critical "meta" conversation about site procedure off the pages where we are having the conversations that this site is actually about…

Contestation. Transgression. Engagement.

2. What is a review essay?

We would like to believe this is a wide open category that includes poetry about something that was inspiring and an angry rant against something infuriating. Most commonly we expect a readable, informed, article by someone who is arguing as if they have something at stake.

Criticism has, for too long, been something that is either seen as something that people do in university or only do with their enemies. We are trying to create a place where we can talk about the things that we care in a way that honors how complex our feelings often are.

3. How do I submit my writing?

You can use the form on the lower right hand site (Create Content) or send an email to anvil@theanvilreview.org. Either way is safe but email is faster and can provide some way for us to have a dialogue about the content before it is posted.

4. Print? Is it dead?

Yes and no. Print is not financially sustainable and isn’t going to be for the forseeable future for interesting content BUT it is the intention of The Anvil to release a print edition every 3-6 months anyway. How will we do it? Excellent question. We will probably offer subscriptions and a couple of generous doners to get started… but that chapter has yet to be written.

Welcome to The Anvil

We are starting a high quality review site for writings by anarchists (explicit and implicit). We hope to critically review content spread across popular culture, literature, anarchist publishing, and everywhere our reviewers desire. The site will be called The Anvil, be hosted here, and will launch at the end of January 2010. If the site goes well we hope to decant a print (newsprint) version of the best of the site every few months.

We are starting a high quality review site for writings by anarchists (explicit and implicit). We hope to critically review content spread across popular culture, literature, anarchist publishing, and everywhere our reviewers desire. The site will be called The Anvil, be hosted here, and will launch at the end of January 2010. If the site goes well we hope to decant a print (newsprint) version of the best of the site every few months.