Monday, March 28, 2022

Magic: The Gathering: The Worldbuilding: The Writeup (1 of 8)

Postscript: This was written in fits and starts, spaced out across about five months—usually coinciding with Wizards of the Coast previewing a new Magic: The Gathering expansion and releasing the associated web fiction. As usual, one of the motivators of this "exercise" is the idea that I can apply to myself the parental logic of forcing a child to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes after catching him lighting up in the garage.*  It's worked before, and the results were usually something I could live with. This time...I'm not so sure.

For the Magic: The Gathering fan/addict (what's the difference?) who happens upon this writeup, I suspect it'll be so much catnip. For the person who's never thought about or spent any money on the damn cards, it could be an entertaining dive into an entertainment product that rakes in upwards of $580 million a year, forms the basis of an esoteric subset of geek/gamer culture that's probably larger than most people think, and achieved with nothing but colorful pieces of carboard the same degree of slavish patronage which World of Warcraft needed the Unreal Engine and cable internet to inspire in its players.

For people in my age group (read: old) who played for a couple of years in middle school and then wandered off, never to return, it might be a fun way to see how much the game changed over the years.

I should say in advance that I'm not going to be looking at every single Magic set. There's a point where R&D refines its approach to worldbuilding into almost a matter of rote method, and where most of what can be said about a given set is "so-and-so happens in the story," "it's a lot like such-and-such previous set," and "it's inspired by this-and-that real-world culture and folklore." We won't be venturing very far into the post-Mending era.

Since most of these have already been written and need only some touch-ups and pictures, I think I can stand to post them weekly—which might mean I have two months' worth of updates on deck. If I weren't so ashamed of myself for having written so much about Magic: The Gathering, I'd be very pleased.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The conspiracy of NFTs

Everybody hates NFTs and is sick of hearing about them, barring the people who have gotten, or are hoping to get rich (or richer) from making and selling NFT art—and we might getting of sick of them, too. We're tired of the phantom whiffs of vape oil and cannabis we get whenever we glimpse a fugitive Bored Ape Yacht Club avatar, and we're tried of gnashing our teeth when we hear that some insipid, procedurally generated .png with a blockchain receipt sold for tens of thousands of dollars. We're even getting weary of reading articles about our collective hatred of NFTs. And yet, the media persists in telling us that the damn things are here to stay, and that we'll all soon embrace them as willingly as we did credit cards, Farmville, Instagram, or any other parasitic technology. Surely the incessant anti-NFT chatter helps to fulfill the prophecy, crystallizing the inevitability of Web3 the same way Freddy Krueger grows strong by feeding on the fears of his future victims.

Nevertheless, we are now, reluctantly looking into the mirror and chanting "non-fungible asset tokens" three times. What compelled me to this was Wikipedia's decision to classify Cryptopunks and their ilk as NFTs—not as "art."

Though it pains me to say it, I don't think this was the right call. "Art" is a word whose meaning lost all coherence around the same time the cabal of critics and curators retroactively canonized Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. If what we talk about when we talk about art is the stuff we see in museums or read about in Artforum, it's hard to deny that NFTs fit the profile. If Banksy's stencil graffiti or Warhol's screen prints of camouflage patterns get to be Art, then who are Wikipedia's editors to say that a .jpg with a blockchain ledger "pointing" to it belongs to a separate, lesser category of cultural artifact?

Not only would I argue that NFTs deserve to be categorized as art, but that they represent the next logical step in the evolution of contemporary art, and of the art market (and truly, it is impossible to separate the two). But what's more important is how they arrived at this position: by a feat of reductio ad absurdum.