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Power Fantasies (Part 3) - Act 3
Beyond fantasy, striving for power
So, we come to the end. It is time to sit with our power fantasies and look onwards from here1. I hope this series helped us cultivate the language that we use to talk about art-form, and broadened the horizons of what we can discuss and achieve with it.
Hopefully, this series has been of use for you, giving you new things to think about this art-form and its relationship with power and fantasy. You may have taken the classic understanding of biopolitics, recognized its dark evolution into widespread necropolitics in the neocolonial age, or may even have got the same affliction that has made me unable to close my eyelids to the all-surrounding, suffocating psychopolitical.
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There is much to gain by thinking about the meaning of “power” in something that is often dismissed as purely entertainment that seeks to fulfill power fantasies. This is not to say that there are wrong fantasies to have, or art exploring certain forms of power should not be made; resist those psychopower trails. That is the way of soul coppery. No, the reason we should think and sit with those power fantasies is to see how they are replicated; for when we use this art-form to make art, it does what we want it to do rather than just be another was to get those chains inside of our head.
This examination is meant to be empowering, not paralysing. There is a common repulsion among those aligned to my beliefs, especially in the imperial core, to be suspicious of power. Power, is, however, just the application of social knowledge into social action2. We are so used of power to mean how much labor you can capture without being challenged3, — and these fantasies certainly facilitate that idea — that it becomes all there is. But without power, there is inaction; it feels like there is nothing than we can do. And to escape despair, we seek power fantasies — but because of this aversion, we do not reimagine what power and relationships of power can be; we are left with nothing but the Cultist, the Orc and You as targets to bash.
Without imagining anything else, we only have the trails of the circuity of technologies of power to fall back to. Without other ways to socialize new knowledge and apply it beyond these molds, that is the only type of social relationships we foster — and undesirable as they may be for all involved.
Let’s sit down with this art-form and what this means with those of us that socialize in its artistry. There has been a sword dangling over this final part the whole time, that I would be remiss if I did not address.
Are these things games do because they are games or it is something that games end up doing because of the pressures and reward imperatives laid upon them?
The answer is yes.
The current resurgence of collaborative storytelling games in its contemporary incarnation of TTRPG was allowed by post-modernity and enclosed by neoliberalism. It was never allowed to be anything else, but requires concessions that those struggled to manage the tensions and contradiction. Psychopolitical allows that, which only has made TTRPGs further shaped by the demands psychopower places upon us.
Very few4 of us benefit from the deployment of psychopower in this art-form; even the less scrupulous and ill-intended suffer greatly from this burnout environment, paying dearly for whatever they harvest. So, these are not the spheres where there is usually much of an active choice to cultivate and reproduce psychopower5. It is not done for the art, but it is done because of the pressures post-production late stage capitalism puts on everything you do. Ideas implicit or openly state, that “good games” must be no bummer zones, transparency inquisitions, database-narrative friendly, use HR-speak, implant and make use of soul cops in lieu of game design, etc, those become synonymous with how you do great art in TTRPGs not because it makes great art, but because it is what is rewarded in this social production arrangement6. This is an important distinction: even if you have to have psychopower elements for the art to exist, a sobering attitude to it and keeping the cop outside and not letting it become an inner soul cop, can help with both creating better art but also with empowerment, communication and avoiding burnout. You cannot stop psychopower from being deployed against you, but just like with biopower and necropower, you know it is being deployed against you. But alas, not inherent to the art, to games, or to game tech7. As much as they colonize gamespaces and the industry, even where they are welcomed, they are still shaped mostly from the outside.
I know I just said there are games intentionally psychopolitical, but maybe there should be. Gamespaces take an ideology and make it work utopically, without resolving the tensions that would make them collapse, and, in fact, dismissing them by making the ideology work as intended; this has great social and artistic potential to explore the unimagined8 9. These are not easy pieces of art to participate on, but they are remarkable in how they use these imperfect game spaces. Unknown Armies is a masterpiece of intentionally using biopower. The lack of art reproducing necropower intentionally and purposefully has left us bereft of any proper discussion and relationship with violence in the art-form, further paving the way for psychopolitical “No negative violence = pacifist, peaceful game”10 without any reflection of the ways that mass depersonalization can occur and be portrayed as an edifying, identity-making, person-elevating process. And if necropower-exploratory art would have be a great boon for the art-form, the transformative power of psychopower-exploratory art is such that I cannot even imagine what it would do11. Can I see it?
What else can we do? Well, I can confidently say: you are working too much. It may feel like you are not accomplishing enough as you should be, but 100% confident overworking is the cause. You can achieve the same if you slowed down; that is something that psychopower keeps pushing into you. You are doing a lot of work that is not helping, is burning you out, does not work like you been told it would work; and the constant grind is making impossible for you to even properly examine, figure it out and drop what is just draining you.
Another soul coppery inescapable for us is, like everywhere else, the faux-therapy talk/HR-fication of everything; in our art-form, that seems to manifest as “therapy for your art-self” — as the consultancy boom. “Get consultants” is said with the same soul cop energy of “Get therapy”, often deployed with no interest in the empowering enabled by the art and in a purely managerial command — just like the weaponisation of therapy-talk for management does not care at all for mental wellbeing. This grindstone tears through both sides: both those genuinely believing consulting improves art and provides empowerment and those that genuinely want to do the right thing and believe consultants are going to give them that.
However, only those that are aware of the business as clients or consultants thrive without being psycho-powdered. The problem with consultancy is one that Edward Said noticed quite early in Imperial progressive studies as those left academia in the neoliberal push of the 90s: he pointed out the dangers of the professionalization of the intellectual, of the expert of a minority, and how it distracted of it being something that anyone should speak up and point out when it is off, rather than to become the domain of experts12. The dangers of professionalization of a consulting class enclosing work that all must do for it to work. In the world of the psychopolitical, such fear came true more nightmarish than ever. Consultants are by demand of the hierarchic structure they interact with, deeply undemocratic managerial positions, divorced from community13 in the performance of their duties, speaking for and on behalf of people rather than as part of them. A consultant is offering a service to a client; there is no way to get around that. A good consultant, a consultant that gets jobs, a consultant that is professional, is a consultant that leaves satisfied. The consultant is beholden to the client; if you really believe in consulting, this grinds at you because this power imbalance prevents you from being as independent, critical, controversial and sceptical as is required to enact the much needed change you know it is needed14. On the client side, even when you seek to do the right thing15, you are stonewalled by the professionalism of the consultancy: you, the client, are still centered, but the consultant cannot admit ignorance; the consultant must be a know-it-all, or you are not getting what you paid for16. We need different empowering solutions that truly serve those on the receiving end of these technologies of control.
This system only serves entrenched power, that makes use of this for promotion and as a cudgel, and the professional consultancy class that thrives on this arrangement. For those seeking a stamp and those making a killing on indulgences. Everyone else is ground to dust. Consultancy, in the psychopolitical framework, does not work17. Whenever there is an example of the good consultancy does — if it is not self-evident “it was good because consultancy was done and that was good”, — it is someone that (acknowledged as such or not18) became a contributing co-author and able to meaningfully steward the artistic endeavour, or when someone eager to learn got the support of someone that was willing to drop professionalism, and admitting their lacunae, together learned how to make a better, empowering version of the original vision. Either case involves extenuating, ongoing, humbling work from the client and/or consultant. Doing this right takes work and it must be acknowledged; if you get in this trap of it as a band-aid to get productivity going and products to the market, it will burn you out.
It will be impossible to escape or wrestle control of psychopower when working under franchise domination and its associated database-narrative. They are weaponized transparency, and they own the datasets you are allowed to make your transparent-person. The fight against reproducing the psychopolitical is already a difficult one; trying to do so within the frameworks of Hasbro, Walking Deads TTRPGs, Viacom Official Funko Pops, etc, is going to be impossible. Greater forces will pressure you to comply into reproducing said behaviors.
At the end, we come back to the beginning: to an idea as simple as it seems impossible. We need to think what social relations and social production we want to have and do them; nobody can do it for you — literally, the social relations and way to socially produce you seek can only be done through you. This paralyzing thought may echo, but it does so because is one shared by all: everyone else does not find the social relations and production they need and are just as eager to do them beyond capitalism and these power fantasies. Inaction, doom and inertia are not your friend; the psychopower hustle grindset will just burnout — this is not liberatory. It will be hard, it may not work, but I can assure you, this is not doing for you what you seek and need. Wellness capitalism and its false-healing that make of all of us Life Coaches “therapists”19 and disguises coating each other in toxic positivity with community and mutual support is not liberatory; it is the psychopolitical that enchains all of us20.
The paralysis will not go away until we start building actual communities, the greatest defense against psychopower and inaction. But to do so, we require those very sorts of social relations we want but cannot get. In the most recent edition of Necropolitics, Achille Mbembe presents the most radical action one can do is unconditional personhood: the camp-form disappears if non-persons are impossible to our eyes, nobody can be shoved away to death-worlds; the mystical identarian lies of dark messianism collapse, leaving only the naked brutality that is done to other people — and thus, to us. Necropower becomes impossible to maintain as its fictions have no purchase. Psychopower can be equally disarmed if we extend this idea beyond the reach of the soul cop: if we believe there can be hidden narratives, if there can be stories about what cannot be databased, if we recognize personhood as independent of our understanding or familiarity. The antidote to psychopower is embracing universal personhood: the Other, even in the volcano or a distant star, possesses personhood and narratives that you can never understand.
This will give us the shock to become once again vulnerable enough to fail, and thus, to love the Other. And slaying the soul cop, we can be someone that others feel they can fail and be vulnerable with, embracing our Otherness without having us become another Same accepted by psychopower. Once we stop looking for excuses to rescind the personhood of someone, when we start to accept the Other by accepting our failures before them, then we can start building actual communities. Then we can build up what we need, what we want.
Do not let this paralyse it; you are needed. As things look grim, I see more and more people trying different things — but only you can make the things you need. One such group emerged over the writing of this piece: CyCo is a collective organized according to cybernetic and participatory principles. Rather than focusing on maximizing profit of productivity, they state their goal is to reward effort and sacrifice; take note of the mind-numbing, degrading, dangerous and exhausting tasks and make sure collective members are properly recognized and rewarded. Furthermore, they seem to put a focus on giving every member empowering work, reducing how much of that undesirable work they have to perform: you don’t have to be influencer, marketer, distributor, manager, editor, etc; within this space, you can focus on your art or craft. This system of labor pooling seems to be coupled with principles that bolster their resistance to psychopower — from their manifesto it seems they understand the value of universal personhood in their pursuit of artistic social relations and production. Time will tell if they will succeed — or what success may look like when you focus on effort and empowerment, — but I wish them the best of luck and will support them in their endeavours.
I’m sure you will find no shortage of people that share your fears and are like you paralyzed from pursuing the social relations you want. Together, you can try to make something new.
You can give another meaning to power, even if just as a fantasy.
Most of my thoughts will linger on the psychopolitical — if you cannot find the issues with the biopolitical and necropolitical on your own, well it is not like we could have a productive conversation anyway.
Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom (1982)
Abdullah Öcalan, Sociology of Freedom: Manifesto of the Democratic Civilization, Volume III (2020)
But that’s the thing with ideology: it does not require belief or a conscious choice and n fact, it works the best when you don’t think of it at all. The point you must leave from this is that nobody is going “Oh boy, I sure love to be soul cop and make a soul cop game”.
I’m using great art here for the sole meaning I find it useful when writing for Split/Party: “great art” is art that makes great use of the medium as well as itself to do what it seeks to do and inspire the transformation it seeks to inspire. So in this case, it is not things that people make artistic choices about because it helps them — at best, because they are repeatedly hammered into them that these help. And because “look, this helped others, what is your problem it does not work with you” feed the psychopower loop furthermore.
And definitely not inherent to You. That’s soul cop beating you.
McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (2007)
David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules (2015)
It is still pretty much still just Flying Circus and Dungeon Bitches, just the same as it was when I wrote the addendum to Part 2.
But like a black hole, I can still feel its pull.
Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (1993)
Which can be deeply unproductive, and harmful for certain types of consultancy.
Andy Merrifield, The Amateur (2017)
In the only way the psychopolitical allows you to do the right thing.
This gets only more entrenched as one gets more “professional”, and feels less the need to self-actualize and touch base with the social knowledge that they are paid to represent.
For its alleged and proposed goals, it works pretty well as an industry.
The hiring of consultants as a way to further precaratize other labor and exploit these “consultants” is another widespread issue.