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On the Problematic Nature of Beast (And Why I Think That's a Good Thing)

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  • On the Problematic Nature of Beast (And Why I Think That's a Good Thing)

    [So, after some sober reflection, I realized that I said some things in this post that I would prefer a public audience not know about me. Alors consider this an official redaction. Don't worry, future reader, you're not missing out on anything particularly illuminating, and if any espritdecalmar canonistas are absolutely salivating over the prospect of official squidlore, feel free to message me and we can talk.]

    From its Kickstarter inception, Beast has been criticized on multiple fronts, for a number of reasons. I am not writing here to defend them all. I cannot. This is a futile and foolish endeavor. The reasons for liking or disliking a work are often multitudinous and personal, and I am no Truman Capote. I would, however, like to examine one particular blandishment contra the gameline, one which I feel has been treated unfairly within the context that it has been received. I am, of course, speaking of Beasts as a metaphor for marginalized communities.

    The Begotten have special needs that run counter to those of mortals. To be a Beast means to inflict fear, pain, suffering, garmonbozia on the humans surrounding one's domicile. This cannot be avoided in a game of B:TP except in special circumstances, and even then, that is more of a matter of passing the buck onto another creature of the night, putting a new pressure onto the Masquerade, the Siskur-Dah, the what-have-you. Beasts need monsters. They empower them, of course, but yet also, without them, they must resort to sowing terror. This is why the Begotten, je crois, are so obsessed with the concept of family, of supernatural family, family that isn't of direct blood, but of secret, sympathetic ties. Family that is, to borrow a nauseating term, "fam."

    [This is also redacted. Sorry rememberists. Oh hey check out Axolotl by The Veils. That's a dope ass song.]

    The criticism of Beast as a game about marginalized peoples is an understandable one: You play as a person who is forced to live apart from the majority, who is hunted down by those who think they know best, who reinforce a narrative of heroism versus the monsters of the dark. It would be palatable if not for the fear angle. Monsterhearts (by Avery Adler, a game I wholeheartedly implore you, dear reader, to at least examine en passant) accomplishes this angle with elegance and panache, wearing as it does its carotid vessel on its sleeve. The problem, or the criticism, here, as mentioned, is that Beasts must commit ostensibly immoral acts in order to survive. Hence the point of contention, hence, once again, queer people, ethnic minorities, the disabled, being reduced to the category of irredeemable monster.

    I believe this to be a fair and understandable criticism, one that at least deserves some examination. There is too much of a history of minorities' equation with monstrosity not to squint one's eyes and wonder in suspicion at the underlying motivations of such a narrative. Aye, but therein lies the rub, for Beast is a game whose whole elevator pitch is that the narrative has been flipped on its head, and all the blood is rushing to the wrong body parts.

    There is a short webseries called The Outs, released in 2012. It is about some gay people living Brooklyn. Despite my continued stance that New York Cityites are some of the most provincial urban-hicks on the planet, there are plenty of salient, emotionally fulfilling moments in the show. I am particularly drawn to a scene in which the protagonist's boss, a rather flamboyant homosexual from one of the two Carolinas (it's been a while since I've watched) claims, in increasing fervor, that he wishes more people were homophobic, in the sense that he wishes more homophobes were literally afraid of gays rather than merely hating them, wishing them harm, etc. Causing fear in someone means having power over them.

    I am sure you are all familiar (some probably much too familiar) with the shooting that recently took place in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Among the horror of this attack, quite a number of absurdities can be counted. For one, the shooter came from Australia to carry out a massacre in New Zealand. There is also the fact that he had a manifesto in which he expresses dismay at the invasion of European lands by those who come from places once deemed the Third World, despite the fact that, as one can surmise, New Zealand is quite the distance from Europe, and, in fact, as far as land taken by the English goes, has one of the more equitable relationships between colonizer and colonizee. One cannot also discount the most absurd aspect of the whole ordeal, that the shooter literally said "Subscribe to PewDiePie" before opening fire, which is probably the greatest material argument for the non-existence of God in our current times.

    There is a reason, I believe, why the majority of the Heroes in the core book for Beast have a right-wing bent; ever since Columbine, this is the sort of violence in which we all truly live in fear. I used to teach on a university campus; I used to have anxiety dreams about a shooter barging into the classroom, what I would be forced to do. I also used to agonize over whether to reveal to my students my sexuality, for somewhat related reasons (with the exception maybe of that woman who really didn't like Mondays, most mass shooters seem to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum).

    Beasts hurt people, and, like Bojack Horseman, have to live with that damage. That's why they collectively cling to the idea of teaching Lessons. Whether that justifies their actions or not is really up to the reader/player to decide. Heroes have already decided which side of history they're on. This is not to say that Beast is necessarily a leftist political exercise (I once came up with a radical feminist Hero who was convinced that all Beasts were responsible for the patriarchy, and I think she worked quite well for what I needed her to be), but I think the current climate has been an ideal breeding ground for what Beast is, for what Beast wants to be.

    I'm not a monster, but there are people who think I am one. And I'm one of the more privileged types, at that. I can't speak for the vast majority of marginalized, threatened peoples, but I can speak from my own experience, and what I think Beast is getting at, in its own, perhaps problematic way, is that when you try to live your life in a manner that runs counter to the dominant narrative, there will always be people who will hate you for it. But Beast also says that there's power in that. It's perverse, maybe, but I actually [oh fuck this part is definitely getting redacted] I don't know, and also I don't care. I recall back when Beast was first previewed with a snippet of short fiction, someone criticized the game's concept as a bully revenge fantasy, but that's certainly short-sighted. Plenty of people are bullied who don't turn into school shooters, and that's not what Beast is about. I think Beast, contrary to what its detractors claim, operates at its best when one embraces the metaphor of the marginalized. This doesn't have to be a one-for-one correspondence, the Begotten don't have to be Muslim or trans or Chicano in order to serve its themes, but when it comes to the idea of Family, and that in sub-optimal situations one has to ally oneself with those with whom one has very little in common beyond a tenuous shared identity, powerful stories can be told.
    Last edited by espritdecalmar; 04-26-2019, 11:59 PM.

  • #2
    this is a VERY good post, and one that does not shy away from very adult themes, but I must ask (and if you dont want me around for asking, because it's quite a pathetic question, I understand), when you said heroes are of a right wing bent, you just meant in the most extreme right?

    in case you're wondering, it's because I'm right wing and I hope you dont mean right wing in general

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Primordial newcomer View Post
      this is a VERY good post, and one that does not shy away from very adult themes, but I must ask (and if you dont want me around for asking, because it's quite a pathetic question, I understand), when you said heroes are of a right wing bent, you just meant in the most extreme right?

      in case you're wondering, it's because I'm right wing and I hope you dont mean right wing in general
      Ah, this might be a little awkward. Il faut que je sois diplomatique.

      So, in the core book, we are presented with four Heroes: one is an ex-military (no political stance is mentioned, but perhaps one is implied), one is a conservative Christian, one is a fedora-wearing m'lady type (to be honest I kind of cringed at the first read-through of this one, but I've come to understand what's going on there), and the last is a teen girl in a coma (again, no politics involved, and she is probably the most sympathetic of the bunch). Conquering Heroes adds obviously many more of all kinds of political natures.

      I don't think Heroes are necessarily right-wing. I do think the themes of Heroes, though, tap into a current political trend, in which we see quite a number of people with conservative/alt-right views who are all too willing to commit violence in service to a narrative with less-than-solid groundwork, a great cultural myth. In brief, you don't see many Marxists shooting up convention halls.

      I don't say this to paint all conservatives with the same stripe. I can see some of the virtues of conservatism (a connection to tradition, I think, can be a good thing in plenty of circumstances). Personally, I am an avowed leftist, but I am much more interested in bridging gaps than in cutting people off. I want to love everyone. That also said, I do think that the writing of Beast is responding to some very disturbing trends in the past few decades regarding mass violence. As I also mentioned, though, I believe that Heroism in the game can come from any sort of angle, so long as it is one that paints a morally polarizing picture (cf, the radical feminist Hero in my OP).

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      • #4
        You're hitting on a lot of points I've noticed myself. I get a lot of what you're saying because I've some similar experiences in my own life, due to a lot of the same reasons.

        Thank you for sharing this. I think you've phrased things a lot better than I could have.

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        • #5
          thanks for explaining espritdecalmar. I'm sorry if I sounded like I just singling that part out to get a reaction.

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          • #6
            So a while ago, there was this text review out there for Beast. It also picked up on Beast as a metaphor for "the other"...and how it's not a particularly fun time for them. How that yes, it seems to deliberately put humanity in an actively antagonistic role to Beasts. Which is depicting life for minorities, not as it should be, but simply how it is in the here and now: feared and hated.

            This not just the role that Heroes serve: it also includes Beast not having a Morality stat...and by extension, no Touchstones.

            And, well, it went out of its way to say that if you're someone who strongly believes that humanity is inherently good, you're going to have a bad time with Beast.

            While all of the CofD gamelines have some sort of metaphor for playing as "the other", they all offer shortcuts so the negative side of it can be side-stepped. It not being necessary to drop mortal hunters (Vigil hunters or otherwise) on any of the monsters, being a monster carrying its own duties that don't involved being ostracized as an "other" (Werewolf, Geist), being the "other" is portrayed as cool, sexy, and empowering (Vampire, Changeling), or even being cathartic in allowing PCs to change the world into a better place (Mage, Hunter).

            Plus, despite CofD (and by extension, its progenitor WoD) lofty (or more cynically, "pretentious") goals of trying to offer more mature and in-depth storytelling versus the EVILS of murderhobo "rollplaying" from mainstream titles like D&D or Pathfinder...there is still an element of escapist power-fantasy involved in the previous CofD games.

            Beast doesn't really allow for that. At least, not in the conventional way.

            As talked about above, Beast does have escapist power-fantasy embedded in it...just not based off of positive emotions. And, as an "other", people don't react well to the idea of embracing their other-ness through negative emotions since it runs counter to everything we're taught about how to achieve integration of minorities.

            Me personally, I was always a "the glass is half-full AND half-empty" kind of guy. Humanity and the world is filled with equal good and evil. And to me, it's foolish to prop up one and try to downplay or pretend the other half doesn't exist. So in the case of Beast, I do dig the fact that it doesn't bullshit around compared to the other CofD gamelines or allow any shortcuts around the fact that you are a MONSTER, and are treated as such and that there is an ugly truth to be had there in the world today...

            ...I also realize that my above viewpoint is not a popular one. And why many a non-Beast CofD fan would not want that to be in a game. From my perspective, less an issue of a game, and more that it's for a very specific theme that's not to many people's liking.

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            • #7
              Does it seem weird to you that the lead developer of Beast is an abuser and pedophile who groomed multiple victims, including his own freelancers on Beast? Or that he explicitly drew on his own personal experiences working with children in his day job to write fiction for the game?


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              • #8
                Originally posted by Caladriu View Post
                Does it seem weird to you that the lead developer of Beast is an abuser and pedophile who groomed multiple victims, including his own freelancers on Beast? Or that he explicitly drew on his own personal experiences working with children in his day job to write fiction for the game?
                Beast is not him, thankfully. Just as Promethean is not, Demon is not, Innocents is not and many other books are not. Lots people worked on those. People who are not terrible and did their job well. With passion, talent and integrity.

                Look, I get it, it's the elephant in the room, but it's unfair to treat the gameline as if its developer back then tainted it. Would be too easy, simple and frankly insulting towards both to his victims and those he fooled.

                I used to think of him as goals, as in "I want to write these books and get as good as him". He once wrote me a message where he said my stuff was good and he would have hired me had he the chance. I reread that message every time I needed some motivation in order to work harder and try to become a freelancer.

                Ask me what I think of him now. Ask me what I think of that fucking message now. Ask me what I think of myself for giving that man so much importance. If anything, the truth gave me even more determination to get better, do my job well and hope someday I'll get the chance to help and erase his legacy from all these books I love (Beast included). Because we, both readers and writers, can reclaim them for what they are: good games which matter to us and are not him.

                What seems weird to me is that you reply to the thread of someone who opens their hearts and recounts their difficult experiences and why they resonate to them through Beast with that.
                Last edited by Cinder; 03-25-2019, 07:30 AM. Reason: Too confrontational. Know Caladriu and they deserve better. Also, dumb stuff.


                Cinder's Comprehensive Collection of Creations - Homebrew Hub

                I write about Beast: The Primordial a lot

                This is what I'm working on

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cinder View Post
                  Beast is not him, thankfully. Just as Promethean is not, Demon is not, Innocents is not and many other books are not. Lots people worked on these. People who are not terrible and did their job well. With passion, talent and integrity.

                  Look, I get it, it's the elephant in the room, but it's unfair to treat the gameline as if its developer back then tainted it. Would be too easy, simple and frankly insulting towards both his victims and those he fooled.

                  I used to think of him as goals, as in "I want to write these books and get as good as him". He once wrote me a message where he said my stuff was good and he would have hired me had he the chance. I reread that message every time I needed some motivation in order to work harder and try to become a freelancer.

                  Ask me what I think of him now. Ask me what I think of that fucking message now. Ask him what I think of myself for giving that man so much importance. If anything, the truth gave me even more determination to get better, do my job well and hope someday I'll get the chance to help and erase his legacy from all these books I love (Beast included). Because we, both readers and writers, can reclaim them for what they are: good games which matter to us and are not him.

                  What seems weird to me is that you reply to the thread of someone who opens their hearts and recounts their difficult experiences and why they resonate to them through Beast with that. Classy.

                  EDIT: Thankfully, now I have Dixie and Matthew's e-mail where they say they want to give me a chance for Mummy to read.
                  Here here.

                  Nvm he developed what has now become my favorite WoD gameline, Changeling: the Dreaming 20th Anniversary. Fuck no I'm not throwing his books out.

                  All those potential ST Vault projects aren't going to write themselves...

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                  • #10
                    Also, because it's kind of factually important to how we consider dealing with Matt's legacy in our favorite games?

                    The two Onyx Path freelancers that have publicly named him did so during their work on Changeling 20th and Promethean, not Beast.

                    Condemning Matt is simple. Dealing with his legacy as one of the most prolific freelancers for Onyx Path before his abuse was brought to light is not (as a generality, if you have no issue just completely cutting anything he worked on out of your library more power to you)..

                    The only weird thing is that people are itching to analyze Matt and Beast post-revelation, but ignore his other works for the CofD, WoD, and other games. Unfortunately, an abuser using this industry to prey on people isn't as weird as it should be.

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                    • #11
                      I always think on all the interesting potential creative types that could come and work on the games in the future. Instead of thinking on dropping "tainted books" I end up going "screw it, this stuff is OURS". Reclamation.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Kevään Neito View Post
                        I always think on all the interesting potential creative types that could come and work on the games in the future. Instead of thinking on dropping "tainted books" I end up going "screw it, this stuff is OURS". Reclamation.
                        I try to do the same. Sometimes I'm able to, like with Lovecraft and the fact Cosmic Horror is way more than him now, other times I can't, like with Marion Zimmer Bradley.

                        Also, Caladriu, sorry about the tone of my first reply. It's a nasty issue and it's right to feel angry about it, you have reasons to ask those questions. But we've interacted plenty of times before, I think you're good peeps and I was too blunt in my reply too you. Apologies, this issue hurts me more than I let it show around here, I feel dumb and betrayed about it even if I'm a nobody who was not involved and knows way too little to talk.

                        I was not correct in my approach to you, sorry.
                        Last edited by Cinder; 03-25-2019, 05:02 AM.


                        Cinder's Comprehensive Collection of Creations - Homebrew Hub

                        I write about Beast: The Primordial a lot

                        This is what I'm working on

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                        • #13
                          When it comes to sorting Beast out in my head, I found the post below very enlightening. It comes from Dave Brookshaw, who had a first row seat to the development process. The post comes from Something Awful Forums, where I suspect Dave is more comfortable venting, and where the forum culture allows him to be harsher:

                          Originally posted by Dave Brookshaw

                          Here's the thing. I wrote the Lair rules in Beast, cited a few pages ago as one of the few salvageable pieces (so hey, thanks for that!) but the bit about how Beasts side with the True Fae sometimes? That was also me. Because I understood Beasts to be self-deluded monsters.

                          Then the rest of the loving book comes in painting them as good guys, and it looks really dodgy.

                          I'm not particularly interested in making excuses for or helping OPP. They're grown men and women who make their own decisions.

                          Yeah, Matt's role was minimal - and as Liv says, that was the problem; he should have realised how horrid the assembled product was. OPP shouldn't have made him rewrite it during the Kickstarter (I would have pulled it and brought it back later). He should have had a much clearer vision of the game before writing started.

                          Beast is the unique chimeric horror that results from a bunch of enthusiastic newbies writing CofD like it's a LGBTQ-metaphor supers setting, pressured old timers writing awful monsters, and a Dev who didn't have it in him to blend the two or provide the leadership needed.

                          Deviant spent years in pre-writing. I designed it down to the game mechanic dice pools before hiring anyone. Mage has a writer's bible longer than some of its published sourcebooks. That kind of obsessive prework makes me chronically late, and it's *not incentivised*.

                          My personal view of Beast, from the inside, is that Matt phoned it in, had to react when the kickstarter went bad, and didn't understand people's problem with it when he rewrote it on the fly .. It is a clusterfuck.

                          But use Matt's alleged crimes as a means of not copping to when I played a part it in? gently caress that. I should have tried to steer the new writers, even without the authority to do it. I should have paid more attention to the emerging tone.

                          OPP *has* learned lessons from this. Deviant had, like, triple the gateways of approval to go through and it's not entered development yet. Nowadays, new writers *are* organised in teams under senior writers, so if, say, I was doing the core template I'd have a formal way to tell the Merits author what to do.


                          ~

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                          • #14
                            It's probably also worth reading a bit farther up in the thread that post game from to where Olivia Hill talks about some of the harm done by carelessly trying to put everything in Beast in the light of Matt was lead developer (the post Dave was referencing with "...and as Liv says...").

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                            • #15
                              Fair enough. I'll quote it here in case it vanishes behind a paywall:

                              Originally posted by Olivia Hill
                              So here's a thing I want to throw out there.

                              Matt's an utter piece of rapist trash.

                              But he also didn't really write most of the Beast book. A lot of people did. It was a really bad development cycle. Super rushed. A lot of people who had never worked with the WoD stuff before. And ultimately Matt did development fairly hands-off with an email list. Which meant that a whole hell of a lot of people were talking over each other and elevating the first idea they found cool. It's pretty much the worst example of "design by committee" I can think of.

                              During that process, a handful of people said, "Um, this is kinda gross?" But that never really gained traction among the cacophony of people saying, "Oh hey this thing would be cool and also this thing would be." It happened very fast. Like, across a month. And every day, we'd all wake up to a chain of 20 or more emails and it was just a gigantic pain in the rear end.

                              Without a coherent direction, Matt just sort of assigned little bits to a lot of people. Each writing in their own little island. TBH I don't think Matt actually wrote any of the first draft of the book everyone saw, except for like the introduction "how you use this book" bit.

                              There were a ton of people with little experience, and a few with experience throwing together words based on cobbled together ideas about a massive email chain with 500+ replies, and of course everyone had their own sort of idea of what the game should look like based on which emails they focused on. Everyone wrote on an island. The book is a mess because there's no coherent theme, and it's like 20 different books.

                              I personally wrote a very small chunk (I think actually my smallest contract ever for WW/CCP/OPP). I told Matt it was altogether too much to deal with, reading hundreds upon hundreds of emails just to do underpaid work on an elfgame. So I told him I'd do Merits, since I can do those in my sleep and did them for almost every other Chronicles book. A lot of my material was trimmed to nothingness. That happens. Ultimately the best I could do as a creator was develop the Hunter book for Beast, which was basically my sort of answer/criticism to Beast.

                              I know some of the people who wrote the things that people point to and say, "this is clear evidence the game was written by a rapist." A few of those people were also chomp wad survivors, who were utterly devastated to hear their work was being attributed to a rapist. A few walked away from writing RPGs in the future. When they were writing what they were writing, they didn't see it in the greater context of what the game was, and some were just overcome with the nervousness of doing their first White Wolf core rulebook. They did a thing they thought was clever or edgy or whatever. That doesn't mean they're rapists.

                              Matt was irresponsible and negligent in not listening to the numerous people who told him he should fix it from moment one. Matt had a responsibility to the authors to look at what was there, and not allow it to be released in its state, after all the warnings. Matt had a responsibility to control the development process and present a coherent vision that didn't allow the writers to make something that was ultimately so harmful. He was rushed to compile a draft, because other books were late and they NEEDED that Kickstarter preview immediately. But I think it's important to note that pointing to a piece of text and saying, "clearly this was written by a rapist" can have unintended targets.


                              ~

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