The World of Darkness and the Appeal of Horror Punk

COG Considers: The World of Darkness is More Relevant Than Ever

Today on COG Considers, let’s talk about horror punk–as in a related genre to steampunk or cyberpunk, not the music. Specifically, let’s talk about White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting, because that verse has it all. Vampires, demons, werewolves, monsters, all that good stuff, plus a hefty helping of the grim determination that works so well in cyberpunk and the palpable dread of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. A while ago, I declared that cyberpunk is horror. In this article, I’m going to go one step further and say that horror is cyberpunk–or at least, it can be.

The most popular installment of the World of Darkness is Vampire: The Masquerade, but Werewolf: The Apocalypse is also getting up there thanks to the newly released video game adaptations. Both of them are as much punk as they are horror. Vampire tasks players with surviving in a world they do not truly belong to and may no longer have the ability to function in, all while the scraps of their humanity and empathy steadily drain away. Werewolf channels the helpless rage of those fighting a doomed battle as the titular werewolves, guardians of the planet, struggle to save it from a malicious eldritch entity known as the Wyrm. In both TTRPGs and their associated spin-offs, the focus is on flawed characters fighting for hopeless causes, whether that cause is saving the world or simply saving themselves. The older a vampire gets, the less they care about other people, a fact which is even reflected in the game’s mechanics. Meanwhile, the werewolves can’t destroy the Wyrm any more than we can destroy pollution or climate change–they may win battles, but the war is taking place on too large a scale for the player characters to matter. Or so it seems…

Cyberpunk 2077 took inspiration from the World of Darkness, and I can see why. Cyberpunk as a genre has always been about inequality, power struggles, and fighting hopeless battles. It makes perfect sense that the game would borrow from an existing property which exists to explore those subjects in the most creatively horrific ways possible. Vampire gave us groups of immortal vampiric overlords spending the lives of humans and their own younger kindred alike in elaborate games against each other. Werewolf gave us desperate groups of lycanthrope guerrilla fighters brawling with beings of raw corruption and despair in back-alleys. Both of those images fit right into the cyberpunk ethos, and the cyberpunk genre is becoming more relevant by the day.

So, what’s the appeal of horror punk? I’d put it like this: this genre shows us a world every bit as dark as our own, where the monsters we’re afraid of are literal rather than figurative, and still shows us characters who face that terror down. Who wake up every day knowing that it’s probably too late to save anyone, but try regardless. That’s kind of inspiring, isn’t it?