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Letter from the Editor: Gamified

By Rob Carroll
First Published in Issue 007 of Dark Matter Magazine, January 2022

Life is a game of growing complexities that require ever-increasing amounts of time, resources, and energy to sustain. Under normal conditions, this makes life challenging. But with the growth rates of today’s complexities having gone exponential, we are now racing toward an unflinching asymptote that threatens not just to make the game we play harder, but to crash it.

For too long, the power structures of the United States have seen this invisible wall coming, but rather than course-correcting, they have chosen to cheat the input process through credit, leverage, and debasement. They have chosen rent-seeking behavior over production. And thanks to this selfish choice—combined with insane regulatory capture of the U.S. government—complexity growth has become cancerous, the tumor from which it metastasized possibly now terminal. All the symptoms are there: the Have-Nots have less than they’ve had in generations, and the Haves have so much that the gross excess they hoard has started to rot. Our societal body is being attacked on multiple fronts and it is quickly running out of treatment options.

It’s not too late for a cure, but we must first recognize that those with all the in-game power today will change the rules tomorrow if it appears they’re going to lose, and that we as a population, regardless of personal identity or political ideology, will always be manipulated to organize against one another in ways that will exclusively serve those at the top. We’re being divided so that we may be conquered.

And this is why I sometimes wonder: Is Dark Matter Magazine part of the problem? I’m not suggesting that Dark Matter wants to divide people, or that we aim to conquer. Of course we don’t. But while traditional power structures like corporate finance are easy to identify as antagonists—as are the ways they trap people in a game they’re meant to lose via debt and other insidious financial instruments[1]—much of the world is simultaneously  being held captive by a second more populist master, and one that Dark Matter Magazine gleefully serves: Entertainment.

Time debt is just as real as monetary debt, and never in history have more things been vying for our attention. Does the world really need another media company? Another distraction that traditional power structures can leverage to keep people pacified while they loot the world around us? Does the world need another product aiming to extract money from thinning wallets? Does it need another shiny new object that will no doubt seed anxiety in those who don’t really need it, but who like the way it sparkles?

Even after much reflection, I still don’t have a great answer for these questions, but I do know that for as long as Dark Matter is in the game, we’ll play fair, and do our best to enact positive change when possible. And that is why—now heading into year two of our publication—we’ll continue to pursue value and excellence, both for our supporters and for our talented contributors. Perhaps the world doesn’t need another product, but it does need more artists who are paid fairly for their work, and who are provided outlets for their gifts to be shared and enjoyed. And that is why Dark Matter will continue to be an unabashed supporter of all creators, no matter the medium, not in hope of profit for ourselves, but in hope for a more profitable future for all.

The stories in this issue comment in some way on the tenuous line we all walk between needing to make a living—needing to survive—but wanting to do so without disadvantaging or harming others, either directly or indirectly, despite knowing that the game we’re all playing makes that proposition impossible.

“This Will Be the Most Vulnerable Post I’ve Ever Made,” by Marissa van Uden, warns of a dystopian future where everyone is in competition with everyone else for each other’s attention, and the only way to win is by the literal destruction of one’s self. “All the Sludge You Want to Drink,” by Mary G. Thompson, wonders if it’s wrong to strive for a better life if by doing so you will indirectly aid the oppression of the social stratum you’re trying to escape. “Rundle 105,” by Beth Goder, examines how even escapism can become an oppressor if we allow it to manufacture how we live. “Starfish Pizza Party,” by Nikki R. Leigh, employs dark humor to show that even the most earnest desire to live a simple life is no match for the monsters one must slay to achieve it. Another piece of wicked humor, “Zombies Are Out, Mermaids Are In,” by Ivy Grimes, turns a critical eye to the social media practice of celebrity and cultural appraisal, and the horrible ways that people use and abuse these perceived values for their own social capital (this issue’s reprint story, “Communist Computer Rap God,” by Andrea Kriz, makes a similar observation). “Little Leviathan,” by Michael Canfield, tells the tale of a sentient war machine struggling with its only programmed purpose, which is to preserve one way of life by eradicating the lives of others. “The Elsewhere Finger,” by Bill Gusky, pokes fun at the unearned trust we put into our institutions and the bureaucrats that run them by entering the mind of a Claims Adjuster who would rather battle an alien from another dimension than honor a customer’s legitimate insurance payout. The poem, “War Paint,” by Gerri Leen, decries the vulnerabilities present in a consumer society built on lies, and warns about the ease with which such a society could be infiltrated for malicious intent. “Override,” by Warren Benedetto, gets gritty with a cyberpunk future in which the only path to financial freedom for many is through the voluntary enslavement of a loved one. And lastly, “Midnight Sun,” by Alex Woodroe, finds real freedom in the end of the world, and through that freedom, a profound sense of gratitude for the hidden beauty in life—a beauty that is made discoverable only after the barriers between us dissolve back into dust.


Rob Carroll

[1]. Many financial instruments in the U.S. siphon public wealth while also creating runaway inflation. Inflation disproportionately affects the working class since their wealth is tied to the dollar rather than to assets like property and stock, as is the case with the wealthy. So these instruments punish the working and middle classes twice over. People aren’t lying when they say that poverty is expensive.

© 2022, Rob Carroll