Thursday, March 19, 2015



There is an inside and an outside. Inside is always safe. Outside is maybe not safe. The imminence of danger outside and its desire or propensity to test the boundary or how leaky the boundary is describes your living circumstances or, if you're a character in a book or a game, your genre.

Adults have a much bigger inside space than kids. For kids, inside is your home and maybe some grassy area nearby. Maybe not your home all the time, just when it's well lit. And maybe not certain parts of the house, the places that are alcoves and behind a number of turns, where no one goes and being there feels like you're almost not in your house anymore. This is how you get to Narnia and this is why Pennywise peeks out of the sewers.

This isn't really rational, it's about feelings. It's about feelings and space and other living things and our senses interacting.

Senses and experience help make things inside. Sight is always better than sound and sound is better than smell and taste is pretty shit. I'm not sure where touch goes, touch seems to often betray me (why is it wet and slimy?). 


-If experience says: a dog bites the dog is outside and being confronted with the dog I may find myself suddenly outside too; 

-If experience says: a dog is warm and friendly and maybe even a protector and an ally, dogs are inside and I am inside when I'm around a dog;

-If I hear a dog and experience says: that's a dog, then we fall back to the previous constellation of things one could feel about dogs upon seeing them;

-If I hear a dog and experience says nothing about dogs,  then I default to "animal"

-If I hear an animal, and animal reads "probably another rabbit or something" I'm still safe

-If I hear an animal, and animal reads "could be a coyote" and then I think about teeth and claws or just rabies, i'm teetering on the border between in and out. 

Think about this and then think about what it's like running or sneaking through a forest at night or a dungeon with the short radius of a light a torch casts.


There is something nearby, something potentially outside, testing the boundary. Confronting it may leave me immediately outside, leaving it be may mean it gets in.

Lacking sufficient experience or knowledge, imagination jumps in and supplies possible answers to, "what is it outside?" and imagination gets dragged along by lizard brain until you're imagining someone living the crawlspace, scratching at the floorboards.

The point is: what is reliably in and what is likely out is learned but there are ways you trick yourself or let yourself be tricked out of knowledge.


For players to be frightened they (a) have to be willing to be frightened and (b) have have something to be frightened of. 

You can't do anything about (a), really. (b) requires a subtle series of traducements and something they care about that is being threatened.

Jaws and Alien and Phantasm and ghost stories and possession stories and slasher movies are usually about something implacable that emanates malevolent outside, something whose sheer presence gobbles up the safe inside and spits out outside and then navigating a small space with limited options to get away, to find your way back off this ice or out of the water and into safe territory. You don't see the monster all that much because being around it enough to really get a good look gets you dead.

Lovecraft and Ligotti and others are about the anxiety of outside getting in or that you've mistaken the outside for the inside and realize you are suddenly in deep, dark waters and something is brushing your feet. 

In the second mode, there is a hint of something wrong and then other hints and the players pull the thread and the whole thing comes apart. 

A boy stands inside his house looks out a window at night, and the light outside is dark blue, and the boy sees a shadowy man he does not know burying a sack at the base of the tree in his backyard. He is inside, watching the outside act like the outside. When the man is gone and things feel less outside, the boy digs up the sack:

He opened the bundle, to find a human heart inside. He recognized its shape and color from the picture he had seen in his encyclopedia. The heart was still fresh and alive and moving, like a newly abandoned infant. True, it was sending no blood out through its severed artery, but it continued to beat with a strong pulse. The boy heard a loud throbbing in his ears, but it was the sound of his own heart. The buried heart and the boy’s own heart went on pounding in perfect unison, as if communicating with each other.
-Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami

That's the outside: dangerous, enigmatic, alien, unknown, communicating something almost understandable but not quite.

attribution: Osric90

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