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That Other Thread: modern technology in horror

HardKore Keltoid

RAW Cultist
Validated User
I think - and this is probably a subject for another thread - that a lot of horror really suffers in today's world. Many horror plots unravel entirely when presented with modern technology.

(For example, "find the last known location of the victim's phone via Google Location History," done.)
This seems a damn good discussion to have, it just doesn't fit where it was posted, so now it's here!

For my money, horror plots unravel entirely when presented with technology in general, to various degrees. The point of horror is to make the schlubs involved helpless, isolated and ignorant, and technology does a pretty good job at lessening those - which is why we keep it around. Generally, horror stories respond by just making it not work.

Say it with me now:

The monster is bulletproof, because of course it is.
The phones are out, because of course they are.
The car won't start, because of course it won't.
The power went out, because of course it did.
Flashlights last about five minutes, because of course they do.

"There's an awfully convenient lack of wireless reception" hasn't quite graduated from "bullshit excuse" to "genre convention", but give it time.
 

Snow Goon

Credible Hulk
RPGnet Member
Validated User
This seems a damn good discussion to have, it just doesn't fit where it was posted, so now it's here!

For my money, horror plots unravel entirely when presented with technology in general, to various degrees. The point of horror is to make the schlubs involved helpless, isolated and ignorant, and technology does a pretty good job at lessening those - which is why we keep it around. Generally, horror stories respond by just making it not work.

Say it with me now:

The monster is bulletproof, because of course it is.
The phones are out, because of course they are.
The car won't start, because of course it won't.
The power went out, because of course it did.
Flashlights last about five minutes, because of course they do.

"There's an awfully convenient lack of wireless reception" hasn't quite graduated from "bullshit excuse" to "genre convention", but give it time.
I'm actually a big fan of modern horror and ghost stories. If the genre is to continue, then it's going to have to work alongside current technologies.

I'd also point out that technology not working in a horror story is in perfect keeping with older stories. If, for example, a door won't open in an old ghost story, that's magic happening at one level or another. Maybe the ghost generated enough humidity that the door becomes stuck or employs some kind of force to push against it, but eventually it's magic.

The same can be said for cell phones not working or cars not starting.

If you're talking about more psychological horror like the whole home invasion sub-genre or whatnot, those antagonists just have to think their way around technology like everyone else. Sugar goes in a gas tank, cell signals are blocked, whatever gets the job done.
 

Anonymous GM

Registered User
Validated User
I've been running a Delta Green game lately set in the present day, where players are encouraged to use any and all modern technology, up to and including calling in favors from contacts in intelligence agencies to get information from various illegal surveillance programs. It hasn't hurt the game at all - in fact, in several cases it enhanced things a lot.

Consider the (amazing) adventure "Music from a Darkened Room". I don't want to spoil it overmuch for anyone who might play it, so I'll be putting details in spoiler-text, but it involves an investigation of a possibly-haunted house. The first thing the players did was go on Google and look up news stories and sale histories on real estate websites.

Spoiler: Show
And I went right ahead and let them find a ton of information that in the adventure as written, required lots of time spent at the county seat digging through old filing cabinets. Congratulations, you have now found evidence going back to the mid-90s (where the digital trail goes cold and you need to go do some old fashioned Library Use after all) showing the last several owners of the house have died in either violence or weird accidents with alarming regularity. I belt that makes everyone feel a lot less frightened about going and checking the place out!

If they go inside, it gets even more fun. Do the cell phones stop working? Of course not, where's the fun in that? Instead, the phone works just fine, it's just that now, the thing inside the house also has your phone number, and it's good at doing voices...


The thing modern technology does really well is make it faster to retrieve information than it used to be, and make it easier to communicate.

This means that to preserve horror, all you need to do is:

* Make sure all that information they are finding so quickly and easily makes whatever they are investigating seem even scarier than it did before they Googled it.

* Provide some reason they can't just call the cops as soon as things get weird.

That last one is pretty important, and depending on the setup, I will grant that it could be tricky. Delta Green solves the problem by the simple solution that the players are the people who've been called in because things got weird, so there's no one else for them to call. But I think it's still pretty doable to come up with other reasons, probably dependent on the game you are trying to run.

And if all else fails and they do call the cops... well, we've all seen Terminator. Calling the cops doesn't necessarily mean the cops can deal with this in any way that actually helps matters.
 
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TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
So I wrote a novel that has some events and situations in common with a horror story.

The main character at various points uses the GPS on someone's phone to find them, several online searches (including images) to locate a house from an incomplete photograph, and figures out where some other things are by using Google Street View. In return, the monster finds her at one point by stalking her friends on social media.

But the thing about the technology that gets used is that none of it really alters the fact that she's dealing with a monster. Google searches and cell phones don't tell her what to do, and they don't enable her to get rid of the beasty once she finds out what she needs to do. Moreover, as I've indicated, the monster is perfectly capable of using the internet right back at her. And she could totally call the police, but she has every indication that they'd just show up and be killed, and she doesn't want that on her conscience.

The whole story takes place more or less in places that her cell phone works. Except for when her phone gets ruined, but she gets another one. And it doesn't really change the general outcome.

I don't see why it'd be terribly different in RPG horror stories.
 

plopsinatra

Registered User
Validated User
All movies unravel when you point out that they're not like real life, except documentaries, because they're not real life. Yeah. Your aim isn't great when you dive sideways shooting two pistols at the same time, etc. I feel like going to a movie and picking it apart over a lack of realism is like finding anatomical inaccuracies in a Picasso painting - you're absolutely right, and totally missing the point.

Horror movies, like the huge majority of movies, are fantasy. I think it's mistakenly held to a higher standard because it's an unusual type of fantasy - one of powerlessness instead of powerfulness. You watch it to say "Oh no!" instead of "Hell yeah!" But it's still fantasy.
 

Markov

The Fabulous King
Validated User
I'm not sure if we're looking for solutions to these problems, or just weighing in on the issue as a whole, so:

Finding ways around quick solutions has been a need-to-do thing since forever. It's why we have magic doors you can't just blast open. Generally though, yeah, it's a matter of adaptation. Vampire did it going from Requiem 1 to 2: with cameras everywhere, always being a weird blur made any cellphone an undead detection device. Now, you're just...looking away, or someone's in the shot, or whatever. Matter of convenience. As technology advances and becomes more widespread, you need ways to counter it, or at least work around it.

More generalized idea? Haunt the machines, literally or figuratively. Whether it's a skilled hacker, a rogue A.I., or an actual ghost in the machine. A few examples - 1408, They, Pulse, Cell, Christine....lots of one-word titles, here. The point is, as we become more comfortable and reliant on technology, a good way to preserve or induce horror is to take it away. Or turn it against us. That same basic principle could be said to apply for horror in general; the reason undead are supposed to be so frightening is that they look so much like us...especially when it's people we knew in life....and yet, aren't those anymore. Humans, pets, places, things: take something familiar, something warm and safe and emotionally meaningful....and turn it against them. Twist it into a cruel mockery of what it meant, make those ties become something dreadful.
 

Spacewreck

Registered User
Validated User
For my money, horror plots unravel entirely when presented with technology in general, to various degrees. The point of horror is to make the schlubs involved helpless, isolated and ignorant, and technology does a pretty good job at lessening those - which is why we keep it around.
There's plenty of RL examples of serial killers and stalkers using modern technology such as social media to identify and/or isolate victims.

What if something is using social media for an ARG to fulfill some purpose? Something akin to the Batman story "Dark Knight, Dark City". And attempts to warn people are assumed to be viral advertising that increases its popularity?

The monster is bulletproof, because of course it is.
There may be other variations like, "The monster can be killed quite easily by bullets...but doing so makes it's body revert to a harmless looking, unarmed ordinary person and you might find yourself on the hook for murder with your only defense being when I shot him he was a demon with big claws."

The phones are out, because of course they are.
"Call the police. You're not a one-man army."
"Cops got better things to do than get killed."

Or alternately, yeah, call 911 and when the cops get there the only person they find is you and your GPS locator also shows you visiting the scene of numerous other areas where violence or murder has occurred and they have your recorded call ranting about monsters. Maybe the forensic evidence clears you after a few months or years depending on how backlogged the crime labs and courts are and assuming they A) find something exculpatory and B) don't conceal it as sometimes happens because the authorities already have a convenient suspect to pin it on and C) that whatever abomination is responsible doesn't have other ways to exploit your situation.

The car won't start, because of course it won't.
The car will start...but fleeing or even running away long enough to get help will result in dire consequences.

The power went out, because of course it did.
How about the threat in question draws strength from being in close proximity to electrical fields, so you want the power out to weaken it...but that also makes you more easily visible to it because it can sense your body's electrical currents more clearly without those other fields washing it out. But maybe the trade-off is enough to at least level the playing field...

I think as people become more used to the latest technology they'll find ways to likewise adapt horror stories. It would be interesting to look at possible similar historical literary trends such as how detective stories adapted to improved forensic tools such as fingerprinting back in the day.

Another example from the sci-fi end of things that comes to my mind is the Algis Budrys alt-history sci-fi novel "Who?" in which one of the central premises is whether a Cold War scientist who was captured by the other side and then returned is truly the original or a surgically-altered impostor. It occurred to me that these days a simple DNA test would've wiped out that particular fulcrum. But then you could easily introduce another confounding element to cover that such as, "He underwent gene therapy as part of the medical treatment he received for his injuries, which is standard medical practice in these cases but might also conceal procedures to make a different person appear to have matching DNA."

TL,DR: I imagine more creative means to deal with these issues will arise as time goes by.
 

kingkasara

Registered User
Validated User
I really like the idea of monsters simply being able to intercept phone calls, so your phone isn't dead, but it just gives you a direct line to the thing hunting you and vice-versa. Or sure, you can call other people but all that happens then is they listen to you getting eaten while on the line.

And there have to got to be interesting ways to play with all the cameras we have floating around these days. I stay away from the Slender Man stuff because it creeps me out too much, but isn't a recurring thing there that he often only appears on screens, recognized later but not at the time? Things like that are the inverse of vampires not appearing on film or in mirrors. And that's plenty creepy too, still, when one slips through your security grid because it doesn't come up on the cameras, or when you don't notice it sneaking up behind your car because it doesn't appear in your rear view mirror.

And while perhaps not as effective for horror gaming if your ability to convey it isn't up to snuff, but having the lights on but still seeing a monster can be plenty creepy. If it's bold enough to stand in a lit room and stare you down, or walk around outside in broad daylight, that's terrifying because it doesn't feel threatened by you.

Other uses of modern technology - maybe you there are monsters only visible via augmented reality or VR projects like Oculus Rift or Pokemon Go. Maybe you can't so easily tell what's part of the game (and an innocent person), and what's the monster you are supposed to shoot.

As for guns in general, maybe they work on monsters. Maybe they work too well - you're fighting some fungal thing that will explode and spread further if you pop it. Or the monster can be killed, sure, but if you killed it you become corrupted into it, so you have to trap the current host.
 

amechra

Registered User
Validated User
For the cellphone thing...

My mother's cell phone (and mine) only get reception at the rear window of our kitchen - even then, we can only receive text messages. If we want to call/send messages, we have to head to the edge of town (admittedly, that's not very far, but still). If someone (or something) was to take down out internet, we wouldn't even have a phoneline into/out of the house.

The joys of living out in the boonies, folks - I get the sense that the OP is a city boy/girl, because that kind of shit isn't uncommon near where I live.
 

simonpaulburley

Registered User
Validated User
I'm not sure if we're looking for solutions to these problems, or just weighing in on the issue as a whole, so:

Finding ways around quick solutions has been a need-to-do thing since forever. It's why we have magic doors you can't just blast open. Generally though, yeah, it's a matter of adaptation. Vampire did it going from Requiem 1 to 2: with cameras everywhere, always being a weird blur made any cellphone an undead detection device. Now, you're just...looking away, or someone's in the shot, or whatever. Matter of convenience. As technology advances and becomes more widespread, you need ways to counter it, or at least work around it.

More generalized idea? Haunt the machines, literally or figuratively. Whether it's a skilled hacker, a rogue A.I., or an actual ghost in the machine. A few examples - 1408, They, Pulse, Cell, Christine....lots of one-word titles, here. The point is, as we become more comfortable and reliant on technology, a good way to preserve or induce horror is to take it away. Or turn it against us. That same basic principle could be said to apply for horror in general; the reason undead are supposed to be so frightening is that they look so much like us...especially when it's people we knew in life....and yet, aren't those anymore. Humans, pets, places, things: take something familiar, something warm and safe and emotionally meaningful....and turn it against them. Twist it into a cruel mockery of what it meant, make those ties become something dreadful.
Zombie apocalypse but the zombies aren't real, they're digital.

There's a film in there, somewhere........
 
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