Like all seasoned copywriters of the aughts, I’m subscribed to Digg.
Much like my e-mails from The New Yorker titillate my Graduate School Self, The Mighty newsletters appeal to my Anxious Self, and Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day awakens my Poet Self—today’s word is circuitous, “not being forthright in language or action”—when Digg appears in my Inbox, the Undergraduate Self turns on.
I return to an older time of a younger 20-someodd writer, fresh and eager, trying to make it in the digital landscape, still innocent and carefree, unaware of the collapse of the housing market, ill-prepared for the lay-off from the perfect editorial position, the recovery in the gaming industry, the succession of struggle that led to now.
I like returning to the Undergraduate Self.
In today’s Digg reads, I found out beef can be an artifact:
By now, the Wagyu had to go. There was still a quarter of the steak in the fridge and the rest of my family had had enough of me obsessing over a stupid piece of beef. They were right to be annoyed, of course. Like a cursed artifact, the Wagyu had poisoned my mind, turning me against anyone that I perceived as a threat to the wagyu. No one appreciated the Wagyu as I did. No one loved it as I did. No one was happy for us. Why couldn’t they be happy for me finding true beef love?
The Takeout, Drew Magary
I’m curious by the idea of a “cursed artifact,” but before I explore that deeper, I want to define artifact in its various forms. So I look at Wikipedia:
an artifact (error) misleads observers by presenting a confusing alteration in data, and it’s common in experimental science based on flaws in equipment and techniques;
an iatrogenic artifact is a medical problem specifically;
a visual artifact is found in microscopy;
then the cultural artifact moves from the erroneous into the role of a sample, anything created by humans that reveals more about their culture (or the culture of the artifact’s users, if not its creators);
in the digital landscape, a compression artifact occurs when an image, audio, or video file is compressed too complexly, resulting in a loss of clarity;
The vibe I feel is “artifact” equals “bad thing.” I want to know more about this bad thing, this tension. I can incorporate this idea into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
I Google “artifact curse,” traveling six results down to Mental Floss, where Kristy Puchko explored back in 2016:
the Hope Diamond, a 1bil yro gem, 54.52 carats, which brings “disgrace, divorce, suicide, imprisonment, torture, financial ruin, lynching, or decapitation” to anyone who wears it;
the Busby Stoop Chair, a chair that “looked on to the site of [Busby’s] execution is believed to carry a curse” where if you sit on it, you die in an accident—so the museum tacked it high up on a wall;
the Crying Boy Painting, which causes fires;
the Terracotta Army, who ruined not just the men who discovered them, but the financial stability of their village as well;
the Basano Vase, which led to the death of the bride who held it, followed by every family member who inherited it thereafter.
Now to make a to-do list—places where I can extend these concepts into a gaming experience.
Game Design Goals
How do I flesh out a curse? That is, what could these example artifacts do?
Disgrace someone into financial ruin.
Imprison someone for future torture and/or inevitable decapitation.
Roll extreme weather onto defenseless villages.
Murder brides and children.
It’s easier for us to pinpoint our downfall on external factors vs. internal thought and revelation; so it doesn’t surprise me that some of the worst experiences life has to offer is tied intrinsically to artifacts—objects.
But if an artifact is alive… Is it an object? Is it a person? Is the story we place on the external, ultimately an internal reflection of us?