Ever since the release of The God-Machine Chronicle, that titular entity has popped up in my games, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but always noticeable enough that my players started to rib me on how often it reared its head. I never understood the nature of my subconscious fascination with the God-Machine until now.
There is a phenomenon I dare not name lest my blog be stolen into some arcane algorithm. But James Bridle dared name it in his article “Something is wrong on the internet.” My friends and I had stumbled upon it around the same time big content creators started to, but we interpreted it in a “masked men in unmarked vans” sense that scared us from theorizing further. Not until Bridle dropped this sick quote did I recognize the institutional implications of this phenomenon:
“What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects.”
By “infrastructural violence,” Bridle means the cycle of automated exploitation that humans are increasingly being unable to comprehend, let alone fight off. “The structures we have built to sustain ourselves are being used against us,” but by whom? Nobody. It’s like our infrastructure has developed a mind of its own, but that “mind” is just a series of layered processes of which we no longer remember the ends or means. Humanity has painted itself into a corner, nail by nail building their own heinous prison.
That’s why I appreciate the God-Machine as a more refined take on cosmic horror than that which Lovecraft dispensed. The only thing more existentially dreadful than unknowable beings that could obliterate humanity with an errant breath is knowing that your species built those heinous beings, and that they are no longer knowable. My interpretation of the God-Machine parallels that which Harlan Ellison pitches in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: eternal punishment for our hubris, chained to a rock in the Caucasus, subjected to “a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives.”
The best part about the God-Machine is that there’s so many ways to iterate it, so many systems and institutions that can be used to evoke real personal horror, the kind World of Darkness has been evoking since its inception by defiantly integrating current issues and real places. I can’t think of a metaphor more poignant or deserving of inheriting the punk legacy of the World of Darkness than the God-Machine.