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Author Topic: For Eero: My Life With Levi-Strauss  (Read 2597 times)
clehrich
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« on: April 06, 2004, 08:38:25 PM »

So after Eero, Jonathan, and Ralph said all that postiive stuff, I just want to let you know I'm actually starting to work on Levi-Strauss in Amazonia, though I'm not sure I like the title.  I'm currently thinking that Tragic Tropics might be plausible, but I just haven't thought about titles that much.

The background story is real.  In Tristes Tropiques, Levi-Strauss describes this process of going deeper and deeper into the Brazilian bush in the late 1930s, and encountering tribes more and more untouched and alien to him.  Eventually, he encounters the Tupi-Kawahib, a truly untouched tribe -- but, since he can't talk to them at all, he can't study them.  There they were, he says, ready to tell him all about their customs and beliefs, and he couldn't even greet them.  For him, this tragedy was life-defining, particularly since he also recognized that if he had actually studied them intensively, they would no longer have been untouched: ethnography is a two-way street.

So let's suppose, for a game, that Levi-Strauss had actually stayed -- under slightly unusal circumstances (though not very much so).

I'm starting with a direct conversion of MLwM [don't worry, Paul, I won't publish it and I will advertise your game heavily], like so:

Master = Levi-Strauss
Minion = Native Informant
Townspeople = Tupi-Kawahib
Outsiders = Scholars in Europe [they only show up in imagination]

Fear = Empathy [!]
Reason = Reason
Self-Loathing = Alienation
Weariness = Nostalgia
More than Human = Whiter than White
Less than Human = Less than Native
Love = Rapport

Basically the concept is that Levi-Strauss can't actually talk to the Tupi-Kawahib, because he doesn't speak the language, so he has to do everything through these informants who've spent quite a lot of time away from the tribe.  The informants, as a result, are not really quite native [alienated from native society], and they're not really quite white [nostalgic for native society]; they stand in the classic, tragic position of the "fallen" natives.  The Tupi-Kawahib are untouched, "true" natives.

Levi-Strauss's problem is that he's in the same double-bind as the informants, which makes this quite a different thing from MLwM.  Basically he wants desperately to understand the natives as truly human, truly like himself (Empathy), but at the same time he wants not to reduce the distance, the very foreignness of them, and so he constructs them as strangely machine-like structural beings (Reason).

Rapport is the classic anthropological sine qua non, the way you get informants to tell you things and really come to understand them and be among them without them constantly looking over their shoulders.

Whiter than White means the ways in which the informants have picked up certain (usually technological) traits of white society, which they can use to jockey for power and prestige within Tupi-Kawahib society but which also make them alien.  A gun, and knowledge of how to reload cartridges, would be an example.  Writing.  Field surgical knowledge.  And so on.

Less than Native means the ways in which the informants really aren't part of native society, and have (from the native perspective, at least) grotesque absences or gaps in knowledge or behavior.  Can't shoot a bow or use a blowgun.  Can't identify birds at all.  Doesn't know any myths.  Hasn't been through basic puberty-initiations.  And so on.

So basically the informants are trapped between White and Native, and they have to decide what they actually want, and most importantly how they're going to use Levi-Strauss to get it.  Levi-Strauss is in the same bind, but in many respects doesn't see that the informants are using him this way, because he doesn't understand the subtleties of the situation (not knowing the language and all).

Now where I'm diverging wildly from MLwM, but haven't really thought it all through yet, is I want to have Levi-Strauss's role be considerably more complicated than simply issuing commands.  It's really important that this empathy/reason thing be a dominating dynamic, as opposed to fear itself being dominating.

Somehow I have to get the analytical perspective in, you see, and structural analysis (though I have to do it such that I'm not the only one likely to be able to run the game).  I suspect it will have something to do with Levi-Strauss telling informants to go collect specific types of information, or rituals, or samples, or whatever; the informants then have to figure out how to get this without seeming like they're spying on their relatives and at the same time angling for whatever it is they want from him.  And Levi-Strauss, like Master, knows everything they're doing, in a strange, subtle way: through structural analysis of the situation.

Incidentally, this is totally ahistorical, in the sense that Levi-Strauss didn't work out the whole structural anthropology thing until 20 years after he got back from Brazil, but hey.

Anyway, any immediate responses or suggestions?
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Chris Lehrich
Andrew Martin
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« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2004, 11:52:33 PM »

I think this is a really great, or even superb adaption of MLwM, Chris!

Also, I can see it could be adapted to a SF setting on Earth with the Master being a Little Green Man from Mars (or something else more plausible?) and the minions being earthlings.
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Andrew Martin
clehrich
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« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2004, 05:14:19 AM »

Okay, here's the problem I'm having.

In MLwM, the two characteristics Fear and Reason represent the "pulls" of the Master and the Townspeople, respectively.  Then the minions are thrown into a tug-of-war for their hearts, minds, and souls by being put in the middle.

In this anthropological scenario, Levi-Strauss is himself conflicted in a very deep way, between what I've loosely called Empathy and Reason.  The informants are in a similar bind, but it's much less extreme: they have no particular need to transmute the Tupi-Kawahib into hyperrationalists (of a weird sort), and they don't have any real difficulty seeing them as like themselves in human terms.  So they're each like a small version of Levi-Strauss.  

The thing is, to set up the tension exactly as it arises in MLwM, you'd have to know what the Tupi-Kawahib are all about, which is precisely what you don't know here.  You do know this in MLwM, because the "natives" are represented by Reason.  Only the informants can really find out anything, and they are hamstrung by being Whiter than White and Less than Native.

Ultimately, this all changes the final possible results, which I've tentatively listed this way.

For Levi-Strauss, the final options are:[list=1]Move on to another tribe, having resolved nothing
Return to France, having resolved something, with an emphasis on Reason
Stay with the Tupi-Kawahib forever, becoming one of them (emphasis on Empathy)[1]
Be killed (and possibly eaten) by the Tupi-Kawahib[2][/list:o]For the informants, the final options are:[list=1]Return to white settlements permanently
Return to the whites temporarily, becoming essentially permanent half-breeds in a cultural sense
Remain among the Tupi-Kawahib forever
Be killed (and possibly eaten) by the Tupi-Kawahib[/list:o]It seems to me that a high Rapport value ensures that one won't be eaten, and a high Rapport combined with high Empathy in Levi-Strauss ensures that he won't be eaten.  But that means that Levi-Strauss's values must change over the course of the game, something which (if I read it right) MLwM doesn't allow.

Somehow, I need to get that change in values to have something to do with Levi-Strauss's analytical encounters with the Tupi-Kawahib via the informants, and I'm not sure how to go about that.  Clearly the informants have to bring material to Levi-Strauss for analysis -- myths, plant and animal classifications, personal decorations, masks, rituals, whatever -- and he has to analyze them in a way that is somehow dominated by the informant's characteristics played off against his own, which then changes his characteristics.  But this is very complicated, and I'm getting stuck.

Any ideas?

[Incidentally, I'm just trying out the footnote-loop thing, although this post isn't long enough to justify it.]

[1]Curt Unckel did this with the Timbira, becoming Nimuendaju, although he continued to publish as Curt Nimuendaju.Return to Text
[2]The Tupi-Kawahib were almost certainly close relatives of the Tupinamba, who practiced ritual cannibalism on war prisoners, so it's plausible that they might eat Levi-Strauss.Return to Text
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Chris Lehrich
Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2004, 08:44:22 AM »

Well, I think the most obvious way around it is to develop "development" mechanics for the Master.  In MLwM, Fear and Reason are fixed from the beginning of the game and don't change.  They set the starting point and help determine how long the game will be.  If you make these stats change, according to the actions of Levi-Strauss, then it becomes more of a conversation between minions and master, where both are compromising to try and make the relationship work, whereas in MLWM, the master is unbending and has all the power, so it's only the minions who change.
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Piers
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Posts: 72


« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2004, 11:29:38 AM »

Chris says:
Quote
Clearly the informants have to bring material to Levi-Strauss for analysis -- myths, plant and animal classifications, personal decorations, masks, rituals, whatever -- and he has to analyze them in a way that is somehow dominated by the informant's characteristics played off against his own, which then changes his characteristics. But this is very complicated, and I'm getting stuck.


And Jonathon replies:
Quote
If you make these stats change, according to the actions of Levi-Strauss, then it becomes more of a conversation between minions and master, where both are compromising to try and make the relationship work


One way to move more in this direction would be to move from a GMed game to more of a GM-less version where there are Athropologist and informant players, both of whom control the descriptions of the tribe in certain defined situations, and whose characteristics change as a result.

One such description loop would be:
1) Anthropologist describes behaviour of tribe.
2) Anthropologist chooses and asks informant to explain behaviour.
3) Informant may choose to resist in some way. (char. change?)
4) Informant points out aspect of behaviour / brings object from behaviour (gaining an attempt to describe)
5) Anthropologist attempts to analyze behaviour (char. change)
6) Analysis causes feedback in some way. (char. change)

Hopefully pushing the description back and forth should simultaneously create the tribe and cause it to change as the Anthropologist's descriptions influence the informants and vice versa.

Piers
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2004, 01:46:12 PM »

Quote from: clehrich

Somehow, I need to get that change in values to have something to do with Levi-Strauss's analytical encounters with the Tupi-Kawahib via the informants, and I'm not sure how to go about that.  Clearly the informants have to bring material to Levi-Strauss for analysis -- myths, plant and animal classifications, personal decorations, masks, rituals, whatever -- and he has to analyze them in a way that is somehow dominated by the informant's characteristics played off against his own, which then changes his characteristics.  But this is very complicated, and I'm getting stuck.

Any ideas?


OK, who controls the tribe? Is it the informant players, who just decide what their informants uncover? Might have some relevance.

Staying with the formal-like structures of MLwM, you can have an analysis roll when evidence is presented to Claude. This roll is Reason+Alienation against Empathy+Nostalgy against whatever number of d10 dice the informant player prefers, and determines whether Levi-Strauss actually understands what's presented or is forced to analyze it. The third roll there is simply the difficulty of the given piece of information, and how hard the informant wants to make it's understanding.

If Reason or Empathy wins over difficulty said attribute is increased, but if it fails, it is decreased. The trick is that both Reason and Empathy are secret to the informant players, and if either drops to zero Levi-Strauss will leave and they will fail in their own goals.

How well this works depends largely on how organic Levi-Strauss will be for the informants' plans. Ideally different informants will have different goals as far as Levi-Strauss goes, and will therefore give him different difficulties to roll against in trying to manipulate his scores to some direction. With the actual scores secret they can only guess where Claude is at the moment. The bonus die system should be implemented to give bonuses only to Reason or Empathy, to give some control over the results of an analysis.

Anyway, about the overall direction here: although I like what I see, I wouldn't look badly at some more substantial rules that capture the human dilemmas of anthropology. Imitating MLwM is not a value in itself, is it? For example the paradox of either not understanding foreign or contacting it and making it non-foreign is an interesting dilemma, and I'm sure there's many more.
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