World of Darkness: The Documentary is a new film directed by Giles Anderson and written by Kevin Lee. The film documents the rise, fall, and hopeful future of the White Wolf published tabletop roleplaying games and it’s large dedicated fanbase of live action role players, LARP. Follow the story from the beginning in interviews with the creators and players. Videos and pictures from the 1990’s compliment the impressive launch, breakout success, and eventual failures of the company. Find out why even after over 25 years and a drop in popularity of vampires in popular culture, there are still tons of fans keeping this World of Darkness fantasy setting alive, or dead depending on your character.
White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade holds a large chunk of my past in it’s claws. I was there when the original game launched in 1991 and as a teenager obsessed with Anne Rice and 1980’s vampire films it called to me when my Dungeons & Dragons group discovered it. It did not take long for us to put down our magic swords and become enthralled with the various clans and simple gameplay that anyone, including females who generally avoided tabletop gaming back then, could learn. The sexy overtones and dramatic manipulative interactions called to anyone interested in vampires at the time. So thank you White Wolf, for getting girls to talk to me back in the 90’s.
World of Darkness: The Documentary does not require you have a past obsession or even an inkling of knowledge about White Wolf to be interesting. My wife, a self proclaimed “non-nerd” who I have since spent the last 15 years teaching the ways of the force, er, I mean geekdom, enjoyed it very much. She said when we turned it off; “It was well made and kept moving forward at a pace that kept me interested and learning as it went.” I completely agree, so don’t be don’t be scared away and you may learn about an interesting subculture and game.
World of Darkness starts at the beginning with creators Mark Rein-Hagen, Steve Wieck, and , Stewart Wieck, who sadly passed away just last year. The brothers started with a small home published magazine for gamers, White Wolf Magazine. Eventually on a road trip through a decrepit city Rein-Hagen had the brilliant idea; “You play the vampire.” These great insights and stories from various interviewees are a treat for viewers like myself who get to not only see what these folks look like now, but also still learn something new.
Structurally World of Darkness is just what I look for in a documentary. It doesn’t jump around, it stays on a timeline and takes you for a ride over the years at White Wolf. We get to see the rise of the core Vampire: The Masquerade game and how they grew by adding tons of new games to the world they created like Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, and Changeling: The Dreaming to name a few. Eventually a group of inventive gamers translated the game to a live action version, Mind’s Eye Theatre.
The LARP version of Vampire took it to a new level of involvement. Socially awkward nerds, punks, and goth kids could get together and socialize in one place. Players would literally “act” the entire night, becoming their character in the game but replacing dice with an altered version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. I remember looking forward to the weekend as 17 year old teen, just itching to dress up, go out to a park or rented space and be someone else all night long. My parents were not fans but what they did not realize is that this was my new family. My chosen family. I am still in contact with a few of them even 20 years later. We reminisce and laugh about events and other shenanigans we had back then. This is why the World of Darkness is still around. Players are dedicated to not only the product but more so to the culture and social aspect.
World of Darkness does a fantastic job of portraying the culture as a kind and supportive group of folks who just want to be someone different sometimes. These are good people who get together in small or sometimes very large groups and play pretend. Players in the film talk about the friendships and how the game has helped them through many hardships in their lives along with helping with social anxiety and communication. These are things many outcasts deal with regularly. White Wolf created a game for the outcasts to feel accepted in a group of like minded people and get out there, even if it’s sitting at a table with friends and not LARP, the game creates connections that last.
World of Darkness: The Documentary does a fantastic job of keeping the overall tone of the product and company; dark but not overly cheesy. While someone outside looking in for the first time may laugh and say “What are those freaks doing?”, the film takes the time to thoughtfully look at not only how, but why, the company and game succeeded. Of course over time and due to some bad company choices, White Wolf eventually saw a major decline in their product sales in the mid 2000’s. While much of the blame can be placed on hedging bets on a video game version, I also attribute some of the failure on changing pop culture obsessions. Zombies were in and vampires were out. Other than True Blood (an obviously inspired by the World of Darkness show) I really cannot think of any popular standard vampire movies or shows that have seen success. Even the fantastic Dracula TV show failed after one season in 2013. My hope is that this is changing and the 2020’s will see a resurgence of good bloodsucker movies and shows.
World of Darkness: The Documentary is a film any fan of White Wolf should see. You will smile at the memories and relive the past. It is awesome for someone like me who hasn’t been playing or keeping up with the game for the past 10 years to learn what plans they have for the future. Even if you have never heard of White Wolf or Vampire: The Masquerade you should still check out this well produced and directed documentary. With the recent release of a new version of the tabletop game and the continued support of the LARP community; The World of Darkness will hopefully see success again and bring a whole new generation of players and fans to this wonderful game.
World of Darkness: The Documentary is out now on digital on demand. Check back and we will update this post with more links as it finds more outlets.