<= 2002.09.01

2002.09.03 =>

do not look in the furnace

Even in my adolescent years of high dorkdom, I was never able to understand the appeal of Dungeons & Dragons. I had read enough Tolkien that the D&D universe seemed like a cheap knockoff, and the basic goals of fighting and acquiring treasure felt awfully pedestrian—they were far too close to what we all have to do in the real world. It wasn't escapism of a satisfying sort.

These Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. Their advantages are many: you inhabit 1920s America, which is much more exciting than an ersatz Middle-Earth; you play real people rather than elves or whatever, which allows for character creation of some interest (currently I'm a giant immigrant rabbi from Prague); and as Nik pointed out, there's enough problem-solving involved that gameplay becomes something like an Infocom text adventure, with the Gamekeeper acting as a really good parser. The adventures stay faithful to Lovecraft's methodology—you spend relatively little time fighting anything and a lot of time in libraries, trying to figure out what sort of alien horror is living over in the abandoned house and how you can look at it without going insane. Inhabiting the Lovecraft universe is the game's real appeal, given that said universe is the only reason anyone cares about the guy—his prose was inexpert, to put it charitably. (And for Christ's sake steer clear of the poetry, which sounds like it came from a seventh-grader who had read too much Poe.) But the idea of our familiar world as a veneer over something much deeper and darker and utterly inhuman—this resonates, and it's able to make even something as inherently silly as a role-playing adventure quite creepy, if the mood is right. (I suspect it was also an inspiration, conscious or not, for the premise of The Matrix.) So yes, we're being impossibly nerdy and rolling the dodecahedral dice, but that's all right. We seem to be past the point of trying to impress anyone socially.

There are now dozens of firms advertising the service—wakaresase-ya, or "business to force breakup of a couple" in Japanese—on the Internet and in more restricted terms in the yellow pages. Their fees are not cheap, starting at $100 an hour for the preliminary investigation. A full-scale operation typically costs $5,000 to $20,000; a complex case, at outfits that claim political figures and actors among their clients, can run hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Their strategies are sometimes clever and intricate. Just the right rumor planted in a neighborhood or business can frighten a wayward husband into good behavior, for example. Other strategies are tried and true: a videotape of a straying wife entering a hotel room with her lover usually is all that is needed to force a breakup of the marriage or the relationship, say the owners of the firms.

But increasingly, these firms employ a version of bait-and-switch. A husband who wants to dump his wife will hire a couple-busters firm to engineer an "accidental" meeting between his wife and a good-looking, attentive man who is secretly an agent. Soon, the wife is in an affair with him, and willingly grants her husband a divorce. The agent then fades away, his cell phone turned off, the address he gave her vacant, his workplace number a fake.

 

<= 2002.09.01

2002.09.03 =>

up (2002.09)

The Warm South
The Roof Rat Review