“We were against the pacifists, because it was the war that had given us the possibility to exist in all our glory. We were for the war, and today Dada is still for the war. Things have to collide: the situation so far is nowhere nearly gruesome enough.” – a cheeky statement from a speech Richard Huelsenbeck gave that would describe the characteristics of the Dada movement in Berlin
Superfight is a game similar to Cards Against Humanity, but instead of answering a prompt, players design heroes by assembling different fantasy, superhero, sci-fi, historical, and pop culture characters as well as powers and debilities, and then argue about which one would win in a fight. I saw this extremely varied character creation process and had the idea to turn it into a tabletop roleplaying game. The players would design their characters and I would design enemies for them to fight. Keeping with the theme of the very loose and almost limitless possibilities for character creation, the rules were very loose as well, where action mainly ended up consisting of rolling a d20 and deciding how well the attempted action went based on if the roll was above or below 10. As the game was played and tested, I decided to implement health for the player characters as not a number that goes down until the character dies, but I would just slap their character with new and wacky debilities until the player decided that this character was now dead or at the very least incapacitated. Debilities and powers were also acquired by the players on their turn if they felt like playing an additional card on their character or an enemy. It was a very fun seeing the wacky characters the players and I built, and actually playing out what they would do in a fight, something the original game only teases at.
But what does it all mean? Antonin Artaud, a playwright who was briefly part of the Surrealist movement said in an essay The Theater and Cruelty “This is why we shall try to concentrate, around famous personages, atrocious crimes, superhuman devotions, a drama which, without resorting to the defunct images of the old Myths, shows that it can extract the forces which struggle within them”. He was very interested in the forces contained in mythology and how they are not done justice in modern times, as he says in The Theater and Culture “The old totemism of animals, stones, objects capable of discharging thunderbolts, costumes impregnated with bestial essences—everything, in short, that might determine, disclose, and direct the secret forces of the universe—is to us a dead thing, from which we derive nothing but static and aesthetic profit, the profit of an audience, not an actor”. I can’t help but agree with him a bit in how a lot of old myths have been watered down to purely aesthetics in how we portray them and their derivatives in our culture, whether it be in fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero genres of books, games, and film.
While that is a whole other conversation, it is from this premise that I decided to include the Huelsenbeck quote at the beginning of this post. For it is this reduction to purely aesthetics that allows these mythological stories to be industrialized and mass produced, similar to how warfare was in the first world war. And just as Dada would not exist without the collisions of the grotesque aspects of the war and societies that it spawned from, so too would my game not exist with the mass commodification and production of myth that the game Superfight serves as a Library of Alexandria of. I am not sure that there is media today that would satisfy Artaud in his quest to express the human mind and spirit as he imagines the myths of ancient times were able to, but until that happens, I will continue to collide the vast majority of what we do have to create new characters and story that are at the very least fun to mess around with in all their absurdity.
This came off a lot more serious than I intended it to and doesn’t fully reflects my beliefs on modern culture, but again that is a whole other conversation. Documented below are some of the zany characters created while playing the game in class.
Adding the pictures I took of the game and the wacky zany characters created from playing it directly into the blog results in them being too low resolution to see clearly, so they’re documented in this google drive folder instead. But I have been informed I need them in the actual blogpost for it to be graded so here they are