In honor of the scariest time of year! WOO! Here’s an addition to my Women’s Stories series. The Last Girl! Straight outta horror and right into your game.
Months back; a good friend and game designer asked me what a woman’s power fantasy was, since we see examples of gaming of male power fantasy all over the place. We talked further and it developed into ‘what is the difference between a man’s story and woman’s story.’ The truth is murky, at best, and like anything else, varies from woman to woman. This is just an example of the sorts of stories I believe you can tell in your games that bend, break, or help to heal the normal tropes and stories women characters are often forced into. GMs, take heart, most of the media can’t get past all this crap either, so don’t feel too bad.
The rain pounding down through the roofless sky didn’t do much for the blood covering most of Jean. If anything, it made it dirtier, stickier, and harder to ignore. Her hair stuck to her face and despite the chill from the rain, she was hot and sweating. With the last of her physical strength, (adrenaline was now all but drained out of her) she hooked the last chain to the last part of the old tractor engine.
It would take the mask a good ten minutes still to finish eating her boyfriend. Eating him. No. Don’t think about that. Think about the time.
So she waited, and then, went outside of the shell of the barn where she’d set up. “COME ON!” she screamed through the rain. “COME ON YOU FUCK! You! You shitty little bedwetter! I know all about you! About your step mom! I’m not scared of you. DO YOU HEAR ME?! I’M NOT SCARED OF YOU ANYMORE!”
It appeared in the treeline, it’s featureless, masked head tilted at an angle, like a confused dog. This did not register in its understand. Sometimes its prey fought a little, but nothing like this.
“Come ON!” she shook a machete at it. “I’m not afraid of you!”
It started toward her, she waited until it got closer and then, ran back into the cabin. It moved faster than she realized, then she calculated, and grabbed her arm, its hook digging into the meat there. She screamed incoherent and then jerked away, the hook tore more, but anything to be free.
Adrenaline took back over and her screaming nearly turned to laughter. As it rushed behind her, she heard the clang of steel behind her.
It looked down at the bear trap, again, confused.
“That’s right, you fuck.” And then she turned on the tractor engine.
When it was over, she stepped out of the cabin. The wind changed direction and the rain that fell now was cleaner, she wasn’t sure if she’d pass out and bleed out before she got back to town and get help, but at least she’d be clean.
Where Does This Come From?: If you’ve seen a slasher flick, you’ve probably seen a Last Girl. She’s the virgin, or the good girl, or the brave one, or the loyal one. She’s the girl in the group who, for whatever reason, stands out. Because she’s different, some aspect of what makes her different explains why she’s the one who lives to the end of the story. It isn’t because she’s a space marine or a martial artist or any other silly movie excuses. It’s because, usually, there’s something special about her that she’s never tapped into. Inner strength.
(The mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon does a really interesting job of exploring this in more depth than I can here, and I reject the ‘she needs to be a virgin.’ Inner strength and purity have fuck all to do with sex. Sorry.)
But the basic premise, if you avoid slashers is this. A group of people are a place they shouldn’t be, or otherwise up to no good. (Drinking party when the parents are out, underage risky sex, whatever. There’s a lot of social commentary in there I can’t get into here.) A very bad monster, a thing that was human, but is so evil/disturbed it’s taken on supernatural strength or other attributes has decided to kill this group of kids. The special one, the exception, often the underestimated one watches as her friends get killed left and right. She’s tormented, probably physically assaulted, and generally goes through hell just trying to survive. (Sometimes there’s an aspect of ‘the authorities don’t believe you’ thrown in to heighten the torment.)
Eventually, though, there’s a change in her. She taps into some quality and takes a stand. (This may not be a conscious thing on her part. My favorite versions of this trope are when she decides to put her brains up against the monster’s brawn, though that isn’t always the way it goes.)
In the end, she kills (or appears to in the case of a franchise) the monster. She becomes a murder, in essence, but more importantly, she’s grown to understand her mettle. Forged in fire.
There are a number of good games that focus on the slasher flick and handle how the Final Girl operates with the system, They work to varying degrees. (Final Girl, World of Darkness: Slashers, and so on.)
Why Do This?: There’s a few reasons.
My first is my weird relationship with ‘women’s stories’ and what turns a female from a girl into a woman. There’s a lot of qualifiers for that. Maybe it’s getting married, first period, first child, a coming out party, or whatever. Many of these things are harder to emulate in a game then the easy pease ‘coming of age monomyth’ masculine story that gets handed to us all the time. (Thanks Tolkien. Jerk.)
What I like about the Final Girl is that it may be a way to play through a rebirth as mother, but without doing babies and house keeping and so on. She becomes a woman not through creation, but through creative destruction. (It’s always complicated to kill the monster. Sometimes you have to research him and understand his history. Sometimes you have built a Rube Goldbergian trap to destroy him totally. Sometimes your latent psychic powers have to evolve, but it always takes some manner of creativity and brain power.) This turns her into a sort of Dark Mother, but without it being about evil on her part. She’s done a terrible violent thing, but for the right reasons, and thus is anointed with maturity.
(I know I’m the only one in the UNIVERSE who liked it, but Alien Resurrection played with these themes pretty heavy.)
The other reason is to humanize the screen candy. In some slashers, this character can be pretty exploitative. We see her breasts for no reason. Her screaming almost sounds like moaning. Lots of sexual metaphors and on. That all CAN be cool with a good storyteller, usually it’s creepy on a meta level. You find yourself thinking “man, this director had some issues with women, huh?” By playing the Final Girl, and experiencing her transformation, you may create a sympathetic bond, which may help you pick out the versions of this trope that are kinda cool, and those that are just gross.
How Do You Do This?: As mentioned before, there’s a few ways to run with the Final Girl. Playing through her experience may be powerful and awesome if you have a good system and good other players to back you up.
The other way to do it? And one I’ve experimented with a few times, but not yet to my satisfaction, is playing the girl after her transformation. She is now a blooded Dark Mother. One who destroys to preserve. She’ll likely not live a normal life after her experiences, maybe she becomes a hunter, seeking out these monsters to destroy them. Or maybe she’s looking for other solutions, bloodless ones. Maybe the slasher, the monster, in her backstory is completely unique. There are no other things like it. So instead, she finds bigger game like vampires and werewolves. Maybe all of this is just a prelude to her becoming a vampire, werewolf, or witch.
As with all my suggestions, of course, gender is just a suggestion.
Things to watch out for: I talked about the exploitative scream queen soft core porn version of the Final Girl. If your table goes that way, you all do what you want, but myself, I’d say avoid it in play. You never know who might be quietly freaked out by the potential game-long rape metaphor that could create.
Make sure everyone is talking about where their lines are, or, yanno, check out the X Card, if it’s your thing.
Watch the subtle judgments you’re making on people with the choices you make as the GM with a Final Girl in your game, or as the Final Girl yourself. Virgins = Good is kinda lazy. People with mental illness = evil is also lazy. (The monster is exceptional, not the rule.)
And if your players are into it, go all out with the monster. Give him a GOOD reason for being so very bad. The harder the Final Girl has it deciding to kill, the more transformative her story.