Accelerating Illusions

It is fair to argue that live action role playing is a mainstay of modern geek culture. Akin perhaps to improvisational theatre, though with a heavy overlay of rules and restrictions, anyone who has ever swung a foam sword in anger knows just how seriously LARPers take this misunderstood hobby. There are as many groups as fantasy universes to explore, and everything from Cthulhu to Harry Potter is represented somewhere along the way. For many this interest in collective world building seeps through into their everyday life, colouring the cold grey cityscape in whatever technicolor hue most closely matches the spirit of this liminal space.

I have always been on the fringes of LARP culture, rarely getting as involved as my peers in role playing away from the tabletop. While a dedicated fan of Dungeons and Dragons since my mid to late teens, it was Vampire the Masquerade as well as a handful of other World of Darkness games which saw me ad-lib my way through various supposedly deadly situations in spare rooms and rented halls all across the Capital. The lack of plastic armour and foam axes required to play within a universe whose origins lay just slightly to the left of our own gave the whole operation an air of legitimacy that left me wondering just how far a person could run with an alternative method of viewing their everyday life.

Unfortunately, far from empowering my first forays into magick, that question has instead haunted me ever since. If becoming a student of the occult is typified by both an understanding of ritual and an alternative viewpoint on the nature of reality then it does not necessarily differ from role playing in any real sense. Rule books must be absorbed, character classes chosen and entire pantheons of godforms appeased or cajoled into assisting with a given goal. Various communities have coalesced around the exploration of one or more aspects of mysticism, mirroring the schools of magick found in most fantasy realms. All somewhat spurious points perhaps, but definitely worth some thought.

Add to this the illusion of agency that casting spells or summoning spirits gives the truly powerless individual and it is not difficult to reduce everything we do to a game in all but name, one mistaken for an actual way of life. Some may argue that the results we generate through the many and varied operations attempted in this pursuit of control add legitimacy to the magickian’s actions, elevating their efforts beyond simply acting like a bad-ass and into some undefined supernatural space where all those spells really work. This need not be the case in light of the requirement for doing everything possible in the mundane world to allow the nonphysical one the best chance of manifesting your desire without opposition, however.

You see, there is always a chance that the dice would have fallen in the occultist’s favour regardless of any external input or metaphysical endeavours no matter how adeptly applied. That is not to say that magick as an idea is a lie, just that our assumptions about its separateness from human experience is deeply flawed. Reframing ritual as a purely subjective tool which functions internally as opposed to treating all those choreographed movements and barbaric phrases as the key to some external energy source can only be beneficial.

Not only does it remove the persistent assumption that we are the latest custodians of an ancient and mostly forgotten science, an argument which is easily crushed by the weight of historical evidence, but it also fosters freedom of choice with regards to what path to follow. Within said paradigm even the most massive and terrible godforms become little better than external complexes of internal meaning, though this does not render them any less dangerous to the inexperienced practitioner. Plus, for those who prefer to explain the workings of reality through the information model instead, this overarching nihilism still remains true.

If our universe is made up exclusively of data in various states then it follows that every fake ritual and playacted offering will still imprint meaning regardless of how others would perceive the legitimacy of those ideas. The trick is faking it until you make it, a statement that proves to be as true in the supernatural realm as it is anywhere else. The method proves to be far less important than intent in all cases where results are desperately needed, and a by any means necessary approach seems to create the best chance for success. I am not saying that such brutal reductionism is definitely true, nor do I honestly believe our place in the universe to be so bleak. But my mind does wander from time to time, and when it does I find myself thinking the darkest things.