On Being a Vampire (sort of) or Why Fake Fangs Made Me Who I Am
I suppose I probably owe Shane another blog post he can email around the CCP/White Wolf offices and embarrass me with…
First things first: if you’ve never heard of Vampire: the Masquerade or World of Darkness, do yourself a favor and stop reading my drivel right now. Go here and buy the V:tM corebook. It’s a PDF and it will download immediately. Even if you never intend to play it, buy it and read it. Its immaculately put together, its exceedingly well written, its filled with amazing art, and it will change your life. How do I know? Because it changed mine.
That sounds superlative but it is very true. For every person who has ever looked up to me and thought ‘I wonder where she learned it all?’, there is an answer; my parents and White Wolf games. And since you can’t digitally download my parents, you’re going to have to go with the games. These books were so foundational for me that I have almost forgotten the impact that they made on me. I am proudly a V:tM lifer. I picked up the first book in my local hobby store just based on the cover and the art work. I brought it home and read it cover to cover. I didn’t actually start playing it until second edition rolled around and from there…. forget it, I was hooked. I used to carry the core book in my backpack at all times. I read it so much, I went through 2 copies by the end of high school.
Vampire (and all the other World of Darkness books) are immaculately written and constructed. They don’t pull pull punches. They use big words without apologies, reference historical record without pausing to explain, and include quotes from music and literature from across the world. I used to use my 2nd edition corebook as a guide to pick out tapes (yes, it was that long ago) when I would go to my local Strawberries (it was a record store, for those of you who never had one. And no, it didn’t smell like strawberries). For a kid like me who was aggressively smart, relentlessly curious, and fucking dark in my outlook, it was the magic combination. It’s set in our own world and didn’t seem like such a stretch to dream about 13 clans of vampires prowling in the dark, relentlessly manipulating human culture to suit their own insidious plots.
The best example, for me, is the story of Clan Brujah. When I first read the books, they were characterized as the hot-headed rebels (with or without a cause). Being a tweenager just discovering angst, this was just my speed and I really took to the clan. When I read the clanbook and discovered the Brujah started out as warrior-poets, intellectuals who rebelled against stasis and injustice… well, that was up my alley too as an intellectual rebel myself. When I read that their Clan founder founded Carthage… well, the real history is that Queen Elissa founded Carthage. She is my namesake and my great-great-great-great some-odd grand aunt. I have artifacts from the excavation of the Carthaginian Bay sitting on my mantle. I am – in real life – a descendant of Carthage and very proud of that. It seemed like the stars had aligned and I had found something… perfectly fitted to me. I even got the clan symbol tattoed on me.
There is something so compelling about Vampire: the Masquerade. The more of the books you read, the more you discover this overarching metaplot that spans mortal history. Its deep, detailed, and subtle. It prompted me to go read about the real history that the books were warping. White Wolf books inspired me to study the Borgias, the Avignon Papacy, and shadow propagation speed. They contributed more to my desire to learn than all 16 years of my “best education money can buy” schooling. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Louisiana Purchase until I read about Napoleon being a Sabbat pawn! Then I wanted to know everything about that whole period of history.
I wasn’t crazy. I knew that the World of Darkness history was an alternative history. I didn’t think vampires or Mages were really behind the events of the War of the Roses, or whatever. (Although that would be totally awesome!) But because the books referenced these historical events so casually, without pausing to explain the history they were basing their events on, it made me want to learn the real history so I could understand the ramifications of the plotlines. My obsession with Vampire and the other franchises quite literally made me a smarter, more well educated person.
But it wasn’t just that. It also made me a better person, a stronger person. Sure, you can make a correlation about playing a game where you are trying to outwit other players translating into why I’m so cunning. You can make a correlation between playing a self-reliant, strong vampire in my foundational years translating into me growing up to be a strong, self-reliant woman. And all these things are true. But how did a game about a blood-thirsty, ruthless, stab-you-in-the-back-with-a-stake-and-drink-your-blood bunch of vampires help make me into a kinder, more generous person?
Because it did.
And I didn’t realize this until going to the Grand Masquerade but it did that to the entire community who played these games. I’ve been to what can only be described as a “metric fuckton” of conventions. DragonCon, GenCon, E3, PAX, SDCC… you name it, I’ve been there. Nerds, Geeks, and Dorks are pretty universally nice people so understand how much nicer the World of Darkness community has to be to merit this being so notable. The people that we met at the Grand Masquerade were several orders of magnitude nicer than the people I’ve met at other conventions. And not just a few people – not just the White Wolf and CCP staff. Every. Single. Person. There was not a soul that I met at the Grand Masquerade who was anything less than welcoming and kind in the way that made me think of Mrs Weasley from Harry Potter. Sure, I was there as media and people wanted to impress, right? Wrong. They were all this nice to each other. I think the bulk of the convention took place in the lobby, where people stood around and shot the shit with each other all day and all night.
Most people had no idea who I was and would just strike up conversations with me, excited to talk about shared interests. When they found out Joel and Ian had been playing for 2 days, they didn’t shun them. Instead, they all fell over themselves telling them cool things to check out, giving them information they could use, asking them if they needed any help, wanting to make sure they were having a good time. I met so many people, I quickly lost track of all of the names. But, without fail, they would always stop when they saw me to ask how I was, how my latest game was, to tell me tales. And, upon leaving our conversation, they would stop five people behind me to greet some new friend with the same unfailing joy. People that I met in the elevator for 5 minutes became as life long friends, stopping by games just to get a quick hug. All around me, people dressed in incredible costumes were sitting down to chat as if they really were cohorts for the past three centuries. Even the man who sat next to me on the plane ride to and from LA, who happened to be going to the Masquerade, was unfailingly polite, soft-spoken, and a proper gentleman.
I have to note how completely weird it is for me to strike up conversations with people I don’t know. As much as I am Miss Social, I don’t usually just start talking to people I don’t know. It makes me very uncomfortable. I’m outgoing yet shy. When I do talk to people, the conversations are superficial; the weather, my shoes, the Red Sox. Falling so naturally into meaningful conversations with every person I met never happens to me. Never. Not at goth clubs, not at rock shows, not at poetry slams, not at fucking knitting circles. Even sitting in my own living room, it takes a while for me to warm to a person enough to just… talk.
Maybe it was the New Orleans heat but I warmed up fast. Usually, when I’m out and about with a lot of people, I will say something polite about a stranger’s outfit just to get into and out of the expected conversation quickly and painlessly. It’s a good social gambit; it eases an introduction and the conversation is usually short, light, and complimentary. It’s almost a habit. Say something nice, chat for three minutes, and leave. Everyone feels good, hurrah. But, at the Masquerade, my polite overtures all instantly turned into long, deep conversations. I don’t think I managed a conversation under 20 minutes with any person there. A simple “hi, how are you doing?” to a group of slightly-intoxicated LARPers ended up with me sharing a chair with one of them, laughing loudly as they tried to teach us how to LARP (and debated with Joel about 4th edition D&D) For the rest of the con, every time we saw them, they would always wave hello or come running over for a hug and a chat.
And I have to say, too, how much I hate being hit on. I hate it. I hate it! Some dude going up to me and telling me how “hot” and “fuckable” I look. Yeah, no. Please die. I’ve gotten prickly to the point where I can barely take a compliment on my appearance from anyone without getting offended. Luckily, I live in Los Angeles, where such things don’t happen to girls that aren’t 5’9″ and 100 lbs.
Yet again, the folks at the Grand Masquerade showed chivalry and civility. They didn’t “hit on” me. They paid me gracious compliments, stopping to comment about my poise and elegance instead of noting ‘you got some tasty tits’ like your average bar brute. They showered me with compliments in a way I’m not used to… and they were so humble and sweet about it that I fairly glowed. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been told by strangers that I look “stunning” and not gotten pissed off about it. Instead, it made me happy, made me feel good about myself, made me calm and comfortable instead of instantly threatened. I don’t think anyone realizes what an accomplishment that is. For me to be genuinely flattered and pleased by a compliment from a near-stranger is nigh-unto unheard of! Yet it happened, night after night. It even got me to act (sort of) like a lady; letting people take me by the hand, open doors for me, push my chair in. It made me realize how much of my energy can be “keep away” and when I was comfortable and reigned that in, people were right there to be as gracious and kind to me as I could hope for. I let my guard down and, for the first time, I was rewarded with the best in people instead of the worst.
The unfailing kindness of the community was certainly reflected in the CCP/White Wolf staff and their volunteers working the event. The security staff was unfailingly polite and made sure everyone was safe without feeling at all imposing – in fact, they were like big teddybears filled with positive energy. No one would even want to cause trouble with them around! The exuded such calm and serenity that it was almost like meditating. The storytellers bent over backwards to accommodate us, to make sure that Joel and Ian understood what was going on and were having a good time… all without calling attention to it or sacrificing the fun for the other players. I want to say a special thank you to Dave M and Jason C, who went out of their way to make sure we could play in whatever games our (er…. mostly my) little hearts desired. Every storyteller we had was amazing, the games incredible, the players sublime. My first experience LARPing I had expected to be terrifying and overwhleming – and it was. But as soon as I crossed my fingers and said “Out of Character, I have never LARPed before and I’m a little lost,” everyone stopped to help me out. No judgements, no looking-down-the-nose… just happy to share what they loved with someone new.
I need to back up for a second and talk about Shane and the CCP/WhiteWolf staff. I met Shane a few months ago, when we interviewed him for MachinimaRealm. (Well… Joel interviewed him. I just sat there because I am afraid of the cameras.) Afterwards, we had lunch and talked about Vampire. It helped me remember how much it had meant to me. Not playing since college, not being around people who played, had made me forget what an impact it had on me. Shane helped wake that up, get me excited, helped me recover a part of me I’d lost. He’s like a Vampire Santa, showing up with jackets and ball tickets and (best of all!) great conversation. He and his girlfriend Elizabeth are charming, intelligent, and considerate – the type of people that you look at and think “wow, I’m lucky to know people like this.” They are people who just ‘get’ you.
I say all of this to put my next statement in context.
The CCP/White Wolf staff as so nice they could almost make Shane look mean. Okay, not really but you get my point. I thought Shane (and also Elizabeth) were anomalies – those rare people you run into in life who are smart, kind, and all of these words that I’m going to have to start going to a thesaurus in a minute to not overuse. But they are representative of the entire White Wolf staff. They are all those rare people who are that nice and that smart and that kind. It’s unreal!
I really have to thank each and every one of the CCP/White Wolf staff too. Shane, Greg, Mike R, Stacey, Eddy, Russell, Mike T, the other Mike T, Rich… I know I’m going to forget someone if I keep listing names so I’ll just say the whole staff. They went above and beyond to make sure that not only we but every person at the Masquerade was having the time of their (un)lives. They spoke so highly of their community and they really worked to provide a great experience for that community. I have never met a staff that was that enthused and in love with their community. It was, literally, all they could talk about – and they glowed like newlyweds when they did! They took such fierce pride in what the community was doing, in what it stands for, in what it means to each other. Honestly, you are all some of the most incredible, charitable, giving, and honest people I’ve ever met… even the Lasombras.
And it was an experience. Every place we went was like stepping into the World of Darkness. The set dressings, the costumes, the city – it felt like I really was in the books I’d read for so long. If you wanted total suspension of disbelief, it was there for you. Or, if you needed a break, you could just… breathe and not be in it. You were never forced to be in the moment. Even in the deepest LARPs, no one pushed you to go past your comfort zone. Some people might think that “oh these crazy people think they are vampires all the time.” Nope. Not at all. Everyone was very aware that this was a game and just wanted to have a good time.
I don’t really know where I am going with this. I don’t think it’s possible to get across in words how much this game meant to me or how much discovering how incredible the community is means to me. It’s woken up the part of me that connected with these games; the smart, curious, considerate, and generous part of me. The best part of me. I’m excited to get more involved in this community; to try LARPing, to play in the office and introduce my coworkers to the World of Darkness, to play in Better Off Dying. The people that I played World of Darkness games with growing up are some of the best people I’ve met. If the Grand Masquerade is indicative of the overall community, the people that I will play with in the future will become some of the best people I will ever meet.
So thank you; to the staff, the storytellers, the fans, and the friends. I can feel this indescribable something traveling through me once again. Maybe its passion or excitement or curiosity. Maybe it’s coming out of Torpor. I don’t know what it is but thank you for it. I’m excited to be coming back to all of you, to get to know all of you, to share blood not in a literal sense but in a metaphorical sense as we become family. To people who have never played, I’ll say it again. Pick it up. There is no game, no book, no experience like it.
Oh, and one last thing. Play a Brujah. Seriously. We’re the best clan.
This entry was posted on October 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm and is filed under life, nerd stuff with tags being awesome, Clan Brujah, Machinima Realm, mages, roleplaying, The Grand Masquerade, Vampire: the Masquerade, vampires, werewolves, World of Darkness. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.