A (meandering) discussion of Horror and Technology

Posted: November 26, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

We live in a time of incredible technological advancement. Computers become smaller and smarter and more powerful, while scientists are making discoveries that make it possible to do things once thought impossible just ten years ago.

It’s this rapid pace of innovation and technological growth that becomes a fertile ground for horror. Clarke’s Third Law states that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Add the fact that we fear what we cannot understand, and you get an interesting formula that strays a little bit away from the norm.

The fear of technology is understandable simply because we no longer comprehend the tools that we have come to rely on. Without special training or education, many of us won’t be able to fix or comprehend the workings of a computer, or sophisticated vehicles or electronics. All we know is that when we press a button, something happens.

We all experience fear with technology at one point or another. Even something as commonplace as a computer error has a profound effect on even the most experienced user. Let’s say that you’re trying to save a very important file and the computer lets out a harsh beep and an error message saying that the file has become corrupted and unusable.

There’s that moment. That miniscule eternity where you feel your world just shatter. Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and despair all in one tiny fraction of a moment.

That is the smallest instance of fear that we experience through technology. Technology represents a certain kind of pattern, a reliability that we’ve come to depend on, and when that pattern breaks, we are left to experience the creeping realization of just how helpless we really are.

And with this, we go to the kinds of games where this works best. Consider the idea of games with strong sci-fi horror elements: Kuro, Eclipse Phase, CthulhuTech and even perhaps modern games like World of Darkness. These are societies that rely on technology to help them, and yet the same technology can be turned against the poor victims of the threats in their respective settings.

This is especially bad for settings with cybernetics, as you can mix in a bit of body horror in it as well. Was that second hand cybernetic eye of yours just screwing up, or are you actually seeing people that aren’t there? Just where did that memory chip come from anyway that showed you all those strange psychadelic images?

Using technology as a medium for horror requires a deft touch at times. Things like a TV coming to life with teeth made of glass shards and speaking in movie clips and voices is neat, but too many shocks like that and the novelty might wear off. I’ve had some success with a Japanese man being so obsessed with the videogames he was playing that he began to slowly melt with the monitor of his PC, so much so that when the investigators arrived in his room, they found that his entire toro was already absorbed by the screen and only his legs were sticking out.

Technology is one of the things that define us as humans. Our use of tools is what separates us from animals, so take a moment to consider what would happen if the tools turn against us? That’s the kind of uncomfortable thinking that helps inspire some of the creepiest horror stories involving technology.

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Comments
  1. I am totally stealing some of this. Running my CP2020 game, and the players are finally talking about cyberware. I was going to have some fun with them anyway, as this level of tech is totally alien to them – cyrogenically frozen and recently revived – but playing with their perceptions too as a result of it, is just too much fun.

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