I just, only just, managed to sit through Boogeyman. I’m no expert on horror, or the gothic generally, but I found this movie intriguing while yet being stifling and irritating. I don’t generally watch horror movies, because I don’t tend to find I get a whole heap out of them. I have enjoyed enough that I’m pretty happy to give one a try if it happens to be on, but I don’t seek them out.
Boogeyman is, broadly, an “inner demon” horror. It felt broadly similar in genre to something like The Ring, as opposed to being a monster horror such as An American Werewolf in London, a survival horror like Dog Soldiers, an elimination horror like Valentine or a seduced-to-evil horror like Shadow of the Vampire. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I have watched a whole heap of horror movies.
What I noticed about Boogeyman and which prompted this post was just how stylized it was. I think it was perhaps the clumsiness of execution which made it noticeable, but there was a very strict formula that I recognized from the much better It.
Seguing into a digression, I’m a Western fan, but despite my fervour and my continuing investment in new western roleplaying games, I’ve never felt like I’ve handled one well. My theory is that the Western is a very formula and style dependant genre, especially in the Spaghetti Westerns which dominate my list of prefered movies. assures me that they have a pretty firm story grammar too, but I’m not universally convinced.
So, coming back: I wondered whether that was one reason why people in general struggle to GM horror… I’ve certainly found that without considerable GM presence in setting the tone you end up with the players openly considering the genre conventions to the strong detriment of immersion. The essential difference being that the conventions of the Western are less well understood than those of Horrors. The western fails due to ignorance, and the horror too much knowledge.
The convention which most strongly spoke to me about today’s movie outing was that of the “character centrepiece”. By which I mean that it becomes clear through the course of the movie that many deaths and other horrible occurances are framed and experienced through their impact on the main character rather than in their own right. The better movies hide this: when Martin Henderson dies horribly in the Ring we realise on some level that this is simply in order to rattle Naomi Watts, but during the moment, I think you can buy it as invoking pathos in its own right.
Diverting slightly, we can see that this is a convention well understood and subverted by Joss Whedon in Buffy. When Angel attacks the library staff at the end of season 2, both Angel and fairly transparently, we, realise this has the explicit goal of affecting Buffy, rather than to eliminate those characters as a threat in and of themselves. You can see this treatment in the relative screen time given to Oz breaking up with Willow and Parker using and discarding Buffy. Buffy’s gets more despite how relatively minor her suffering is in comparison.
Anyway, this is another thing which marks out both the Western and the Horror as being potentially difficult to roleplay: everyone wants a share of the limelight, and so playing in a game so that you can be a catspaw the GM uses to mangle another character might be unappealing. I may have more to say on this later.
The inference to be drawn from this two-pronged semi-review is one of antithesis: that roleplaying games are easiest to construct when largely free of genre conventions, and not distinctly focused on a single character amongst the group. I think the first part of this conclusion, rather than a matter of combat v. “roleplaying”, may be at the heart of the difference in perspective between D&Ders and the rest. D&D is heavily stylized in comparison to, say, the bulk of 2nd generation games such as WFRP.
An ill-formed and uncomplete thought, but the kernel of something a bit more lucid, I hope.