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...

from [Dogs] What are the demons for?

Connect to these categories I made up for my 31 in 31 report:

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:

(The idea of a Cronenbergesque bug-sex game where weird hangups are what make the PCs the PCs entertains me this afternoon, but it's probably not what I'd actually do.)


2. On 2010-11-09, gbsteve said:

So I'm just throwing this out too. I'm not sure what it means.

I've only run two Towns but one of these, Fort Lemon, I've run five or six times. It's pretty close to a horror film, there's the claustrophobia of the Dogs operating inside a Fort, the slight creepiness of a very obliging woman being the de facto steward, the fact that some of the Faithful who came across the mountains in winter became cannibals to survive and the point of horror when all this explodes is when there is violence against a pregnant woman from her husband who forced her as her steward to eat human flesh. Are they both monsters, and what of the baby?

There has never been agreement on this last question and generally what happens is someone makes a decision and then they become a monster. It's hard to explain why this is but it seems to be because there is no right thing to do, no answer, anyone who decides is chosing a way that is wrong and horrific to someone else. But although there is ultimately moral disgust, it's reached indirectly via the other horrible elements, juxtaposition perhaps, sick glee, thrills, etc.

The other interesting thing I'd just like to mention is negative capability.


3. On 2010-11-09, Simon C said:

I'm making a bug-sex game!

Well, I'm make a bug/sex/dungeon game, but still. It's called "Dungeonfuckers" and it makes all my friends uncomfortable.


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