Series Info...Rediscovering the Fear-Factor

by Gareth-Michael Skarka
March 6, 2001

Funny story.

ast week's column was largely inspired by the fact that I felt like I wasn't receiving any feedback on the forum. As far as I knew, I hadn't gotten any comments since the 6th of February. As the tone of my column might have indicated, it was more than a little bit frustrating.

Then, the week that the column appeared, I noticed a small bit of text on the screen below the forum messages (below the scrolling point, which is why I hadn't noticed it). It read: "this is page 1 of 2". Sure enough, there was a second page of commentary, which I had entirely missed.

Boy. Who's a genius, then?

As I write this, I'm sitting at home, shut in from going to the office today because of the impending Nor'easter that is bearing down on the New York City area. Worst storm since 1996... a storm that is supposed to last from Sunday through Tuesday, drop 2 to 3 feet of snow on us, all with 30 mile-an-hour winds and ocean tides 4 to 6 feet above normal. Fun fun fun.

This, along with a comment that I received in the apparently-obvious-to-every-one-but-me second page of the forums, leads me to think of one of the most important elements of horror: isolation.

The question was asked whether or not I could manage to pull off true horror in an online setting. This question got me thinking.

Isolation, both actual and metaphorical, is critical to invoking a true sense of dread in a horror setting. This can be isolation of location, or isolation from the truth... after all, fear of the unknown is the oldest and most potent fear known to mankind.

Which, honestly, is where I think I've strayed in presenting ARCANA. Simply put, I think I've shown too much. After all, where is the fear, when you know the details of the setting, the game, the enemy, etc.? It's hard to be afraid when you know exactly what to expect.

So, that ends here. I'm not going to show my hand. Perhaps I'm keeping Arcana as I've described it. Perhaps I'm scrapping it, and starting from scratch. The point is: as players, when you enter that first stage (which is coming soon, I assure you), I don't want you to know anything. I want you to wonder what lies around the next corner. I want you to be afraid.

So, if I'm not going to tell you anything about ARCANA, what is this column going to cover?

Starting with our next installment, this column will discuss the intricacies of actually putting together a Stage, from the ground up. I will talk about the use of XML, the mark-up language that drives all of the Skotos games. I will talk about my experiences with creating a stage, while at the same time keeping most of the specific information regarding the stage to itself. I will let you know what it's like to create a stage, without over-playing my hand, and spoiling the "fear-factor" of the stage I'm creating.

It's an interesting tight-rope to walk, but I think it will be very rewarding, for all of us.

Until then.