Since the dawn of pop culture and horror, one of the figures that has dominated, together with that of the classic vampire, is the ghost. The spirit of a living person who cannot go beyond the symbolic threshold that separates the world of the living from that of the dead.
Grudges, regrets, the fear of change or of admitting our mistakes are traditionally what generate a ghost. A being who is unable to go beyond suffering because the Great Beyond is a mystery that offers no guarantees. Past suffering, on the other hand, is a certainty. An important reflection that accompanies the human being since ancient times. After all, the evil we know is always better than the fear of the unknown.
Over the years this entity has always taken on greater strength, until it flows into the allegory for several things. We can find people obsessed with their vanished successes. Lost loves, regrets about lives that could have been had. Faults that we have not been able to forgive, errors that we still regret and offenses that, despite having passed, are still alive.
The ghost has therefore now gone beyond its original nature of a soul in pain. It has become a bizarre and symbolic time prison where its victims are trapped in constant hell. At the same time prisoners and jailers of their past!
It is a double-link chain, made of lives and non-lives trapped in perpetual stasis. It doesn't seem to resolve itself either way, no matter the efforts, because it's like running in place. Incredibly it takes effort, but it never leads anywhere. Often the living seek escape into oblivion, but this is not granted to the spirit that torments them. So who is really the soul in pain?
The Melancholy Horror
One of the most interesting twists on this concept, and which we could define as the spearhead of Melancholic Horror (think, for example, of the filmography of directors like Mike Flanagan with his Oculus, for example), is therefore to shift the focus and accept that all these things we see are nothing more than illusions and tricks created by very different ghosts, beings very capable of hiding and distracting us while they continue to move undisturbed in the folds of our soul.
The real ghost is not the spirit that torments the living, because the problem is not the lost loves or past victories. The real point is the fact that there is a part of us that doesn't want to accept that we no longer exist. That the person we are now is something else, and is the result of that past, but symbolically she is still dead. Only she never received the proper funeral and hasn't been able to come to terms with her past. She therefore chains together with her everything that she has not been able to let go.
All this therefore means that, if you don't give them Peace, they will always be there to torment us until you lose your mind!
RPGs where you play a ghost
This evolution as a concept can also be seen in the field of role-playing games.
Wraith: The Oblivion
Wraiths: The Oblivion is an early 90's game from the World of Darkness line, published by White Wolf.
Players play as ghosts, of recently deceased people, trapped in Shadowlands, the lands of souls in pain, locked in a desperate struggle on three fronts.
The characters will therefore have to be able to survive the dystopian realm of Stygya. It is an empire that gathers within it thousands of souls who have not been able to transcend. Here they may even encounter ghosts as old as the oldest human empires!
They will also have to deal with the Oblivion. A ruthless force devoid of any ethics, devoted only to annihilation. In addition, the Fade whispers in the characters' heads through their Shadows, their darker and self-destructive sides.
In this struggle between Order and Entropy, the protagonists will have to try to transcend. They will therefore have to deal with the bonds that still keep them chained to the Skinlands, the lands of the living. In order to finally be free to pass on. With the hope that while all this happens, these bindings are not somehow ruined forever by external agents or the actions of the Fade. The act of liberation comes from having come to terms with those ties, not from destroying them!
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As I mentioned above, in recent years there has been a change of perspective, thanks to the diffusion of the genre of Melancholic Horror. The game that best embodies this new vision of the ghost is Quiet. It is a single-session role-playing game without preparation, localized in Italy by Dreamlord Games. Written to be played by up to three players, it emulates tragic horror films like Oculus, The Strangers, The Babadook, Inside and the Netflix version of Haunting of Hill House.
In Quietus the mechanics are structured to push the protagonists to bring out the stories of their past and the traumas they have suffered and with which they have not wanted to deal with. He therefore puts aside physical violence as the central focus of the situation, to shift everything to topics such as despair, regret and the compromises one makes with one's past until it returns from the grave to ask for the right compensation and finally find the peace.
In the end, I think the lesson that ghosts give us is only this: a healthy life is just a series of symbolic funerals in which we accept that the deceased is no longer part of our life and that, if we have been careful, we have learned from his teachings.
The problem is that mourning and moving on from the loss of others is "easy," because the cost in pain of the wisdom they've passed on to us, they've paid for. In our case, however, we always think that this duty is not fair or that what we have received is not proportionate. Thus we condemn ourselves to being ghosts haunting a past that no longer exists.
And in this society where we are obsessed with the image we leave around the net, it would be interesting to ask ourselves who really is the ghost between us and our past selves that we leave scattered around and that often come back to haunt us…