Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movies to Play: The Last Exorcism

Movies to Play is a series in which I examine movies for their game-ability. In other words, I try to grab character hooks, plot set-ups, general cool stuff to use for my own games. Today I'm looking at a recent Netflix rental of The Last Exorcism. As a life-long Catholic, I have a special place in my heart for exorcism movies. They've been one of the most consistently-freaky kind of horror movie because they're based so much on the weird things humans are capable of pulling off. It's the combination of real-world terror and the possibility of trickery on the part of the "possessed" in trying to convince the exorcist that he or she is truly with a demon. There's a lot of angles in exorcism stories, and that's really what makes them so great gaming fodder.

The Last Exorcism is a pretty straight-forward film, and it's obvious that it's really a result of combining three films: the basic content of the original Exorcist (a preacher who has lost his has his own agenda for agreeing to perform the exorcism), the Blair Witch Project (it's got the documentary thing going for it and is structured with a great background, non-scary set-up before plunging into this pocket world of the deep south), and Paranormal Activity (it's got that real minimalist feeling to it that adds to the tension).

I really don't want to give anything away about the film except to tell you that the lead actor is a charming skeptic who knows he's a charlatan who can put on a good magic show. The actor, Patrick Fabian does a great job of carrying the film and portrays Rev. Cotton Marcus as a carrying individual in a very realistic manner. You see, Cotton's lost his faith and has agreed to do one more exorcism in front of a documentary crew to show just how fake they are.

The reason I picked this as a Movies to Play post was that I have hosted a game of Dread with a similar premise. The players were an exorcist and a small film crew (director, sound guys, camera man, and production assistant) called into a large hotel way off the freeway to film an exorcism. In my game, the exorcism was actually a red herring for a Hastur-like monster that slowly drove them all kinda crazy. It was a pretty fun game, but if you strip away the red herring part, you pretty much have The Last Exorcism.

If you'll allow me for a second to incorporate one of my pet ideas, that of the full-fledged co-host/GM, or a team of two GM's running a game, I think this would be the perfect route to run a game like this. First of all, I'd identify two title for the GM: The Narrator and The Actor. The Narrator runs the game as the traditional GM setting the scene, making rules decisions on the fly, and in the case of Dread, calling for pulls from the Jenga tower as needed. The Actor plays all the roles of the NPC's from the possessed person to the family of the possessed, and any random townsfolk the documentary team wants to interview before getting too far into the game.

This alone would be a good set-up for running many different horrors games, but the real gimmick for running an exorcism game with two GM's is that, while The Actor plays the role of the possessed person, speaking their lines, describing their actions and reactions, it's The Narrator that voices the demon inside the possessed person. Even if the exorcism in your game is all malarky, you need to think of the possessed as two different characters: the poor human suffering through the whole story and the demon inside them. The Narrator and The Actor can even argue, in character with each other as they're portraying demon and human, respectively. Through this, The Actor portrays every human, any identifiable character the players could encounter, and The Narrator is the traditional "god-GM" role as well as the paranormal figures. Just as the setting, as presented by The Narrator simply exists and can't really be understandable on its own, so too is the demon. The players can actively assign pity towards The Actor and anger and disgust towards The Narrator even though they're technically talking with the same mouth.

Now I just want to create a whole mini-game for running all the different kind of exorcisms stories you could face!


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