I also bore the distinct (mis)fortune of living near Providence, RI’s semi-world-famous Newspeak, home of Paranoia magazine.
However, what really introduced me to the full palate of weird was an unassuming little card game, no doubt planted by our shadowy reptilian overlords to make us all accept the coming FEMA camps.
I am speaking, of course, of Illuminati: New World Order from Steve Jackson Games.
There are very few things that I’ve held on to over the years from childhood, but my INWO cards have stayed with me throughout several moves through each quadrant of the nation.
For those unfamiliar, INWO was part of the collectible card game craze that started in the mid-1990s. It was clearly never as big as Pokemon or Digimon or anything like that.
Any time I meet someone else who played the game I’m always pleasantly surprised. It’s a bit like meeting a fraternity brother from a chapter you weren’t a member of. Rather than making cute, imaginary monsters fight, the goal of the game is to (what else) take over the world with your conspiracy.
At the center of the game is the conspiracy you choose. Options included the Bavarian Illumninati, the Gnomes of Zurich, the Adepts of Hermes, UFOs and other mainstays of conspiracy theory. Players then used a series of plots like “Bite the Wax Tadpole” and “Kill For Peace” to take over people and organizations ranging from the Church of Elvis to FEMA.
The Illuminati Card Game
When I first got the cards, I always had the sense that I was remembering something that I hadn’t yet learned, a strange feeling.
The feeling became even stranger when I learned what Rosicrucians and Knights Templar were. Indeed, over the years I can say that, quite independently of the game, I learned what just about each and every thing on each and every card meant to one degree or another.
Perhaps the plan of our reptilian overlords worked all too well.
INWO, like all other collectible card games, was no fun when you just sat around looking at the cards. Ok, that’s not true — it was just less fun when you sat around looking at the cards.
The real fun, of course, came in recruiting your friends to start throwing down their hard-earned lettuce on the cards as well. Soon, I had done just that and had a corps of three or four friends with whom I would play regularly.
I can’t help but wonder how much they laughed to themselves over the years as they found out precisely what the Society of Assassins is, or the true meaning of “Kalisti.”
If the game primed us for anything, it was skepticism. It’s hard to take conspiracy theories seriously when you spend your teen years playing a game revolving around those very conspiracies after a night at the mall. And to this day I remain an open-minded skeptic.
To say that conspiracies exist is, to me, a bit like saying that gravity exists. Any time that two or more people plan to do something, in secret or not, you have, by definition a conspiracy.
Even if we restrict “conspiracy” to mean only a plan to commit a crime together, clearly the world is riddled with conspiracies, from the local street gang to those less-than-scrupulous politicians.
Why Conspiracies Are So Compelling
And what of it?
If conspiracies are nothing more than business as usual, why do we find anything strange or exotic about them?
Particularly in the age of the Internet — which, I might remind you, an increasingly number of people can’t remember the world without — why do many intelligent people dispute the fact that there are semi-clandestine forces controlling the world in an undemocratic fashion from behind the scenes?
The game, in its infinite wisdom helps us to deal with this conundrum.
There is no single conspiracy, no “New World Order,” no monolithic Elders pulling the strings in an Oz-like fashion from behind the curtains.
Rather, there are several, ever-shifting alliances of self-interested parties. Sometimes aligned with one another, they’re mostly a gang of thieves bickering over the best way to carve up the spoils.
Like the fictional conspiracies of Robert Anton Wilson and Thomas Pynchon, they lie hidden in plain sight.
With a multitude of information now available to people, the debate now largely seems to be about what types of conspiracies there are, who they are made up of and what their goals are.
The debate about whether or not they actually exist lies somewhere in the primordial past of Ozzie and Harriet.