Articles and Essays


The red-blooded college student's alter ego


Eric Justin

15 Average looking people pull up chairs around a small table a little after sundown. Preoccupied crowds, probably including you, shuffle between bars and restaurants in the suffocating Gainesville humidity, unaware that the assembled group discusses and maps out with notebooks and pencils the finer points of vampire war.
Several more people - some University of Florida students, some just local residents - pull up chairs. A demure, pale-skinned blonde leading the group briefly runs a pencil down a chart detailing the psychological evolution and physical attributes of her vampire alter-ego. Others wax philosophical over the endless struggle of being immortal in a mortal world. A few are concerned with the curiosity of outsiders.
Freak? Cultists? Social misfits? Maybe. Maybe not.
These are Gainesville's players of Vampire: The Masquerade, the internationally celebrated role-playing game turned mega-controversial in light of the grisly November murders of Richard and Ruth Wendorf here in Florida. It was done by a group of five Kentucky kids (one, from Florida, was the victim's daughter) caught up in a self-made vampire cult, as well as The Masquerade role-playing game.
The Gainesville clan members asked that their last names and location remain a secret in order to avoid conservative interference, spectators or just more players. The group's already too crowded.
Tonight, two rival factions, or sects - the Camarilla (closest thing to good in their endless war) and the Sabat (gothic-punk, blood-suckers without a conscience) - are present, with a combined roster of more than 50 members. They'll take table-top roll-playing one step further - to the streets. A majority of members are decked out in blacks and lighter shades of blacks, eventually moving stealth-like among the unsuspecting crowds, acting out improvised scenes of back-alley confrontations and midnight binge blood-drinking around the framework of a basic plot agreed upon during the night's earlier meeting.
But don't let the rumors of student-vampire war or the ominous myth of the vampire mislead you to believe something deviant is going on in Gainesville. All right, something deviant is probably going on in Gainesville, it just has nothing to do with these vampires.
Despite the thrashing and "cult" status the game has received in the media, the Gainesville group - which includes UF students, a genetic researcher, an assistant to the state attorney, writers and many local residents - insists that The Masquerade is just a game - just a bunch of people hanging around, telling stories and having a good time - albeit a different kind of time. No brainwashing, no money, no real blood, no total obedience - just fantasy.
Heather, a pixiesh creature and UF student, hooked up with the Gainesville group through her boyfriend and by meeting members on 'gothic nights' at local nightclubs. "The game is about social interaction," she says. "It's about honing your social skills in a different way. Why the vampire? The vampire is an attractive figure, socially suave and the only monster people would hang out with, talk to, or want to be seduced by."
She's attracted to the psycho-sexual framework of the vampire myth. "The blood is of course sexual," she says; "the fangs are an act of penetration….I'm also into pain," she reveals. But for Heather and most members, the love of the vampire myth and the game doesn't go beyond that understanding.
"We're personally angered by what those kids (Wendorf murder suspects) did and how the media ( these two articles for example: 1. & 2. - VJ) is treating the game because it was against everything we believe in. There's no touching allowed in this game. There's nothing real about it. It's pure fantasy and you're only in your character a couple of hours."
In the past, Heather and other members kicked out of the group people who became too involved and immersed in the game. She explains how some people easily lose the distinction between fantasy and reality. Two former members still threaten her over the phone in vampire character.
UF Professor Jim Twitchell, author of "The Living Dead: The Vampire in Romantic Literature" and "Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror," is interested not in the "real" vampire but in why the myth has remained so powerful and current for so long "The vampire has anything any red-blooded college student would want, being that he parties all night long, has plenty of money, and to the best of our knowledge, has plenty of sex, though that may be complicated," Twichell said.
"The vampire is a character very much about adolescence," he said, adding that nothing was inherently wrong with The Masquerade. "The characters from childhood fantasies are drawn from fairy tales, and in adolescence, from horror…it involves going through that period of your life and beginning to figure out who the appropriate partner is and who is not."
Twitchell suggests that the role-playing game helps students interact with each other in a way different and less confusing than normal. It may be similar to therapists who us reverse-role playing….sometimes being somebody else, even a blood-sucker, is very revealing about who you are and what you want or need.
Twitchell doesn't blame the recent murders on The Masquerade. He recalls the murder of a food science professor at UF about 10 years ago by a group of kids who had been reading Stephen King novels. They brutally killed the professor and wrote "Redrum" on the wall in his blood, ala "The Shining."
"This happens all the time. Every five or six years, a new D & D game or craze comes around and some kids can't decode it as being fiction, and the mothers of America roll their eyes and say 'We've got to stop this,' blaming it all on the game," Twitchell said. "But most of these kids would have trouble understanding 'Tom and Jerry.'"
The members of Gainesville's Masquerade group agree with Twitchell that something more than just a game is behind the mental malfunctioning of murdering vampire-kids.
To be fair to The Masquerade, people play it from the states to the UK (evident by the international presence on the Internet) and the murderous Kentucky kids here in Florida are the first Masquerade connoisseurs turned psychopaths to pop up. Also, the mother of one of the kids has recently been charged with criminal solicitation to commit sodomy and third-degree rape of a 14-year-old boy. Her letter to the boy made references to vampire lore and blood drinking.
It adds credibility to Twitchell and the group's point: these kids are losing their marbles for reasons deep-rooted in their upbringing, and in their psychological needs, not because of a popular role-playing game.
Will, 24, a Gainesville resident and Masquerade player, has seen the emotionally unstable become seduced by the game.
"I've know people to develop blood fetishes and start their own groups based on sex and then orgies and then three-way blood-drinking," Will says, insisting that those people always were teetering on the edge and anything could have pushed them over.
"We end up looking like people who worship something evil and are seen as a threat to the city," he says. "But this is just a game about imagination. We don't pressure anybody. There's no drugs or drinking involved. It's safe, clean fun….people telling a story."
If you're interested in joining the Gainesville Masquerade, e-mail Vanish

The Embrace of the vampire is waiting for you with open arms.
Psychopaths are not welcome.

This article originally appeared in The Alligator

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