Dread Month 2023

Behold as once more, October rolls around, the internet that is American gets all spooky, and the rest of us can either determine whether or not we want to go along with it or decide we want to be insulted for a month for not liking fun. Yay! Halloween!

When I wrote about Dread months in the past, I described the idea that lies at the heart of this month that it’s not just about horror though Oh boy am I going to talk about horror media this month, love me some horror media, it’s rather that dread month is deliberately tying itself to things that whisper in the back of your mind something about this is true.

I’m going to talk about horror media, games and movies and books and all, and I’m going to do it while thinking about the ways we experience this, and also, ways I experience horror. Things that creep me out, or upset me, because what other lens have I got to access?

Dread month is when I give myself license to talk about elements of ideas that creep me out. It’s when I wrote about the way that videogames’ unwillingness to defend themselves made them into Nazi recruitment tools, or the way that there are disasters that the world can’t fix because we structured a world that surrendered blame. Once I wrote about how John Wayne Gacy and I have too much in common, a fact that still nags at me.

It’s a month for indulgence in the classics, too! There are horror books, horror stories, that you may know about, maybe familiar with as things people reference, but have never participated in before now. I’m going to read some of them to you this month, read as a storyteller might. It’s not going to be about analysing them, but rather about trying to share the way these works are affecting. If you like my tone of voice, my performance – that’ll be a chance to check out some works you may have neglected that, coincidentally, are all available on Wikimedia Commons as part of the public domain.

Cough, nervous, adjust in seat.

Of course there’s always a certain grimness to the Dread Month, which I try to temper by being fun. And fun is important! Fun is part of how horror games get to work, how they can keep you hooked, keep you engaged despite their horrifying elements. The horror of the narrative is there to make the experience of the choices you make all the more heightened, but it’s still a narrative space that has been shaped by forces beyond our control (capitalism and christianity) to make signals and gestures that signal us to one another.

Really, I’m writing this while I think about the things I’m going to cover in Dread Month and know full well there’s an article about Magic: The Gathering coming up that’s going to be about basically, making a halloween party, and y’know, I’m not immune to that.

Horror media has a queerness to it, a lure to the people who are misshapen and broken in some way. People like me don’t show up in horror media as whole people, we get to be footnotes and villains. There’s always going to be some of that in the inspection of the horror media. Remember, D&D for a few years there had rules that said owning a flogger was an inherently evil act, which meant any paladin who carried a paddle broke their vows.

Which I mean, kinda based, but not readlly.

It’s fun to wear a monster’s skin in a way that brings with it the threat that’s entitled. The world imagines that we are dangerous people, one way or another. Nerds and people who know things are dangerous in these utterly ridiculous, inexplicable ways. We’re all just one single moment of consideration away from changing side, injecting the venom or wearing the mushrooms as a hat or whatever, and y’know, if that’s how you think I’m going to be I guess I should be happy to at least get some sick powers into the bargain.

It means there’s an indulgence in dread month too. Sure, sometimes I’ll be thinking about miserable real world stuff and how it’s entirely possible that Roger Caillois and Jean Baudrillard killed a guy in the woods, but don’t make any mistake, there’s going to be some attempts to do sick ass gameplay and narrative experiences that involve bones and possibly also sexy werewolves (which is, statistically, based on tumblr readership, most werewolves).

I wondered for a while if I should make the month a ‘blanket content warning,’ and not use the content warning/fold system I use normally. I decided against it, because I don’t think anyone should feel they have to read all my blog posts to understand any of the others. It’s part of the point of this kind of writing that each section can be atomised out form one another.

It’s a blog. It’s a thousand words a day. It’s an idea at a time.

Besides, knowing me is useful to understanding my writing but it shouldn’t be necessary. You may know that I have come to love sea monsters and the myths of deep sea horror even as I am someone who avoids the ocean, and that may make characters like Tideward cooler and more exciting, but you shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t be left feeling like you need me as a rosetta stone for each post.

I don’t think of myself as being very good at writing horror, for much of the same way I don’t think I’m good at writing mystery. There’s a difficulty in the empathic shift between how and why I feel my feelings and you feel yours. I have some very childish feelings of horror, I think, in much the same way that I feel like writing mysteries is hard because of course you have already worked it out, you’re smarter than me.

I think in a lot of ways one of the comforting things about experiencing horror is the shared moment of knowing that at least the ways I get scared make sense to someone else out there, who can make media that also makes me scared.