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THE KING IN YELLOW

19 July 2008

So, this is something that every selfrespecting nerd should do at one time, sooner or later, and I guess in my case it's a bit on the late side, but there you have it nevertheless, and I am talking of course, with comma's aplenty, about roleplaying. Not of the currently hip muhmorperger variant, which indeed usually has quite little to do with roleplaying at all, but a very very very lot with crunching numbers and struggling with insanely overwrought user interfaces. I often liken the process of playing with watching equations being calculated in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. When I see my colleagues 'playing' World of Warcraft and dazzling arrays of animated numbers and icons flash on their screen, one wonders if one can truly find what one would consider one's basic attraction to gaming there in the first place. Perhaps they've always had a fondness for watching large swaths of digits appear and disappear on their screen. But my point is; I assume the 'roleplaying' aspect in those games is centred on convincing yourself that you're playing a game when you're actually processing an accounting work sheet.

I'm being deliberately harsh here and I don't mean a thing I'm saying. Maybe.

But my REAL point here is that last week I finally indulged in some proper, nerdy roleplaying, of the sitting-around-a-table-pretending-you're-someone-else variant. In this case, I was invited by friends to stay over and pay a short, two-session campaign in the Call of Cthulhu universe. Now Lovecraft's little world is particularly fascinating because of its relentless bias against you and your sanity. It is very nasty. Everything in there is intent on killing you or making you go bananas. You're not some overpowered superhero going into caves and smiting things with large mallets, but rather a normal person who is no match for the things he sees, and the things he sees are things which were meant to be seen, so it all goes to hell after that. There's something delightfully unpleasant about the whole concept of the Cthulhu Mythos as well. In order to survive and (ancients forbid) win, you need to discover what you're up against. Perhaps by reading an ancient tome, or investigating. But learning what you need to learn, even a little bit, will drive your character insane and send you spiraling to a quick and buzzing death. So you're constantly weighing the benefits of learning something against the drawback of dying. Irresistible!

Being brought up with the Ghostbusters and children's books here in the Netherlands hinting at the Necronomicon, dark brotherhoods and other childfriendly subjects I feel particularly drawn to those slumbering ancients; waiting under the ground, deep in the sea or in some otherworldly dimension. And those who hear the zur of their existence and are drawn to ominous places as Arkham, Dunwich or Innsmouth, soon understand that survival is not as vouchsafed as in other settings. When the likes of Cthulhu, Glaaki (who, coincidentally, perished under our combined effort in the Arkham Horror board game we played during the sessions), Shub-Nigorrath and The King in Yellow enter the outskirts of your awareness, doom is all but guaranteed. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Intruiged with the setting, I acquired the Call of Cthulhu Xbox game published by Bethesda a few years back. I already knew of its existence and keenly recreated Mythos atmosphere, but tales of its grandeur might have been skewed by age. I was pleased to find out, however, that the game turned out immensely gripping, sometimes infuriatingly demanding (being chased, unarmed, by maddened villagers, trying to bolt shut many doors while they're shouting and shooting behind you and you have no idea where to go), but always frighteningly charming. I'll continue playing this game with much enjoyment. Hopefully I'll come out the other end with my sanity intact.

Roderick.