A dark turn in the pop-culture? (Part Eight)
By Mark Wegierski
What should be somewhat contested is the adage that the multifarious roleplaying games discussed above are "merely fiction." I believe it was Kurt Vonnegut who said something like, we must be very careful about what we pretend to be, lest we become the living image of our pretences. While a person roleplaying an evil figure is not likely to become someone trying to live out their whole existence by such a code of behavior -- such roleplaying might begin to have a slowly incremental, increasingly negative effect on his or her worldview.
The major RPG industry leader White Wolf has a whole World of Darkness where one can roleplay vampires, werewolves, magicians, wraiths, mummies, demons, and various types of "fey." (The portrayal of the elves is as virtual creatures of horror, again much different from Tolkien's vision.) These forces are typically subdivided into various factions with differing goals, philosophies, and abilities, which are described at great length, using various arcane vocabularies pillaged from various languages and fields of study. Interestingly enough, the playing of human "hunters" who oppose these various forces – and usually with little possibility of success -- became possible only several years after the initial launch of the "World of Darkness" – which had begun with Vampire: The Masquerade. The RPG was so successful that there was a brief television series based on it. It has also inspired numerous novels, such as Nancy A. Collins' Sunglasses After Dark, with its vampire heroine, Sonja Blue. Appearing originally in 1989, it won the Horror Writing Association's Bram Stoker Award, as well as the British Fantasy Award. It was re-released in a 10th Anniversary Edition in the year 2000, with some graphic illustrations.
White Wolf has also brought out a sci-fi roleplaying game, Trinity, based on the premise of Psions struggling against Aberrants, who are twisted former humans with superhuman powers.
Among the more extreme products associated with White Wolf's World of Darkness is Dead Magic: The Tome of Lost Cultures and Civilizations for Mage: The Ascension. Produced under the imprint of the Black Dog Game Factory, it is clearly marked as "for adults only" – although one wonders whether that is only designed to entice younger people. One of the main themes of the book appears to be the elaborate process by which an evil sorcerer can transform into a "liche" – a powerful, undead being. But what is perhaps more troubling is the mixture of real mythology and history that is thrown into a hash to conform to the background of White Wolf's World of Darkness. In today's world, where so little is known by non-specialists about the mythologies and histories of aboriginal and ancient societies, it is possible that some people may end up basing much of their knowledge of Mesopotamia, or even of Greece and Rome, on this kind of product. And that would be in itself an intellectual travesty similar in some ways to that carried out in the grossly a-historical (referring here to the contemporaneous appearance of well-known ancient figures that historically lived hundreds of years apart) Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess television series.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.