This will be a contentious series of articles. Even before they had been published – before one word of them had been made public – I received comments from people condemning them as ‘SJW cancer’ and a host of other buzzwords. This article may be attacked, my website may be hit, I may receive a flood of negative attention and threats. I will discuss that form of reaction to these articles in due course at a later stage.
At this time, however, I would like to preface this with a comment – this article discusses marketing. It is a discussion on marketing strategies, audiences and business decisions. It is not an attack on your favorate tabletop roleplay game.
Even with that preface in place, I fully expect that it will fall on many deaf ears. As a result, for those who wish to engage in discussion on the topic, I will include regular summaries of the points that I make, as I make them. Doing so empowers people to understand, at a glance, the purpose that is being put across and the talking points that are being addressed in this article.
And I’ll say this at the forefront of this article, with perfect clarity – if you intend to contact any individuals with the intention of harassment or abuse in relation to anything discussed in this article – just fucking don’t. And also, if you have done so, fuck you for being part of the problem.
But first, a little piece of opening fiction, as is the style of White Wolf games.
Under the starlit night, the young vampire sat cross-legged atop a towering skyscraper. High above, the moon lit the silhouette of his sire who stood, unflinching and statuesque, at the edge of the roof. Below, the city’s lights sparkled like a reflection of the stars in a black lake. “Tell me” said the elder, “what does it mean to be a vampire?”
The youngster inhaled, thinking for a moment. “It means,” he said, slowly and uncertainly, “that we are better. That our blood, and the strength of our heritage, makes us superior to all other races. It makes us potent, creatures of great intellect and artistic vision and purity.”
“Wow” said the elder vampire. “Amazing. Every word that you have just said is wrong.”
White Wolf is no stranger to courting controversy. In the 1990s, the media headlines surrounding Rod Ferrell, a member of a so-called ‘vampire cult’ in Kentucky, forced the then-fledgling company to publish a statement defending itself when their popular tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade was named as a heavy influence on Rod Ferrell’s lifestyle and beliefs.
The ‘cult’ in question, of course, subsisted mainly of troubled young teens who were looking for a release from the boredom of their day-to-day lives and a means to work out their internal troubles. There is nothing innately wrong or unusual about that, and it is doubtless that had Ferrell not become drawn to the game in particular, his inner demons would have surfaced in some other way. This is true for most young people, and it became something of a learning exercise for White Wolf who found themselves in a dubious spotlight.
For you see, as discussed in a History channel documentary, one of the primary reasons that the children of the cult had been drawn to the image of the vampire was that the mythology of them offered a taste of superiority over the others in their small rural town. And that’s kinda why vampires and fascism has a really, really strong connection.We will return to discussing Ferrell at a later point, which will explain why he is relevant to this discussion.
On the surface level, vampires appeal to people by means not only of their mysticism, but their potency. They are ever-living, they can lift trucks with one hand, they can command the minds of lesser beings (which, for a vampire, is everybody), they are highly sexual, they are everything that you want to be. The ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy. And they don’t have to truly work at it in order to accomplish those traits. Their strength and virility comes naturally to them, because they are born (or, to be exact, re-born) with it. It’s in their blood. For that reason, hereditary station is important to vampires. Their blood is what gives them strength, and with it, the right to feed on others. Because a vampire is a superior form of life, their race (by means of their blood) gives them an almost divine right to feed on lowly mortals – to thin the herd, if you will.
This point of view may be familiar to people who played the version of Vampire: The Masquerade as published during the late 90s by White Wolf. It was exemplified by a specific faction of vampires that existed within the game. Called the Sabbat, they were typically framed as the villains of the narrative. At the start of the game’s development and early editions, the Sabbat were little more than rampaging monsters. But as the game developed, this faction became more and more clearly defined. They became social Darwinists – fascists who believed in their rule by divine right, and wanted to dominate and quell humanity because they were the chosen race.
Summary: Vampires can be, if people read them as such and market them as such, an excellent metaphor for fascism and racial supremacy. Doing so is very easy, and White Wolf has done so with certain factions in their game in the past.
And they, again, were the villains. Several core concepts differentiated them from the game’s base playable classes (the Camarilla – a faction that was corrupt in its own unique way). The main method of this was by means of a Humanity system, by which vampires who were members of the Camarilla maintained a grasp on their connection to their human self and soul, all the while struggling not to fall to their bestial nature, while the Sabbat used different varied systems.
That was in terms of system – in terms of presentation, the game focused heavily on the aspect of the curse. Vampires were who they were not because they were blessed, but because they were cursed by God. Their immortality was a judgment, a damnation. The game’s cover, with a single solitary ankh necklace, captured the idea of the question of life. What was the purpose and meaning of life, if it were eternal and without end? What pushes us to achieve our goals if not the threat of the end of life coming towards us? And, as predators, are we truly above the lives that we take? It was imperative, from a marketing and an intellectual level, that vampires should be framed as damned creatures – that the curse could not be forgotten. If the game had chosen to make the idea of being a vampire too palatable, too thrilling, too sexual – without that balance to remind you that you were playing a monster – then it would be little more than playing a game of racial superiority, of people who were preternaturally phenomenal because of their bloodlines. So White Wolf wisely chose not to overly sexualise the vampires, not too much, and especially not on the covers of their rulebooks, just to be certain that…
Chapter 1 – How To Build A Nazi Play-house
So yeah, when White Wolf (hereafter refereed to by their more accurate name, “a bunch of Swedish edgelords’) were reformed in 2016 with an entirely new development team, a whole new purpose and an intent to set out and recreate the smash hit of Vampire: the Masquerade for a younger audience, they had their work cut out for them. After all, a whole new generation had grown up in that time. When they announced that they would be making a fifth edition of the game, a lot of people were very excited. When they announced their intention to continue the game after the ‘Gehenna’ event – a global apocalypse that ended the original Vampire: the Masquerade series entirely – a lot of people were very confused.
It soon became obvious that “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” were aiming to essentially redevelop much of this game’s setting. And that’s understandable – after all, by taking the game ahead in time by about ten years (which, due to the passage of real-world time, is essentially what has happened), they had very much a blank slate on which they could write their own game. What kind of setting would they create?
Well, first of all, before we discuss that, we need to talk about nazis.
At this point, I need to point out that I am not accusing “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” of being a group of nazis. Nor am I accusing any of their individual creators of harbouring nazi sentiments (at least, not out loud). I have chosen to name them “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” rather than “a bunch of Swedish nazis” for a very specific reason – because I’m discussing how a group is marketing their game, their target audience and techniques which they are using to reach their main demographic. I am not (with rare exceptions) indicating anybody at the company of being a nazi. With that said, let’s move on.
As I’ve mentioned, vampires have a strong appeal to those of a fascist persuasion. They appeal in terms of the power fantasy and the ideals of racially-imbued strengths and intellectual potency. But there are other key traits that basically everybody can agree on about the nazis – namely, that they hated other ethnic groups. In fact, hatred is often the key point when discussing nazi ideology – which groups do they despise the most? Many people assume that the nazis hated the Jews, but this is something of a simplification. Nazis, in truth, hated many different groups – all of which, in some way, were seen as threats to the idea of a racial ethno-nation. One of the biggest groups that nazis hated were communists, because they saw communists and socialists as people who were striving to lead the way towards a worldwide global community, which was an idea that was strongly at odds with their nationalistic goals.
This, without any coincidence, is why nazis tend to use the term ‘globalist’ – a catch-all phrase that incorporates many of those groups that they view as enemies, including Jews (who they view as pulling much of society’s strings through financial and media control), socialists (who they view as attempting to water down racial purity by cross-breeding with ‘lesser’ races and threatening the strength of national borders by creating international groups) and so on. It’s also certain fields of academic study (sociology and those linked with the Frankfurt school, which shares a connection with Karl Marx), religious groups, social progressives (such as black civil rights protests) and so on are held to be abhorrent to their goals.
And the thing is, in the world view of the nazis, they are losing. The globalists are the majority. They control the world, moving politics behind the scenes, altering the media to frame them as the villains. In their minds, globalists are conspiring at every point to destroy them, by watering down their culture (through ‘social justice’), crushing their racial heritage or destroying their preconceived views of the world. It’s all quite simple. Global things, bad.
I wanted to discuss this, because in the 5th edition of Vampire: the Masquerade, the game’s main antagonist is an organization dubbed the Second Inquisition. Following the ‘Gehenna’ incident, this organization has formed – a secret political group that exists to fight back against the vampires. They control the world, moving politics behind the scenes, altering the media to frame them as the… oh for fuck’s sake!
Summary: The game’s in-universe antagonists share many traits that nazis and fascists associate with their real-world enemies, meaning that readers who share that ideology will be able to easily see it as representing themselves.
Chapter 2 – Sending Out Subtle Invitations
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Perhaps this is just reading too much into it? Maybe I’m simply seeing more to this than what is actually there? You’re right – we shouldn’t look at the setting and the dubious front cover alone. Surely the gameplay itself is what will define the playing experience! Thankfully, “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” (I really need to abbreviate that) had me covered. For you see, they released an alpha playtest of the game!
I downloaded this on the first day, keen to see what the PDF contained. How would they update the system and bring the game into the 21st century? Well, it streamlined the attribute skills. By, like, a lot. As in there were almost nothing left of them. It was railroadey. Very railroadey. It had a new system intended to measure your characters’ hunger, which was fun – if you enjoy keeping track of individual numbers. But the core idea was there. So how did this new Hunger system’s micro-management interact with the game’s morality and humanity systems? Yes, good question – how was Humanity, the core focus of the game that prevented your character from becoming a truly unrepentant monster? Uh, well… I don’t know. The alpha didn’t actually have it.
But, uh, well, that’s okay, right? I mean, without the confines of, y’know, morals, you were free to roleplay any kind of character that you wanted. It was open like that. A wonderful, blank canvas for you to do what you wanted, without the constraint of simple lowly human morals – after all, you’re a vampire now. You’re better than that. You can play your character however you want. So grab your character sheets, which the game has pre-generated for your convenience, get ready to get stuck in, and… realise that one of the characters is a pedophile.
Wait – what??
Now, I know what many of “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” defenders will say – that the pre-generated PC in question was not a sexual character and was not a rapist. The character was simply a person who surrounded themselves with children, and drank from them regularly. To that, I respond that in this game the act of drinking blood has always been comparable to a sexual act. In earlier editions it was said to be so pleasurable that it surpassed a vampire’s sexual desire, and was outright addictive to mortals. By framing this character as someone who drinks primarily from children, the game codes that character as somebody who indulges in a predominantly sexual act with children.
So why on earth would “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” include this? Was it simply a desperate prepubescent attempt at shock value? An invitation to the gaming audience to indulge in ‘forbidden fruits’? A tone-deaf attempt to establish a ‘gritty’ atmosphere? Well, to understand that, we need to once more go back to nazis. Nazis, I hate these guys.
In 2017, Charlottesville in Virginia was thrown into international headlines due to a controversial ‘Unite the Right’ rally. During the events of that rally, a multitude of people descended on the town, which culminated in a torchlit march during which many chanted the phrase “Jews will not replace us” and the 1940s German nazi slogan “Blood and soil”. Throughout the day, many nazi swastika flags were caught on video being held, carried and worn – as were US Confederate flags, Gadsden flags, and a new addition to the ranks of neo-nazi iconography, ‘Kekistani’ flags. This particular flag grew out of popular internet online memes and has been co-opted by the far-right (similar to the co-opting of the online meme Pepe the frog), hence its inclusion at this and other similar events.
In order to understand why this and other internet memes have become synonymous with the far-right and neo-nazis in particular, it’s important to understand how fascism has spread through online discourse. And that, in itself, is a discussion that could fill a very large academic textbook. The shortest, and perhaps the most direct, to this point at discussion here, is to remember that nazis are obsessed with their own superiority. Like their historic forefathers who targeted the disabled (those who they felt were physically weaker than them), homosexuals (those who they felt were ‘degenerate’ to them), those with mental health conditions (those who they felt were intellectually weaker than them) and so on, modern nazis strive to show the ‘others’ around them to be weaker. A common means that modern nazis on the internet employ of showing that someone is weaker than them is to cause that person to display strong emotional reactions – anger, disgust, and so on. When a victim’s emotions get the better of them, that person is declared to be ‘triggered’ (so named after the psychological effect of reliving painful past experiences, such as in post-traumatic stress disorder) and, because the victim has been unable to maintain absolute intellectual and emotionless superiority over their abuser, they are seen as weaker. To the nazi, they are the intellectual powerhouse, superior by virtue of their rightness. This, by no small coincidence, is why ‘triggered’ jokes have fallen so far out of favour in recent years.
This type of behaviour is called ‘edgelording’ – an attempt to show superiority by causing offense. It is also why I have named “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” as I have. It is my firm conclusion that the reason that “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” chose to code one of their pre-gen PCs as a pedophile was in order to cause sufficient offense, in an attempt to make a name for themselves in the far-right ‘edgelord’ communities. And if there were any doubt on that intent, the idea that perhaps “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” had no idea as to the behaviour that they were emulating, they kinda tipped their hands when they named the Brujah clan’s weakness ‘triggered’!!
Fuck me sideways, they actually did that… Okay, let’s talk about the Brujah. In the game’s setting, they are punk rebel vampires. Think The Lost Boys, but with more “crush the system”. They were descended from warrior-philosophers of the middle ages, and in the modern setting they exist as iconoclasts who speak out against the system. It kinda goes without saying that real-world fascists wouldn’t be on good grounds with a clan like the Brujah, given their tenancy to shout down bullies and call out fascists. So, how do real-world nazis rephrase people who are similar to the Brujah? The answer is, like this. Angry student protesters are not ‘angry student protesters’, they are ‘violent triggered Marxists having a tantrum’. They are ‘hormonal feminists getting triggered because their safe space is gone’, and so on. To ascribe these type of traits to somebody is intended to demean their message by denigrating the person who speaks it. So, well, that’s how new White Wolf views the Brujah clan.
Even so, at this point it could still be read as being a total coincidence. “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” claimed that the term ‘triggered’ clearly meant something different over in Europe (it doesn’t – I’m European), and that their intention with creating a pedophile character was simply an attempt to establish a mature, horror tone for their game – an excuse so cringe-inducingly poor and without admission of culpability that I was left wondering if the game had been accidentally handed to the developer’s 12 year old cousin instead.
Summary: The game’s alpha playtest release included several choices of language and content that dog-whistled (spoke to in a language that they understand and that many others will not) modern-day neo-nazis.
Chapter 3 – Kicking Your Old Friends To The Kurb
So let’s talk about creating mature content. What does that mean? When you create something that you want to have an impact and push boundaries, you often label it as ‘mature’. Early White Wolf products often bore this label, “for mature minds”. It was, like a lot of White Wolf’s early products, utterly pretentious and served only for marketing. That’s because, for the most part, early White Wolf marketed their games primarily for teenagers who wanted to feel edgy and grown-up. Some things never change.
That’s not to say that early White Wolf had nothing genuinely mature in their work. They certainly came, over time, to realise that content warnings were not simply preferable but a means of showing respect for your audience. When early White Wolf decided to put out a product that was liable to be truly controversial, it was published under their Black Dog imprint. Most of the books published for it were puerile rubbish, but one book, Carnal Houses of Europe: the Shoah, was a respectful and historically well-researched (a rarity for White Wolf at any time) look at the horrors of Germany’s concentration camps. The term shoah is a Jewish term for the holocaust (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a modern online neo-nazi podcast is infamously called ‘The Daily Shoah’).
When asked if they would have considered a content warning for their alpha release, “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” mocked the idea of content warnings at all. Naturally, it will come as no surprise to many of you that modern neo-nazis also despise the concept of content warnings. It should also be strongly noted that the founder of White Wolf, Mark Rein-Hagen, was no longer with the company when Charnal Houses of Europe: the Shoah was created. I’ll explain by thoughts on his input soon.
But personally, the single most mature and boundary-pushing thing that old White Wolf ever did, if we want to look at things that actually had a real impact on the gaming hobby as a whole, was to not presume a masculine gender when discussing the player’s character.
Gender is a massive subject in neo-nazi discourse at the moment. We currently live in a time in which trans people are receiving more recognition and representation. Historical, old White Wolf were fairly ahead of their time in relation to this. Many of the characters that they included in their games were openly on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Unfortunately, this was not always handled in the best of ways – often it was done in a clumsy manner, or were rather cringe-inducing – but the intention was still there and there was a recognition that LGBTQ+ people were indeed a market that were interested in buying and playing their games.
It’s a bit outside the scope of this article to explain why representation of minority groups matter. Suffice to say that old White Wolf tried – not always successfully – to do their part for this. Many of the writers that did so went on to form Onyx Path. Neo-nazis, though, hate representation, as it reminds them that ‘others’ exist. Trans people are labeled as ‘sexual deviancy’ by many outspoken alt-right figureheads, and those who do their part to speak up for equality or positive representation are dismissed or mocked as ‘social justice warriors’.
This is a screenshot of the reviews left on the Ready Made characters for the Changeling: the Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition, published by Onyx Path. A bit of context – these ready-made character packs are not big products. They’re barely even books, and they sell poorly at the best of times. That’s because there are very few situations in which gamers need ready-made characters that their respective GM has not already made (often in order to better fit with the adventure that is planned). This product is basically the tangerine in the Christmas stocking – nobody would care about it and most gamers would just leave it to one side.
However in this situation, it has been down-voted and left negative reviews. The reason? Well, it has one trans character. And to the alt-right, that is reason enough for the spurious, hyperbolic reactions that it has received here.
As mentioned, this product wouldn’t even turn an eye otherwise. In old White Wolf products, it wouldn’t have caused the reader to bat an eyelid. But because the inclusion of trans characters is a hot button issue for members of the alt-right and their affiliates and supporters, fans of White Wolf who are of that political alignment have been certain to follow a call to action in leaving poor reviews on an otherwise unassuming and irrelevant product.
Summary: New White Wolf has an established fan-base that already includes neo-nazis and alt-right supporters and who are vocal in their support.
Chapter 4 – Selecting Your Party’s Hosts
At this point, I want to travel back in time by several months, back before the release of the alpha playtest. After all, the statement that “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” are marketing the 5th edition of one of my all-time favorate games to fucking nazis is a huge statement, and one that can’t be made without more evidence than that. We need to truly examine the wider context to this, both in terms of what came before the alpha playtest and what came after.
In February 2017, the first Vampire: the Masquerade mobile phone app was released. Titled “We Eat Blood (And All Our Friends Are Dead)”… no, really… oh geez I’m going to need a drink to continue with this. Really? That’s your title? Can we just, like, not? Fuck my life. Well, this app was primarily written by Zak Sabbath and Sarah Horrocks. And, uh, we kinda need to talk about Zak S. Like, we need to talk about him a lot.
Zak rose to infamy in the gaming community due to his behaviour that he undertook as part of the Gamergate movement. For those unfamiliar, Gamergate was an online movement that was primarily as a reactionary response to growing critical analysis in the gaming medium, often by female voices. While many smokescreened the intention of the movement as a means of expressing concern over the validity of gaming journalism – however, because many of the targets of the concern were women, the movement very quickly became publicly recognised for just what it was – a cover for male voices within the gaming sphere to attempt to silence female voices who were critical of certain aspects of the community’s more sexist sides. For the most part, these attempts to silence female voices occurred by means of death and rape threats and targeted harassment (because of course it fucking was, jesus fucking christ). Zak was very busy during Gamergate. Very, very busy.
Among several very public and high profile instances of threats towards women, Zak also targeted members of the Onyx Path publishing group. Onyx Path, as I’m sure many who are up to speed with events in the gaming sphere will know, were previously responsible for publishing World of Darkness products including the 20th Anniversary edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. One victim (a trans woman – because of course they’d target a trans woman, wouldn’t they?) reported “I received an email rerouted through the United Arab Emirates which featured a photo of my child’s school and a number of very specific threats… it referenced things he’s said about me which were not true, and at the time, he lived some 20~ minutes from me.”
When the licence for Vampire: the Masquerade was lifted from Onyx Path and given to “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” by the company’s new owner, “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” had a choice to make. How should they handle Onyx Path, the company that had kept the license alive in the interim years? A company that was made up of former White Wolf employees. Well, for a start, their lead developer Martin Erikson could always go on to describe their work in a public statement as ‘a failure’, that’s a good way to burn bridges. Then they could hire Zak S, that’s certainly a good way to ensure that people who are generally not okay with people being sent death threats will be on your side. And you could always, I suppose, finish that off by responding when people call you out on this by simply stating “White Wolf’s investigation concluded that the accusations are false, and that Zak did not engage in the alleged behavior.” like “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” did.
Zak kept a fucking blog of what he did, people. It’s still available online. That documents that Zak S did, in fact, engage in the alleged behaviour. But let’s put allegations to one side for a moment and just consider the press release that “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” released here. It is, even in this day and age, extremely uncommon for a company to make a public statement on matters such as this, especially one in which they approach a highly politicized issue and take a specific side to it. The general style of press releases in this type of situation tend to be phrased in such a manner as to ensure that the company making the statement is not throwing their hat into the political spectrum. This is generally because if such issues escalate and legal conflict ensue, the company cannot be held liable. In this case, “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” chose to do so. They chose to select a side in this matter, and that’s extremely telling.
So why would “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” choose to hire someone like that? Why would they choose to respond to criticism for their decision like that? Well, there is the little point that fascists really, really loved Gamergate. To fascists, it was a fight against globalists, against progressives, a chance to beat down on those weaker than you who dared to get out of their ‘place’. A lot of young insecure men got very angry at Gamergate, afraid of losing much of their hobby’s space to women who were critical of their hobby and wanted to change it. Fascism feeds on angry young men.
And yes, I’ve linked to a lot of RPG.net threads in this section. Here is another one. Zak was, at one time, very active on the RPG.net forums. His behavior is extremely well documented. I’d advise reading them. It includes documentation of the harassment campaigns he has engaged in, comments by his victims and further instances of abuse by his supporters, and reactions by the gaming community.
Summary: new White Wolf chose to employ somebody with a documented history of harassment targeting women as part of a hate campaign which was met with the approval of far-right extremists, and went on to dismiss that person’s victims as ‘liars’.
Okay, so the past doesn’t look too good. “A bunch of Swedish edgelords” did some really bad stuff, I think we can all agree. But maybe they have learned from it. Maybe they are intending to shift gears and move into a better position. Let’s see what happened after the alpha playtest.
Jumping forward to November 2017, I received big news. You see, for the last few years I had the founder and original developer of Vampire: the Masquerade sitting on my Facebook friends list. Mark Rein-Hagen is a game developer who came up with the original World of Darkness and began original White Wolf way back in the 90s. He left the company shortly after finishing five game lines for the product, and the version of Vampire: the Masquerade that I enjoyed was certainly built more by those who came after him than by Mark himself.
Mark is also a… fairly contentious person, to put it politely. But I was one of the first to be there to notice a big announcement that he made – namely that he had been hired by “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” too. I wasn’t sure what to think. Perhaps, I reasoned, he would be able to reign them in, give them a few pointers on how to interact with their fanbase in a way that didn’t make so many of us feel as though we were no longer who they wanted to target their game towards. Basically, I had a bit of hope. And of course, it wasn’t as if he was going to do anything silly,
I think you can guess how this turned out. *deep breath* Mark Rein-Hagen comments on the neo-nazis at the Charlottesville rally by saying that the real danger was not the growth of violent nazi ideologies, but the number of youth who were taking a stand to oppose that. Rein-Hagen dubbed this these youths as “communist”, and proceeded to focus almost exclusively on criticising those who fought against nazis. He went on to tell people on his Facebook that the best way to deal with nazis is through submission and non-violence.
This was a phenomenally bad idea. Naturally, people attempted to explain to him why it was a repulsive thing to say – explaining that it was the nazis, and not those who were fighting against them, that had murdered a young woman at the rally. People explained to him that the average youngster who was taking a stand against fascism had no legitimate interest in communism but were acting against neo-nazis. Some even attempted to explain to him the most complicated aspect of this – that by focusing his spotlight on counter-protesters at a neo-nazi rally, Rein-Hagen was attempting to blame them for the violent outbreaks that the nazi attendees had caused and, by means of doing so, exonerate them from guilt. Donald Trump received the exact same level of criticism for his comments following the rally and, just like then, people demanded that Rein-Hagen commit to a statement decrying nazis. Instead to all of those people who responded, they were insulted and summarily blocked by Mark from his Facebook page.
As weeks went on, his posts continued to lash out, blaming ‘left wing wackos’ for a fire at Trump tower (and remember, nazis hate ‘leftists’). More recently, Mark Rein-Hagen has taken to writing massive screeds about why he thinks ‘social justice warriors’ are ruining gaming (remember how that buzzword is used by fascists – as a means to target minority groups who are demanding to have their voices heard) and telling a woman that she shouldn’t be playing Vampire because, as a rape survivor, she’s too sensitive for horror gaming. In short, those with neo-nazi ideologies were given a lot of reason to like Rein-Hagen because of the things that he said.
It’s hard to say for sure if Mark Rein-Hagen had the same personal biases and prejudices back in the early 90s when he founded White Wolf. It was a different time, very much pre-internet and without social media. What we can see, though, is that a lot of early White Wolf products tended to include some very, uhh, troubling depictions of race. Books like World of Darkness: Gypsies, which was universally panned for its crass, ridiculous and heavy use of stereotypes and blatantly complete utter bollocks, were written while Mark Rein-Hagen was at the helm.
Let’s not beat around the bush – early White Wolf, under Mark’s supervision, had some real problems with depicting race. Setting the game in a mirror-universe version of the real world, the idea of having different fantasy races (like dwarves, elves and orcs) was reinterpreted. Instead, characters would have different clans, or tribes, or traditions (like Brujah, Fianna, or Verbana). Many of these would be based on real-world racial groups – like the Fianna, werewolves descended from Irish ancestry. They would intermingle with werewolves descended from indigenous American natives like the Wendigo, werewolves descended from Russian nobility like the Silver Fang, werewolves descended from the Aboriginal Australians like the Bunyip (which did not end well for them), and werewolves descended from homeless people like the Bone Gnawers wait homeless people are a different race now??
Now between you and me, it didn’t work quite like that. The correspondence between your character’s archetype and racial heritage was never all that set – it was played fast and loose, meaning that your Follower of Set didn’t technically have to be Egyptian and so on. But the parallels were there, and they were there very strongly in some places. So much so that when the Ravnos – a vampire clan whose only contribution to the game were to be bad stereotypes of the Rom people – were wiped out and removed from the game’s setting, very few players felt a twinge of regret. The same, sadly, cannot be said for the Assamite – an entire clan composed of extremist Muslim assassins. But even so, while later editions of the game tried to erase as much of the damage that Mark Rein-Hagen’s questionable attitude to racial representation had done and push forward, ‘a bunch of Swedish edgelords’ were glad to have the man back onboard to see what else he could contribute.
Summary: When a company hires people with known outspoken political affiliations and actions, and make public statements in which they voice their support of those employees, that puts out a complicit approval of those people’s affiliations.
Chapter 5 – Make Your Scream Loud Enough For All To Hear
And, once more, this could simply be a lot of smoke – but I would argue that there is rarely smoke without fire. At this point, we have seen “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” bringing in people whose personal attitudes and behaviours have drawn the appeal and interest of those with neo-nazi and fascist ideologies. We have seen them market a game in which people who are imbued with supernatural finesse simply by the power of their heritage are treated as the underdog in a massive narrative of shadow wars, appealing to the wish fulfillment of racists who dream of throwing down ‘globalist Jews and their communist allies’. We have seen “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” use specifically chosen language to appeal to that target demographic, speaking to them in their own internet tongue. We have seen them dishonestly condone the harassment and targeting of minority groups. We have witnessed them do so with utter and complete intent, with zero admissions of culpability for their wrongdoings and total conviction to push ahead with their dedication to their demographic.
The bulk of this article, this expose, was written before July of 2018. Most recently, though, White Wolf have began to release excerpts of the at-the-time upcoming 5th edition rulebook. As of writing, it appears that the much maligned Brujah clan has experienced yet another shift in tone and write-up. Specifically, White Wolf describes them as thus…
After taking a short break to catch my breath from the screaming at my monitor that this sight had instilled within me, and going for a long walk before returning to read it again in disbelief, I began to work updating this article.
The defense that a bunch of Swedish edgelords offered is their usual bleating cry of “the game is meant to be horror and you play as a monster!”, along with attempts to disavow their alt-right sentiment that rang as very insincere. Once more, as with the reaction that they received from their choice to frame a character as a pedophile, the crutch of their response is not to show contrition, but to stand by the position that their game is ‘meant to be horror’ and it’s for ‘mature minds’. I’ve heard people reiterate this several times in relation to why it’s defensible to play the game with a neo-nazi character. Here, then, is my rebuttal.
It is a stupid idea to want to play this game as a neo-nazi character because no vampire would be that fucking stupid. It is not scary or horrific to do so because vampires are scarier than this.
Vampires are evil on an entirely different spectrum than humans. They’re immortal predators. Human concerns about race are juvenile pubescent trivialities to them because humans are simply FOOD. They view us the same way we view cattle. Do you care about the colour of the fur on the cow that became your sunday roast? The idea of being ‘monstrous’ for a vampire isn’t being a neo-nazi skinhead. It’s looking at images of battery farms. Picture city blocks of people being forced into warehouses, their legs broken so that they can’t run, strung up in cages to hang by their feet with taps jammed in their necks. That’s what is monstrous and evil about vampires – that they don’t care. That their humanity is fucking dead and gone.And we know that’s the level of alien monstrousness that is standard in the setting because that exact image has been used in the game before. In the Gehenna novel, when the end of the world comes around and there’s no higher power to answer to and nothing to stop them, that’s exactly what vampires fucking do – round people up and chuck them in feeding warehouses like domestic cattle. That is terrifying. Being a neo-nazi isn’t terrifying, it’s just shitty. If you were a vampire, being a neo-nazi would be a trifling, puerile, childish and juvenile concern – a concern that, quite literally, is of another species. You want a neo-nazi vampire? Fine. The child goes to a Unite the Right rally. Joins up with a gang of other far-right fucksticks and chases several black families out of a poor part of town. Two nights later, the local Ventrue who had a claim to that poverty-stricken neighbourhood hires three legbreaker Nosferatu to stamp on the neo-nazi’s head until he turns to dust – probably with a bunch of actual Brujah who aren’t written as fucking neo-nazi scum by a bunch of Swedish edgelords – because someone that fucking stupid childe was too much of a risk to the traditions to have been embraced in the first place.
That image of humans strung up in battery farm cages by the hundreds? That’s what ‘evil’ should be in 5th edition if new White Wolf were serious about the game being about exploring evil and playing a monster. We know that because previous iterations had entire game systems in place to pose a conflict for the characters in falling that far – the Humanity system. You know, that thing that was curiously absent from the playtests? No. White Wolf don’t care about exploring the idea of evil or encouraging you to play as true monsters, and releasing a statement telling people that it’s about the choice to play a monster is disingenuous at best and a distraction from the real subject at hand, which is that they have outright said to neo-nazis “Hey guys, look! This here is a class that you can play! We’re calling you out by name, so you know that this is a game for you! And look, you’re not really bad guys – you’re just rebels, like the kids who download movies! If they’re not bad guys, surely you’re not, eh? C’mon, buy our book!”
Let that sink in for a moment. White Wolf – a company that once challenged the presupposition of a male pronoun for their players in their books – has drawn an equivocation between neo-nazis and movie pirates. That is not a means to play as monsters, that is a means to play as shitty, pathetic abusive human beings – and I’ve been to vampire larps and you can trust me when I say that your player base often has no need of help in doing that!
Fuck my life…
And yes, let’s cover that White Wolf did give a placatory attempt to respond to the negative feedback that they received, disavowing the accusations that they are marketing their game towards neo-nazis. I suppose I’ll have to cover that, because some people out there will be unable to ever consider that such a statement may be made dishonestly. So, here we go. Two points that show that White Wolf’s statement regarding this is irrelevant.
1- It’s not as if the alt-right, neo-nazis and their supporters and affiliates have never publicly disavowed their actions while continuing to support them sub-textually our outside of the public eye.
2- In regards to what amounts to years of context, including that documented here and outside of this page, we have utterly no reason to trust them. They have continually and over the course of many months given the same dog-whistles and made the same signals, only this time being all the more blatant. This is the THIRD such time that the company has issued a public statement in which they have doubled down on things that people are telling them, loudly, are reprehensible – first with Zak, then with their alpha, and now this… and that’s before they have even released a single product that they themselves have made! Where there is smoke, there is fire.
Summary: Fucking hell, people. White Wolf literally said to neo-nazis that they have a character type all set up and ready for them to play!
Chapter 6 – I’m So Fucking Tired Right Now
So, let’s run wrap this thing up, shall we?
I started this article in the hopes of exposing the means by white the new White Wolf company has consistently and with measurable intent strove to find a nice market for their game.
They have aimed for the same market today as they did in the early 90s when their games were first produced – disenfranchised young white men, people who believe themselves to be of an above-average level of intelligence, outsiders and people with strong views counter to contemporary culture. In the 90s, these were goths, punks and others, like I was at the time. Today, it’s the alt-right, it’s neo-nazis, incels and MGTOWs.
Do I think that new White Wolf is run by nazis? No. Do I think that they are trying to court controversy in a juvenile and pubescent manner by marketing their game to nazis? Fucking yes. I think so because that is, very clearly and based on their own actions, what they are doing.
And the thing is, new White Wolf are losing the battle-lines that they have set up by doing this. A huge number of the fans that they had already when they went in to the market now hate them. People who love Vampire: the Masquerade are boycotting their products left and right. Talent who work in the gaming industry look at them as being toxic. Nobody wants to work with them. Their reputation is down the drain and they have issued public statements to justify their shitty actions multiple times over the course of only a few months and they haven’t even released their first product of their own yet.
Discussion between Martin Ericsson and Joseph D Carriker
Below are included screenshots of a discussion that occurred between former White Wolf employee Joseph D Carriker Jr, and current White Wolf Lead Storyteller Martin Ericsson. It was not brought to my attention in time to be included in the article, and so it is included now as a late inclusion.
When I began writing this expose, I opened with a discussion of Rod Ferrell, a murderer who held delusions of superiority over others and identified as a vampire. I prefaced that Ferrell was an isolated, troubled and angry young man who suffered from severe delusions. His headlines occurred almost twenty years ago. Today, there are an entirely new group of young, troubled and angry young men. Young men who, like Rod Ferrell, feel the urge to show their superiority over others. At the time of writing, we see these people act out on an almost weekly basis, with Alek Minassian, Nikolas Cruz and Dimitrios Pagourtzis becoming two more names to join an ever-growing list.
Even more notable is that these young men are very politically aware. In the last decade, far right extremism has accounted for 71% of extremist-related killings in the United States, with religious extremism at 26% and, despite what Mark Rein-Hagen would believe, far-left extremism a mere 3%. When Rod Ferrell sought out others and discovered what he felt was a vampire lifestyle, he was looking for an outlet for his hatred, a group identity that would set him above others. Nowadays, with the growth of social media, young people who are in the exact same position as Ferrell was have the space to come together and find one another, just as he did. Only without the mysticism and without the realm of vampires, they gravitate towards the next closest thing.
In yet early another interview, “a bunch of Swedish edgelords” stated their determination to aim the 5th edition of Vampire: the Masquerade towards discussing today’s political landscape. I now see in full hindsight what they meant, who their target audience are and who, as a company, they wish to speak to, and I only hope that there’s still enough time for another development team to take charge and move this game in a better direction – preferably before those of us who enjoy vampires, horror games, and the version of Vampire: the Masquerade that we came to love and grew up with are forced to wake up one day with yet another Rod Ferrell on our hands.
Epilogue – So, what can you do?
Like many people, I don’t want to support this game. I don’t want to support the company that is making this game and marketing it towards the already too-fucking-emboldened rising wave of neo-nazis and alt-righters that exist out there. I want to do something about it. But what can you do?
For a start, you can tell people. Let them know. Spread the word and get the voice out. People are doing this, and have been doing this for years – and that’s fantastic. Keep doing it!
Second, you can make your opinion felt with your wallet. Companies live and die by their profit margins and if a bunch of Swedish edgelords recognise that marketing their game towards the worst that humanity has to offer is not a profitable venture, their parent company (Paradox Interactive) has the means to ensure that changes are made.
However if, like me, you are a dyed-in-the-wool roleplayer and just have to get your fix, there are a large number of other games out there that I would like to suggest instead of Vampire: the Masquerade.
The Onyx Path crew, who have made the 20th Anniversary editions of Vampire: the Masquerade and its sister games, are in a horrible situation at the moment with White Wolf. They need your money to survive, but White Wolf has their intellectual property claws in deep. This means that if you want to support them, you may find yourself in the same boat that I did – recognising that buying games like Exalted or Changeling: the Dreaming, as pro-LGBT as they have tended to be, will ultimately line White Wolf’s pockets too.
Onyx Path own the Trinity Continuum and Scion outright, if you are a fan of those then you can also buy those without any ethical concerns. At this point however the same does not apply to Exalted, or any of the World of Darkness or Chronicles of Darkness lines.
So you should support their own independent creator-owned games like Pugmire. Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which animals have evolved to take the place of their deceased human overlords, Pugmire gives you a lovely fantasy setting with some great twists. On the surface this is a fun and light fantasy adventure, but due to the setting’s innate sense of history it has the potential to allow for a lot of depth. It’s also really taken off in terms of popularity and already has a lot of products available.
I also recommend Eclipse Phase, a game with heavy sci-fi trans-humanist and horror elements. Players take part in a cross-faction secret network dubbed Firewall that is dedicated to counteracting existential risks — threats to the existence of trans-humanity, whether they be bio-war plagues, self-replicating nano-swarms, nuclear proliferation, terrorists with WMDs, net-breaking computer attacks, rogue AIs, alien encounters, or anything else that could drive an already decimated trans-humanity to extinction. More than that, the trans-humanist angle of the game is very strong, all of which comes with a very nice and quick system. Eclipse Phase is an excellent award-winning game that brings with it all of what was once classed under the gothic-punk style that White Wolf once strove to achieve, but with a futurist edge.
I’m going to suggest Urban Shadows. If you want a game that is set in the dark corners of the urban modern city, you want one that is done well. Supernatural creatures move in the night, scheming and politicking and preying on humanity. But what sets this game above is the presence of a Corruption mechanic which allows the player to gain greater sway, but at a significant cost. Sean Nittner, Project Manager for Evil Hat Productions, described it as “The corruption mechanic often allows someone to get out of a bind by taking corruption and giving in to the power that they wield…eventually opened up new corruption moves (acting like gaining experience) which of course generated more corruption themselves. All to the end of turning your character into a monster. This is what WoD was trying to do…like forever!”
If you want a game that really lets you explore the themes of fascism and neo-naziism, I suggest Sigmata: This Signal Kills Fascists. A recent Kickstarter project at the time of writing, it is a game about a number of disparate groups of rebellious sorts who struggle to overthrow a fascist regime in an alternative 1980s America. Now, this game does need to have a warning associated here in that it does include some highly dubious options for character classes, such as anarcho-capitalists and white nationalists. Playing these particular character types can be extremely problematic, but I would argue that it would allow for a more openly honest exploration of the darkness of human monstrousness than that which new White Wolf is promising.
The new 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium is fantastic. Lovecraft was a contentious figure in terms of his writing – even at the time that he wrote them, his attitudes were racist and backwards, there is no getting away from that – but this game is quick to divorce itself from that as much as possible and focus on the terrifying nature of cosmic fear. It’s a horror game which has been around for a long, long time, and the latest iteration has found ways to improve on a system that you’d never have possibly imagined. This is one of the best games for mysterious horror experiences and is a real joy to play. If you want horror gaming in its clearest and most straightforward form, this is the game for you.
Summary: I have been playing Vampire: The Masquerade for over 25 years and supporting the developers for almost as long. For the first time in my life, I no longer feel that doing so is in the best interest of myself, of those I care about, and the gaming community as a whole – and urge you with all the strength that I can muster to do the same. White Wolf are dead to me.
Edit: Following the article’s publication, DogWithDice was approached directly by Tobias Sjögren, CEO of White Wolf publishing, requesting the chance to speak with concerning the article mentioned. We were invited to email Tobias. After some consideration, we put together the following questions to raise. This screenshot is edited to remove personal details only.
During the time between sending this reply, we were startled by the attention that the article received, both in terms of positive and negative reception. Much of the negative reaction was phrased, once again, around the conceit that “vampires are evil” – a statement echoed by many fans of and a few creative minds at White Wolf including Mark Rein-Hagen, which we had previously discussed in chapter 5 of the article and felt was very lacking.
During this time, we also received emails from concerned individuals who are unconnected with this site, stated that they had received death threats from others as the result of this article. So as not to encourage such behavior, we will keep this source anonymous, however we would be remiss in pointing out these actions in relation to a discussion about ‘evil’.
We received the following reply.
CC’d into the conversation is Jason Carl,CEO of By Night Studios. Some of the points that were mentioned as questions in our email are answered, some are not. After much consideration, we feel that the statement that has been issued in the email by Tobias Sjögren is sufficient in response to the article posted. We do not feel that verbal communication would be the best means to ensure transparency and accuracy in reporting of the discussion to our readers. As a result we are happy to include Sjögren’s statement here as a post-script for the article.