Wow, after all that, I left out an important part: the second half of my argument. I said that the Eschaton section shows that the effort to separate one’s self from the world is doomed to fail, and gave as justification for that assertion the denouement of the scene. But that’s just plot interpretation; here’s how I back it up with the actual text.

The section starts out by distinguishing very carefully between map and territory. We get a couple pages specifying in great detail what real-world objects stand for what game-state concepts:

The black cotton E.T.A. armbands — for when God forbid there’s a death — designate the noncontemporary game-era’s atomic power plants, uranium-/plutonium-enrichment facilities, gaseous diffusion plants, breeder reactors, initiator factories, neutron-scattering-reflector labs, tritium-production reactor vessels, heavy-water plants, semiprivate shaped-charge concerns, linear accelerators, and the especially point-heavy Annular Fusion research laboratories in North Syracuse NNY and Presque Isle ME, Chyonskrg Kurgistan and Pliscu Romania, and possibly elsewhere. (323)

This section can be mildly tedious, since it feels like an extraneously obsessive level of detail on dry military simulation. (Personally, I find the almost compulsive thoroughness amusing.) But the point is to ground the map side of the game firmly in facts and details. It says, These are the real items (“[B]oys’ tennis socks or boys’ street-shoe socks or girls’ tennis socks with the little bunny-tail at the heel or girls’ tennis socks w/o the bunny-tail,” 324) on the real-world side of the game, and this is the algorithm that lets you interpret them in terms of the game. The focus on the symbolic relationship between real objects and their referents in the game underscores that those objects and their referents are not the same thing.

Then there’s about two pages told almost strictly from the territory. The development of the Triggering Situation is comical, and has kind of a plot line to it, but the text gives no way to know whether there are real-world analogues to the events described. Does “A single one-megaton SS10 evades antimissile missiles and detonates just over Provo UT, from which all communications abruptly cease” correspond to a child’s lobbing a tennis ball toward the AMNAT territory? The book doesn’t say. (I’m inclined to think not, mostly because in this section, we’d have been told so if it were so.) But the point is that this bit of the Eschaton section is heavily involved in expanding on the territory side of the game with (nearly) no reference to the map side; the two are highly differentiated.

Until the attacks start. If you read my previous post, you know that I leaned pretty heavily on an interpretation of Eschaton’s rules that characterizes attacks as the asymptote of the rules’ distinction between map and territory; beginning with the first explicit attack made by an Eschaton player, the text itself shows the breakdown of that distinction. What actually happens is that Evan Ingersoll is lobbing old tennis balls at socks placed on a particular part of the tennis court. What that represents is an alliance of Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria firing 5-megaton warheads at missile silos operated by the Soviet Union in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. But what we’re told is, “IRLIBSYR’s Evan Ingersoll starts lobbing warheads at SOVWAR’s belt of Third-Wave reserve silos in the Kazakh” (327). Unless we read carefully, making sure to separate map references from territory references, it’s easy to miss the elision between the two. This kind of vacillating between map and territory within the same sentence occurs throughout the section—my favorite short example is “Lamont Chu is throwing up into the Indian Ocean” (341), but by far the best longer one is when Air Marshal Ann Kittenplan finally loses it:

Kittenplan shakes Chu’s arm loose and darts over and extracts a warhead from SOVWAR’s portable stockpile and shouts out that well OK then if players can be targets then in that case: and she fires a real screamer at Ingersoll’s head, which Ingersoll barely blocks with his Rossignol and shrieks that Kittenplan can’t launch anything at anything because she’s been vaporized by a 5-megaton contact-burst. Kittenplan tells Ingersoll to write his congressman about it. . . . (339)

Look at all that: Kittenplan (map/territory) extracts (map) a warhead (territory) from SOVWAR’s (territory) portable (map) stockpile (territory) and says if players (map/territory) can be targets (territory) then in that case: and she fires a real screamer (map) at Ingersoll’s head (map/territory), which Ingersoll blocks with his Rossignol (map/territory), saying she’s been vaporized by a 5-megaton contact-blast (territory). So she tells him to write his congressman (not map or territory, actually, but a map-context reference to the government structures that the players represent for the territory; even funnier).

The text consistently undercuts the distinction between map and territory, in exactly the way that gets Pemulis so worked up. And that’s the textual support for the argument I made (or intended to make) in my previous post: The section begins with a rigorous separation between them, but lapses into a narrative confusion of the two that mirrors the plot-level collapse, so that we have both plot and text illustrating the untenability of the distinction.

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  1. Not with a Bang but with Some Whimpering Kids : Journeyman