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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.02.17] Sweden documentary

The world of 80s role playing games was mostly relegated to fantasy stories with “Dungeons & Dragons” leading the way. As I quickly learned from my limited experience with D&D games, they were complicated and involved a lot of math and without a good Dungeon Master, they could be really terrible. And then in the mid 90s I discovered White Wolf and “World of Darkness” and from there, “Vampire: The Masquerade” and it fundamentally changed the games I played and how I played them. But how did we get from D&D and traditional LARPing both of which were mostly male endeavours and included sitting around a table telling stories or battles with foam swords to the world of “The Masquerade” with elaborate LARP parties, often involving large groups, glamorous costumes and stories which could unfold in anywhere from hours or days?

Giles Alderson’s documentary World of Darkness attempts to answer that question and for the most part, does a great job of it. Alderson takes us back to the very beginning with the early days of White Wolf when Steve and Stewart Wieck merged their garage operation with Mark Rein·Hagen’s Lion Rampant which at that point had published “Ars Magica.” The newly minted company quickly gained a footing in the industry but it wasn’t until “Vampire: The Masquerade” was launched in 1991 that the company really took off. Seemingly overnight Hagen had created a new style of gameplay more focused on storytelling than traditional tabletop games and the result was immediate success.

Alderson tracks the rise of White Wolf and “Vampire” over the decades, from the early success to the rocky times in the early aughts and with unprecedented access to the Wiecks and Hagen, we get a glimpse at the inner workings of the company from the people who were there at the very beginning. There are insights into everything from the creation of the iconic cover of “Vampire: The Masquerade,” to how the art Tim Bradstreet played into the game’s success.

Visually, World of Darkness is rather pedestrian, a mix of talking head interviews mixed with footage from LARP events and archival footage. Thankfully, what it lacks in visual flare is more than makes up for with the quality of the interviews. Hagen and the Wiecks are particularly candid in their interviews and you can feel the regret and disappointment, particularly from Hagen, through the screen. As interesting as that is, perhaps the most important point Alderson makes is why “Vampire: The Masquerade” was so important to the culture at large and how it changed not only the world of gaming but how it helped to shape pop culture all together by opening the doors to women in a very big way.

World of Darkness is a win/win. For the uninitiated, it provides a great introduction to White Wolf and the “World of Darkness” without getting bogged down with a lot of unnecessary details while those who know the game and the publisher will appreciate the inside baseball stories shared by the creators.

World of Darkness is currently making its way through the festival circuit.

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