Something you all may or may not know: I listen to every episode of Saving the Game after it releases. As the only regular host who has never done audio editing, if I don’t make a conscious effort to listen to the episodes after they’re released, I never get to hear them. Usually, that experience is just a nice refresher of an interesting conversation I had with some friends that happened to be recorded, but every now and then, I get hit with something like this: toward the end of our episode with Ken Hite, Ken asked a question in the segment about horror and Christianity that I didn’t actually answer. Fatigue took over and I wound up going on a rambling tangent, but the question was good enough that after listening to the final episode and facepalming for a few minutes, I decided that it still deserved an answer.
The question was: “Any times when you’ve been playing horror games and thinking ‘oh, that was a little close to the edge for me’?”
My answer back on the 2nd when we recorded was a long rambling monologue about using Christian tropes in horror, which completely missed the point of the question and also kind of cut my co-hosts off from that conversational road by the time it was over. (Sorry guys; I was not at my best that evening.)
The real answer is “Yes,” but the specific games weren’t ones which I had in mind at the time. The first example was in my friend Kevin’s Ravenloft game which I’ve referenced a number of times on the podcast. Why I didn’t remember it at the time of the recording is beyond me; Ravenloft is a horror setting, Branden brought Ravenloft up earlier in the podcast, and the Ravenloft game was one of my favorites of all time.
The point of the Ravenloft game was that the player characters were Dark Lords of Ravenloft that were getting second chances and didn’t remember; I was given Lord Soth to play (though I didn’t realize it until much later; Kevin’s GMing skills made that revelation alone a pretty unsettling turn of events). During one of the sessions where my PC finally came to grips with who and what he was, Kevin co-opted me to play him as the evil person he used to be, and he did some pretty dark and cruel things. Ultimately, the rest of the party broke him out of the cycle of replaying evil memories and he was a changed (if still flawed) person, but that was pretty unsettling.
The second incident was at Fear the Con 7, in a con game of Ragnarok: Fate of the Norns. The story had us, a bunch of Viking warriors, fighting against some “servants of the White God” – Crusaders with the serial numbers filed off. The game didn’t hammer on present-day Christianity at all, and in fact portrayed the Crusader analogs as pretty nasty, awful people (which a lot of them were). But when the party tracked several of them down and slew them, I still felt weird about it.
And I think those incidents both point to the same thing: sometimes the stuff that makes you the most uncomfortable has the potential to teach you the most if you can take some time and think about it afterward. The Ravenloft game taught me that playing evil, monstrous player characters, even in the short-term, was going to hold the ugly parts of my own soul up in a way that I didn’t like; while there is some value in coming to grips with one’s own dark side, I wonder if, at some point, it’s just “feeding the bad wolf.” The Ragnarok game made confront some lingering “nationalism” over Christianity, which is something I still wonder about the lines with. There are pretty clear directives in scripture, particularly in the writings of Paul, to love each other in the church, but what do you do when a believer you have no way of influencing publicly espouses things you feel are wrong, or even downright despicable? What are the rules of engagement with co-religionists who have “snapped” and gone off the deep end in one way or another? And how do I react when the roles are flipped and someone confronts me? I don’t have those answers, and I wish I did. Sometimes when you get close to the line, you can see why, how, and what you need to do differently. And sometimes? It’s as murky as the mists of Ravenloft.