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Vampire | Intentionally Vaygh

Tag Archives: Vampire

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New Essay: “Our Darkest Parts”

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Categories: Essays, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Our Darkest Parts

Since the earliest days of humanity, there have been legends of the dead returning to life. The most familiar tales of the undead in western culture are those of the vampire and the zombie. Countless novels, comic books, movies, and video games are devoted to portraying these night stalkers, these predators of predators. Both vampires and zombies return from death to feed upon the living; vampires drink blood and zombies consume flesh. As apex predators, humans are unaccustomed to thinking of themselves as prey. The thought of being another creature’s food is atrocious to us. It is not the fear of consumption that makes vampires and zombies horrifying, however. It is the mirror which they hold up to our culture, reflecting our darkest parts, that makes the undead terrifying. Vampires and zombies, in their opposing extremes, reveal American fear of that which is outside the mainstream.

The way in which one is turned from normal human to vampire or zombie reveals our twin fears of individualism and collectivism. The act of turning someone into a vampire is intimate and personal. The progenitor vampire is often portrayed in fiction as stalking its victim and learning everything about their lives. The vampire then seduces the would-be convert. The victim is told only they are worthy of the vampire’s gift of immortality; only they are special enough among the teeming throngs of humanity to be elevated above their peers. Zombies, on the other hand, are equal-opportunity undead. They transmit their infection through bites and scratches delivered to their unlucky victims. Rich or poor, young or old, black or white matters not to a zombie. If you are alive, you’re a valid target. If you escape one zombie attack alive, it’s simply a matter of time before you become one of the shambling dead yourself. You will be assimilated into the undead collective. This is one of the most common themes in zombie movies. Inevitably, one of the minor characters of the movie will be bitten, conceal the violation, and turn into a zombie at the most inopportune moment.

Americans pride themselves as individuals, but understand we are all part of a linked society. Neither the vampire nor the zombie operates within the confines between the extremes of egoism and collectivism: vampires holding themselves above the masses, zombies dragging everyone down with them. We loathe equally people being swallowed by the collective and being held up as better than their peers. Should an American hold themselves to be of a status far beyond the lot of common folk (as is often the case with celebrities), we feel the need to knock them down a peg or two. Our independent streak, however, prevents us from embracing the other extreme, collectivism (or communism).

The societies vampires and zombies exist in reveal our dual fears of autocracy and anarchy. Vampires form autocratic societies centered around a “head vampire.” This head vampire becomes the center of a cult of personality, its members made up of the converts it previously exalted. We see this theme frequently in the cinematic portrayal of the vampire. The heroes in vampire movies frequently are on a mission to destroy the head vampire in order to save a loved one from the curse of vampirism. The vampiric autocrat echoes the tradition of dictators like Hitler or Stalin, convincing its followers to commit unspeakable acts without hesitation. Conversely, zombies need no prompting to kill and devour. They are uncoordinated packs of ravenous cadavers. No one zombie directs the others; no vote is taken to determine which unlucky victim is to be consumed. Zombification is anarchy. Zombie novels often focus on the random nature of these beings. Living characters may be attacked at any time, in any situation.

Americans cherish democracy, where every voice is heard, but understand restrictions need to be placed on individuals for the common good. Neither the vampire nor the zombie respect this balance: vampires trampling democracy with their autocratic machinations, zombies disobeying all laws in their hunt for flesh. The American Revolution was fought to throw off the shackles of a tyrannical monarch, and our hatred of autocracy is deeply ingrained in our culture because of it. On the other hand, we are a rational people. Our rationality makes it impossible for us to abandon all government and laws in the other extreme.

The symbolic results of destroying a vampire or zombie reveal our opposing fears of existing without reason or emotion. Vampires are killed with a stake through the heart. The heart is seen, traditionally, as the seat of emotion. Thus, destroying a vampire with a stake through the heart is symbolically the same as destroying its emotions. Ironically, vampires are cold, calculating monsters, devoid of emotion. Nearly every vampire-themed comic book, game, story, or movie has the stake through the heart as a means of destroying the vampire, or at least immobilizing it. Zombies, conversely, are ended by destroying the brain. As the brain is seen as the organ of logic and reason, putting a zombie to rest is akin to the destruction of reason in the creature. This is again ironic, as zombies are mindless, flesh-eating corpses. The annihilation of grey matter is always a means to eliminate a zombie in fiction and folklore.

Americans use reason and emotion in harmony, striking a balance between what is practical and what feels right. Neither the vampire nor the zombie have this harmony: vampires abandoning emotion for cold logic, zombies eschewing rationality in their hunt for flesh. We fear being subsumed by emotion as much as being caught in the icy grip of dispassionate logic. Most Americans believe, as the ancient Stoic philosophers did, that being ruled by emotion limits one’s ability to make sound decisions. On the other hand, we also believe capitulation to pure logic limits one’s ability to sympathize with other people.

Vampires and zombies are truly terrifying creatures. The undead feed on our very flesh and blood. They devour those we love; they make a lie of our predatory supremacy. The terror engendered by vampires and zombies is not due to their consumption of human fluids and tissues, however. It’s due to the extremes in our culture they represent. We see the danger in collectivism or extreme individualism. We fear anarchists as much as dictators. We prize emotion and logic, and avoid the destruction of either. Vampires and zombies embody the extremes of thought we seek so desperately to balance in life. Perhaps it is because these monsters are not alive that we are able to project our faults on them so easily. In any case, the undead have become the examples of our darkest parts, and we fear them for it.

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Osama Would Play A Paladin

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Categories: DDO, Gaming, LARP, President Obama, Randomness, RPG, Shadowrun, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I believe in the power of gaming.

By gaming, I mean console and computer gaming as well as pencil and paper role-playing games. To a lesser extent, I would also include board games.

When I look at the impact this hobby has had on my life, it’s a bit overwhelming.

If it weren’t for gaming, I would not have met most of my friends. Specifically, my friend Mike Diamond and I would not have met if it weren’t for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition. (We had an ongoing AD&D2E game that we played in junior high by writing on a desk [in pencil!]. It was play-by-post before there was play-by-post.) Mike and I graduated from from junior high, and graduated from D&D, together. We spent hours playing all kinds of other games: Star Wars, Starfleet Battles, Marvel Super Heroes, Rise of the Dragon (Oh my God, Shandi!), and my favorite RPG of all time, Shadowrun. We still play Shadowrun together, every Saturday night.

Without Vampire: the Masquerade, I would have never met Travis Legge. My friend came from a very different world than I did, but we shared a love of gaming. Travis was the best man at my wedding and we even ran our own game publishing company for a time. We met at a Vampire LARP, but we played plenty of other White Wolf games together: Hunter, Trinity (taint in the Tesser!), Aberrant, Wraith, and one of the most influential games I’ve ever played, Mage.

I met my wife at the same Vampire LARP that I met Travis at. We had seen each other in passing before then, but never really met. Through some boneheaded moves by other people, she ended up playing a character with a direct connection to mine. The time we spent together in-character led to meetings out-of-character, which led to her ending a dysfunctional relationship with her longtime boyfriend and starting a new dysfunctional relationship with me. We’ve been dysfunctional together ever since. Tiffanie and I have played a ton of games together, from D&D3.5 to Zombies. We still play Dungeons & Dragons Online together, when time allows.

The breadth and depth of people you meet through gaming is sometimes astounding. By playing games, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting for hours with a couple of guys from Chile (¿Cómo están, amigos?), been guild-mates with a carny (Luv ya, Bernie!), called people by some strange nicknames (Shaggy and Little Shit top the list, I think), watched someone laugh so hard they puked (indirectly due to gaming: a gaming buddy was over for Bad Movie Night. Blackula + well-placed one-liner = puke!), had the cops question me about “having an orgy in the street” (actually a mob combat in the aforementioned Vampire LARP), and so much more. Gamers have been some of the kindest, friendliest, and most genuine people I’ve ever known.

I don’t want to overstate the point, but games can be powerful tools to bring people together that never would have met or seen eye-to-eye before. Where else can you bring together an atheist with a devout Catholic, a radical feminist with a staunch Republican, a high-school dropout with a graduate student, a teenager with a pensioner, or a cop with a drug dealer? Not only have I seen these disparate people gaming together, I’ve seen them working toward common goals and having fun doing it.

So, here’s my proposal: I’ll run a game. Kim Jong-Il, Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, Hamid Karzai, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and Omar al-Bashir (along with many others) are invited to play D&D with me some time (3.5: I don’t care for 4E). Perhaps, when they’re faced with the World’s Largest Dungeon, they’ll realize their countries and causes are pretty small. Maybe, when confronted with the alien nature of a great wyrm red dragon, they’ll realize people have more commonalities than differences. Maybe, when they’ve reached level 20 together, they could usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for humanity.
 
And I bet Osama would play a paladin.

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My Favorite Malkavian

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Categories: LARP, Randomness, Rockford, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday, at work, I was listening to the song Fade to Black by Metallica and nearly broke down in tears. That song reminds me of my friend, Jamy Schumm, who died nearly ten years ago. I don’t know exactly why this particular day, and this particular listening, choked me up; I’ve heard that song several times in the past decade. Still, there I was, sitting at my desk, trying to stifle a sob.

Jamy died in November of 2000, shortly after his 28th birthday. I remember there was some controversy surrounding his death when it happened. Some people thought he fell; some thought he was pushed; the official verdict was that he jumped from a parking garage in downtown Rockford. How he died does not change the fact that he’s gone, however. It also does not change how much I miss him.

I will not pretend that Jamy and I were very close friends. Many people knew him far better than I. Many people suffered his loss more profoundly than I. Jamy’s death did, however, affect me deeply. I was twenty years old when Jamy died. I thought, in some unconscious way, that I would live forever: that everyone I knew would live eternally. Jamy was among those everliving fixtures of my universe. We gamed together, and hung out at That One Place (erstwhile coffee shop extraordinaire) together. We shared laughs, and tried to solve the world’s problems, as twenty-somethings oft do, over a cup of Joe.

I really started getting to know Jamy when we were players in the Vampire: the Masquerade LARP held weekly at That One Place. Jamy was one of the core players in that game. In fact, he’s one of the finest role-players I’ve ever had the pleasure of gaming with. His Malkavian character was so well-played and central to that game, I can’t even remember his name: (though there were other Malks in the game) we always just called him “The Malkavian.” I don’t know if it was a true gift for drama or his own inner torment, but his characterization of insanity was honestly disturbing to watch at times. I think it was a bit of both.

I wish that I would have had the chance to get to know Jamy better. I bet he was even cooler than I thought. I wish that Jamy knew how many people truly cared for him. I bet he’d still be here if he did. I wish that he were still here to meet my daughter. I bet he would’ve been great with kids. I wish he could’ve been at my wedding. I bet his costume for the reception would’ve been awesome.

But wishes don’t bring people back from the dead, except in movies and games. Instead, I’ll wish that everyone who knew Jamy, even in passing, would keep his memory alive. It sounds cliché, but it’s true: in your heart, he’ll never die. If you knew Jamy Schumm and want to share a story, please do. I’ll keep the comments on this post open forever. It’s the least I can do.
 
Rest in peace, my favorite Malkavian. You are sorely missed.