Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Ultimate Horror Game

Surely the ultimate horror game would be one where, at least initially, the players do not know they are playing a horror game.

Horror is brought into perspective by normality, so the best way to being would be with something like an Apocalypse Word-derived storygame set in the real world. AW is good at developing pre-existing networks of connection before the game starts so do that in a reality-based situation. Tell players that they are exploring gender or something.

Or even better, tell them that they are exploring non-privileged perspectives in the mental health field.

Start off with some normal shit and throw in some everyday stressors "uh oh, looks like I might be in danger of losing this office job/relationship".

Then you veeeery slowly start introducing reality bending stuff.

The thing is, because they think they are playing a game about mental health, at first even the players think they are seeing things that aren't there, or blacking out and imagining things that didn't happen. Of course they are scared to go to the authorities and of course no-one will believe them.

Then you throw in something that, while no-one else witnesses it directly, can only be the result of supernatural forces. But even then you don't tell them directly what's going on and one or two still think they are playing in the mental illness game.

As soon as the session is finished you just stand up, refuse to answer any questions, grab your stuff and go. They wouldn't even be certain what kind of game they had played in.


  1. There was a game - from the story-games community - for 3 players, in which one of the players thought it was going to be a slice-of-life romance kind of thing, and the other two knew that it was going to turn out to be about a serial killer or something. I remember it had two names, a fake name you tell the victim, and another real name.

    I believe there was some sort of controversy about the informed consent issue with the game.

    Unfortunately, I can't remember either name, so I can't find it.

    1. "The Secret Lives of Serial Killers"
      It won an Ennie back in 2011, and the entire purpose of the game was to highlight informed consent.
      The creator of the game encouraged people NOT to play the game.

    2. Ronnie, not Ennie.

    3. The ilarious thing about that game is that Ben lied-about-rape Lehman actually said that the game design itself was an example of "abusive design" when any "abusive" element was clearly *deciding to play the game in the first place* (totally within the--theoretically abusive--players' control)

    4. Zak, do you have a link? The only mention I find of the term "abusive design" is "abusive game design" in the game itself's introduction. I agree with you it's overhyping somewhat - the (real) rules end with the instruction "Apologize. Talk about your experiences playing the game." If it's abusive, it's trying to mitigate that abuse.

      I do think I'd be pissed off, if someone tried to run Sunshine Boulevard for me.

      I'd be less pissed off by the Ultimate Horror Game, I think. It seems like just a shift from realistic horror to supernatural horror. I'm not even sure I'd even realize - I'd just think the supernatural elements were surreal expressions of hallucination and delusion.

    5. @bothros
      The conversation where Ben cited it began during this Vincent Baker conversation...

      I say:

      "It's a bit of a culture shock to see a friendship ending over what happens in a game discussed as if it were a design issue and not a strictly social issue. But it's the kind of culture shock I've come to expect"

      Then Ben lies-about-rape Lehman said:
      "It's a bit of a culture shock to see a friendship ending over what happens in a game discussed as if it were a design issue and not a strictly social issue. But it's the kind of culture shock I've come to expect.
      Oct 24, 2012
      Ben Lehman's profile photo
      Ben Lehman
      +Zak Smith I wrote a little piece about that here: "

      Ben's post is now inaccessible but basically he gives the Serial Killer game as an example of a design that hurts people.

      Obviously if there's "hurt" it's the *people* who hurt the people, not the design.

      The design isn't a gun--it doesn't give people a physical aptitude to inflict harm that they wouldn't have without that piece of technology. Any "harm" is from bringing up triggering imagery while the "victim"t hought they were safe, which the "bad" players could do pretty much any time any where in their lives, game or no.

      But then. Ben has never been especially sane:

    6. Thank you for the citation.

      I think it's reasonable to talk about a game as "the thing that the rulebook is instructing you to do", and not the rulebook itself. In which case it would be reasonable to say that a game is abusive, meaning that playing it would be abusive.

      If someone were to run Sunshine Boulevard for me, I would be mad at the Facilitator and Killer players, and not at Willow Palecek.

      I can't read Ben Lehman's post, so I can't tell what he said.

      Given the accessible post, I think he disagrees with me.

  2. I've often thought that horror movies should not be listed as such; set them up as a family drama or a crime story or something. _From Dusk Till Dawn_ almost pulls it off, as the first act is a pretty straightforward Tarantinoesque crooks-on-the-lam story. If the (spoilers!) vampires had not been played for camp, the movie might have accomplished something like what you describe.

    1. Maybe Posession with Sam Neil is a bit like that? It gets Lovecraftian towards the end I think. Not sure if its signalled in the beginning.

    2. I think the previews of From Dusk Till Dawn might have given it away. Same as with The Sixth Sense, which slowly reveals its weird bits.

      Possession doesn't show its cards too early... but it does have an odd atmosphere from the start.

  3. I did it! I did it!
    Once in high school i called my d&d palls and the girl i wanted get laid with and started a game. I style it as a game about power role and how money always screw everything up, but instead we player Vampire. I was the only one to know obviously, because i was the only big dorky nerd in the bunch and vampire wasnt The Thing anymore (at least here in Italy). So when the rich old kind and suspicious guy started biting every body on the neck it was strange and quite thrilling. I got a little too gory, perhaps. We never player that again.


    1. Dude thanks for the link but you know I've got endless shit to do. You gotta give me a precis or something.

    2. It's a Dada Psychological Horror RPG.
      It features terribly unsafe content and focuses on the people around the table feeling disgust, self-loathing, anguish and other negative feelings in an attempt to exorcise the accumulated tar that comes from living in a world that has a lot of shit in it.

  5. JAGS: Wonderland has a similar opening gambit. It is a flawed game but really fascinating, and Alice-themed.

  6. I thought about something like that once.

  7. Takashi Miike's film "Audition" works this way. As a game, I feel like it would work best as a one-off. The shock factor would be hard to replicate.