Thursday, April 28, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: X is for The X-Files

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories X
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: X is for Planet X

This one is a last-minute switch.  I might find some use for my "Planet X" post at a future date.  But today I want to talk about the X-Files.  You can't talk about Conspiracy Theories and ignore the X-Files.

This also gives me a chance to go back to the very beginning of my A to Z journey. Not April 1st, but April 2011.

Here is what I said about the X-Files then (with edits to update).

X is for X-Files (2011)

In the 90s everything was conspiracy theories, don't trust the government and the Truth was Out There.

On TV we had the X-Files.

There was a paranoia in the 90s.  Today it has boiled over into disgust about our government (believe I know, I live in Illinois, we have one ex-Governor in prison and another headed there two Ex-Governors that are also Ex-Cons.  But back then it was a general low hum of paranoia, suspicion, and doubt.  It started with Iran-Contra and moved on to movies like "JFK".  It was the climate that allowed the X-Files to grow.

It began on a start-up network called Fox, long before they became synonymous for killing shows, good or bad, too early or shitty news.  X-Files was their hit, their main show outside of the Simpsons really, and they kept it on for 9 years and then again for 2 more in 2016 and 2018.

Let's be honest here, the X-Files did more for genre TV than anything else. It was a cultural phenomenon and most television shows that we enjoyed in the 2000s and on are a result of this little show by Chris Carter.   People go on and on about Whedon, but Carter and the X-files has been nominated for more Emmys and the show had won more collective awards.  Even in its "worst" season X-files still had 3 times the views of Buffy. Plus there is not an episode of Supernatural that doesn't in some way or another recall the X-files.  The Winchesters are Mulder and Scully for the 2000s.

I came to the show late.  I was working on my thesis at the time and I rarely watched TV.  Once I graduated I became a fast convert.  It became my Friday night ritual (I was watching them with my then-girlfriend, so that is ok).  It was also one of the shows I did not invest in any fandom merchandise.  I have an X-files soundtrack CD and Mulder and Scully action figures, but I got them as gifts.  But I really got into the show all the same.  One of the first desktop "themes" I had for my brand spanking new copy of Windows 95 was an X-files one.

I loved the season-long and multi-season-long story arcs, I loved the characters, and I didn't even care when my then girlfriend (and now wife) would go on about how hot Mulder or Skinner were.  That was fine with me.  I got to see Scully, and she was hot and super smart.

The Godfather of the X-files is "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" and Darrin McGavin even made some guest spots on the show.  X-Files, while the "mythos arc" is lauded, sometimes worked the best on the "monster of the week" episodes.  Sure the aliens were great and those were the ones I got excited about, but the ones I recall the best, Flukeman, "Theef", the freaky weird family, the hallucinogenic fungus, the chupacabra.  Like Kolchak, X-files did it's best job when it dealt with "small stories"; episodes that dealt with a local myth, legend, or monster and came at it with Mulder the one ready to believe anything, and Scully looking for the reasoned explanation.  I also liked the "spin-offs" of Millennium and the Lone Gunmen.

One day I am going to go back to the world of the X-Files.  Back when Clinton was still president, freaky half-worm/half-man things lived in chemical toilets, cigarette-smoking men and well-manicured men sat in dark rooms with darker purposes, aliens kidnapped little girls and the Truth Was Out There.


The trouble with X-Files is it was doomed from the start.  You can't keep the characters or the audience in the dark all the time and have a good show, and the more secrets you reveal the less the characters have to uncover.  They kept it up though for a good long run.

The same is true for any conspiracy game.  Conspiracy X, by Eden Studios, is a great example.  You can totally run an "X-Files" game with it, but how often can you keep the players in the dark when they are looking for secrets?  The same is true for the RPG The Unexplained (which was my "U" for 2012).

This is something Game Masters need to keep in mind when running any sort of Conspiracy based RPG. 

For NIGHT SHIFT in particular I tried to capture all of this, via the lens of Kolchak: The Night Stalker in my "Weirdly World News" Night World. But here I only scratched the surface and if this month has shown me anything there is so much more to talk about.

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).


PT Dilloway said...

I've only watched a few episodes of The X-Files. Just never got around to watching it but then I don't think it was really streaming for a while anywhere I could watch it. Maybe it is now.

A point of order: Really Married With Children was the first live action hit for the fledgling Fox network. It ran for 11 seasons from like 1985-1996; ironically it was The X-Files that took its primetime spot on Sundays.

Tamara said...

So do you think "JFK" is meant to suggest a conspiracy took place. Let me rephrase my question: did it take a movie for people to start asking questions about what really happened and who was behind the attack?

Timothy S. Brannan said...

The movie JFK only set up the paranoia of the 90s, the conspiracy theory began soon after Kennedy was shot in 1963.

Arlee Bird said...

I was never an X-Files follower. I watched the show a few times and it wasn't bad, but just didn't interest me that much.

My wife and I watched JFK the other night for the first time. I enjoyed it. I thought I had seen it already, but if I did, I sure didn't remember any of it. However, I've heard the conspiracies elsewhere.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

doccarnby said...

I was a kid when it was airing, so I saw it later, but I do love The X-Files. That said, I skipped all the mythos episodes, which does make it a slightly different show. One of the interesting side-effects of streaming, I suppose. Also love the Kolchak shout, that show is tops.

Cheryl Wright said...

I never watched the X-Files, but I know lots of people who did.

Dick McGee said...

X-Files was not a show I watched much or cared about at all, but I do have fond memories of Kolchak. Certainly valid to credit early Fox with having a disproportionate impact on modern television, though. Not just X-Files, but Married With Children and the Simpsons (by way of the Tracey Ullman Show). Their fingerprints (I'm tempted to say "taint") is all over modern television.

Lori Brannan said...

Much like you said, I was in college in the late 90's, and working every Friday night. I didn't watch any TV in the 90's. When I wasn't working or studying, I was being social. I finally caught the X-files on Comet TV sometime in December. The first episode I ever saw was in season 6, so I had to go back and watch them all. Thanks to Hulu, I have.
The conspiracy theories were easy to speculate about, since we did not have a lot of access to instant information, like we do nowadays. It is interesting for me, knowing what we know now about UAPs (formerly UFOs) from actual government coverups about possible extraterrestrial life, seeing the episodes for the first time -- Chris Carter and the other writers had a lot of great theories and insight about a lot of cool things. I think I appreciate the writing, the mystery now more than I would have when I was in my early 20's.

Anstice Brown said...

I loved the X files as a kid and you can see its influence on almost every modern sci-fi and paranormal show. I would like to revisit it as an adult and see if I enjoy it as much as I used to.

Deniz Bevan said...

Ooh, great theme for the A to Z!
I was a big fan of X-Files, too! After watching, my sister and I would have to turn on all the lights on our way to bed...