Bearing this in mind, it is with a heavy and grudging heart that I have to admit that one thing Americans do better than we do is Halloween. Halloween is of course originally a Celtic festival, and I grew up in Ireland where it’s still celebrated passionately, and I learned to love it. I mean, a night of the year when the boundaries between worlds become thinner, magic is more potent and the dead are supposed to walk … come on, how cool is that? On arriving in England for the first time I was appalled by the off-hand manner in which it’s treated by everyone except young children. Seriously – over the past few years I’ve made a point of searching the terrestrial TV channels for horror-themed films or programmes shown on or around the 31st of October and there’s never, ever anything on. I don’t remember the last time we had trick-or-treaters at the door, even though I religiously stock up on sweets beforehand so I can reward anyone who is out celebrating the festival (and of course I get to scoff them all myself over the ensuing weeks when no-one turns up). Christian or otherwise, this is a seriously big chunk of our cultural heritage we’re missing out on.
Most gamers seem to love Halloween and no small wonder – many of us who were raised on the Ameritrash classics of yesteryear got into the gaming hobby precisely because we loved ghouls and goblins and all that fantasy stuff. I’d be curious to see if the younger generation who were raised on Eurogames have the same passion, but that’s an aside. The time-honoured way for a gamer to celebrate the festival is, of course, to pull out and play a bunch of horror-themed games. Witness, as evidence, the cavalcade of “games for Halloween” type lists that appear on Boardgamegeek around this time every year.
I’m no exception to this trend. At the same time as stocking up on sweets I always plan to spend the evening playing some horror games from my collection. Since I actually own very few horror games (for reasons we’ve discussed previously on the blog). I occasionally use it as an excuse to buy another one. And then the same thing happens every year: I call up my gaming friends and say to them all “You up to play some games on 31st October?” and, roughly five years out of every seven they replay “That’s a weeknight! No way! I have to go to work the next day!”. These people aren’t sleep wussies either – we used to have regular Titan sessions on a Monday night. It’s just the usual English apathy about the festival rearing its ugly head again.
My gaming friends are usually willing to compromise by having a horror game session at the nearest weekend instead. I am not. I have a firm and unshakable belief that if you’re going to celebrate something, you ought to do it on the specified date or nor do it at all. Would you celebrate Christmas in late January just because it suited your schedule a little better? Of course not! So why pay lip server to less well regarded festivals like Halloween? Indeed it seems to me that of all the yearly celebrations Halloween is perhaps the one which is best celebrated on the actual date. It’s a mystical event in the calendar: on this night and this night only the spirits break forth to terrorise the living. Come Friday night they’ll be gone, so what’s the point of trying to appease/commune with/exorcise them then? So, sad as it may be, I’ve managed to organise just one Halloween game that I can recall.
Because of this fashion for horror games on Halloween night, it ought to be absolute pig-in-mud time for Ameritrash evangelists because it’s the one occasion on which even the most dyed-in-the wool Eurogamer might be persuaded to sit down and trawl through a session of Fury of Dracula. Why? Well, to misquote Bill Clinton “It’s the atmosphere, stupid!”. For the one night of the year everyone can just put aside everything they think they know about “good” and “elegant” game design and just get down and dirty and enjoy the haunt. What they’re enjoying, of course, is what those of us who love our AT games any night of the year usually refer to as “theme”. They’re discovering that a game can be fun to play for the value and quality of the theme and narrative alone, and that in these sorts of games, strategy and elegance are just icing on a cake which is damn tasty all by itself.
So, come Halloween when you sit down to the smorgasbord of horror games that have been prepared for you, remember that the value you’re getting from your play is the value that Ameritrash gamers hold dear. Remember it well, and recall that feeling the next time you’re inclined to mock us for enjoying our pointless, luck-filled, over-chromed games and think carefully before offering an opinion.
Otherwise, next year, we’ll send the Hunting Horrors after you.
This is a copy of an article originally published on the old F:AT blog. Read original comments .