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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Which Has More Lasting Effect - Shocking or Disturbing Imagery?

(what follows is my opinion - nothing more, nothing less - I expect others to add their opinions in the comments below - I very much doubt we will all agree, but that just means there will be a healthy discussion - I hope)

Love it or hate it, "Shock" sells.

To a point.

Each release has to top the previous one in shock value for it to garner the needed attention and audience, and at some point, your audience get's numb to it.

Shock also turns some folks off, but initially your gain far outweighs your loses. So, I understand it as a business practice.

Disturbing to me has more value. Carcosa made me feel a bit disturbed after reading it. Alright, very disturbed. It wasn't shocking, it was disturbing. I'll almost always come back for more disturbing. It might take a while, but I can't help myself. I might never feel comfortable using it, but it keeps me always looking for Geoffrey McKinney's work. Not that there is much at this time ;)

The Omen as a movie was disturbing.

Nightmare on Elm Street and the whole genre of slasher films work off shock value.

Shock to me seems to be the easy substitute for disturbing, but that's like replacing a home cooked meal with McDonalds - they may both fill a need, but one is more fulfilling than the other.

Fuck For Satan might drive the bible thumpers angry by title alone but if they read Carcosa they'd break out the Holy Water and start the exorcism right then and there.

The thing is, to be disturbing you don't have to be evil or overwhelming or even in your face. You just need enough realism to make someone relate, to feel it.

Eh, maybe it's my occupation. "Shock" has never stuck with me, it has no value. "Disturbing" is the shit that you keep for years. The pool of blood and brains and raspberry jam. The maggots in the living crackhead's open sores, and trying not to touch the wiggles as you cuff the crackhead. Opening a door to the overwhelming stench of death and guessing the day of death based on the intensity of the smell. Looking for the living heroin addict's boot that was ripped from him when he was struck by a truck, only to find his foot still in it. The he-she prostitute baring it's hairy chest. The body with a bullet in it's temple but still breathing, slow to realize it was already dead.

Disturbing rents space in your head.

That's my problem, apparently. My bar is set higher than most ;)

I may need to write up some gaming examples of "disturbing encounters and locations" later on.


  1. I agree disturbing sticks with you-shock, you get over, usually.

    Disturbing wiggles into your brain and sets up housekeeping.

  2. I agree with you, Tenkar. Big difference.

  3. I get where you are coming from, and I agree with you that disturbing imagery sticks with someone much longer than shocking imagery. When I think of great horror films, I am much more likely to list films like The Omen than Nightmare on Elm Street or an other slasher films.

    But then I still enjoy a good slasher film, because they are fun. I think you are excluding the fun factor in your analysis. Fuck for Satan isn't disturbing. It's silly.

    The monsters in the dungeon are goofy and completely nonsensical. The demonic entity is actually a misunderstood extraterrestrial and the cultist are just horny dudes looking for fun. There is a star named Twinkley in it for shit's sake!

    Fuck for Satan is designed to be a fun adventure, not a horrifying one like Death Frost Doom. Yes, the jokes are juvenile and the evil is cartoony, but that only makes it bad if you judge it using the wrong criteria. Fuck for Satan is a comedy from beginning to end.

    When you speak of the value of a product, in regards to shocking vs disturbing imagery, I think you're considering something that is very subjective with a false objectivity. Fuck for Satan doesn't measure up to Carcosa under one set of criteria, therefor it is an inferior product. Food is a bad go-to analogy since we don't need RPG supplements to survive, but you're comparing apples and oranges. If I want to give my players the heeby jeebies, I'll bring Carcosa to the table. If we want to have gonzo grimdark fun over a few beers, I'll grab Fuck for Satan.

    1. And Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, from the title alone to be a lighter adventure, when I actually found parts of it pretty disturbing.

    2. The problem with this argument is that "Fuck for Satan" isn't a funny title. It isn't witty, it isn't ironic, it isn't slyly transgressive, it isn't even an example of the lowest form of humor. It's just a bald vulgarity that sounds like something a 12-year-old gamer would say to shock Mom and Dad. Now you may claim this is deliberate, and the title is meant to be satirical. Maybe. But there's a fine line between satire and lazy inability to do any better (as proof of this, see Epic Movie, Date Movie, or Meet the Spartans).

      On a possibly related note, the Lamentations of the Sea Monkeys: Empty Wallet Edition doesn't contain any monsters or magic items. Instead you get a lot of pious nonsense about how it's "better" to create your own. Is this really what Raggi believes? Or was he just too plain lazy to create suitably "weird" monsters and magic items? Circumstantial evidence for the latter exists in a certain well-known adventure of his. There are a lot of "undead things" in that adventure, but if you look at the stats they are nothing more than standard-issue B/X zombies, ghouls, and wights with the serial numbers filed off. So much for creating your own monsters! Does it really matter if you call them "undead things" instead of zombies, ghouls, and wights? Come on!

      So I don't buy that Raggi omitted the monsters and magic items from Lamentations of the Deceptive Artwork for artistic reasons. He couldn't be bothered to create a complete game, so he left out a third of the required content and told gamers it was "better" that way. And some of them, incredibly, bought this line of bullshit. Similarly, I don't believe that "Fuck for Satan" is a necessary or appropriate title chosen for artistic reasons. It's intended to do one thing and one thing only: shock in a childish way. And worse than being childish, it's just plain lazy. I suspect Raggi can do better if he tries. But he's never going to try if certain gamers lionize him for behaving like a junior high school student.

    3. The problem is that some find the title funny, some don't. I find it punk rock epicly brilliant.

    4. "Army of Darkness" isn't a funny title either. Do you expect high art or fart humor and nothing in between?

      Who is legitimately shocked by the word "fuck" anymore? Yes, it's unusual to see it in a title, but I'm starting to think that the controversy surrounding three words on a cover isn't all that legitimate.

    5. "Army of Darkness isn't a funny title either."

      True, but one of the alternate titles (The Medieval Dead) is hilarious. Maybe Raimi should have gone with that one.

      "I'm starting to think that the controversy surrounding three words on a cover isn't all that legitimate."

      Correct, it isn't legitimate. It's a phony controversy deliberately created by Raggi to sell copies of his probably weak adventure.

    6. "It's a phony controversy deliberately created by Raggi to sell copies of his probably weak adventure."

      I've read it. It's good. But you've made it clear that you have great disdain for all things LotFP. You would hate it.

    7. "But you've made it clear that you have great disdain for all things LotFP."

      Not necessarily. I have several adventures Raggi wrote and like most of them. I do resent paying good money for the Grindhouse Edition, which turned out to be an incomplete clone of B/X with cool art. A few spells aside, it contains nothing really new and nothing particularly "weird". The disconnect between the evocative art and the meager substance is why I use the "sea monkeys" analogy. Nothing else seems to fit.

  4. Isn't it the point of campy movies to appear so bad that those become funny? So IMO "Army of Darkness" is more appropriate tittle than "The Medieval Dead", and if this adventure is supposed to be campy(I haven't seen it), then it's title fits.

    P.S. Evil Dead 2 was better than the first one :p



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