It started with action movies, I guess. I always loved those movies with sexy vampires clad in what basically amounted to bondage uniforms having secret wars in the dark places of our world. The idea that stories like that could be taking place somewhere while I slept quietly in my bed thrilled me in some deep way, and I clung to those fantasies as an escape from the doldrum of shitty school and shittier summer jobs. So, when Garrett told me about The Blood Game, I was instantly interested.
Garrett was, you know, a Dungeons and Dragons guy. I had played those sorts of imaginary games with him and his crew a few times but it never really stuck with me; it just wasn’t real enough for me. I liked them in theory but I could never really lose myself in them. The Blood Game was different.
The concept was fairly simple, like some of those other pen and paper roleplaying games I had tried with Garrett, you had a character with different powers and abilities and such, but unlike those other games, the Blood Game was a game that you were playing all the time, everywhere you went. Players would leave stuff for each other to find that related to the game, like special notes and clues, and they would have pre-planned events, but all you had to do was bump into someone else who was a player and you could do a little scene from the game right there, wherever you were.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, the theme of the game revolved around various “creatures of the night,” including vampires, but also werewolves, demons, and various other undead creatures you could play as. There were some less common things you could be too, like faeries and stuff, but I didn’t pay much attention to those things. I (like most people involved) played a vampire.
I was hooked right away, I mean, after all, it was just like those fantasies I had in my head of a secret world hidden from our own but going on all around us. Plus, it turned out kind of a lot of people at school were playing it. Most of them just turned up for the big events which mostly happened on Friday evenings and Saturday during the day, but there were a fair number of us (and I say us because I became one of them very quickly once I found out about it) who were super active and playing all the time. Most of us were semi-social rejects, but even some of the cooler kids were involved.
Most of the planning for the game was done by a group of a half a dozen or so people. There was Garrett, who had made up the rules of the game and would settle disputes, and then there were the moderators: Victoria, Isaiah, Chris, and Bethany, and one or two others whose names I can’t remember. The moderators would plan the formal events and also help settle disputes while keeping the game running. Of the moderators, Bethany was what I guess you would call the “highest ranking” of the bunch, and even Garrett answered to her. It had been her idea to start the Blood Game, and she ran it with a bit of an iron fist.
When Garrett told me that Bethany was the person in charge of this whole thing, I couldn’t help but laugh. Bethany was a bubbly valley girl who wore preppy clothes and loved horses more than anything. She probably would have been a cheerleader if it weren’t for her being a little chunky and the fact that she walked with a slight, but apparently permanent limp. She wasn’t exactly the most popular girl in school (and to be honest, she annoyed the hell out of me most of the time), but it still didn’t seem like a fit for what I had initially imagined to be a game played exclusively by our school’s nerd and goth crowds.
The rules of the game were fairly boring, but there were a few things about them that are worth mentioning. One of the big rules was that your character had to use your real name and that you weren’t supposed to dress up in any way to play the game. This was explained as helping with immersion, and I didn’t question it at the time. The other thing was that there was not much combat in the game, instead the focus of the game was on a sort of personal/political intrigue with the goal of collecting “Power,” a somewhat straight-forward value measured with special cards Bethany made and had control over, and getting other people indebted to you in the form of favors, which were more vague.
The goal was to reach certain amounts of “Power” by the time of certain events so that you would then be awarded with prestigious titles and new character abilities. It sounds kind of silly and pointless I’m sure, and I’ve simplified it greatly for the sake of getting to the more important parts of the story, but trust me when I say that it was a lot of fun to actually pay. There were also some very specific rules about “Power” and favors and drinking the blood of other players and some other really weird stuff which sort of freaked me out when I read them, but Garrett assured me that it was all just game stuff.
Even if there were parts of the Blood Game that didn’t appeal, overall the idea was thrilling, and I became even more enticed after my first big event. Over 40 people from school turned out to a public park near school grounds that Friday night. I couldn’t believe who was there, nor could I believe that I hadn’t heard about the game before then with so many people playing it. Mostly these were people I didn’t know well, but there were a few I was friendly with, including Sarah, which really surprised me as I hadn’t seen her at any social event outside of school since her sister’s suicide. Standing with Sarah was Adelaide, the person who had become Sarah’s best friend after the tragic events of the year before.
Adelaide was a younger girl — a sophomore — with pale white skin and coal black hair. Her eyes were a vivid sea green. It made sense for her to be playing the Blood Game; she already looked like a vampire. It just so happened I also had a massive crush on Adelaide, so seeing her there at my first big event just confirmed my resolve to keep playing this game.
At first, we all just kind of milled around, making small talk and spreading rumors, both those related to the game and the more mundane school rumors that were currently going around. Finally, after we’d been assembled for maybe a half an hour, Bethany called us to order. Bethany explained that she and Chris would be leading this event and that certain players had been given parts of a big secret to be uncovered that night. We were all supposed to make deals with one another to try and uncover all or even part of the big secret, in exchange for which we would receive Power. It seemed simple enough and it wasn’t long before we were all running around, pulling people into secretive conversations and begging favors to try and learn more. I didn’t have much luck uncovering the secret that first night, but I had a great time. It was more mystery novel than the action thriller I had hoped for at the beginning, but I didn’t mind. It was incredibly fun, and I found more than one excuse to talk to Adelaide.
Adelaide and Sarah’s friendship spilled over into the game through a special “bond of blood” between their characters, and they spent most of the event joined at the hip, which made talking to Adelaide alone nearly impossible. However, I made my best efforts and managed to spend a fair amount of time with her over the course of the evening, which was much better to me than actually solving the puzzle laid out before us. At the end of the event, Bethany announced that there would be a special event at her house for those who had solved enough of the big secret, but encouraged those of us who had failed to do so to carry on our own side plots. I didn’t mind missing the invitation to Bethany’s, though I could see some of the players were clearly sore about it.
Victoria, a mouse-y girl with a tangle of brown hair who was one of the moderators, invited me and some others, including Sarah and Adelaide, to join her at her house the next day for a smaller event she was running. I naturally agreed. Any excuse to spend more time with Adelaide was good enough for me, plus I was pretty excited by the game. Although my first event hadn’t been incredibly fruitful, I had earned a couple of favors with other players (using my character’s abilities) and I was interested in seeing how I might use those later. I exchanged numbers with Victoria, as well as a fair number of other players, and said my farewells for the evening.
I discovered that evening how big texting was as a part of the Blood Game, as I found myself involved in a flurry of conversations. Apparently there were some big plots going on in the game that I knew little about, but learned of as texts flew back and forth between individuals and groups. One thing I didn’t mention before was that there was a loose faction system that people joined up with involving the big events and plots to try and further their character. I discovered that by agreeing to go to Victoria’s event, I had become a part of the Owl Eye faction, for the time being at least, and that that furthermore put me at odds with a couple of the other factions. I didn’t really understand this stuff, especially just coming into it, but I found it all pretty interesting and stayed up late exchanging text messages with other members of my faction, including Adelaide.
The next day I found myself at Victoria’s house with (as I recall) eight other players, most of whom I didn’t know well. Interestingly, Adelaide was there but Sarah was not, which did not come as a disappointment to me. Victoria’s house was a fairly large townhome and she had taken over the den and decorated it in an appropriately cheerless, gothic manner. Her parents did not seem to be home, and Victoria had somehow acquired a box of red wine (marked “Blood” in sharpie) for the event. I had to admit, the Blood Game was seeming cooler than ever at this point.
It didn’t take long for this smaller event to get started. Victoria explained that there was a dark spirit coming to her house to provide answers to questions about one of the bigger plots, which had something to do with finding out which player from a certain other faction was in possession of an ancient artifact of great power known as the Whisper Stone. Our job was going to be to try and trick the spirit into answering our questions without it being able to trick us in return in some way.
After the event had been explained, we sat around drinking wine for awhile and discussing various rumors within the game. A couple of favors were exchanged between players, and one player even gave up a coveted power card to another in exchange for something that I didn’t catch. Mostly, my attention was on Adelaide. I tried to keep the conversation game-oriented so as not to let on why I was giving her so much attention, but I struggled given that I didn’t actually know much about what was going on. Since I didn’t know what else to ask, I decided to ask her about Sarah’s absence.
“Oh,” she replied, with a strange, unreadable look on her face, “Sarah decided she’d rather be a member of the Red Rippers than be in Owl Eye. She wanted me to come too, but the Red Rippers give me the creeps.”
I nodded sympathetically, but I found her answer sort of odd. It was just a game, after all, what did it matter which faction you were in, and how could one of them “give you the creeps” anyway? Before I could ask her about it, it became clear that the event proper was starting. Victoria called us to order before a small table made up sort of like an altar with fancy cloth covering it and a variety of candles. She instructed someone to turn off the lights, and although it wasn’t exactly dark outside yet, I had to admit she had given the room a pretty good atmosphere. On the table sat a deck of tarot cards.
“The spirit will be arriving shortly. Remember not to let the spirit trick you or you will pay dearly!” Victoria said in a very theatrical manner. Her manner caused me to remember seeing her in more than one school production, which seemed very fitting with how she was handling the whole event.