Aug 23

2010

Fantasy vs. History

Posted by: Jason Stevan Hill | Comments (15)

I am thrilled to announce that Choice of the Vampire is currently undergoing review by the App Store; barring unforeseen problems, it will be released in the next few days!

As many of you are aware, to date, Choice of Games has published a series of fantasy multiple-choice games. Being a relatively progressive lot, and unconstrained by market research or corporate interests, we’ve been free to be politically progressive (specifically with regards to gender and sexual orientation). Because these games have historical themes, they have had to be situated in fictional realities, realities in which, for example, women crew ships or same-sex couples can produce children.

Yet, when I started thinking about writing this game, the possibility of locating it in a fictional reality never crossed my mind. It is a fictionalized world–I do not believe that vampires exist–but it tries to hew as closely as possible to actual people, places and events. Having decided to make a historical game, then, I found myself confronted immediately with a variety of questions regarding our politics. Specifically, how do I address issues of race, gender and sexual orientation?


To some degree, vampires are an excellent vehicle for the exploration of these issues. Because they are not, in fact, human, and because they reproduce asexually, among themselves they can transcend mortal prejudices. Of course, such transcendence comes more often from an indifference to human mores, but could in theory come from an enlightened perspective. Unfortunately, the society of vampires is a small and fragile one, existing in the interstices of an exceedingly hostile environment that entertains those prejudices with great force. For example, what happens when a black vampire tries to enter a white man’s hotel in Jackson, MS in 1903? The butlers and bellhops and what-have-you will deny him entry. Race may not matter to the vampire, but it certainly does to the humans who only see him for the color of his skin. The vampire could tear the bellhops to shreds, but then the police would show up, there would be witnesses, and none of this would get the vampire any closer to renting a room for the day. Thus, even if vampires are outside of these prejudices, they are forced to conform and adapt to world that projects its prejudices onto them, a profoundly alien species trying desperately to blend in with its food supply.

Now, given a moment to reflect, it is worth asking how should the game have been written. Did I make the right choice, or ought I to have put the game in a fictional world, where I could have avoided these issues? Obviously, it would have produced a very different game, but would that game have been better? What would that game have even looked like?

To be honest, I don’t think that I could have told that story, for reasons reflected in the way I portray vampires. I’m not writing this story so we can imagine ourselves as fabulously beautiful, wealthy and emotionally tortured teenagers. Rather, I’m interested in what it means to be immortal, what it means to watch the world pass you by, and what are the compromises we make to get what we want in our lives. Just as you make choices in life, so too must you make choices in the game. Unfortunately, life’s choices are not as clear as those in the game. But what do you do, when you are denied entry to that hotel? How do you handle being rejected for your gender or your sexual orientation? Moreover, how do you deal with these things when they no longer mean anything to you? What to we gain and what do we lose when these markers of identity are no longer relevant?

I don’t think I could have written that story, because I don’t know how I could have grappled with those questions in a fictional world. Here, in our world, everyone can relate to the prejudices and conflicts that I see at the heart of the vampire myth; a myth that would have been lost or irredeemably distorted had I sought to transpose it to another world. If you have played Dragon, Broadsides and/or Romance, you can see how Vampire adopts a profoundly different approach to issues of identity and history. I made a choice: to hew to the historical die of things. Some of you will prefer it, some of you will hate it. Either way, I hope this gives you some idea as to why Vampire has been written this way, and I’m curious to hear your response to it.

15 Comments

  1. I’m actually quite pleased to hear this. It’s refreshing to have a Choice of… game which doesn’t take an everything-is-all-right-bunny-rabbits-and-rainbows approach towards prejudice issues.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with utopian fantasy like that (it’s actually a lot of fun), it’s just that it’s nice to see some bleak realism occasionally for variety’s sake.

  2. Trevor says:

    Is this game going to cost iPod users money to download?

  3. Jason says:

    It will be interesting, I can’t wait to see how you’ve handled it and if it maintains the same playability as the other games.

    One thing, though, that I hope you didn’t miss is that while the vampires may be more apathetic to the mores of the society in which they live, as predators observing their prey, they would surely know how to use those mores in a way to camouflage themselves.

    I could see male vampires using charm and strength and female vampires using a variety of means to attract prey or to get what they want from humans. But for black vampires, either in white-dominated Antebellum America or in white-dominated Jim Crow South, I’m really not so sure. It’s not something I’ve thought much about unfortunately.

  4. CPFace says:

    Sounds really cool, and I can’t wait to try it. Hopefully I’ll have more to say about it then. (Heh, I still haven’t tried Romance yet!)

    I think what interests me most about Choice of Games is your approach to designing a narrative, whether it’s a smashy power fantasy like Dragon or something more thought-provoking. I’ll say it again — I’m really grateful for these bits of insight into the design process that you give us.

  5. Simon says:

    The game sounds interesting and I’m looking forward to trying it. Until then, it is of course difficult to comment on the issue presented in this post.

  6. Kamer says:

    Can’t wait to play the game. We’ve been waiting for it for a while, and now that it’s almost upon us. I can imagine alot of people love these games.

  7. Yami says:

    I can’t wait, I love a god ol’ vampire game that doesent twinkle, as long as there’s no cost I will be one of the first to download

  8. Gary says:

    I like it this way, I mean, I definitely enjoyed the gender / race neutrality of the games so far, but its nice to play a game from the other perspective. In general, it would be best if you continued making both types of games, some that explore these social issues, and some that pretend they don’t exist for the sake of better exploring the game world.

  9. Erana says:

    @Trevor

    Think of it as a chance to support Choice of Games. In other words, If you give a damn, buy it.

    Vampires can bein interesting stories, but I feel little affinity for them. Assiafe from the whole man-eating-monster-in-disguise thing, it is largely that the setting of most of these stories literally revolves around them. There are no beaurocrats in Castlevania games, nor a microcosm of domestic unrest in the homes of the villagers in the viscinity of Dracula’s domain. In the Twilight saga, normal people are about as significant as the color of the walls in the highschool.

    It’s not just the matter of race I appreciate you touching on, it’s the effort you’ve taken in general to nail the setting. Past blog posts suggest that you’ve been working hard, researching for this game. Emphasizing history in a story is like making risotto- if you do it right, you have a delicious, creamy rice dish outta just rice and water.
    Ok, that didn’t make much sense as an analogy, but I percieve the world in venn diagrams and food analogies, so bear with me.
    What I mean to say is that the rich history alone will provide value and richness to your story. Interesting characters are the capers and marscapone- I mean, the harmony for the chronoligic excursion, meant to engage the audience and drive the exploration of the setting.
    I know it’s a bit late now to put it in the CoV, but Id still appreciate getting little notes about the places and refrences in the game. I’ve seen a few other history-oriented stories do this, (The extras on the DVD of the show Rome and the 1920’s-themed webcomic, Lackidaisy Cats to name a few) and I found it particularly enjoyable.
    Thank you for the consideration in making this game. 🙂

  10. Trevor says:

    @Erana I’d be more than happy to support Choice of Games, but I’m not exactly overflowing with cash right now……

  11. Frank says:

    I’m pleased with this decision. I was a little disappointed with the way sexuality was treated by choice of romance. I was expecting something more like Broadsides where there was a difference, but I can understand the decision. But maybe if was gay, I would feel differently.

  12. Frank says:

    Also I don’t mind paying a couple dollars if it means more games. The website is still an option for those that really can’t pay.

  13. Kira says:

    Choice of Vampire is out on iTunes!!! Hooray! But why isn’t it online?

  14. Scott says:

    Having played Vampire, I want to say that I absolutely loved the historical components and would like to thank you for doing so much research. The history really increases the level of immersion; and I think CoG would do well to produce many such stories in the future.

  15. Sam says:

    I don’t really care about the historical elements of Choice of the Vampire myself, but they were well done. What I did like, though, was the complications this brought into relationships. While there was still an element of railroading and ‘this is going to be OK!’ in the story, it was far less than the others, which [to me] better shows the complexities of the world and helps you actually *role play* within the confines of the game.

Leave a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe by E-mail