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Vampire Retrospective: Frederick Bell

Posted on December 23, 2011 by Flames

The Vampire Retrospective Project continues today with an essay from Frederick Bell. Frederick tells us about how much he initially did not like Vampire and walked away from it for some time. He then re-discovered the game through online play. He goes on to tell us how playing the game online was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of his life.

One fall evening

    At first, I absolutely hated the Vampire the Masquerade game.

    I hated everything about it. The haughty audacity of the game concept, the glorification of monsters, the hipster arrogance of the players, the model-perfect character art, and even the overly ornate layout of the game-books just grated against my sensibilities. My first attempts at playing in a chronicle were clumsy, confused and brutal affairs that always descended into sociopathy and sadism.

    My suspicions confirmed after countless sessions, I turned down further offers to play in the World of Darkness.

    It took a switch of game-play medium, from tabletop to online chat, for the game to reintroduce itself to me. With that change, it grew to be one of the richest and most life-changing experiences in my life.

    One fall evening, more than a decade ago, the last person left the roleplaying chat room I was playing in, leaving me alone in the room and bored. Clicking back to the lobby, I saw that the Vampire the Masquerade room had more than twenty people currently playing. I figured I would go in for a laugh and nothing more, imagining being amused at sad attempts at roleplaying these monsters. Instead, I witnessed incredible writing and characterization by the other players in the room. Suddenly, I found myself flitting through a folder of spare character sheets, trying to find something to join these players.

    I found a half-filled-out starting neonate with only a three letter name given name and ‘Gangrel’ scrawled at the top for the clan. No background, no surname, not even a generation recorded. At a loss for a background, I resonated my time in the Midwest underground techno scene into this bare shadow of a character, shaping his personal sense of style. As I played that first night, the life of the character began to take shape: a man on the cusp of leaving his warehouse-party days behind and fresh out of police academy finds himself as a new recruit in the world’s oldest war.

    Lucky for me, a few players noted my character and my play and encouraged me to take this character to another site. They explained that the chat site run by White Wolf would be reopening soon, and they only played here because those official rooms were down. I accepted their invite, and at that moment, I realized something: I was enjoying playing in this setting even more than the medieval chat game. Was this really the same game that always previously always produced stories of torture and senseless murder?

    Joining the official site, set in a fictionalized version of Kansas City, I was playing in a living game with hundreds of players and hundreds of storylines, all happening simultaneously, at all hours of the day. After two weeks, I was completely taken in by the game. While I intended this Gangrel to be nothing more than a foil to the more common character tropes and the numerous Elder and Ancilla Kindred, other players then began telling me that they absolutely loved this completely ‘against-type’ character. I honestly thought they were just being nice, or were just amused by the storylines I produced, but soon players began creating characters just to interact with mine.

    Then I started receiving art of my character. Drawings, sketches, and paintings were sent from fellow players and fans around the world. Along with the art, others filled my inbox with fan-fiction, featuring future incarnations of the young Gangrel, or stories of alternate paths that the character never took. It was hard not to feel encouraged by the great gamers I played alongside.

    For five years, the chat game was a major feature of my life. My attitude completely changed about the Vampire game, and it now eclipsed what I thought was possible with a game. I tried to play tabletop once more, and even the LARP versions in those years; it never held more than a passing interest to the complexities that the chat game presented. The game raised the level of my other gaming. In some ways, when I started online, I was just beginning to understand the need for motivations, and how a character’s background forms their beliefs and the reasoning behind their actions. My friends who did not play Vampire noticed that my characters in other games took on a deeper level of complexity around that time as well.

    Understandably, the online format introduced me to friends throughout the world. I regularly played with people from all six of the populated continents. It also introduced me to some players who lived locally, and even one who lived nearby in Canada. One of my frequent co-conspirators invited me out to visit, and I joined their demonstrative LARP near Toronto as a player, cast member, and even worked in creating the world book for their game.

    Shortly before the metaplot ended the game, I finally found that my life did not have enough time to continue playing. A majority of friends I made in the game had moved on to other endeavors in the years before, and the last of the group that I played with were playing at times I could not make. I finally retired the character, shuffling character sheets, scenes and websites to the digital archives on my PC.

    Still, the friendships and memories remained. It was no surprise to my friends that I married that same Canadian who invited me to play in her LARP years before.

    Despite my retirement from the venue, the memories of the game still called me back after a handful of years away. I searched periodically for some other venue to play in, and found they were few and far between, or populated with former players that I wished to avoid. My friends and wife would all talk fondly about the game, and review old logs of scenes where we would laugh at our mistakes and marvel at the complexity of what we created together.

    Once the 20th anniversary edition of the game was announced, our resistance melted, and we started plotting to find a way to play once more. We now play in a small private game with rebooted versions of our old chat characters. It is not as persistent or expansive as the game once was, but it matches our busier lives now.

    Sometimes, it seems your first impressions are just wrong. The game I once absolutely hated now has returned, and I am loving it all over again.

    Frederick Bell – 2011

    If you are interested in submitting an essay for the Vampire Retrospective Project please review the Submission Guidelines and let us know if you have any questions.

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