Monday, October 31, 2011

Meditating on Horror

It is Halloween and I have a confession to make. This is going to sound awfully strange coming from a guy who is such a big HPL fan, but I find supernatural horror really boring. Yep. Boring. As I grow older, the more annoying Halloween gets, because everybody gets all excited about something that I would rather not waste my time on (not to mention the fact that in the Orthodox Christian calendar, All Saints is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost). Yet, here I am explaining myself:
The Lord asked Cain, 'Why are you angry and downcast? If you are doing right, surely you ought to hold your head high! But if you are not doing right, Sin is crouching at the door hungry to get you. You can still master him.' — Genesis 4:6-7
In the Hebrew, the word translated here as crouching is related to a Chaldean name for a demon that crouches in doorways waiting to devour its prey. Thus, the imagery of the language can be translated thusly:
There is a demon crouched ready to devour you, sin is the means by which you let him in. Despite this, you can still master him.
Sans Christ, in the immediate wake of The Fall, Cain had the power to overcome demons. With Christ and the power of His Cross, demons don't stand a chance. The only way a demon can possess a person or a house is if we let them. Therefore, when it comes to all this supernatural horror stuff, I have a very difficult time suspending my disbelief.

Therefore, it might surprise you that I have a reputation among several of my players of being one of the most successful Referees for bringing horror and terror to the game table. The secret is figuring out who the real monsters are.

The last time I was really scared at the movie theater was when I went to see Silence of the Lambs (which, by the way, demonstrates two truths: 1) I have three kids and have neither the time nor the budget to go see movies in the theater anymore and 2) the overall quality of movies in the last twenty years has so dramatical gone into the tank that Hollywood has utterly failed to make me miss going to the movie theater). Hannibal Lector is one of the truly terrifying movie monsters of all time, because he forces us to realize that we have seen the most horrific monster in the universe and it is us.

The best horror merely holds up a mirror. Whether or not intended, the work of HPL is a marvelous critique of secularism, atheism and scientism* because it holds up a mirror to the terrifying reality of a world without God. This terror and horror has been loosed upon the world every time atheism has been writ large upon a society, any society.

There is a reason why the big bad guys in my campaigns tend to be human. There is a reason why my monsters personify sin. There is a reason why RPGs and not movies are the best medium for telling horror tales — we must confront the horror of our own choices (and kick butt when we make the right ones).

*Scientism is the (false) belief that science is capable of answering questions that it is not designed to do — things more properly answered by philosophy and theology.


Devin Parker said...

I think this is precisely why I find a lot of horror movies to be dull or silly, but find the PS2 game "Silent Hill 2" to be one of my favorite horror experiences.

Christopher said...

Excellent post. Takes pretty much my views (as a Christian) on horror and then gives me new things to think about. I've pretty much been leaving horror out of my games, but this post has got me thinking about ways I might start to inject it into my game. I especially like the idea of PCs being given hard choices that lead to horror at what they've done if they choose wrongly. As you say, that's taking the medium of RPGs and using it to it's full and unique potential.

I'd be interested in follow-up posts where you flesh out how you do that in your own games, if you're so inclined.

Anonymous said...

I think this is good, and complimented by what Justin Alexander says about the mythos here.

Pat said...

Total agreement, nicely put.

Zac said...

I like a lot of your take on horror. Supernatural horror isn't scary for itself, only for a horror presenter's artistic ability to use suspense and imagery to turn our misfiring brain wires against us for awhile.


I happen not to think there's anyone in charge of the whole Universe. I also don't share with many out atheists the delusion that getting rid of religion could solve the world's problems, nor that the mere conclusion "no God" is somehow proof of their greater rationality and intelligence.

But it seems the main examples you could have of the darkness of atheism o'er the land come from the Bolshevik vanguard version of communism, where total devotion to a state's mythology and personality cult figures is somehow supposed to transform the people into New Socialist Men capable of fulfilling The Revolution. I'd think that would be a "false prophet" kind of thing rather than a clear implication against philosophical naturalism or secularism.

FrDave said...

I'd think that would be a "false prophet" kind of thing rather than a clear implication against philosophical naturalism or secularism.

Atheism always falls under this category, no matter what particular guise it happens to be wearing. When we get rid of God (an eternal, unchanging and external source of morality and ethics) there is no foundation upon which moral or ethical behavior can be based. What is ethical or moral is determined by who has power and the will and means to use it. Even if we dress it up as Law or the State or whatever, it always boils down to the guy (or group of guys) who is willing to force their will upon everybody else — false prophets. Due to the reality that human beings have free will there will always be those who will be unwilling to go with the program. Atheist societies have almost always solved this problem with gulags, concentration camps and firing squads.