Saturday, January 23, 2016

Moments - Opera Omnia

There are moments when we face ourselves and the horrors we have perpetuated. And there are moments when we do not. In Opera Omnia, there is a moment when we should have.


How do we forgot what others are, and in turn what we are? How do we forget to treat other human beings as human beings? It's a question with many answers, one of which is that we utilize tools to distance ourselves, or indeed use people as tools, treat them as its instead of thous. If the only tool we have at our disposal is a hammer, then everything starts looking like a nail. If the only tool we have at our disposal is a boot, then the only interaction we can imagine with another is the boot stamping on a face. But we do not have to do our stamping in close proximity - if we abstract our interactions enough and create a framework for evil so that it appears both banal and commonplace enough, we can run through a a large set interactions/boots-in-faces simply as we go about our business . We can go "the distance", commit to our framework of abstract interactions and in doing so committing atrocities as science.


In Opera Omnia, you play a state historian who is charged by your superior to prove certain theories the state has about the past migration routes of minority groups in your country. For this task you have tools for simulating migration patterns, population numbers, natural historical occurances such as famines, plagues, etc. You get these in the form of a very counterintuitive interface and data points situated in both the past and present which your superior doesn't even bother to assure you are correct but are indeed taken at face value. It all takes some time to wrap ones head around, and the complexities of the missions just grow with each completed assigment. But idle hands make for devil's playthings as they say, and thus you will just have to put all your mental effort and computational power at your disposal to become one with the interface and learn to think backwards like the system which you use for your calculations. See, if there were still people left in the city after the plague had decimated the numbers of the minority population, then plagues actually increase population if you see this simple fact through the interface which works its way from data points located in the present toward the past. Once you get the hang of it, it starts making sense. Kinda.

Well, the fact of the matter is that Opera Omnia was never meant to be simple, and that the obscurity of its interface furthers the theme of obfuscation at the hands of the imagined state which the protagonist works for. The object for that state was never to create a better future, but rather to craft a more convenient past under the veneer of objectivity. There are no theories which you can arrive at in Opera Omnia other than those already typed into the programs which you work in. Thus the conclusions are drawn before any real questioning can begin. The minority groups in Opera Omnia, Romani or what have you, are abstracted through so many layers that one doesn't know what comes out at the other end. Or wait, one knows exactly what comes out, because that was the point all along - to obscure and abstract through temporal aspects such as time/proximity, by unclear communication such as insinuations, by cherrypicking for misrepresentation, by making unfounded generalizations, by Othering, in general. Add to this a preoccupation on the protagonists part with figuring out the interface/"scientific" procedure and a promise of a future career at the institute by hir superior instead of evolving the capacity to ask tough questions and question superiors, and you have the parameters set for the possibility space of the data points in this little game of politics.

Withhin that framework, persecution can become a migration pattern. From there, the step to genocide becoming a famine isn't that big. The data points are there. The facts add up. It's all so godamn clean. It's so godamn clean that one of the problems toward the end of our assigments make no sense at all outside the scope of the simulations we toy around with - the theoretical assignment can only be proven if we treat the number 0 as a purely mathematical concept within the computational landscape of the programming itself. After all, 0 can be zero, nothing at all, or an infinity of numbers. Suddenly there's no end to the possibilities. And during all this, a disconerning question starts formulating in the back of my mind - what kind of government would want to cover up atrocities if not one which commits atrocities as we speak?

At that point, I wonder if the protagonist would even recognize a human being if zie looked one in the eye. And I wonder what zie would see if zie looked in the mirror.

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