A poisoned imagination? (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
This article is based on a draft of a presentation read at the conference, "Poisoned Cornucopia: Excess, Intemperance and Overabundance Across Literatures and Cultures" (Opole, Poland:
Among the most popular RPG's today are Deadlands: The Weird West (from Pinnacle Entertainment Group), based on the premise that an earthquake sinks California and releases a plague of evil spirits and occult energy in the 1870s, the undead walk the earth, and so forth.
Another very popular RPG, loosely based on The X-Files television series, is Conspiracy X (from Eden Studios). The curiously named Eden Studios has also brought out the role-playing games, C.J. Carella's WitchCraft; Extinction (Conspiracy X, one hundred years in the future); Armageddon: The End Times (subtitled, A Game of War, Myth and Horror); All Flesh Must Be Eaten ("the zombie survival horror RPG"); as well as Abduction: The Card Game (humans trying to escape from alien abductors, the so-called Greys of UFOlogy). A somewhat earlier X-Files-type RPG was Don't Look Back: Terror is never far behind (from Mind Ventures).
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.) White Wolf has also brought out a sci-fi role-playing game, Trinity, based on the premise of Psions struggling against Aberrants, who are twisted former humans with superhuman powers.
FASA (another major company) had earlier supported the sci-fi miniatures system, Vor: The Maelstrom, whose premise was that evil energies had broken the Earth up into a twisted shell, and a few humans clung precariously to survival. One of the flagship RPG systems of FASA had been Shadowrun: Where Man Meets Magic and Machine (originally launched in 1989). Shadowrun is mainly based on the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction, however, it introduces a further twist on the theme. There is the introduction of so-called metahumanity (elves, dwarves, orks, trolls), all manner of other creatures of legend (dragons, etc.), and of the possibility of magical practice for most beings, including normal humans -- into a high-tech, gritty cyberpunk world. The setting's original premise for this evolution is an upsurge of an enormous wave of magical and occult energies around the year 2011.
Some might suggest that our own world today is one where "man meets magic and machine". There is a burgeoning of the most fantastic occult tendencies today, combined with surreal advances in technology. Shadowrun may both point to an increasingly dystopic world, as well as possibly offer some aid in understanding the parameters of such a future, under siege from both the hyper-irrational (the occult, conspiracy-theories, extreme forms of popular music), and the hyper-rational (hyper-technology, socio-technical controls, and corporate/bureaucratic rule).
Another major company is Games Workshop, based in Great Britain, which supports boardgames, miniatures, and RPG's based on its WARHAMMER and WARHAMMER 40,000 A.D. backgrounds. The WARHAMMER background is dark-tinged fantasy. The WARHAMMER 40,000 A.D. (or 40K) universe is utterly ferocious, a very dark space fantasy, summarized by the phrase: "In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war." In such a universe, there is no place for soft religions or soft emotions. Earth's stellar empire is guarded by ultra-elite, very heavily armored, Space Marines, who battle against all manner of hideous foes (Genestealers, Tyrannids, and so forth) reminiscent of the Alien/s movie series.
There is also Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu, the main RPG based on H.P. Lovecraft's delirious horror-stories. The central premise of Lovecraft's writing is the existence of malevolent, very powerful, demonic creatures that will eventually come to dominate Earth – "when the stars are right". These creatures have "slept" for many millennia, but are now beginning to awaken, encouraged by cultists grouped in various cabals. Pagan Publishing has produced a supplement to that game, called Delta Green, which enhances the Cthulhu mythos with extensive, surreal conspiracies. Delta Green is the name of the fictitious super-secret U.S. government agency – that now operates in deep cover – which is trying to combat the rising tide of evil.
Steve Jackson Games has brought out In Nomine, portraying the struggle between angels and demons in the current-day world, but in a manner very far from (and quite offensive to) Christian belief. Steve Jackson Games has also pioneered, in a tongue-in-cheek but somewhat disturbing fashion, the whole surreal conspiracy concept, typified by their Illuminati games and settings. There have also been some other disturbing modules in Steve Jackson Games' Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS), notably Black Ops, a concept based on the premise of a "secret super-agency" fighting against hidden aliens and supermonsters in the current-day world. The very popular CthulhuPunk combines the dark near-future cyberpunk genre, with the Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.