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Who the Hell is this Seth White?

And what, if anything, do RPGs and LARPing have to do with art?
Wayne Alan Brenner, 11:00am, Tue. Jul. 30, 2013
Photo by BRNNR
The man himself, in battle helmet.
Seth White shapes metal with a torch.

Sometimes he uses a torch to weld two or more pieces of metal together. Sometimes he uses a torch to bend or cut through or cut into metal. He does, basically, whatever’s necessary to make the material meet his arcane purposes.

He uses hammers and tongs and other smithy tools, too, yes; but the torch is the main attraction.

“I have this crazy plasma device – it’s a Multiplaz – but it’s in the pawn shop right now,” says White. “For cutting, it uses water instead of tank gas. It creates its own hydrogen gas from the water and the electricity? And it welds using water and isopropyl alcohol! It’s like the coolest-burning, most environmentally friendly thing possible. Like, you don’t smell normal metal-burn from it when it cuts through.”

And this is the equipment that he’s been using to make a – ah, what is that long length of metal over there, exactly?

“That’s a bannister that I’m making for a friend,” says White. “I took a single piece of pipe – because budget was an issue – and we had this original concept. And I calculated the hours on the tanks of gas it took, and it took two tanks of gas to pull this out from the pipe. But I paused where I was, because we’re gonna go a little more, like, late-Swedish Art Nouveau on it. And trying to wrangle this as a single piece, man, that was – entertaining.”

But, wait: It’s not all about metal. Seth White also makes a variety of ceramic objects. Objects that are glazed, objects that are unglazed, objects that often seem to aspire to the non-Euclidean dimensions redolent of shoggoths and the like.

But, wait: Seth White also casts things in plaster. And maybe he paints the results of this plaster-casting, or he paints parts of the results, or in any case he fucks with the results to render them appropriate for their intended use. And that intended use is, most often, as parts of the elaborate gaming system he’s developing for his Stupid Git Studio.

The gaming system is called Unhinged.

“The way I wanna do this game,” says White, “is make it so that you buy the zine, you get a subscription to the website, and you print out every rule, every card, everything. So that everyone can play every aspect of the game right off the book.”

But it’s not just a zine and a website and several narrative arcs that he’s working on to manifest Unhinged. That wouldn’t require the plaster, the metal, the torch’s clever plasma. No, there’s also a stop-motion movie involved in this gaming system. And a line of three-dimensional miniatures. And

“I conceived of doing some of these games as a theatre piece, too,” says White. “Because, part of this game, the final scenario actually has the suit of armor that I’m building. It’s like one of the clockwork devils that’s coming to shut down whatever sort of shenanigans are taking place with other people’s figures. So you’ve got the whole sort of LARP-crossing-over-into-mini-meta-thingy going on.”

Of course: The whole sort of LARP-crossing-over-into-mini-meta-thingy.

And how does a person even wrap their mind around this much wild fomenting, much less attempt to bring any of it into the real world?

“To do this big of a project,” says White, who’s still recovering from a serious Warhammer addiction he picked up while in the Army, “I had to get serious about it. I’m not in any gaming groups right now – I’ve, like, dropped off the map completely. I realized that I could hang out with a lot of people, play games and have a lot of fun … or I could get down to business.”

And so never mind the social life. Forget about the bannister gig for a moment, and hope that the wife and two kids understand, because working on Unhinged – writing, plotting, calculating, drawing, casting, sculpting, hanging out and discussing it endlessly – is what takes up almost every minute of this 38-year-old man’s life.

(Bonus: He’s got a sweet part-time job working at Off The Wall, the fiercely eclectic antique store on South Congress.)

Can you picture this Seth White? In addition to noting the photograph above, can you already sense his enthusiasm, his true believer’s fervor about the whole gaming thing? I visited White in the place he’s using as a workshop – the art-filled, material-cluttered back yard of his friend Jason Tarver, who’s the studio tech at Austin Community College’s sculpture facilities – and I was expecting a more reserved, possibly aloof guy whose main interest revolved around experimenting with malleable forms in the name of High Art.

Well, fuck me and my assumptions.

I mean, look at the man: A wispy spray of bleached blonde hair falling to his shoulders and shifting limply around his animated face, Seth White stalks his friend Tarver’s back yard, moving his sturdy, medium-heighted carcass from one completed or half-completed project to the next, keeping up a stream of excited palaver about the whys and the wherefores of each, interrupting himself to pursue seemingly random tangents, throwing off concepts and exotic details like a Roman Candle throws off sparks.

“Unhinged is a real tight mechanical system that moves real fast,” he says. “The inner-core working is a basic mathematical system where you buy all your points – every point has a cost-value assigned to it, it’s a reference point. We’re still kicking around the rules. I’m play-testing it with one of my Army buddies right now, and he’s also thinking about how it could be formulated as a card game – which is fairly simple because you have your basic character stats, and they’ve got, like, this, this, and this. And for the miniature game, it’s very skirmish-style. For the Live Action Role Player, you just role-play it like you would a role-player, but you use these mechanics. Because everything has very established counter-balances. You can, like, definitely over-stack and make it heavy in one area, but you’ll be completely weak and vulnerable in another. And the rules are so flexible that, if someone comes up with a really good idea and wins a tournament with it, they can use that idea – and we’ll kick a new group in every year. That’s why I’m doing it as a zine and an art magazine – because I’ve got a bunch of artist friends who are coming in to do a lot of work as well. My friend Eryn Bowman, who did this Cthulhu tattoo on my arm – it’s from Deities & Demigods – she’s a brilliant renderer, and I’ve got her working on the humans’ stuff, working on different concepts. Like Alphonse-Mucha-meets-Syd-Mead stuff, y’know?”

I kind of know – I can almost imagine it – but I’m not certain.
But White’s still talking, and I’m fascinated.
Eventually, he tells me this:

“The first zine – it’s going to be done in three segments – the first one will be Abandoned Colony, which is based off a poetry movie I shot around Austin – a science-fiction movie. And so I’ve got all the art that I’m rendering from, and that’s gonna be the live-action film element. And then there’s gonna be The Transdimensional Bus-Stop, which is what this thing” – he hefts a substantial chunk of metalwork – “is a part of. And the rest of it is being built right now at my apartment, out of all these cardboard tubes I’ve been finding, because it’s supposed to be rounded and up. And it’s gonna have ceramic tiles coming over the roof, and we’re gonna do woodwork interiors and do all the plates and dishes and sinks, and just go way overwrought on the details. But it’s gonna be like an action-figure-scale miniature game that uses the same rules.”

Sweet bleeding Jesus.
And when is this diverse array of industry scheduled for completion?

“I wanna have all my material ready for the zine first,” says White. “I wanna have that done by the end of the year so I can have it at STAPLE!”

Ah, STAPLE! – Austin’s own Alternative Media Expo, the annual event that founder Chris Nicholas still runs, that brings in creative people from all over the country to hawk their graphic indie merch and party geekwise into the wee hours of the morning.

Seth White, you busy man, we’ll look for you there.

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