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What is World of Darkness?

How the `World of Darkness and Vampire: The Masquerade’ shaped film, literature, fashion, and club culture in the 1990s.

Review

The World of Darkness was created in 1991 by Mark Rein Hagen at the behest of Steve and Stewart Wieck. Mark, as illustrated in the movie, was driving through Gary, Indiana one day when he was trying to figure out their next big property. Inspired by the scenes of urban decay, Anne Rice, The Lost Boys, and other pop culture–Mark created Vampire: The Masquerade. Before urban fantasy existed under that name, it was Gothic Punk, and it was a game about playing the undead in the shadows of modern human civilization.

The documentary consists of a set of interviews where the founders and developers talk about how it got started as the stapled paper White Wolf Magazine then moved on to become a pop culture phenomenon. We get insight from Justin Achilli, the aforementioned founders, the head of the Camarilla/Mind’s Eye Theater, and a number of beautiful cosplayers who provide visual distinction for what might otherwise be a bunch of middle-aged gamers like myself.

My history with the World of Darkness mirrored a lot of the people here. I was an awkward geek living in a fundamentalist American South before discovering the counterculture influenced Vampire: The Masquerade. I was entranced by the cover of a red rose on a granite slate (which turned out to have been done as a last-minute patch on a horrible cartoon 80s action movie cover). White Wolf had, appropriately, been founded in the Punk section of Atlanta, Georgia where my future wife spent her teenage years.

If you’re looking for a hard-hitting documentary about the rise and fall of a gaming company, then this is not the documentary for you. It’s mostly a love-letter to White Wolf Entertainment even though it contains more lumps than I expected. The interviewers aren’t afraid to take shots at some subjects where they feel like the company made serious errors like the universally derided lawsuit against the Camarilla fan club.

The documentary also doesn’t hesitate to pay backhanded praise, at best, to the still-popular New World of Darkness with some developers actively blaming it for killing the “World of Darkness” zeitgeist. One notable moment is when they show a video of everyone cheering in the audience when they announce CCP would NOT be using the New World of Darkness for their upcoming MMO. The documentary condemns Kindred: The Embraced as a hack job and skips over Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption to talk exclusively about the many trials of Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines.

I also must state it’s a bit of a shame the documentary ends on the failure of the World of Darkness MMO, which was beautiful from what little slices of gameplay we get to see. There are hints that it might have been a project that got too ambitious (talking about the hundreds of different styles of clothes your character could choose from). Sadly, it ends on that downer note without the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition or take up of the line by Onyx Path Publishing to show a triumphant return. 5th Edition certainly doesn’t get a mention either.

The documentary also suffers from the fact that it is sometimes a little too self-congratulatory despite the many scandals that plagued the original franchise. While it covers the misguided, even stupid, attempt by White Wolf to sue its own fanclub, it also leaves out the fact that sexual harassment and frequent struggles with Alt Right fans have been an issue. For a gameworld created by progressive punks, there’s always been jerks who completely ignore the message due to their attraction to the edgy conspiracy filled world. The documentary congratulates the World of Darkness for bringing many women to the hobby but ignores how many of them had to deal with fans who never learned table manners.

It’s great to finally put faces to so many beloved writers and artists who helped create the work that helped define my 90s experience. The World of Darkness was hugely influential to the Blade and Underworld movies as well as True Blood series. We also get a real sense of how it individually impacted lives as gamers talk about how the World of Darkness changed their lives. It’s good also to see a diversity of players that shatters the stereotype of white male gamers being the only people who tabletop.

Really, the sense of the documentary is largely uplifting. It’s a story about a beautiful topic that I think all Gothic Punk RPGers and World of Darkness fans should appreciate. It has its flaws and is perhaps a bit too reverent of its subject matter, but I would happily watch a sequel should one ever be created.

Available here

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