Game Plans

Artifact Curses

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

Researching Artifacts

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;
  • 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?

  1. Separate families.
  2. Disgrace someone into financial ruin.
  3. Imprison someone for future torture and/or inevitable decapitation.
  4. Roll extreme weather onto defenseless villages.
  5. 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?

I can’t wait to play with this plot more.

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