Roleplaying games have been well served in the horror genre for a long time. The two pillars of horror roleplaying are almost polar opposites in many ways:
Call of Cthulhu is pulp horror, whereby ordinary folk in various historical settings (default 1920s) investigate and usually fleetingly encounter eldrich horrors mankind was not meant to know. There is a conservative sensibility to Lovecraft’s writings, largely centering on the fear of the alien unknown where characters’ sanity is constantly under threat.
Vampire: The Masquerade is romantic horror, where characters are enrolled into a clandestine, modern society, as a newly embraced and newly empowered vampires. They encounter strict rules of conduct for their eternal existance while their ‘humanity’ is constantly under threat through their own personal drives. There is a liberal sensiibilty in the writings through the themes of competing sects (“Anarchs vs Camarilla”) and the pitting the young vampires, generally, against the machinations of ancient and alien Elders who may have been scheming for eons. So in all, it’s a direct contrast to the themes presented in Call of Cthulhu.
Other horror games have sometimes found it hard to create a niche of their own, when up against these two very archetypal premises. Of all the rest, I feel, Kult is the one that makes the most impact.
It has actually been around a lot time, but found popularity with English speaking audiences about the same time as Vampire’s World of Darkness series became popular. The Kult setting was actually adopted by the World of Darkness as a type of deep overlay, in several articles published in White Wolf’s then house magazine. The reason for this being the meticulous nature of the gnostic world view that, for the most part, actually informs a lot of the iconography of modern horror. As such, Kult has a very intellectual basis in it’s premise. However, married to this are concepts and imagery that hit you on a much more gut wrenching level.
As a European designed RPG, there seems to be a greater tolerance and ready market for adult-only RPGs. Kult is the one that, more than any other, seems to push the button the most. While you don’t play ‘monsters’ as such, the realisation (no spoilers) of the role that characters play in the setting can present them with real threats to their own morality also. And through their investigations their own sanities are quite literally tested to the core too.
I personally, haven’t found any other rpg or indeed any other medium of horror, that is quite as transgressional as Kult is. From the art, through the conceptual writing, through the scenarios presented - everything seems designed to ‘shock and awe’ the audience. Has anybody else found something more provocative?