Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Camarilla - Twisted Reality Domain

The Max Ehrmann poem this blog is based on ends with the following stanza

What various aspirations man pursues!
It matters not what visions lure,
Here many ambition all its talents use;
Here is the world in miniature.

One of the things I think is deeply cool is how different folk get jazzed up about different things, especially when they are a little kooky, a little off the beaten path.  I'm not a sports fan at all, but I kinda admire fantasy football leagues where people combine sports, statistics, fantasy, and elegantly crafted rule systems.  The group I'm talking about in this post is almost exactly the same thing as fantasy football, while being also completely the opposite.

The Camarilla is an international organization that runs a world-wide fantasy setting called the World of Darkness, full of vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and whatnot.  The people who participate in the Camarilla (around here), pretend to be vampires one evening a month, as a sort of amateur theatrics exercise, but as a game, for fun.  The Camarilla is also, importantly, a charity, and I'll get to that bit in a while, but first you need to understand that its a game.  People dress up, they pretend to fight, or socially snub each other, or protect innocents from occult threats, or try to track down the spirit that is making people in the imaginary Terre Haute dream of a creepy iron gate.  Each month, 10-20 folk will show up for the game, here in the Terre Haute domain which is named the Twisted Reality domain.  Sometimes people will drive in from other towns or other states.  The game is intensely social, but also full of arcane rules.  It is more like a cocktail party than it is like a game of chess, but it is more like a weird mix of the two.  It's also vastly more hierarchical than any game of D&D, and more dynamic than any MMORPG (like say World of Warcraft).  D&D rarely has more than a handful of friends meeting around a table.  The Camarilla has 10-20 people hobnobbing in a room, and their plots are interconnected with similar plots all over the state, nation, and world.  Events in Indianapolis, or say Prague, can and do effect what happens in the imaginary Terre Haute of the Camarilla.  And what the characters do is allowed to effect the game world in significant ways.  It is like a giant story, told in many parts, that is constantly evolving, and there are definitely artistic elements of character, plot and theme, along with the more game like elements of success and failure and gaining and losing status.  The local Camarilla folk are mostly in there 20s or 30s (no one under 18 can play), although recently there has been a big influx of ISU students too.  They meet on the 4th floor of the ISU Student Union, the 2nd Saturday of each month from 6:30-11:30   

So far, I've described a little group of hobbyists, and could just as easily have picked model train buffs, or swing dancers, or fantasy football leagues, except of course that I have been in the Camarilla for the past year or so, and haven't been swing dancing in a decade.  The Camarilla used to meet at my church, I was the one who had to let them in at 6:30 and lock up after them after midnight.  After a few months, I decided if I had to be there anyway I might as well play, but I was a bit reluctant at first.  The Camarilla doesn't get much publicity, good bad or indifferent, and it's easy for it to look creepy rather than wholesome, but it is a wholesome activity I'm proud of already just at the game level, just a bunch of people playing games together and slowly becoming friends, even if they are weird games with horror-buff overtones.  But that isn't really the coolest thing about it.

Last week one of my friends linked me to a recent TED talk by Jane McGonigal entitled "Gaming Can Make a Better World"  Her basic idea is that people who play lots of video games essentially get almost as much training and practice in video games over the years of their youth as they do in the school system.  What are they becoming skilled at?  More than we might have guessed as it turns out.  How can we tap into the expertise they have developed and use it to make the world better?  She has several surprising ideas here, (go watch the video when you have 20 minutes to spend) but one of them is that games are so popular now in part because they have more satisfying and effective economic systems.  Many people would rather devote their spare or marginal time and energy to making progress within the fictional economics of game systems, than try to spend it on real world economic progress past a certain point.  So, if only we could tie the work people do in fictional systems with their more satisfying economics, to real world improvements, that would be grand.  And that is what Jane McGonigal is working on with video games.  Well, that's also what the Camarilla does and has done for quite a while now.  They have an elaborate system called "prestige" where you get in-game benefits for doing certain kinds of real-world work or making real-world donations.  Some of the work people do for "prestige" is the work to keep the club going, serving as local officers, editing newsletters, organizing national conferences for the Camarilla, etc.  But, much of it is charity.  Originally, the Camarilla encouraged its members to donate blood regularly, and gave them "prestige" for doing so, it is largely a vampire game after all.  But this expanded to various other charities at the local, regional and national level.  And they rotate a lot.  I've seen plenty of the Camarilla folk, give donations of many school supplies to the school supply charity drive, and then happily tote up the prestige points for doing so, knowing that their vampire character can have just a little bit cooler of a lair, or one more psychopathic retainer, because they are helping families that are having troubles scrounging together school supplies.  In one particular case, the lady wasn't particularly well off, probably more like barely scrapping by herself, but she bought a box of school notebooks cheap last October and then donated them to a school supply drive this August.  

That's right, the Camarilla has found a way to harness the power of the twisty minds of gamer geeks, and turn a fraction of it to the problem of how benefit charities.  They've done this by giving imaginary, but rigidly defined, rewards for certain charitable behaviors, in addition to the more nebulous warm fuzzies that more traditionally motivate charity.  The Kiwanis or Boy Scouts certainly succeed at motivating their members to engage in charitable behaviours for various social rewards, and both are far more popular than the Camarilla, but the Camarilla successfully motivates people to engage in charity for intentionally imaginary rewards, for, in essence, artistic rewards.  That's new.  I've praised Terre Haute businesses like E-Bash or Forbidden Flavors for innovative business models, the Camarilla strikes me as an innovative philanthropic model, an experimental charity.  Oh it involves bureaucracy, rules lawyering, and ego games of which imaginary character can beat up which, but that's part of how it works, by integrating the reward into the imaginary framework of the fictional space of the play narrative.  Using vampires to create incentives to give to charity, what is next using zombies to promote disaster preparedness?  The Camarilla Twisted Reality Domain, both for the artistry of its game play, and its weird philanthropic model, is

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute  


  1. I too appreciate their charity side as well. Glad you have fun w/ the Cam group.- Andrea H.

  2. As a VTM veteran of seven plus years, I find this to be incredibly awesome. I have not taken part of a VTM TT style at all. I tended to lean on the VTM text based gaming as a personal preference. I have not played since 2005. In the last few weeks I have developed a yearning to get back into the wonderful dark world of VTM. I am considering in checking into ISU Camarillia.-Adam

    P.S. Brian, This blog is awesome. I am glad someone is blogging the about the gems of Terre Haute.

  3. The Camarilla runs "Requiem" which is the sequel to VTM, started in 2005 at the moment, but it looks as if they are going to run an old style Masquerade game as well as a Requiem game. The Masquerade game looks to be from 1-6PM on the 2nd Saturdays, and then Requiem 6:30-11:30. I don't know if they'll have it up and running by Oct yet though. It will be Camarilla and Anarchs but no Sabbat players. Also it isn't table top, its live-action, using Mind's Eye Theatre rules. I ran tabletop long ago, and trust me this winds up being different. If it sounds awesome, give it a try though.

  4. I have not had the pleasure of experiencing the Mind’s Eye Theatre; I have heard a time or two that it is quite an experience. I am not a huge fan of the Requiem Game. I find it to be a bit too chaotic “politically”. I have been debating for quite sometime about returning to the game as I have mentioned before. I am quite sure the inner Malkavian in me will break a few mirrors and come out. We shall see how my schedule will be like.

    Do you have any additional information as to how to reach this group?