An aesthetic conflict

In Neal Stephenson’s novel Reamde, there’s an MMORPG called T’Rain. There are quests and adventures within a foundational narrative of standard D&D good and evil. Players can customize their character’s appearance, and a hack lets them use whatever colors they want instead of the colors chosen by the designers. Some people keep the default muted browns and greens, while others dress their dark-elf warrior-mage in, for instance, acid yellow chaps, fluorescent green dinner jacket, and red panama hat. There’s a strong element of social class in who chooses bright colors and who chooses earth-tone colors.

In a secondary story line, war arises between the “forces of brightness” and the “earth-tone coalition.” Though it has no basis in the game’s narrative, this conflict over-rides the good vs. evil back-story. Brightly dressed orcs and brightly dressed elves join forces to attack characters dressed in earth tones, even ambushing players in their own raiding party.

The current presidential campaign may be about aesthetics more than policy. It’s probably not really the case that everything the candidates say is a lie, but certainly what they say has nothing at all to do with what will happen if they’re elected. Once every voter knows that, what’s left? Who tells the lie I like best, who is most electable, who do I least want to see and hear for the next four years.

Trump is wearing a shiny suit and florescent orange sombrero, Sanders a yellow argyle sweater-vest and fire-engine red Tyrolean, and Clinton a dark pant suit and a black hat with a wide brim and conical crown.

Anyway, Reamde is an excellent action adventure novel with engaging characters and an ingenious plot. It’s way more entertaining than the current election cycle.


2 Replies to “An aesthetic conflict”

    1. Yes; I read Interface a few years ago. Reamde as a near-present techno-thriller is more like Interface than it is like, say, Anathem, and Interface also struck me as different in tone – angrier. with maybe an edge of bitterness. Stephenson is an accute observer. I recently read William Gibson’s The Peripheral, which also has some insights about society and conditions in fly-over country.

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