Vajra settings are often described, by Vajra’s creators, players and reviewers, as “dark.” In fact, Vajra’s official mission statement says that we specialize in “creating unique, nuanced, compelling, darkly fascinating settings in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres.”
However, there is no agreed-upon definition of “dark” in this context. Some people use dark to mean evil, unenlightened or cruel. It is troubling that dark is used in such a carelessly negative manner, especially given the fact that this negativity is often conflated with dark skin color. Given this, using dark as a synonym for “bad” seems, at the very least, to be in poor taste.
I don’t believe there are “correct” definitions of words, so I won’t speak to what dark “actually means” but I can speak to what dark means to me.
Dark, to me, means cool and calm. It is a respite from the heat and bright lights of the day. When one seeks shelter, it is in dark places. Dark is when we sleep and dream.
During the day is when we go to our day jobs, do what someone else wants us to. The dark of night is when we do the things we want to do and spend time with the people we want to be with. Dark means entertainment, recreation, passion. Dark is the fun and chaos of a party, a night club, a movie theater, a thrilling dark ride at an amusement park or a lover’s bed.
While the light of day makes everything roughly the same level of pale brightness, dark allows for strong contrasts. The yellow flicker of candlelight, the colored glow of neon lights, green characters glowing on a CRT monitor: in the light of day all these would be hard to distinguish from everything else, but at night they shine out like beacons. Similarly, horrible things sometimes happen in the dark, but they are contrasted with by the wonderful, amazing things that happen there.
In the light, we are highly visible and we put on an act for the benefit of those who may be watching us, we conform to what society expects of us. In the dark, we are free from society’s watchful eye and so we can be honest with ourselves, find the freedom to be our true selves. In societies that are repressive or authoritarian, the dark is where people meet to hide their actions from those societies.
The light is safe, known, boring. The dark represents the unknown. We don’t know what’s out there in the dark. Just because the dark may contain unknown dangers doesn’t mean we should avoid it. To penetrate the dark, to learn its hidden secrets, is the reason we explore. Perhaps we explore the darkness of caves or sewers or ancient forests or outer space. Perhaps we explore subcultures on the dark fringes of our society. Perhaps we explore the unplumbed thoughts, feelings and desires of our own dark sides. In any case, such explorations may be dangerous, but we can also discover beautiful and amazing things.
Dark is neither good nor bad. It can be dangerous. Terrible things can happen there. It can also be relaxing, freeing, passionate, beautiful, honest, heroic. The dark is a time to indulge in sex, parties, music, dancing, drugs, crime, storytelling, good food, riots, revolution, exploration, rest and dreams. There are no guarantees of safety, but for the brave the dark is always worth exploring. And that’s what I mean when I say Vajra strives to create settings that are “dark.”
Brian St.Claire-King, Creative Director, Vajra Enterprises