[World of Darkness] Mature games tackling the worst subjects

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Black Dragon
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[World of Darkness] Mature games tackling the worst subjects

Post by willpell » Wed May 25, 2016 7:13 pm

If there were a Top Ten list compiled of the most infamous, disturbing, questionable, shocking, or condemned supplements in the history of the roleplaying game industry, there are two names which would almost certainly be at the top. One is the notoriously awful - in every sense - rape simulator known as F.A.T.A.L., which pretty much nobody other than its author will ever even try to defend; it's basically just the Goatse of our medium, and I have nothing in particular to say about it. But the other is a book which I believe, and I'm not the first to propose this idea, is something which deserves to be regarded as An Important Work, not just of gaming literature but of literature in general - specifically because it addresses a subject so profoundly uncomfortable that most people would vastly prefer not to think about it.

That book is Charnel Houses of Europe: the Shoah, by Richard Dansky, for White Wolf Games' Wraith: the Oblivion. And it's about the Holocaust. Given that Wraith in general is a game where innocent murder victims' restless souls routinely get smelted into ashtrays by the far-more-successful ghosts of their killers, it should go without saying that its take on the most systematic crime against humanity in recorded history is high-octane nightmare fuel (or at least I can safely presume so; I haven't actually read the book, and am not in a great hurry to, but that doesn't stop me from having an opinion about its social impact, any more than I do about War and Peace or Lolita or the like). Dansky repeatedly stressed in multiple interviews about the book that his aim was absolutely not to sensationalize the subject in any way; it was about using the game as a vehicle to talk about a subject most people can't stand to hear about, but which they quite arguably should have to. He didn't set out to create a game that anyone would ever play for fun (and very likely was worried about the possibility that someday, somewhere, a very sick person would do exactly that). Instead, his objective was to create a work of art, a meaningful testament to a crucially important historical event, which by its very existence might help contribute to ensuring that such a thing Never Again comes to pass.

I've ruffled more than a few feathers in my time on this board, there's no question of that. But my intention has never been to make people uncomfortable, or at least not to do so "for the lulz", as the vernacular puts it, any more than Dansky was out to create a cheap sensation by writing about the effects of attempted genocide on Jewish ghosts. Dansky believed, as I do, that sometimes making people uncomfortable is the right thing to do, or at least an acceptable cost of trying to do the right thing. There is some logic in saying that people can become too comfortable, that sometimes they need to be shaken awake and made to see what's happening around them, and not allowed to blind themselves to the painful truth that they have a responsibility to step up to. A work of Art that sets out to do just that is deserving of its capital letter, IMO; the fact that the author will be condemned is the surest sign that he's done his job right. Nobody thinks very long about a nauseating abortion like F.A.T.A.L.; its creation is pure shock-schlock, and it vanishes quickly from the overcluttered pop-cultural landscape, only occasionally and briefly surfacing before it is swallowed again by obscurity. But something like Charnel Houses is an entirely different animal, analogous not to flotsam and jetsam on the oceans of time, but to a forbidding black lighthouse, its eerie siren warning voyagers away from the wrong course. I say that's worth disturbing a few people's peace and quiet for, and that it's proof that Games, as a medium, can be about something much greater than "fun".

This thread is not exclusively about that one book, but rather about the potential for books like that to exist. If anyone knows of other candidates for that list, please feel free to mention them.

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Giant Space Hamster
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Re: [World of Darkness] Mature games tackling the worst subj

Post by Giant Space Hamster » Thu May 26, 2016 1:03 am

"Lets make a list of offensive things like rape and the holocaust in RPGs at The Piazza".

No Willpell, lets not make a list of offensive things at The Piazza. This is going into the Black Pudding, where it will not be indexed by search engines.

Seconded. It was established several years ago that rape, while it may well exist in real life and even in some RPGs, is not a fit topic for discussion in an environment such as this one. This also goes for that holocaust. These are topics that, if discussed at all, need to be dealt with far more sensitively than "let's make a list". — Ashtagon
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