World of Darkness: The Documentary
I’ve never played a role-playing game (RPG), but I’ve always been interested in how people respond to vampires in popular culture, so I was curious to view World of Darkness: The Documentary when offered a screening copy. It’s an hour-and-a-half documentary about Vampire: The Masquerade and White Wolf Publishing, the role-playing game company that released it.
World of Darkness: The Documentary will be available in the US for streaming purchase or rental on Amazon, iTunes, and Steam on September 18. Here’s the trailer:
The material is obviously visually interesting, with plenty of shots of people dressed up as vampires, combined with what look like bloody outtakes from an indy horror movie. But what I found more informative is how the movie makes the case for Vampire: The Masquerade changing gaming culture by putting out an RPG that wasn’t about fantasy but instead featured “vampire punk goth”.
After the game became successful, gamers were no longer as likely to be considered geeks, because that particular game made being an outsider cool. The filmmakers — the movie is written by Kevin Lee and produced and directed by Lee and Giles Alverson — also show the game makers arguing that this success was responsible for turning vampires from monsters in pop culture perception into protagonists.
Some basic familiarity with the game and its terminology is helpful in watching the movie, since they don’t actually explain the names and details of some of the background, including the title. (I found Wikipedia helpful in catching me up.) World of Darkness is the name for the shared world setting established by Vampire: The Masquerade when it debuted in 1991 and later expanded to other games. Key players participated in the film, including:
- Mark Rein-Hagen, creator of Vampire: The Masquerade
- Stewart and Steve Wieck, founders of White Wolf Publishing (Stewart passed away in 2017)
- Various cultural commentators who talk about gaming and monsters in popular culture
- Tim Bradstreet, illustrator of the game manual — that’s some of his art below, which helped establish a more modern look for the classic monsters
- Other game designers and storytellers for the brand
- Select fans who are shown making up for their characters and talking about the appeal of the game
Things I learned from the film include how White Wolf began as an RPG magazine exhibited at GenCon and how the game was inspired by a trip through burned-out Gary, Indiana, on the way to the convention, as well as 80s vampire movies and club culture. It was a huge success that spun out into live-action role-playing, as well as video games and a short-lived TV show.
The material was appealing because it made room for more people than the typical white boys who played RPGs up to that point. But after a decade, declining sales drove a company shakeup. They felt that their work was stolen by others for movies and books, and after a merger with another company, they planned to create an MMO that never came out. Fans still appreciate what the game did for them, although plans to put out more material are iffy.
Overall, I found the movie informative and worth watching for those interested in gaming culture and fandom.