2010-11-08 : What I learned from my horror binge
I'm just going to draw some connections here.
Let's start by looking back at the horrific elements in Dogs in the Vineyard:
With everything else in place, you can feel free to give the coldness in Obedience's heart, for instance, a vivid hyper-reality, or a symbolic manifestation, or its own creepy voice, if you want to. Make Roberts' guilt and self-justification into a thing, capable of touching the landscape of the game directly, visible and isolate, if you want to. You'd do it for artistic reasons: atmosphere and tone, emphasis, the inscrutable dictates of your taste and vision...
Function of Horror?
Each of these flicks has its horrific element. Why? What does it do?
Instrument of clarity: The horrific element lays bare the matter underneath, exposes the underlying situation for our examination. Example: Mulberry Street.
Exaggeration to the Point: The horrific element is a glorious, outrageous, grotesque enlargement of some feature of the matter underneath. Example: Ginger Snaps.
Startling Juxtaposition: The horrific element contrasts with other elements of the situation. Example: The Hills Run Red.
Thrills: The horrific element is what brings tension and excitement to the situation. Example: Wolfman.
Moral Disgust: The horrific element embodies moral judgment upon the characters or circumstances in the situation. Example: Isolation.
Sooo Deep: The horrific element is supposed to blow your mind, man, but since the underlying situation isn't interesting the horrific element is just so much noise. Example: The Passengers.
Sick Glee: The horrific elements fulfill violent fantasies (even if it's underneath a veneer of moral disgust). Example: Jack Ketchum's The Lost.
In Dogs in the Vineyard, the horrific elements perform some function, same as in a horror flick. What function? Is it always the same function? If it's not, what does it depend on? Town creation? The Dogs' natures? The moment-to-moment of play?
I don't know the answer! I do know that in my heart, its horrific elements are an instrument of clarity, but I also see that a portion of the game's audience sees them as a straightforward expression of moral disgust, and reacts accordingly. I can't really blame them! They're awfully close to that line.
And connect that to your three insights:
When you design a game, you're taking three different positions, expressing three different insights... First, you're saying something about the subject matter or genre of your game: something you think about adventure fiction, or swords & sorcery, or transhumanist sf, or whatever. Second, you're saying something about roleplaying as a practice, taking a position on how real people should collaborate under these circumstances. Third, you're sying something about real live human nature.
This gives me a way, when I'm designing a game, to think concretely about how its horrific elements fit into the design. If I'm all like "nobody's STILL made the Cronenbergesque bug-sex game I want, so I should," I can now go on with "the game's horrific elements should really exaggerate the weird hangups that make the PCs the PCs." And then that's what I'll design them to do: "and THAT, self, means that the players should be introducing horrific imagery for their own characters to respond to: 'dear player, say what bug-sexy thing you notice about her that draws your character to her.'" Or whatever.
1. On 2010-11-08, Vincent said:
2. On 2010-11-09, gbsteve said:
3. On 2010-11-09, Simon C said: