Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: The Cyberpunks of Culture (RPG and ACTA)

The new European anti-piracy international law – known as ACTA – is similar to SOPA and PIPA, but will have bigger impact as a global law (including US, EU, Japan, Canada, Brazil, and Mexico). A few weeks ago thousands of people in Poland, in many cities, demonstrated on the streets against ACTA. They convinced the Polish prime minister to hold a public ratification process of ACTA in Poland. Later, young people in many other European countries also started protests. And now, the EU Parliament is divided. Even people in the European Commission has doubts whether ACTA is a good law.

My friend Bart from the creative collective Lans Macabre wrote this post about RPG and ACTA. I think it is worth reading and discussing. But enough from me, let’s let Bart speak for himself!

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The combination of the battle raging over ACTA, some of my recent readings, and constantly thinking about my PhD convinced me to write this post. I hope you don’t mind.

Massive AttackI am reading about Banksy and Bristol. This town is cultural pot: a European capital of graffiti, the cradle of trip-hop music (or “Bristolsound”) where Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead were born. And now music and street art in the Bristol-style have emerged from hip-hop and have started to influence each other. For example, Banksy made
a cover for Monk & Canatella ‘s album Do Community Service in 2000.

Musical samples and graphical templates are examples of something we call a “culture of remix” (or collage). A piece of sound copied from one song, drifts freelly in sea of sounds and appears in many other songs. It becomes a piece of one big, dynamic puzzle. The same thing happened to Banksy’s famous rat – the rat was multiplied on walls all around the city and become an artistic virus.

There is something cybeprunkish in all of it. Even Bruce Sterling in his foreword to the Mirrorshades anthology wrote about hip-hop scratch technique being a metaphor for cyberpunk. In Sterling’s opinion it appears when the street transforms technology for it’s own means and use. Cyberpunk, as a culture, has a lot in common with hip-hop and street art – they are off (contra-cultural) and defiant, spreading the idea of resistance to the overhelming system of power (corporations, governments).

Nowadays the “street” is not only a physical place occupying a city’s alleys and corners. It is also on the Internet. We have here city walls infected by graffiti, Internet memes and YouTube… a whole ocean of information like in Ghost in The Shell. The content of this ocean is in a constant replication process – remixing, remixing, remixing – just like sound pieces in hip hop. One street is supervised by street artists, the other one by hackers in Guy Fawkes’ masks (from V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and the Wachowski brothers).

Various RPG Dice from my Collection

Various RPG Dice from my Collection (Photo credit: Las Vegas Decker)

I was not reading ACTA too carefully and I base my opinion on media relations. And I am sure that this whole anti-piracy ACTA law is not fitting to our culture of remix. I can imagine guys from Paramount Pictures invading our (Lans Macabre’s) RPG kid camps and accusing us for stealing their ideas because a RPG session used some Indiana Jones movie motifs. I can imagine Warner Bros buying the license for all the Sherlock Holmes stories and suing creators of the Wolsung RPG (a Polish Steampunk game). I can imagine Disney knocking on my door because I run adventures about Winnie The Pooh.

The Wolsung game is a very good example. I show parts of its core rulebook to my students. I want them to understand that RPG it is not only entertainement for geeks (hunting dragons and so on). but is also a high quality creative mechanism which transforms our cultural heritage. The Wolsung idea and world are based on Difference Machine, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy, etc. Authors of the game write sincerely about these influences in the foreword to the book. Isn’t this an invitation for ACTA enforcers? Because it is forbiden to inspire oneself by somebody else creations!

We, the RPG fans, we are kind of cyberpunks of culture. We take literature, movies, music – take them apart and put them back together again. We create something new using the pre-made patterns and templates of culture. We play small Frankensteins. Think about it! How big the scale of our cultural partisan craft it is. How many amazing new stories are told during RPG sessions. All of them constructed from small parts of already told (published) stories.

I look at our collective – Lans Macabre. Alex uses parts of true crime/serial killer stories in his adventures. Zed transforms themes from Barker and Masterton. I was running a session remixing Wuthering Heights and songs by Kate Bush. Our culture is full of parts of the code which infects our minds. We work with those parts, and reassamble them again and again.

Let’s consider for a moment how our storytelling improvisations are similar to those hip-hop freestyle and graffiti templates we talked about earlier. We, RPG fans, are a very important part of modern culture – that culture of remix.

We, RPG fans, stand in the same line with independent hip hop musicians and Internet movie creators (like Kutiman who assembles parts of amateur clips from YouTube into professional movie clips). The only difference is that we create in another space. Every GM is like a one-man-orchestra – like a beatboxer. GMs use their imaginations, gestures and voices to set the scene and much much more.

I do hope that RPGs will win their place in culture, like hip hop, street art, beatbox, and cyberpunk did. That one day RPGs will receive the esteem and understanding they deserve. Slowly, it is happening now.

We should not forget that we are part of a bigger wholeness and are responsible for culture of remix. Let’s fight for this culture and not let just anybody weave their webs in our oceans of information.

Of course, my examples with ACTA enforcers hunting for RPG fans is an exaggeration, but in this crazy world everything is possible. That’s why we should promote RPGs! We should show how valuable they are – thanks to free ideas and inspiration exchange.

Bart

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