Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Two Non-Gaming Books Great For Gaming: Modern Primitives and Industrial Culture Handbook

After talking about Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmission books with Tyler from Held Action over at Twitter, one of the things that we both mentioned liking about the book versions were the incredible bibliographies in them. We also both said that non-gaming books that inspire gaming would be a good topic for blogging. Rather than create one gigantic wall of text, I thought it would be better to periodically blog about a couple of books that I have liked, that I have used for gaming purposes (typically in generating background material for games: npcs, locations, story ideas, and etc.). Hopefully, other bloggers will talk about this too and share some of the interesting books that have inspired them. Keep in mind these aren't reviews and as both of these books are over twenty years old the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired.

Please note that you will find Amazon links with Associate IDs in them. I hope you'll support this blog if you decide to click through and purchase. If not, that's cool too. I just like to forewarn about associate links.

Today, I am going to talk about two books from a favorite independent/small press publishing house of mine: Re/Search Publications. From the Wikipedia page (which is close enough to fact for blogging):
RE/Search Publications is an American magazine and book publisher, based in San Francisco, founded and edited by Andrea Juno and V. Vale in 1980. It was the successor to Vale's earlier punk rock fanzine Search & Destroy (1977–1979), and was started with $100 from Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. RE/Search itself began as a tabloid-sized magazine.

The first issue had photographs by Ruby Ray and articles on Factrix, The Slits, conspiracies (written by Jay Kinney), Young Marble Giants, Boyd Rice's Non, Cabaret Voltaire, Sun Ra, flashcards, Japan, J. G. Ballard, Julio Cortazar, rhythm & noise, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, Throbbing Gristle, nuclear disaster, Situationism, Octavio Paz, and punk prostitutes. It was distributed by Rough Trade. Following the third issue, issues 4 and 5 were collected as a single volume, a "special book issue". Subsequent issues all retained the book format.
RE/Search has published books on various underground topics. Titles include Pranks, Incredibly Strange Films, and Modern Primitives, and the subject matter includes profiles of William S. Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, and others.
Started with a loan from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti? How's that for underground cred. Seriously, though, if there are any terms, people or musical groups mention in the above, I whole heartedly suggest checking them out. Gamers, and in particular gamers who like a little strangeness in their games, might be interested in Situationalism. The one book I have on Situationalism in my library was actually edited and compiled by a member of the musical group The KLF. Also, Re/Search has put out what I consider to be the definitive edition of J.G. Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition, and I cannot recommend it enough to people. If you're a fan of cyberpunk or the Band Joy Division, you need to have a copy of this book. Any copy will do.

So, my two book for this post: Re/Search #6/7 the Industrial Culture Handbook and Re/Search #12 Modern Primitives. There is some stuff in these books that some people might find a little squicky, so be forewarned. Modern Primitives is considered to be one of the impetuses behind the explosion of body modification culture over the last twenty plus years. You have been warned!

First, the Industrial Culture Handbook (Find it here on Amazon). I first learned about this book from Kathe Koja's novel Skin, which in and of itself is a mind-blowing horror novel that people have to read (which is why I included an Amazon link for it). If you need elements and people that are unfamiliar to the the people of your gaming group, the Industrial Culture Handbook has just the right ingredients for you. While predominantly profile of and interviews with some of the bands and individuals, there is also the mind-blowing (I know I am using that a lot in this paragraph just keep with me) article about Survival Research Laboratory's Mark Pauline that helped form the backbone of Koja's novel. This guy is cyberpunk right now. Looking for the basis for a sorcerous character for your Mage or Call of Cthulhu games? Check out Genesis P-Orridge from Throbbing Gristle or Non's Boyd Rice. If those two guys can't inspire you, then you either already create awesome NPCs or I can't be of any help to you.

Seriously, though, the Industrial Culture Handbook drips ideas for people and places for your modern role-playing games. It peers into real corners of the world that a lot of gamers never get a chance to see or experience. While I don't want to portray these people in a negative manner, the ideas from this book will fit well into a modern horror or World of Darkness type of game. Definitely check it out. The book has given me lots of enjoyable reading and has inspired some fun gaming.

Now, let's talk about Modern Primitives (Find on Amazon). If you're squeamish about scarification, piercing, tattooing or other forms of body modification, the articles and photography will send you screaming to the Abyss. You have been warned.

Modern Primitives is a book that journeys into a world that most gamers have never journeyed far into, further in a lot of ways than the Industrial Culture Handbook. Yes, you may have a tattoo or a couple, and a piercing or two, but this book is about so much more than that. It's about the lifestyle of modifying your body into something else, something different, and in some cases something alien. You could almost argue that this book is about the culture of a low-tech version of transhumanism, and probably you wouldn't be too far away from things with that argument.

Body modification is about transcending the body, but doing it in a way that utilizing more ancient and "primitive" methods, rather than the machinery and technology of industrial culture. There is some beautiful body art in this book, and some fascinating discussion on the whys and philosophical angles of body modification. Again, these interviews and profiles are filled with little bits and pieces that can be used as springboards for NPCs in your games, in addition to giving you a glimpse into a world that you might not be familiar with.

These are my first two non-gaming books that I think can inspire your gaming. If you want to talk about them, please leave a comment here, or talk to me on Twitter. Talking about your favorite non-gaming books is cool too.