The red-blooded college student's alter
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
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
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
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 -
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:
- 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
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
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
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
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
Vampire Junction can be reached at: