Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) by Francisco Goya

Medieval and early colonial witch hunts are often portrayed as if they're strange peculiarities of their time, with emphasis on religious and superstitious motivations. Sometimes you'll find individual accusations understood as a way to dispose of inconvenient women, maybe as a way to free up their property to be claimed by the accusers.

Caliban and the Witch, by Silvia Federici, makes a strong case that the witch hunts were an essential, formative part of the earliest transitions from feudalism to capitalism in europe. Women were othered from men, dehumanized, desocialized, and forcibly repressed in order to make the claiming of their bodies and labor possible. Men were given women's bodies as a new commons to replace the common lands which were being enclosed. Federici traces the construction of the witch in europe as a sort of mirror version of the racialization that facilitated the dehumanization and enclosure of black and indigenous bodies in the colonies, even showing that these myths borrowed from one another in their fears of, for instance, baby-eating and devil worship.

"Witch hunting was also instrumental to the construction of a new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources. This means that the witch hunters were less interested in the punishment of any specific transgression than in the elimination of generalized forms of female behavior which they no longer tolerated and had to be made abominable in the eyes of the population. That the charges in the trials often referred to events that had occurred decades earlier, that witchcraft was made a crimen exceptum, that is, a crime to be investigated by special means, torture included, and it was punishable even in the absence of any proven damage to persons and things — all these factors indicate that the target of the witch-hunt — (as it is often true with political repression in times of intense social change and conflict) — were not socially recognized crimes, but previously accepted practices and groups of individuals that had to be eradicated from the conununity, through terror and criminalization. In this sense, the charge of witchcraft performed a function similar to that performed by "high treason” (which, significantly, was introduced into the English legal code in the same years), and the charge of "terrorism" in our times. The very vagueness of the charge — the fact that it was impossible to prove it, while at the same time it evoked the maximum of horror — meant that it could be used to punish any form of protest and to generate suspicion even towards the most ordinary aspects of daily life." (Federici 170)

I'm particularly interested in the above comparison of yesterday's "witch" to today's "terrorist". To me, the witch hunts, while evocative, are also so buried in centuries of history that they feel quite remote. In Wildflower, I want to explore also our own police state, our contemporary fears of one another, today's methods of population control. I've been wondering if there are worthwhile connections or reflections to be made (at least in art, if not in well-reasoned argument) between medieval inquisition and the nascent secret police that were born apparently in the early to mid 20th century. So I've been doing reading and research into those more modern histories, looking for inspiration.

The Jakarta Method, by Vincent Bevins, details the cold war from the perspective of the 'third world', especially focusing on US policies and CIA interventions to foment anti-communist purges and establish obsessively anti-communist military dictatorships. The common thread is a sort of demonization of the 'communist' in a way that maps very easily to Federici's comparisons between 'witch' and 'terrorist'. (Federici actually does draw the comparison directly to the usage of 'communist' in the mid 20th century, but only in an endnote.)

The mass murders detailed in The Jakarta Method sound very much like witch hunts. Demonization of a formerly socially-accepted (maybe even beloved, socially supportive) group. State terror directed at anyone helping or hiding those targeted. The mass participation of the populace: neighbors killing or turning over neighbors. And throughout, the image of the dreaded communist, who holds secret, anti-theistic meetings in the dark of night, plotting to brutalize good, god-fearing men, sounds very much like that of the witch. Most directly, in Indonesia, the avatar of the witch itself was present, in the form of the women's movement, Gerwani.

"Suharto and his men claimed that the Indonesian Communist Party had brought the generals back to Halim Air Force Base and begun a depraved, demonic ritual. They said members of Gerwani, the Women's Movement, danced naked while the women mutilated and tortured the generals, cutting off their genitals and gouging out their eyes, before murdering them." (Bevins 133)

"She's not sure how long she was at the second police station before two police officers raped her. She was Gerwani, in the minds of the police, which meant that she was not a human being, and not a woman, but a sexually depraved murderer. An enemy of Indonesia and Islam. A witch. These men were in charge of her now." (Bevins 141)

The horrors of some of my real world inspirations are unbelievable, but we intend to make a relatively relaxed and pleasant experience. Wildflower grows partially out of the town-sim genre of games, which I think represent a contemporary, capitalist, american, individualist, even suburbanite dream: owning a small plot of land, sustaining yourself through the sweat of your brow, carefully improving your land and your skills. Moving away from the 21st century city's symbols of modernity which carry in some way the reality of suffering of our everyday lives: violence, policing, debt, crime, addiction. Living in a place where everyone talks to their neighbors. This genre takes root in these fears and desires and myths of self-reliance. Wildflower too sits in this part of our collective fantasies, though I expect it'll rearrange the genre's symbols in a distinct way.

A dusky shot of a crescent moon from Wildflower.

Witch, communist, and terrorist to some degree are all labels that point at a real threat.

The Witch: a wise caretaker who roots the community in their culture and so creates a rallying point for resistance against enclosure at the advent of capitalism.

The Communist: a hopeful partisan, member of a movement committed to real systemic change, even revolution, in order to progress beyond capitalism.

The Terrorist: an ideologically motivated radical, willing to break the law to further whatever their cause may be.

(In some ways I think the terrorist is the occluded communist: all the threat of violence that 'communist' at its most hysterical can evoke, and more, but with any clear indicator towards hope stripped of them. Anarchist can sometimes feel this way too, a sort of depoliticized communist. And in the US in 2021 it does seem that 'anarchist' is on its way to be the new 'communist', a label maybe more useful for the state because even as a rallying point it confuses the enemies of the system.)

To some extent, the results of these campaigns of violence may be beneficial to capital even if their enemies present no danger to them. The usage of 'communist' and 'terrorist' I'm talking around are of the era discussed by Naomi Klein in 'The Shock Doctrine', in which she argues that capital, especially US capital, going back at least to the late 20th century, intentionally uses catastrophe to open up new opportunities for privatization and the rewriting of formerly unbreakable-seeming rules. In fact, Klein uses as key examples the Pinochet coup in Chile, an instance in which 'communist' was used in its hysterical, state-terror mode, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was certainly built on the hysterical 'terrorist' paranoia fostered post 9/11. It's a stretch maybe to guess that key actors in the case of the 'witch' terrors would have this clarity of intention (is it a stretch?) but systems certainly can fall into their self-reinforcing patterns without relying on actors within them to form intentions or even understand the patterns.

Wildflower's fear is of course not the outright dread of a genocidal regime, but a much quieter, more intimate paranoia that nevertheless means to echo it. Speaking only for myself, I have never had to experience this kind of violence first hand. Still, the threat and the fear radiate into my life, and I think the lives of many other comfortable, safe, completely unthreatened people in the imperial core. Nearly the first thing any curious proto-leftist learns is the pervasive power of the imperial police state. Surely even most DSA members suspect (probably rightly) that at least one of their supposed comrades is reporting in some form or another to one or more federal agencies. There is an unavoidable sense that it's unsafe to trust even those nearest you.

Many before me have suggested, and I think rightly, that this paranoia is to some extent largely the point, that it does the job without needing to resort to real action. Especially when the alternative is a fairly comfortable life, the vague threat of terror, the suggestion of imperial power ready to crush you, is plenty to suppress any kind of revolutionary fervor. The correct response to this attack is not to see the police state as your direct enemy in some kind of fantastical confrontation, but to regardless pursue the important task of solidarity-building. If someone encourages you to take up arms against the state in the imperial core in 2021, they're either very naive or a fed.

Wildflower does indulge in the fantasy of rebellious, armed conflict against the police. I love indulging in fantasies, and Wildflower was always meant to build, in part, on the combat systems of Tenderfoot. We're not making a nonviolent game (though it may be the kind of game you can do a pacifist run of).

Wildflower also means to take up some of the relationship-building tropes of dating sims and town sims, with each major character having Trust as a meter influenced by various player actions. It's early to guess maybe, but I think the game will, for many players, largely be about choosing who to trust, and about proving yourself to them as someone worthy of their trust. A story about learning to trust your neighbors, in spite of a justified paranoia, and about building a kind of mutual, communal trust strong enough to stand up to state terror, before it realizes what's happening and strikes to suppress you.

Regardless of how the game does turn out, working on it lets me stew in these themes and symbols. I'm just 30, so I don't want to sound like I'm coming from a place of wisdom exactly, but this is a way I've grown over the last few years: I used to be much more concerned about the end product of the game making process, about what a work says, how it's talked about. I want to instead let myself steep in the process, release the work, and move on.

December 23, 2021