I’ve always been interested in the idea of a horror game where the player is the monster. Though not generally regarded as a horror game per se, in the party game Werewolf the players each take on the role of a villager or, in a few cases, a werewolf. The game takes place in turns: Each ‘night’ turn, the werewolf or werewolves pick a villager to be devoured. Then, during a ‘day’ phase, the players (including the werewolves) try to determine who the werewolf is, cast votes, and ‘lynch’ the most likely suspect, who is then out of the game. Imagine, for a second, this basic premise in a video game: You are both hunter and prey, and any word you say could seal your fate, whether that’s to be devoured the next night, be lynched by your ‘friends’, or to escape to kill again.
Monsters have as much or more to fear as anyone. Even two-ton piles of bone and muscle and bloody fur can be hunted, can be killed. It’s like with spiders, see: It’s as scared of you as you are of it.
I fail to see why anyone who knows anything about the way animals react to fear would find this reassuring.
In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines you play, as one would surmise, a vampire. You are a super strong brick of face stomping blood-sucking badass with magic powers. You’d be surprised at how little that counts for when you’re investigating a hotel haunted by the ghost of a murderer, or navigating a labyrinth inhabited by abominations crafted of human flesh by black magic, or maybe just trapped in a mansion full of lunatics with knives. And, of course, even when merely wandering the streets looking for a bite to eat, you need to worry that someone, somewhere, is going to see something they shouldn’t have– and maybe it won’t be long before they start coming to hunt you.
Much of the appeal of VtMB is in its wonderful writing and voice acting, its beautiful art design, but what I’ll always remember is the running. Weeks after I played this game, I had dreams of running through a crowd, being pursued or pursuing– It’s easy, sometimes, for the line between pursuing prey and being pursued by hunger to become lost, insignificant. This is a game that gives us an opportunity to be something more and less than human, something grand and dark and terrible and grotesque.
Horror doesn’t just need to be about fear for our physical well-being: How much more terrifying is it, do you think, to fear for our very identity? To fear that we will become something we aren’t and come to defile everything that we thought we were? To fear that those we love, those we left behind when we changed, will see us as we now are?
Oh yes. That’s something to run from.