Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Rumors of my Demise have been Greatly Exaggerated

As a typical disgruntled Englishman, I have an inveterate dislike of American cultural Imperialism. Not so much American culture itself, you understand but more of circumstances when annoying aspects of your culture thoughtlessly overwrite lomh-cherished bastions of Englishness. Such as the fact that your bastardised dialect of our fine language is now known throughout the world as “International English” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

Bearing this in mind, it is with a heavy and grudging heart that I have to admit that one thing Americans do better than we do is Halloween. Halloween is of course originally a Celtic festival, and I grew up in Ireland where it’s still celebrated passionately, and I learned to love it. I mean, a night of the year when the boundaries between worlds become thinner, magic is more potent and the dead are supposed to walk … come on, how cool is that? On arriving in England for the first time I was appalled by the off-hand manner in which it’s treated by everyone except young children. Seriously – over the past few years I’ve made a point of searching the terrestrial TV channels for horror-themed films or programmes shown on or around the 31st of October and there’s never, ever anything on. I don’t remember the last time we had trick-or-treaters at the door, even though I religiously stock up on sweets beforehand so I can reward anyone who is out celebrating the festival (and of course I get to scoff them all myself over the ensuing weeks when no-one turns up). Christian or otherwise, this is a seriously big chunk of our cultural heritage we’re missing out on.

Most gamers seem to love Halloween and no small wonder – many of us who were raised on the Ameritrash classics of yesteryear got into the gaming hobby precisely because we loved ghouls and goblins and all that fantasy stuff. I’d be curious to see if the younger generation who were raised on Eurogames have the same passion, but that’s an aside. The time-honoured way for a gamer to celebrate the festival is, of course, to pull out and play a bunch of horror-themed games. Witness, as evidence, the cavalcade of “games for Halloween” type lists that appear on Boardgamegeek around this time every year.

I’m no exception to this trend. At the same time as stocking up on sweets I always plan to spend the evening playing some horror games from my collection. Since I actually own very few horror games (for reasons we’ve discussed previously on the blog). I occasionally use it as an excuse to buy another one. And then the same thing happens every year: I call up my gaming friends and say to them all “You up to play some games on 31st October?” and, roughly five years out of every seven they replay “That’s a weeknight! No way! I have to go to work the next day!”. These people aren’t sleep wussies either – we used to have regular Titan sessions on a Monday night. It’s just the usual English apathy about the festival rearing its ugly head again.

My gaming friends are usually willing to compromise by having a horror game session at the nearest weekend instead. I am not. I have a firm and unshakable belief that if you’re going to celebrate something, you ought to do it on the specified date or nor do it at all. Would you celebrate Christmas in late January just because it suited your schedule a little better? Of course not! So why pay lip server to less well regarded festivals like Halloween? Indeed it seems to me that of all the yearly celebrations Halloween is perhaps the one which is best celebrated on the actual date. It’s a mystical event in the calendar: on this night and this night only the spirits break forth to terrorise the living. Come Friday night they’ll be gone, so what’s the point of trying to appease/commune with/exorcise them then? So, sad as it may be, I’ve managed to organise just one Halloween game that I can recall.

Because of this fashion for horror games on Halloween night, it ought to be absolute pig-in-mud time for Ameritrash evangelists because it’s the one occasion on which even the most dyed-in-the wool Eurogamer might be persuaded to sit down and trawl through a session of Fury of Dracula. Why? Well, to misquote Bill Clinton “It’s the atmosphere, stupid!”. For the one night of the year everyone can just put aside everything they think they know about “good” and “elegant” game design and just get down and dirty and enjoy the haunt. What they’re enjoying, of course, is what those of us who love our AT games any night of the year usually refer to as “theme”. They’re discovering that a game can be fun to play for the value and quality of the theme and narrative alone, and that in these sorts of games, strategy and elegance are just icing on a cake which is damn tasty all by itself.

So, come Halloween when you sit down to the smorgasbord of horror games that have been prepared for you, remember that the value you’re getting from your play is the value that Ameritrash gamers hold dear. Remember it well, and recall that feeling the next time you’re inclined to mock us for enjoying our pointless, luck-filled, over-chromed games and think carefully before offering an opinion.

Otherwise, next year, we’ll send the Hunting Horrors after you.

30 comments:

StephenAvery said...

Its my absolute favorite holiday bar none. There is something about being in costume and/or wearing a mask that releases inhibitions.

That's why I routinely wear a trenchcoat and zorro mask...

Muzza said...

Nothing says 'Cultural Imperialism' louder than Halloween, at least to me in Sydney. Maybe because I'm turning into a crusty old codger and I'm jealous of the young kids having fun 'American style' in a way that we just did not do when I was a kid.

I was staggered and appalled when one midweek afternoon (I was off work sick), the doorbell rang. I answered, bleary eyed, unshaven and clad in a slightly stained robe. I was surprised to find a trio of young girls.

"Trick or treat" said they.

"yerfugginwha?" said I, or something of similar charm and sophistication.

"Money will do" they added.

The door slammed upon a muttered "twenty cents you tight arsed c.."

I cry for the youth of today.

I have had much more fun as an adult with Halloween, fancy dress parties and the like. I do like the idea of a themed Halloween games night. I just wish you'd written this article earlier, it's a bit late in the day to organise now. Still worth a go though.

Ken B. said...

And in other news, muzza has been throwing plastic chairs at kids who have veered "dangerously close to his lawn."


More on this story as it develops.

Ken B. said...

And I thought Steve Avery was going to dress up like a giant Turd this year.

Michael Barnes said...

Steve Avery, all you need to wear is a tanktop to release your inhibitions, and you do that 364 days a year (he takes Christmas off for family pictures).

It's funny because I'm a total horror fanatic. I live, breathe, eat, drink, and think about horror themes pretty much all day long, every day. Even right now. Yet for some reason Halloween winds up being sort of anticlimactic for me.

Part of it is because Halloween in the US has become an extended St Patrick's Day/Mardi Gras-style frat party that's just short of having some sort of bead throwing involved. It's about desparate middle-aged women dressing up like vampire hooker witches or "sexy" renditions of Richard Nixon or Sherlock Holmes and post-fraternity jackasses putting on "funny" costumes and getting completely plastered before collapsing in a pile of vomit and tattered costume.

I like the kid's version, the Halloween before it got highjacked by adults just looking for another reason to get drunk. I like trick or treat, candy corn, spooky pumpkins, and simple fun. I love seeing kids in costumes (so long as they're something original or traditional and not just whatever the current pop culture obsession happens to be). There's nothing wrong with sexy costumes or drinking, but if you need an "excuse" like Halloween to wear something like that or to have a good time, then you're lame.

My Halloween festivities this year are going to be to hit the annual puppet show at the Center for Puppetry Arts (which is typically really awesome) and go to Robert Martin's party Did he invite all of y'all? Oops...

StephenAvery said...

It's about desparate middle-aged women dressing up like vampire hooker witches or "sexy" renditions of Richard Nixon or Sherlock Holmes and post-fraternity jackasses putting on "funny" costumes and getting completely plastered before collapsing in a pile of vomit and tattered costume.

Uh YEAH- Duh! that's the best part.

Steve"TurdwholooksalotlikeKenB" Avery

Thom Vassal said...

My church sets up a "Hallelujah House" so we can show Korean children the nightmare of hell that awaits them if they engage in premarital sex, feminism, or liberal thinking of any kind. At the end, I lure these children away from one of those "heroin parties" that are so popular these days and into a room where angels are playing Ticket to Ride. I set up my CD boom box to play Stryper's "To Hell With the Devil" as they leave. It rocks!

Frank Branham said...

We of course live in a sort of permanent Halloween at our house. (Pics and a virtual tour are on Spielboy.com for the curious.)

But we don't do much for Halloween either.

My favorite party was a trip out to very, very rural TN (Gassoway has 3 houses and a creepy barn.) We did a bonfire, a weird harvest sacrifice of an ear of corn, a fiddler, and ghost stories.

The host was an amazing person named Jack, who eventually formed a Rockabilly band called The Exotic Ones. The evening in question even got a song--"The Boys from Weird Holler"

http://payplay.fm/exoticones/wma/13

kriz said...

"I have a firm and unshakable belief that if you’re going to celebrate something, you ought to do it on the specified date or nor do it at all. Would you celebrate Christmas in late January just because it suited your schedule a little better?"

THANK YOU. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I don't ever remember it being near this bad when I was kid only about 20 years ago or so. Trick or Treat ON Halloween, dress up ON Halloween. It is completely lame to move it around to fit your sorry schedule, where your rat race job is more important than a holiday. Holidays and birthdays etc. should be a day out of the year you take to do something special, a break from your regular stupid routine, and moving it to a weekend is a cop out and an insult to the holiday and an insult to being a human being.

mtlawson said...

The thing that pisses me off about Halloween lately has been the creeping "Halloween Lights". Subsets of this, "Valentine Lights" and "Easter Lights", have also been sighted.

WTF is up with Halloween lights? It isn't Christmas, fer chrissakes.

--Mike L.

Michael Barnes said...

Nah, it's the giant inflatables that are bugging me. It makes every lawn look like a used car lot. I saw one the other day that was like big puffy black coach with a team of skeleton horses.

Thaadd said...

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I spent a good few hours making my 'Bride of Cthulhu' costume last year.

This year... I fly out of country on the 30th. I will likely not do much for attempted costume in Iceland, if only because I don't want to be another crass American. :P

I will play devils advocate in that I like Halloween lights. Little bats are ok with me! I keep rubber spiders around my apartment year round for my own amusement. Big ones in all the houseplants...

J de said...

You pumpkin heads have a good time. I'll stick to good old Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet.

mtlawson said...

You see, I don't mind dressing your house up in Halloween displays, but when the only difference between Halloween and Christmas is the color of the lights you string up on your house, then that's a bit much.

I have to agree with you on the inflatables, Mike. The nice thing about them is that I can look outside and determine by how far they are leaning over how much wind velocity we have outside. Outside of that, they are an energy sink; the last thing I need is to give Duke Energy a reason to give me a higher bill.

--Mike L.

ubarose said...

I love Halloween. I take the day off work.

I was a costume designer until my daughter got too old to be confined to a back pack while I was on set, so 25% of the third floor of our house is costume storage. The stream of friends needing to borrow stuff started last week. I expect I'll be pulling together costumes and making last minute adjustments for folks right up to night fall on Wed (with a break of course to go over to the Elementary School to see the costume parade).

Our neighborhood is all Victorian houses and we have two that have been converted to funeral homes. It is wicked easy to scare the bejeezers out of the little kids who dare each other to trick or treat around here.

We all go trick or treating with the neighbors and their kids, until the kids are exhausted and beg us to go home, or they get terrified at one of the "haunted" houses and start crying.

Ken B. said...

Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet


Wasn't that Billy Corgan's side band for a little while?

neonpeon said...

Don't forget to hand out Chick tracts to those little sinners!

notbillysparkles said...

I love everything about halloween be it cheesy, commercial or steeped in tradition-- druidic or otherwise.

I just can' help but associate good feelings with halloween-- they remind of some of the most magical times of my life.

Michael Barnes said...

Wasn't that Billy Corgan's side band for a little while?

I thought that was The Billy Corgan Experience. Or The Crazy World of Billy Corgan. Or The Billy Corgan Band. Maybe it was Billy Corgan and the Billy Corgans.

On inflatables- the other day I saw one that was a giant pumpkin with ghosts coming out of it. The owner had let it deflate some, so it actually looked like these ghosts were totally beating this pumpkin down. Pretty funny.

Probably my favorite Halloween was the time I made my own Storm Shadow costume and went to the mall to trick or treat (that's where the REAL candy haul always was here). All these kids- and adults- were coming up to me and telling me how awesome my costume was. The coolest thing was that all my weapons were real- not fake out plastic stuff. I spent all my birthday money at this martial arts store called Defense Arts and got all these real Ninja weapons- a sword, the "classic" moon-style shuriken, some Sai, wicked black nunchaku...and somehow it was completely OK for me to be walking around this mall as a pre-teen killing machine. Think about doing that now...

J de said...

...and somehow it was completely OK for me to be walking around this mall as a pre-teen killing machine. Think about doing that now...

you should have hid it under your trench coat. That would have scared them

pieter said...

You pumpkin heads have a good time. I'll stick to good old Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet.

We get a mix of both. In the night of Nov. 10, Sint-Maarten brings presents to all good children. Traditionally, the children would welcome the holy man by going on the streets carrying lamps made of hollow beets, and sing songs for candy.
Nowadays they carry pumpkin party lights...

Michael Barnes said...

you should have hid it under your trench coat. That would have scared them

I was too young to join the Trenchcoat Mafia. Plus DOOM was not yet released and I had not yet heard of KMFDM.

StephenAvery said...

This thread has too much about trenchcoats and SinterKlaas and not enough about desperate middle aged vampire hooker witches...

Steve"KeeperoftheTrueMeaningofHalloween"Avery

Shellhead said...

Barnes said Nah, it's the giant inflatables that are bugging me. It makes every lawn look like a used car lot. I saw one the other day that was like big puffy black coach with a team of skeleton horses.

They are selling that one at the big hardware store chain Menard's this year. I think most of the inflatables look lame, but that was sort of neat because the coffin periodically opens and this ghoulish creature rises up from it briefly.

However, there was one Halloween inflatable at Menard's that looked awesome. It's a large transparent pumpkin with some kind of swirling air current inside and a bunch of little black bat-shaped bits of paper that appear to be swooping around inside like a cloud of bats. I was impressed, and there was this one middle-aged woman in the store that day who was completely stunned. The whole time I was in the store (about 20 minutes), she stood there just looking at the damn thing, unable to walk away from the awesomeness of it.

Halloween is definitely my favorite holiday. I agree that it's kind of a shame that adults have sort of taken Halloween away from the kids, but as an immature adult, I do enjoy the results. Before my girlfriend moved in with me, my place was decorated sort of Halloween-like all year round. Now, I still have the inflatable sarcophagus on display, but some of the goth artwork has been displaced by a huge painting of a flower. And I gave away my fake skull with the glowing dice in the eye sockets. Oh well, at least I still get to hang out at the local goth nightclub from time to time.

J de said...

This thread has too much about trenchcoats and SinterKlaas...

What's that, Steve? Tired of always having your turd busted by the same people?

StephenAvery said...

It will be a cold day in hell before that happens...though some people do seem to have a disturbing fixation about it. From here out, I'm only going gaming with a chasity belt on. just..in..case.

BTW you're derailing the converastion again. This is about desperate middle aged vampire hooker witches and don't you forget it.


Steve"vampirehookerhunter"Avery

Ken B. said...

Did someone say something about turds?

Muzza said...

[i]Don't forget to hand out Chick tracts to those little sinners![/i]

That has got to be the scariest, most f*cked up thing I have seen in years.

dbuel said...

What they call "cultural imperialism" in your country they call "diversity" in the United States.

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