As you can tell, Infernal Funhouse is changing gears and moving in a new direction—one focused on studying roleplaying in all its various forms. Before I dive into the deep end, though, I figured it would be most appropriate to write as my first column a brief history of Infernal Funhouse and offer its humble origin story.
I’ve been playing roleplaying games since I was 12 years old. My friends and I began gaming, of course, with Dungeons & Dragons, but eventually expanded our game nights to include Shadowrun, Palladium, Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, Vampire, Mekton, and many others. The late 80s and early 90s were a good time for RPGs. The internet didn’t exist and friends still played their games face-to-face instead of via broadband connections, using their imaginations instead of res editors to generate exotic landscapes to explore. When I went to college, I began to study roleplaying game design and undertook writing revised rules for an already commercially successful, but (in my opinion) poorly written game system. The project grew and the game eventually became my graduate thesis when I returned to college for a master’s degree in 2000. By then, the game had greatly changed through a number of iterations to focus on simulating the tropes and storytelling styles of Japanese animation and manga and, thanks to the suggestion of a friend, was given the name, RandomAnime.
RandomAnime was originally just a scholarly endeavor. I had planned supplements to expand on the core system and even built a small website to discuss the game, but I never seriously considered publishing. No, RandomAnime and its supplements were simply my contribution to the roleplaying game medium. The game had a fast system, was simple but fair, and was primarily focused on letting people tell cooperative stories with their friends. No more, no less. And I was fine leaving it at that. I completed my master’s degree and became a college professor, teaching English and continuing to research roleplaying games.
In 2004, however, I was contacted by distributors who had seen the Infernal Funhouse website. They asked for copies of RandomAnime and seemed eager to distribute it and its supplements across the country and abroad. I’m not much of a businessman, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to put what had been just a hobby of mine into the hands of gamers who might appreciate what RandomAnime had to offer. So I agreed, and for the next several years, RandomAnime and its supplements could be found around the world in hobby shops and gaming stores and was available for order online.
But the gaming industry is fickle. When you’re a small roleplaying game publishing company that caters to a niche market (roleplaying gamers who are also anime fans), it’s not very realistic to expect to become independently wealthy. Publishing as a business endeavor was a great experience, but now that the commercial era has come to an end for Infernal Funhouse, I’m returning to my roots with a greater focus on academics and research. I’ve always been fascinated by roleplaying games: how they’re played, the people who play them, their written and unwritten rules, and the “texts” that are created when roleplaying games are used to tell stories. Infernal Funhouse’s new direction will explore all of those things.