The Trajectory of Humanity and Capitalist Realism: AKA, The #iHunt Core Rules

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I’ve been play testing and fucking with the #iHunt rules. They were on their third major iteration. The first was a weird thing that I can barely remember. The second was closer to a traditional adventure game like D&D and World of Darkness. The third was a punchy narrative system closer to an Apocalypse World style game.

Let me preface this by saying that I liked every single one of those game systems.

None of them were #iHunt.

The problem with #iHunt is, well, it’s a problem with gaming. I liked what I had before, in principle, but it was giving too much credence to capitalist ways of thinking. The system should eschew capitalist realism.

The previous iteration of the system used abstract “Cash” as a precarious resource. But that falls into the trap of thinking you can dig yourself out of poverty if you just grind hard enough for more money. That’s not how the system works. It’s not how the system is designed to work.

This is actually really difficult to iterate on, because I think we all take for granted how much libertarian/capitalist thinking has permeated gaming, by virtue of it permeating popular fiction conventions.

To think of a world where capitalist ideas are artificial, and not just “the way things are,” is rather challenging because of just how deeply invasive they are in our lives. Capitalism, in #iHunt, should be an antagonist, NOT the rules system.

How much in popular gaming is predicated on individual merit and achievement? How much comes out of misguided ideas of well-defined resources that are sufficiently simple that you can give inputs with the expectation of concrete, predictable outputs? In a game, you can save up X points until you can afford Y. It’s just the way things are. In the real world, the system itself is set up to guarantee that some people simply cannot save up X points. The system works differently for them. The way the “invisible hand” works privileges some, and holds others down. We know this. We’ve all heard Sam Vimes’s Boot Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness from the late, great Terry Pratchett. But how is that fun? Well, we prioritize play outside that system.

In #iHunt, when you engage with the system given to millennials, you lose. The only way is to not play. That’s why those rules, those systems, they aren’t going to define my world. They’ll stand as threats.

In the #iHunt world, there’s a bit of hunter slang. We call it “a fair fight.” When a hunter says, “they had a fair fight,” that means they died. Because against a monster, you die in a fair fight. Thinking about this clicked with me.

When you engage capitalism on capitalism’s terms, you lose. You cannot win a fair fight with capitalism. It’s the monster, and it’s stronger than any vampire, werewolf, or demon.

Somehow, it never dawned on me that I should integrate these ideas into the game on a deep, fundamental level. Because, frankly, games have fucked me up. “The way things are” is capitalist realism. And that’s bullshit.

So, let me present this. The core rules theory. The “when you roll the dice” section for #iHunt. And ultimately, my manifesto for what #iHunt’s rules are supposed to be.

The Trajectory of Humanity and Capitalist Realism

Holy shit that sounds pretentious, doesn’t it? I had this whole bit planned where I’d do a convoluted timeline that compared #iHunters to Cleopatra or some shit, but we’re not gonna go there. There’s really just one strange parallel I want to draw. I’m keeping it super simple though because this isn’t a fucking history book.

Thousands of years ago, humankind had three basic types.

First off, you had your agriculturalists. They more or less kept to one area. They built farms and ultimately developed irrigation systems and other techniques for maximizing efficiency.

Then you’ve got your raiding populations. They existed on others’ hard work, stepping into communities and using threat of violence to seize resources.

Last off, you’ve got your nomadic people. They didn’t focus too much on resource surpluses—they did what they need in one place, then moved to another when they had to for the seasons, the soil, or whatever other reason.

Over time, the raiding populations realized the surplus generated by the agriculturalists were better to leech off of than flat-out destroy every few years. With the threat of direct or indirect violence, they created a parasitic relationship with these communities. They forced more and more efficiency, all sorts of other stuff happened, then you’ve got capitalism.

Where did the nomadic people go? Well, they still exist, but on the fringe of what we’d call “society.” The capitalists have made it progressively harder and harder to live outside their system.

In a lot of ways, #iHunters are like the nomadic herders in this really strange, forced analogy. They don’t drag sheep across the plains to find better weather, but they survive by different rules. You know all those articles about how the average person making minimum wage can’t afford to rent an apartment? That shit’s awful. The system is built to fuck you. What if you just… didn’t play by the system’s rules?

“But Olivia! They still use money and buy stuff! How are they operating outside a system while still using money and owning things? Huh? Actually they’re also capitalists! Also you’re typing this on a MacBook Pro! Checkmate, Olivia!”

The Master’s Tools

There’s this famous Audre Lorde quote that says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” It’s the great conversation ender that capitalist apologists use to excuse atrocity and shut down dissent. There’s a certain wisdom in it, but taken as just a single, bumper sticker friendly line, it looks like there’s simply no reason to resist. After all, the only way to exist outside that system is in a hand-built bunker in the woods. An #iHunter is using a smartphone made by sweatshop labor in Taiwan, and hunting with an app built by trust fund babies in Silicon Valley.

Really though, what it means is that by simply using the tools afforded by the system as they exist within the system, only narrow change is possible, and that true, fundamental change is only possible by seizing stolen tools. After all, we, working people, built those tools. The wealthy just laid claim to them. Can you do revolution with weapons they’ve sold you?

Revolution

The thing is, #iHunt isn’t a game about revolution. At least, not in the sense we generally think of when we think about revolution. It’s not a game about guillotines. It’s not a game about upending the system and replacing it with something new. It’s a game about making it in spite of a system meant to fuck you.

This isn’t a game about a revolution. This is a game about making your own little revolutions. As Che Guevara said, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” The rules in #iHunt are centered on making the apple fall. If you’re ever in a situation where you don’t know how something should work, favor the scenario where the Players make the apple fall.

In a way, #iHunt is about personal revolution, because #iHunters are redefining life. If you were born into a boy’s body but you know that deep down you’re a girl, life means living every day, looking in the mirror, and knowing you’re in this disgusting fucking skin suit you don’t belong in. Estradiol and Finasteride can help, but the system says you can’t afford them. They’re not covered by insurance and your shitty job barely keeps the lights on. An #iHunter who takes up the hunt and kills the hungry dead for cash is saying the system is insufficient, and my body is my body I will do whatever it takes to reshape it into something that feels correct. In that analogy, the revolution—the apple—is the human body. The apple sounds sort of biblical, and something something gender, right?

In another way, #iHunt is about a revolution of small groups of people. A gang of hunters is eking out life by its own rules. Have you ever been in line for a concert and a group of people approached you with fliers for their hippie commune where they all make art, they grow their own food, and they don’t pay rent on their converted old farm? #iHunters are kinda like that. They might not all squat in a house together (although they might anyway,) but they take mutual responsibility for each other, and put the needs of the group at the forefront. As Marx said, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” A hunter gang is full of individuals with different skills and different needs, but they will always be stronger together. Will #iHunters overthrow empire and end capitalism? Probably not. But they’ll redefine what it means for their lives, and in their little collectives, they can be sure that the most important decisions aren’t made from the outside.

Really, #iHunt is about seizing agency from a world that doesn’t want you to have it. The world of #iHunt—our world—is a world that wants you complacent. It wants you to think you have no say in your destiny. #iHunt is about being punk as fuck, telling the world that it might fucking kill you, but it’ll never control you.

It’s Gotta Be Fun

Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” This is essential thinking for #iHunt. Yes, you’re forcing your will on the world as a survival mechanism, and that’s hardcore as hell. But, also, you’re existing within this monstrous demon castle called capitalism. #iHunt is economic horror—it can be depressing. But that’s just it: You have to keep it fun. Not always, but enough. If it’s just crushing defeat after crushing defeat, that blows and nobody’s gonna want to play that. (If they do, then maybe be careful around them.) You’ve got to have your wins. Sometimes your wins aren’t win-wins. Sometimes it’s just getting the badass one-liner off even though you know you can’t win. But have fun.

The Action Dichotomy

There are two main roles in #iHunt. You have the Players and the Director. We thought about calling the capital P Players “Actors,” but that just got weird for a lot of reasons. Technically the Director is a player, too, but not a Player. The two roles are starkly different, however. We call this The Action Dichotomy. The Director in many ways represents the status quo, whereas the Players are actors who take risks and exercise their agency against the status quo. The Director portrays the horrifying, capitalist world. The Players fight to survive in that world, and cut out their own space outside its rules. If the choice is to subsist or live outside the rules, for some people living outside the rules is the only valid option.

The Director represents The Way Things Are. The Players represent not accepting that as a valid answer. For this reason, the Director and the Players essentially play by two sets of rules. Sure, the Players’ characters are subject to the same bullshit everyone else is—the bullshit the Director throws at them. But they have their own systems for not accepting those answers.

So here’s how the dichotomy works: The Director makes declarations. The Director plays by rules that work more or less the same every time. The Players fuck with those declarations. The Players add the x-factor of dice, which sometimes ends badly, and sometimes ends well.

Dice Theory

So when do you roll the dice in #iHunt? You roll the dice when “the way things are” isn’t a good enough fucking answer, and you’ve decided to change it. If you don’t roll dice, the world keeps chugging along the way it always does, and that fucking sucks. Fix it.

Here’s the other important part: You roll the dice when you want to change the way things are, and you’re willing to accept escalating consequences as a risk.

Here’s where the revolutionary bit comes in.

Have you ever been like, “Wow. The world isn’t great and maybe we should consider doing something about it?” Then someone comes in and is all, “Yeah but if we do literally anything about it we’ll be slaughtered by the government. What a baby, an immature, pathetic child you are for thinking you can do literally anything to influence the situation in the world. I am truly enlightened in my utter inaction.” Yeah I have, too. That way of thinking is tempting! After all, like Rosa Luxemburg said, “Those who don’t move don’t notice their chains.”

If you do something to improve your community, yes, theoretically the institutional oppression that maintains the capitalist machine might decide to obliterate you. But if it’s such a shitty situation that you throw conservative “wisdom” to the wind and make change, you’re boldly stating that you’re willing to risk that escalation because the alternative is The Way Things Are and The Way Things Are Isn’t Okay.

The thing is, yeah, sometimes when you take a stand, the machine kills you. But the machine will kill you if you don’t act. Like Emiliano Zapata said, “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” #iHunters prefer to live on their feet.