Thoughts about the White Wolf affair

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This blog is of course dedicated to KULT: Divinity Lost but I have been a long time World of Darkness fan. Vampire the Masquerade, Mage the Ascension and Wraith the Oblivion are games that I’ve played for hundreds of hours and I have been on countless Vampire LARPs in the late 90s.

The recent situation regarding the fifth edition of Vampire the Masquerade and the controversies surrounding White Wolf have made me feel frustrated and sad. If you have missed it you can read up on it here.

White Wolf, since it was reformed, have had a strained relationship with a certain grouping within its fan base. This has led to several flame wars regarding the direction the new edition of Vampire the Masquerade took. The things that White Wolf did that caused the most controversy were:

  • They hired a writer for a side product (a mobile game). This writer is said to have behaved badly online. This may or may not be true, but this writer is no longer involved with White Wolf.
  • They have said they will use real world politics and drama as a backdrop for The World of Darkness. They will touch on difficult subjects such as abuse, genocide, terrorist attacks weaved into the supernatural plots of the setting.
  • They released a scenario where you could play a vampire who liked to fed on young people. This turned out to a full blown “White Wolf endorses pedophilia”.
  • They said that you could play a person with right-wing (yes even racist) views in their contemporary horror game.
  • They had a dice combination in one of the example texts and that could be a code to the right wing movement that they were invited to play the game.

Some of these accusations goes full blown conspiracy theory: White Wolf placing Right Wing messages in code in their games, that they endorse pedophilia by having one character in one scenario that feeds on young people. Really? Does it not feel a little bit far fetched? And sure, it is not good to hire writers that may or may not have an abusive history online but that writer was let go. But these issues, however trivial they may seem, were the first steps that led to the fact that White Wolf now has been disassembled as a company.

Looking at this from the outside it is almost like a farce. But the thing is it isn’t funny. It is sickly and infested. Sure, White Wolf may not have have been as skillful in communication as you could have desired but the hatred and the anger that came from this baffled me.

It is clear that White Wolf has a very divided fan base. And that they have a hard time to cater to both of these sides. One part of the fan base wants the game to be really dark and gritty, the other wants it to be dark – but not to dark. And that things they find offensive is excluded from the game.

Now, there has been quite a lot of voices from those that wants a dark World of Darkness that explore real life horrors over that White Wolf have bowed down to the criticism. There are endless threads and forum posts with anger and pie throwing between these groups.

Most fans, such as myself, have mostly been silent not wanted to get involved because of all of the vitriol and hate flying around.

White Wolf went out and apologized. They promise that the fans would be involved in the creative process, that they did not make a game for nazis, that they would strive to be caring and inclusive. So for a while it calmed down. Vampire 5th edition was released according to plan.

And then Chechnya happened.

The thing is, there has been this really unpleasant atmosphere on the online forums. I have just got the feeling that the fan base that was upset were just waiting and deep inside hoping that White Wolf would botch. They have looked for something to prove them right.

And then White Wolf, released two books detailing the Camarilla and the Anarchs and in these books there was a text that claims that the ethnic cleansing of homosexual in Chechnya is part of a vampiric plot. Was it the most sensitive thing to do? Perhaps not. It was handled a bit clumsily but the spark was enough to set of an explosion. Now the mob have spoken (or rather shouted) and the mob has won.

Paradox (the company that owns White Wolf) have reported that they have fired the creative lead of White Wolf and that the company is swallowed up by Paradox. They will work with licensing from now on. And the sad things are that you can see the quotes online now from the fans that pulled down the mighty wolf: “We Won! We beat them, Finally! Hurray.” It is almost euphoric and surreal how high they seem to be on their victory.

How did it end up this badly? How did a gaming company become completely ripped apart by a group of their own fans? Well here are my thoughts.

Two Audiences 

White Wolfs audience is clearly divided in two loud groups.

1. Those that want it dark and edgy. No holds barred. Abuse, murder, genocide, abuse, terrorism. Ancient vampires ruling ISIS from the shadows and our real world blended with The World of Darkness.

2. Those that wants a dark horror game but that certain subjects and real world events are sacred and should not be part of a horror game. They want to protect those that have been part of situations like abuse, or belong to ethnic groups that have been subject to racism to feel safe when reading the books. Also, they want the vampire game to be aimed at liberal and leftist views. And be non attractive to right-wingers.

White Wolf would have needed to which of these audience they made the game for and been very clear with that. And then made a game for that audience. And hold out to the end and fight for the vision.

Politics and old grudges

I am sure there are something else that lies beneath it all. The controversies would not at all has been bad and big if there weren’t hidden interests and old conflicts. Probably it has to do with the division between Onyx Path (that made Vampire Requiem) and White Wolf and influencers on both side that battled over the brand: World of Darkness. There are clearly something infected there, when the documentary about Vampire and the World of Darkness was released Onyx Path was not even mentioned. And right now fans are fighting about which edition of Vampire is the best. Requiem and V5 that exists simultaneously (something that is confusing for new Vampire players).

V5 was not as good as it needed to be

Had Vampire 5th Edition been a truly great game it could have solidified the new vision of World of Darkness and made the majority of the Vampire fans hyped. They could then win over the majority that would have stepped up and defended the new direction because it was so awesome. They would have supported White Wolf as fans do when conflicts flared up. But, sadly, V5 was quite a mess both when it came to content, vision and artwork. It did not help strengthen the belief in White Wolf but instead gave ammunition to the critical crown.

White Wolf have painted themselves into a corner with apologies

When the accusations became to many and the rage became to intense online the white wolf lay down on its back and reveled its throat in a sign of submission. They have said sorry again and again in press releases and live streams: “We were insensitive, we did wrong, forgive us, we will do better”.

Of course it is noble to apologize if you feel you have done something wrong but what they did was to put their creative power in the hands of the fans. This is not a situation you want to be in as a developer where you let the fans dictate the products you make.

To me it became uncomfortable and almost Kafka like. White Wolf were expected to answer to made up arguments. Swear that they are not making a games for nazis and pedophiles. They had been so tainted by the accusations that were thrown against them that they had to apologize to things that bordered on the surreal.

Owned by Paradox

The computer game company Paradox owns White Wolf and it was clear that it was them in the end that fired the creative leads of White Wolf and assumed control over the company. Had not White Wolf been a part of this company they could probably more boldly created the game they wished to create and without any pressure from “the top”.

So what are my thoughts?

This is a sad situation. I am one of those players that like when a game is allowed to be really dark, and that if you play a modern horror game you should intertwine the politics of the day with it – in fact I would even claim that is something that makes it interesting. And then on the gaming table you talk with your group and decide in what is okay and what is not okay. But hey, that is just me. But I have a need for the dark. I find it alluring, beautiful and I want to touch the forbidden and ghastly with my thoughts. And when a mob use harassment and scare tactic I am never in favor of that.

And I am actually worried about the mob mentality that gathers online and what it will mean for future creativity. Players that like it “Dark” are categorized as unemphatic right-wingers that are disturbed or just stupid or edgy and there is a truly oppressive atmosphere. It is almost a religious fervor in their behavior like they are fighting for some higher good. If you not accept their definitions of what is okay and what is not okay you are the enemy.

I am myself quite disappointed in V5 and don’t see myself playing this edition. But that comes from the general direction of the game and the style of the book. But to me the controversy is not the game itself it is everything surrounding the game and a fan rage that borders on the extremes. And the insane conspiracy theories, the total lack of being able to judge the game as a whole but to pick out snippets and point at those to prove their points.

As a final note. I of course think that people on both sides of the fan base should behave. There are probably many horrible stories of the “edgy” players that have threatened someone or used harsh words. But these one did not dismantle the evil that was White Wolf.

 

9 thoughts on “Thoughts about the White Wolf affair

  1. I generally agree. I wanted them to remove the chapter to avoid controversy and focus on making material for the game. However, I didn’t want them to remove it for the reasons they did.

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    1. I do not think the chapter was well written at all. It was were blunt and badly handled but I think White Wolf is a bad position now. But something I think has been evident is that they have had a large part of their fan base hating them from the beginning. Now, White Wolf have screwed up again and again to be fair. But I am just confused because I find the hate and the anger to be on a surreal level. And it borders on foil hat conspiracy theories in many instances.

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      1. I think when you believe they’re leaving coded messages to the Alt-Right, you have passed the border of conspiracy theorist and now safely are dwelling in UFO Lizardman Land.

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  2. Oh man, that sounds really horrible!
    Haven’t been following anything surrounding Vampire / WW at all in ages, but from the sound of it… didn’t really miss too much, did I?
    (We’re still occasionally playing V:tM too, btw – but our GM uses Revised, I believe, with bits and pieces from V20 added in here and there – we haven’t felt the need to update on corebooks or supplements in ages, actually)

    Love the Angel image you use for the article, though – it seems to sum up the situation perfectly 😉 😛

    And whoa, the blue points you list as the “biggest controversies” – every last one of them is ridiculous!

    * A writer (one!) who *allegedly* behaved badly online… but doesn’t work for them anymore anyways… so, uhm, yeah?

    * including real world politics in their dark contemporary game? Of fucking course they should!
    And they always fucking have, too – they named the game’s central struggle “Jyhad”, for godsake! They had a whole clan of arab assassins, one of goddamn gypsies, and countless other walking stereotypes and clichees, from the very beginning of the game!!!

    * vampires with certain, peculiar feeding predilections were a thing in this game ever since the Ventrue existed, right? So, pretty much from day zero onwards, no?
    And yeah, vampirism is a sexual metaphor (amongst other things), but come on please… “endorsing pedophilia”?! That’s just ridiculous…

    * I cannot count the number of times I have played (let alone ran as NPCs) characters who were intolerant, bigotted, right-wing, and/or racist… It’s called ROLEplaying for a reason… you play a role… 😉
    What do these people want? A sanitized “dark” setting with no racism allowed to exist in it?
    Or just for all racists to be considered “always chaotic evil”, and not permitted as PCs, ever, now way, no how?!
    (Both are exceptionally stupid approaches in my opinion)

    * and I will not even comment on the dice combination… I’m sure it spelled “Heil Hitler” if you added up all the numbers, divided them by Pi, then multiplied them with the measurements of the pyramids and crunched it through Kabbalistic numerology long enough… (but then, any sequence of numbers will do that, so yeah 😀 😛 )

    As I said, haven’t been following any of it myself, but I do believe that two main factors (worth commenting on) exist:
    An old, and previously very successful property being rebooted again and again, and sold to new companies over and over, will run the innate risk of just rehashing its own empty concepts into eternity, always seeking to rediscover the gold vein that was its original success…
    …and at the same time never offering anything that could *actually* provide that. Too many big business interests will reliably prevent that, with their trademark combination of high pressure to succeed, and stifling fear of taking any risks while getting there.

    It seems to me that V5 must indeed offer so much of nothing new to talk (let alone get hyped) about, that the hysterical fans’ only resolve is the sort of ridiculousness you described.

    I guess I’m just relieved that the writers of Kult didn’t… stumble into any of those traps? …get subjected to any such hysteria and rampant stupidity? I dunno, just happy they seem to have gotten it right 😉

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    1. Yes, it is a sad affair. And I think that they key is that there is this political struggle on who has the right to control the brand. And that White Wolf pissed on some people at Onyx Path and well – it goes on from there.

      I do think that V5 offered something new. The sad thing is that I feel that the “new” was not just that good. And I think that they did not get that many that supported them because of it.

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  3. It’s funny how you talk about Onyx Path JUST doing vampire Requiem… ^^
    They litteraly took old WW franchise back from the grave by doing Vampire MASQUERADE V20 (or in other words V4) in the early 2010’s.

    I guess people don’t took it really well when OP (that in my sense made a decent to really good work) learn from one day to another that they won’t be able to continue the V4’s. For example, i didn’t took all the V4 book but i spend something like 500$ to support the V4 and OP then one day i learn V4 is dead and OP won’t be allowed to make more book about it despite all the series still need some books to be “finished” (for example Mage Ascension latest Tradition Book are from mid 90’s and still show cellphone as a magical device – They really need an update but thanks to WW it never will come out).

    That was a HUGE mistake from WW to came back like this and to send a message that will be understood as “we want to make money but we don’t care you liked V4”.
    They could do so much good things by just sitting with OP around a table and talk for creating together instead of this…

    Don’t forget that OP is lead by old Big Names from WW (Brucato, RichT,…).

    And last, now WW killed V4 they asked OP to do a V5 Chicago by night… How? Why? If you have so much ideas you really need that bad to make a V5 while V4 is appreciated, how do you end up asking V4’s authors to write for you…

    All that just seems a big money story to me and i’m sure i”m not the only one to think that.
    It’s just sad. Maybe i’m missing something that will make sense from all that. I hope…

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    1. I think it is an interesting analysis and I think you are right. White Wolf had a tough situation how to handle OP and that they had built up a fanbase and keeping the brand alive. I remembered that I was very confused when I watched the World of Darkness documentary that OP was not even mentioned. So there must had been some bad blood there.

      But one thing I think White Wolf judged right. And it was that Vampire 5 would a new creative lead and vision. The OP games are not even sold in gaming stores in Sweden, and if they are it is on the bottom shelf. They only cater to a small fanbase and I think that WW wanted the big, big, big crowd of the late 90s.

      Now, perhaps they could have done V5 together with OP. I think it was hubris that White Wolf did it on their own since they are LARPers and not RPG-designers. And the result well, it is not to my taste. I will take V20 anyday.

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      1. More and more game totally bypass store because it will make the game more expensive.
        I think i remember that OP and DTRPG are “close friends” since DTRPG was created by one of the Wieck brothers (from White Wolf). That can explain a bit maybe.

        Funny thing, in the shop where i buy RPG it’s whitewolf stuff that are on the bottom shelf at 50% :p

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