Friday, May 23, 2008

Superman vs Batman -- A Debate on the Nature of Magic

During "end of the year" cleaning yesterday, Harrington Founder William H's essay "How I could destroy this game without using magic." bobbed up to the surface of a pile of papers. William and Jai, during that first year of Harrington, hadn't really had much interaction, so what transpired was, to me, the proof of this pudding.

William, a sci fi fantasy fanatic, had asked me how for he could go in creating his suburban village -- the city was getting intense, and there was still plenty of unexplored hinterlands, so I suggested that anyone who was interested should start a suburb. I advised William to go for it -- use his imagination, of course. William's scenario started something like:

"In a secluded meadow, a couple of miles outside of Harrington City, the ground began to glow a strange purple, and out of the ground, rose up in a circle, a dozen darkly hooded and cloaked figures of ancient age. One of them began to speak: 'After eons it is now time for us to reveal ourselves to the rest of the world, and so we will create a village and disguise ourselves as humans and mix with them.'

When William distributed this scenario to the rest of the class, it caused quite a stir, especially with Jai, who was on his way to becoming the first Harrington billionaire. "You can't do that! He can't do that! He can't use magic! There's no such thing as magic and Harrington is all about being real! Magic isn't real! Whatever we create in this game has to be real!"

I really had to step back here. I had committed to a real doozy of a problem: the rule was "anything goes, as long as it's real." However, I had also commited to "imagination: is the key." I didn't want to tell Willam he couldn't implement his obviouly fertile imagination, but then, Jai certainly had a point: magic isn't much help in the concrete world. I'll tell you, I thought these kids had found the fatal flaw! However, luckily, I was working with teenagers! "We need to debate this!"

Jai first: "If he uses magic, all he has to do is go back in time and kill my grandparents, then I don't exist anymore!"

William: "I wouldn't do that! That would destroy the game! I don't need magic to destroy the game! All I need to do is to engineer a virus in my drug company and let it loose. I would never do that! Nobody would do that!"

Jai: "Ok, that would be evil but anybody can deal with evil if it's real! (Jai goes to the blackboard and draws a Batman symbol and a Superman symbol!)The problem is the differnce between Batman and Superman.

(At this point, you would need the perspectve of the academic and behavioral history of these two students -- just picture a string of detentions, suspensions, and not-so-great grades for who knows how far back in their school lives!)

William: "I see what you're getting at."

Me: "What are you getting at?"

Jai: "I can deal with an evil Batman because he only has his utility belt. He's just some guy who is good with his fists. I can just shoot him or something. But I can't deal with an evil Superman. If Superman is evil, he's unstoppable. Bullets bounce off him. We can't have magic."

William: "I have to agree."

At this point, I could have given them their high school diplomas, and sent them on their ways, but that was just the first layer of the cake! The rest of the class actually huddled in a discussion. I kept out of it, because I was ruminating how I had led William astray in encouraging his imagination. But the huddle broke up, and, I forget who was the spokesman, but they all lent their voices: they, as a class had decided to allow magic in Harringon. However, if they chose not to believe what the magic had done, then they didn't have to, and they just carried on. If they believed in the magic that Willam's creatures did, ok. If they didn't, it wouldn't matter. William had his strange little suburban town, and Jai went on to become Harrington's first billionaire.