The larp market

So three big larps announced at KP managed to sell out in no time. Last Will was over and done with in 8 minutes. I didn’t even realize tickets had gone one sale before it missed them. It’s a bit crazy. I’m going to put on my amateur economist hat* and take a look at what might be going on in the community:

 

There’s some sort of market forces going on, with players willing to put in time, effort and money to play games and organizers making games and wanting players and money for them. Ideally this should mean that the cost and signup for larps should even out by itself, but we seem to lack the critical mass for an invisible hand to make that happen. Instead we’re stuck with a lot of basic problems of distribution.

 

How we got here

It’s hard to tell what developments and factors made things escalate to this level of intensity, but my take is that the nordic larp scene has become globalized, which increasing polarity and inequality following right behind and causing funky effects.

 

It means that the games that aim for an international audience has a bigger customer base than ever. There’s also a huge bandwidth for communication and hype. There’s a lot of people willing to throw large amounts of money at games, including travelling to foreign countries (180 euro attendance fee and tickets to Poland for the Harry Potter game). Meanwhile the individual national scenes haven’t grown at all, players have merely migrated to an international level of interest and expectations, causing local scenes to wither.

 

Your basic model

It used to be that games would be announced, people would sign up, then at a later date they’d pay the fee and finally go to the game. All through this, the organizers would agonize over whether or not they’d have enough players to fulfull the vision and practicalities of the game. Meanwhile the players had a lot of freedom to not go, since the games rarely filled up and the organizers wanted as many players as possible. It was obviously a players’ market, with no selection of participants, any warm bodies to fill up the available slots would make organizers happy!

 

Free market?

Now it seems to me that we’ve gone from a buyers market to a sellers market. In a regular free market, this would mean that prices went up to match what buyers are willing to pay, but since we’re nordic and play by different non-profit rules, that way isn’t happening and organizers aren’t reaping huge profits off their products. It does mean that organizers have a whole new range of problems and opportunities to consider.

 

Money up front!

The first opportunity is that it’s possible to demand money up front for your game, meaning that funding will be immediate and players commit to the game from signup. These are pretty significant advantages for the organizers, as both of them mean more stability for the project. For the player this means that you need to have a rather large amount of money readily available to invest in the game as well as full trust that it will pan out, which can be problematic. I’ll dig into that below.

It also means that the player selection will occur solely based on readiness to pay and first-come first-serve.

 

Pre-signup

Another model is in between the two, where players mark their interest in participating and then the organizers invite players to commit to participation by paying. This model has the advantage of selection being an active choice by the organizers. It obviously only works like this if you have a great er number of potential players, than slots available in the game.

 

Invite-only

There’s also the version which is entirely invitational, but I’m not going to cover that here, as it operates on a different set of rules to what I’m exploring here.

 

Interests of the market actors

For the most part, the interests of both players and organizers are aligned: Both want the best possible game to actually happen and to be part of it. But there are some subtle differences of interest that make the whole thing unstable. A couple of examples:

 

Players want to avoid committing to a game until the very last possible moment, especially if the game might be cancelled, since they don’t want to risk their investment of time and money. Meanwhile, organizers want as many players to commit as soon as possible in order to assure that the game is going to be run.

 

Players and organizers both want the best possible setup of participants, but players are usually much more sensitive about potentially disruptive co-players, since they have much less control over who they get to play with. Organizers can handle a certain amount of risk here, as long as they have enough stable players.

 

Both sides want the game to be cool and get lots of positive responses afterwards, but for the players this means picking the game that seems to become the game of the year, while the organizers are committed to making this one game awesome.

 

The danger of dropouts

What seems to be the biggest fear of organizers right now, is the chance that players will choose to drop out of the game at a late stage. This is again a stability issue, it leaves a lot of work in the hands of the organizers to find a suitable replacement and the insecurity can spread to other players (the offgame social setup in the run-up to games is a quagmire). Currently the strategy is to make it costly for players to drop out, by not giving refunds and similar. But that isn’t fool proof and it can be very problematic, some good solutions here would increase stability of game a lot.

 

Inclusivity & Bias

Time to put the nordic into this discussion. Most of us agree that it would be bad if games were all about who could afford to go, we prefer som kind of “fair” distribution of  who can participate. There are some qualities in players that we think it’s okay to select for and others that are not okay. The way people are excluded can be passive and active by the organizers. Active selection is picking and choosing who can participate and setting up limits like gender quotas or requiring people to sign up in pairs.

Some selection methods are a bit more insidious as they set up barriers of entry that seem fair, but actually work to discourage or keep out certain participants. Some are the socio-economics of pricing, others can be setting content that require certain things from the players.

Some things that organizers try to select for is to get committed players who are going to put work in to make the game awesome for themselves and others, players who won’t drop out, players who play well with others, etc. These things are usually seen as okay to select for, as long as you don’t stray into nepotism.

 

The flipside: Not enough interest

At the same time as these first-world problems are besetting the international stage of larpwrighting, there are a lot of examples of local scene games having to be cancelled due to lack of signups. This can be seen as players’ tastes evolving to prefer the international flavours, rather than what is available at home, while the games being made in the local stages aren’t evolving along with player tastes.

This is going to cause problems on the long term, since we can reasonably expect a dearth of organizers in the future as people become disillusioned before reaching the international organizing community.

I personally think that we have a responsibility to help make more better games in the local stages and encourage organizers, initiatives like the Larpwriter Summer School are hopefully going to be making differences in this regard.

 

The Power of Marketing and Hype

What is the factor that takes a game from the risky national scale to the explosive conditions of international infamy? What makes a game the target of the coolhunters of norp? What brings the KP buzz?

 

Far from trying to make a sure-fire list of things that bring the hype, here’s my take on factors that successful games have.

*Length: The games must be long enough to justify travelling internationally, so a couple of days. Longer and you start to lose players to too much investment of time.

*Size: The games must be big enough to accommodate a critical mass of players while still small enough to feel intimate and exclusive. No more than a couple of dozen players.

* Subject matter: The games should have a clear and interesting subject matter, be it a theme that you explore in play or a much loved setting.

* Controversy : The game has to go out of the usual comfort zone of games in format or subject matter in a way that pushes the limits of the participants. But not too much.

* Effort: The game should be challenging to the players, if it’s too easy or too hard to play it will discourage players. Most likely the effort should be clearly defined in the description.

* Face: The game should be organized and endorsed by popular people in the community. Preferably several at once.

* Strength: The game must appear to be a success before signup, if there’s doubt about the game actually working, it can easily be a dealbreaker.

 

If you manage to hit the tags above and you package it for sale at Knudepunkt, you should be pretty well set. Otherwise prepare for a struggle getting players.

 

So?

To me the larp scene is very much a market consolidating after emerging onto an international level. There’s a need to adapt to the new conditions, which unfortunately creates rather larger barriers to entry when it comes to new organizers and the scale of games will wear out the veterans. Not that that’s anything new. We’ve been saying that for twenty years now and we’re still here…

 

*The one that came with my Freakonomics book.

Trending at Fastaval

Here’s a couple of things I took home from this year’s Fastaval, that seemed to be more than just individual diversions. I might expand more on some of them in individual blogposts if I feel the urge later on, but for now enjoy these ideas:

 

Classic scifi!

This year had quite a few scenarios with scifi settings, two were homages: One to Valérian and Laureline comics and one to the Mass Effect games. Another was based off swedish retrofuturist art and a couple of them had new ideas.

 

Maybe it was just me, but I hope to see more scifi in gaming. It is a powerful lens to illuminate various issues and provides excellent freedom of setting. It’s still a bit tricky to bring into proper larp without either a lot of suspending disbelief or a lot of scenographic and costume work, but hopefully it can sneak into the minimalist styles?

 

Organic gamemastering

Fastaval is usually strong on either very controlling gamemaster styles or the exact opposite, games with little or no gamemaster intervention. This year had some examples of a much more organic style of gamemastering. Rather than the usual “Cut and reframe” gm-interventions with clearly stated instructions to players, I saw a much more intuitive approach to guiding the game flow. Both in the techniques designed and in the craft of the gamemasters. It reminded me more of improvised player-controlled meta-room scenes, than the strictly controlled narrative it was.

 

Gamemaster players

An interesting thing was that a couple of games had split off various traditional gamemaster duties to players. This isn’t a new thing, but it seems to have become normalized to a degree where noone notices. Several games had a player who spent a lot of time playing various secondary characters. Some games had players in charge of narrating setting as well. I really enjoy seeing how the divide is breaking apart and design choices being less constrained by traditions and players taking on greater responsibilites for the game.

 

Paperdolls

A lot of people really enjoyed our game, Paninaro, about fashion-designer reality tv, now with actual designing as a game mechanic. I really enjoyed seeing people expressing themselves creatively while playing, there’s a lot of potential in combining larp with artistic expression, there’s some powerful synergy of alibi going on. Also, I just wanted to plug our awesome game. It’s seriously fun. I’ll have a translation ready soon!

 

The Gender Debate

One of two debates following this year was the return of the great gender debate: Why aren’t more women writing games for Fastaval? This year with a side of “Maybe it’s the overly masculine themes of the games?” It’s good to see the debate is still going strong, we’re going better places for it. I like how it’s turned to a much more positive debate: It’s not about there not being a problem or kränkt menfolk, but everyone agrees we need to find ways to encourage women and remove the structural barriers that are in their way.

 

Fairness Debate

Since the awards at Fastaval are incredibly prestigious and sought after, there’s a lot of critique of how they are given out, as well as of how the games are selected. There’s a lot of people who see a too great potential for nepotism and insularity versus a large crowd of people angry at all the suspicion and problematization. Personally I think this is a very good example of why you need clear communication and even clearer rules. Also it shows that the competition that gave us such a strong incentive to write great games, can also lead to a lot of negative consequences that we must face.

 

Collaboration

The age of the individual auteur seems to be over for Fastaval. A lot of the games have multiple authors and all of them have had feedback from other authors during their creation. I think it’s really great to see the role of the community acknowledged and prized like this. Also that it was veterans and newcomers alike who work like this. The groups behind games seem a bit more fluid also, people working together based on the idea of the game, rather than previous allegiances.

 

If you were at Fastaval, what did you take with you? What do you think is the new hotness?

Nordic Larp Primer

While assisting the inimitable Adam James in introducing nordic larp to UK, through his performance art network, I realized I didn’t have a good starting point for new folks to learn more. What I mean is, that the information is out there, but it’s scattered across a lot of different places. So I’m just going t collect the best places to start learning more about nordic larp:

NordicLarp.org

The hub of the wheel. A community project, this site is all about collecting information on nordic larp. It consists of several excellent parts:

Calendar

The best way to find out what larp is like, is to take part in a game. The calendar covers the biggest upcoming events in the hobby. There are several games and conventions each year and all are welcoming of new participants.

Wiki

The Wiki is a work in progress, trying to gather as much knowledge about the hobby in one place as well as providing a handy reference for definitions and works. If you need to look up a word or thing, go here.

Talks

The Nordic Larp Talks are short, accessible talks on various topics, held each spring. I recommend watching atleast these ones to start with, they’re short and sweet:

Johanna Koljonen – Introduction to nordic larp

A very good introduction to nordic larp, by an experienced journalist.

Johanna MacDonald – From performing arts to larp

This video explains how larp is fundamentally different from the performing arts.

Jana Pouchlá – Welcome to larp. Let’s play.

Some good points on being a new participant in larp.

Games

The games themselves are what brings us together, to really get started understanding the thing, you should try it out. But for reading up on it, these are the books to look for:

Larps from the Factory

So far, the best collection of short larp scripts are the collected works of the Oslo Larp Factory. It has a lot of different styles and subject matters, which provides excellent examples of larps and how they are written down. There’s also a set of videos that show various techniques used in larps that are very useful to conceptualize what might be used during games.

Nordic Larp book

For understanding the bigger, longer games this is the book to look for. It has beautiful pictures and texts from some of the most influential larps in the nordic tradition. It covers some of the greatest moments in the hobby.

Larpwriter Summer School 

The best place to learn about the craft of making larps is  the Larpwriter Summer School, a week of courses on designing games held in the summer in Lithuania. Some of the lectures are available as videos and slideshows on the website. They are aimed at newcomers to the hobby and thus quite accessible.

Knutpunkt / Knutepunkt / Knudepunkt / Solmukohta

The big international gathering of nordic larp, rotating each year between the nordic countries. It is the place to meet the very cleverest people of nordic larp, hear about the latest academic research on the topic as well as upcoming and recently played games and events.

Knutepunkt Books

The convention also includes the production of one or more books each year, that contain various articles on larp. From highly academic theoretical models of experiencing larp, to angry rants, they represent the cutting edge of each year’s thinking on larp.

Especially interesting for newcomers is The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp, which is a collection of the articles you need to read in order to be part of the discourse on nordic larp. It can get a bit hairy at times, but this is the way into the academic side of it all.

Further reading

Some other things that I think portray important sides of the nordic larp tradition:

Something Wicked This Way Larps

A wonderful online article that picks out several interesting points in the larp landscape, what kinds of play takes place and the thoughts behind the play.

Leaving Mundania

Lizzie Stark is an american journalist who has documented her trip down the rabbit hole of larp, all the way to the nordic countries and further afield in her very well-written book. She also has a blog with a very newbie friendly angle, that cover a lot of topics on nordic larp.

Playground Magazine

A short run magazine on nordic larp, that managed to provide several interesting articles on larp and neighbouring phenomena.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, each of those links lead further into the depths. I’m sure I missed several other clever places to start learning, so please comment with your favourite introductory materials!

Playground Magazine available online

I was a happy subscriber of Playground Magazine from the start, it’s magazine that took larp seriously in a playful manner, but ultimately suffered the fate of so many wonderful, but narrow-topic ‘zines and faded out. Now you can read them online for free, buy them print-on-demand and download if you are clever.

The articles vary a lot in focus and writing style, but cover a lot of different facets of larp and neighbouring phenomenon. And it does in beautiful style. The layout and editing are very strong elements that make it a very approacable publication, full of pictures and funky graphics.

Some of the magazine-elements aren’t really relevant after a while, but the large majority of the content is still relevant and interesting to read for newcomers. Quite a few of the articles are not on larp per se, but look at cultures and phenomenon that have elements in common with larp, such as pick-up artists, bdsm and gamification. Other parts are introductions to larp cultures outside the nordic imperium or discussions of controversial elements in larp. It can feel a bit like forced sensationalism at times, but it does manage to have an enthusiasm about larp that I often find lacking in publications. And I love that it covers such a wide range of topics with larp as the common thread. It puts our hobby in very interesting company, that’s for sure.

 

If you didn’t subscribe, this is your chance to catch up!

Moving Bodies And Larp

So we’re doing this thing. It’s a ball of wibbly-wobbly movey-performey… larp. It has grown naturally from a group of blown minds and we wish to infect more people with our ideas.

The main question after the performance in London, when Adam James, Nina Runa Essendrop and I sat down for a well-deserved sunday roast at the local pub, was: “HOW DO WE GET TO DO MORE OF THIS!?”

By “this” we mean movement-based larping and playing in the fertile grounds between norp and the performing arts. It’s not a specific thing, but a common area of interesting potentials. And fun, most importantly playing around and having fun exploring what we can do with differerent approaches and perspectives. We’re not going to be writing manifestos and creating groups larpwrights, but try for an open collaborative discourse.

We want to facilitate others being clever and creative, invite everyone to participate in building something on the borderlands of what we do, that might lead to new and interesting games. To frame this we’ve started a facebook group for anyone who finds any of the keywords “larp, movement, physicality, performance and art” interesting in the slightest. It’s called Moving Bodies And Larp, because that is what it is about at the most basic level and it’s open to anyone who wants in.

We’re starting off by using it to coordinate the track we’ve inflicted on the Knutepunkt in Sweden this spring on exactly movement and physicality in larp. We’re out for those of you who have programme item ideas to join us and be part of creating a space for exploring the potentials of this sort of play. The more the merrier!

We’ll also unleash other projects and events through the group and if you have your own, please don’t hesitate to bring it to our attention! We want to hear about everything that might possibly be related to having fun with moving bodies and larp.

 

Special thanks to Petter Karlsson for being a random encounter at exactly the right time and being a kitchen-table social-media guru.

Review: Larps from the factory

First an announcement: I’m over the hump with Beyond Role and Play, the KP book from 2004, meaning I’ve read the first half with all the theory articles and hopefully have less choppy waters ahead. The book is not an easy read, but I promise to have it done by christmas or post the first half if I don’t.

 

But this post is a review of a different, and in my view much more useful book: Larps From The Factory, collected and edited by the awesome trio of Elin Nilsen, Lizzie Stark and Trine Lise Lindahl. The book is a collection of larpscripts from the norwegian Larp Factory, with extra material available from the web to supplement the book.

I usually find introductions to books to be either uselessly obvious repeatings of what the book is about or irrellevant wankery by the editor. But in this book the two introductory chapters actually manage to be interesting in their own right as well as excellently supplement the main text of larps. The first introduction is a primer on the playstyle of these larps, thanks to the outside perspectives provided by the american co-author it manages to describe a lot of important nuances that makes it clearer how the games are intended to play out. I suspect it also help in running the games in a different play culture, but I have not tried yet.

The second chapter is a nice, brief history of the Larp Factory itself, how it got started, the structure of the group and international spread of the concept. Seems like a very fertile construct.

While I haven’t read them all yet, I can tell that the larps vary quite a bit in all directions, the size and scope run the entirety of parlor and blackbox larps, with a corresponding range of minimalist and extravagant scenography requirements. The specific length varies a bit, but all are playable in an evening or so. They cover a wide range of subject matter from silly remediations of comedy tv-series to abstract explorations of silence. Most fall somewhere on the realism – comedy scale, to be played both for fun and to give a meaningful experience to the participants.

What has struck me about this is how straightforward and simply most of these games are designed. It doesn’t take more than a good idea, the stamina to write characters and a couple of appropriate gameplay elements to have a worthy game. From the Larporatories I’ve also learned that games like this can be put together in a few effective days. The book really drives home how wide a range of games you can put together with a very simple framework.

Each games features a couple of metatechniques, rules or warm-up excercises that are ripe for stealing for your own game. I quickly began adding bookmarks where I found ones that fit my current projects while reading the book. This really makes the book more than a superb collection of rerunnable larp scripts and takes it into worthwhile reference country as well. And each tool automatically comes with context, so it’s not hard to see how it might contribute to a game.

The book is only the core script of each game. Since the larps range in size from a handful of players up to nearly two dozen it makes sense to limit the book itself to the important parts that give a good picture of the game. If you want to run one of the games, you can just download the stuff you’ll need to print or send to players, like characters or handouts and cheatsheets.

I did find it a bit annoying that there were no characters in the book. Reading a couple of characters is usually one of the best ways to get an idea of how the larp is supposed to feel and how the themes and drama/story intersect.

I especially love the videos of metatechniques. Not everything can be properly explained with words and often it is a lot easier to learn by seeing. The videos have a lovely amateurish quality, that makes them very approachable, if a little unclear at times. I think a lot of larps could do with video introductions to techniques, since they can often be misunderstood and scare players. I’ve worked with it when we did Dancing with the Clans,* where we did in-character films teaching the dance moves and building hype for the game. It worked well in both regards.

I know how much work the creators put into making this book and it shows. It is well written and consistent, which is extra impressive considering the huge number of people who actually wrote the larps in the book. It is also lovely to see a book that both celebrates a strong tradition of larpwriting and provides new opportunities to rerun the games or take them apart for use in new projects. It is definitely at in the top of my list of “most useful books on larp.” And together with the Nordic Larp book for the pretty pictures of big larps, I think we’re very well covered when it comes to approachable reading material to introduce the scope of norp to outsiders.

 

And now I’ll get back to reading the rest of the scripts in the book, because they are awesome!

 

*DwtC was a disco dancing “larp” between the seven clans from Vampire: The Masquerade over four evenings during Fastaval 2012. Part of the gameplay was that the clans could “buy” their special powers to unlock classic disco dance moves and new songs, by winning dance-offs with other clans. The moves were introduced with short videos uploaded in the months up to the convention, where one of the organizers’ character showed off the moves. The players could also claim songs beforehand by uploading videos of themselves dancing to them. It was a lot of fun for participants and audience to engage in this way.

Blackbox cph III

So I moved to Copenhagen just in time for the blackbox festival. It was a perfect opportunity to reconnect with all local norpers and play some games.

There was a crazy rush when the ticket sales opened, I was at Larpvikend in Brno and as I tried to navigate the website games were sold out left and right, but I managed to grab tickets for two games: Beginning and The Last Hour.

Not including the immense joy of getting to see glorious friends from abroad who travelled here from far away to play, the festival itself was okay. It didn’t quite feel entirely together, people came and went for the games, but there wasn’t much time together except for the big party on saturday. I would have loved some sort of lounge or other place to hang out and talk larp during the event. Unfortunately we mostly spread out to various cafées in the city, so it was hard to meet new people outside of the games.

Beginning

by Nina Runa Essendrop

The first game was Nina’s latest nonverbal game, following up from White Death. Now with even more abstraction and limitation!

The play is about blind creatures evolving at the beginning of time, exploring the world and meeting each other. During most of the workshop and all of the game, the players are blindfolded and sense primarily through touch. The character briefs are entirely non-verbal, consisting of a motion and a picture.

My initial character brief reenacted. Filmed by Petter Karlsson
My initial character brief reenacted. Filmed by Petter Karlsson

The workshop mainly focussed on creating comfort with moving while blindfolded, exploring the motions of our characters and rehearsing the structured elements and techniques of the games. I found the workshopping a bit off-balanced at points, but there was some excellent feedback after the game and I know it will be super for later runs. 

The picture I chose for inspiring my character.
The picture I chose for inspiring my character. Photo by NOAA.

During play the organizers portrayed higher powers that would come in to interfere with or evolve the character-creatures. They had a special touch to make us follow their directions. It was interesting how easy it was to relinquish control of yourself and just let them lead you to a new place or posture after a few trial runs. The higher powers mainly came in during the act breaks where the creatures evolved to a new level, for me personally I would have liked the evolution to happen more slowly and individually, but I understand the design choices.

How I spent most of the game. Filmed by Petter Karlsson
How I spent most of the game. Filmed by Petter Karlsson

The game used a sort of tactile tape-larp scenography with a selection of random props that provided sensory input through touch, smell or sound thrown in to play with. I found it hard to relate to the props, I think it might have been less so with more organic objects rather than modern ones. Also it got quite messy from the stuff sprinkled on the floor. 

By far the most interesting part of the game was meeting, exploring and interacting with the other creatures. Due to the blindfolding you had no idea who the player was, but you could recognize different creatures by their textures and movements, as well as their unique bracelets given by the organizers. Some were friendly, others threatening and quite a few I probably never met during play.

Even after the game it didn’t matter who you had played directly with, it felt almost as an entirely collective affair. It was a very special mood, much the same unspoken comfort as white death provides, but even more total. It was very hard to relate what had happened during play as there were no words or interpretations that truly expressed how interesting it felt curling around some body or brushing past each other. A unique experience indeed.

The Last Hour

by Rasmus Teilmann and Mads Dehlholm Holst

I went home from the party early because I had signed up for this game on sunday morning. Most of the other players obviously didn’t. Out of seven only three of us showed up. Big angry at the lazy larpers! Especially since Mads had come from across the country just to run the game. We can do better than that.

But after we decided to go ahead after all, the game was really good. Rasmus and Mads have been working on it since the Summer School and it is a really tight design. It is classic blackbox-larp larp. Using pregame-workshopping, metatechniques, tape on the floor, sound effects and symbolic lighting. And it does it well.

The norper making his final statement to the court. Photo by Rasmus Teilmann.
The norper making his final statement to the court. Photo by Rasmus Teilmann.

The game is about the last hour before a group of freedom fighters are executed, with the play in their prison cell framing a serious of flashbacks and dream sequences initiated by the players themselves. You start with a simple character brief and expanded on it via hot-seat interviews and frozen moments before play. The game has very strong initial and ending rituals in the fiction that really get you started and ended with strong emotions. 

Last hour in the cell. Photo by Rasmuss Teilmann
Last hour in the cell. Photo by Rasmuss Teilmann

During play you do various flashbacks and dream sequences about your character’s life. It makes the play in the prison cell a very tense underplayed affair, which I thoroughly enjoy. Part of it was due to us only being three players and I am really happy we managed to show that the game works with this few participants and that the organizers are now planning to make a version aimed at fewer players. 

Flashback to the recruitment. Photo by Dominika Kováčová.
Flashback to the recruitment. Photo by Dominika Kováčová.

The game has a twist I will not describe here. Just say that while I normally prefer full disclosure, this game did it in a way I can respect and that really added to the experience. And which gave me a new kind of post-larp experience, bonus points for that.

Ready, aim... Photo by Rasmus Teilmann
Ready, aim… Photo by Rasmus Teilmann

All in all a very well made game that made use of a lot of different effects without losing focus or muddling the experience. I was surprised at how strongly it affected me.

Post-con

Afterwards I was left with a lot of new ideas and better versions of old ideas. Getting to play in the blackbox made some things clearer and the chance to air my thoughts with so many clever larpwrights and -players really moved things forward. So far I’m working on adapting a Mieville novel to the blackbox, a Nina-style touchy-movey larp, an autobiographical romantic freeform, a positive-experience prison larp and a soap-opera tape-larp with Dominika (“But, Rodrigo!…”)

And I have my copy of the Larpfactory book, which I hope to review here soon.

Performing in London

The norp community rolled a random encounter and got Adam James, performance artist. I had the pleasure of being Shanghaied for a project of his, along with Nina Runa Essendrop. Our role was to provide some larping expertise to the work and surprisingly also to perform!

The Danes. Photo by Adam James
The Danes. Photo by Adam James

The event was held at Siobhan Davies Studio as part of the Fort-Da performance season.

We did this over two weekends, with seven local movement geeks (Most were dancers with some acting and choreography thrown in.) The first was two days of workshopping, excercises, little games and playstorming towards a finished performance. The second was character workshopping and the performance itself.

During the workshopping we built up some really strong trust and playfulness in our little troupe. EVeryone was comfortable using their bodies to express themselves, doing movement experiments and bringing in ideas. We did several excellent excercises that I intend to steal the hell out of, for my own larps. We worked with moving as abstract representation, not exactly dancing and definitely not miming! The end goal was to create a language of relational movement that echoed the spoken words, but on the way we took a lot of interesting detours. It was a great laboratory for trying out improvised, expressive movement. I learned a lot and also found that I had a lot to contribute with, despite my relative amateur status compared to everyone else.

Workshop excercise. Photo by Ali MacGilp
Workshop excercise. Photo by Ali MacGilp

After the workshopping Adam picked the brains of Nina and me, to larp it all up for the performance. We helped make the final character oriented workshop and structure the performance to make the improvsation flow freely. Nina stayed on for the weekdays too, where she coached, workshopped and did the tourist. I unfortunately had obligations and returned to Denmark with a heavy heart.

The second weekend was more of a classical larp workshop situation, with character building and preparing for the game. Adam and Nina had made some starting points for the characters and relationships during the week and we brainstormed the details, background and movements collectively.

And suddenly it was time to perform!

Photo by Rosie Hallam.
Photo by Rosie Hallam.

The performance itself happened in a pool of light surrounded by the audience. It went on in three parts with opening, act break and ending rituals. Each character was played by three players collectively: Two moving together in the light and one speaking from the dark. The movements were expressive of the emotions and relationships of the characters, based on the improvised dialogue from the three speakers. Adam functioned as a classic larp gamemaster, cutting scenes and setting new ones.

 Photo by Rosie Hallam.
First act underway. Photo by Rosie Hallam.

The theme of the game was bullying and exclusion, the characters three siblings with various positive and negative relations and situations that put one or two of them on the spot.

Adam gamemastering.  Photo by Rosie Hallam.
Adam gamemastering. Photo by Rosie Hallam.

The speaker was rotated on each trio of players in the act breaks, which were rituals adapted from some of the excercises we’d done. So that everyone did two acts moving and one speaking for the character. After the game itself we debriefed in a runda on stage, before inviting the audience to comment and critique.

Ritual endgame hugs. Photo by Rosie Hallam.
Ritual endgame hugs. Photo by Rosie Hallam.

I have never had as strange an exit from a character as this. Going from being in a world of listening and moving among others to suddenly being myself in front of an audience of very sharply dressed art afficionados!

Postlarp debrief. Photo by Rosie Hallam.
Postlarp debrief in front of the audience. Photo by Rosie Hallam.

It was really exciting to be a part of: Meeting a wholly different strain of creative and playing around with them. Trying to hybridize our hobby with an artistic approach. Seeing larp done in a high art setting, in front of an actual audience.

There’s a lot of fertile ground in the valley between us and the arts. Let’s seed it with awesome. I know those of us who were part of this is going to take it further in the coming months.

Chris on the floor. Photo by Rosie Hallam.
Chris on the floor. Photo by Rosie Hallam.

Feel free to ask for clarifying questions.

Crossing borders

I’m currently on a major trip to fuse norp with the performing arts. I’m working with and learning from theatre, performance and dance people.

There’s quite a strong movement towards larp as well, except a lot of the people on the arts’ side aren’t aware of us norpers just yet. They’re working with participatory culture, immersive, interactive performance projects and putting the focus on the experience inside the audience members, rather than on external expression. It’s all terribly exciting.

Norp has always embraced the more abstract artistic, experimental angles. Blackbox CPH has put norp into the theatric space and several of the games are a lot less about straight up simulation and drama, the best current example is probably White Death, which relies almost entirely on movement as interaction.

Currently I’m involved with a performance project in London, by the inimitable Adam James, that works with norp and dancers. It’s way fun and great to see our techniques and praxis challenged by the other artforms.

Next week I’ll be off to see if my own absurdist theatre larp works in the Czech Republic as well.

All this playing with art is terribly exciting to be part of, ideas flying back and forth, the divide growing smaller. I’m grabbing at all the arts people I can, seeking all the projects I can help along. I want to expand what norp can be and invite others to see what we are doing and could do.

And when you get down to actually doing projects together, all the pretentious posturing and theory goes out the window and fun remains behind. This is where play and fun is strongest.

And I would like to hear if there are others out there who are doing things I should know about? People I should talk to?no

De-immersion

I’ve been taking part in the Nordic Larp Wiki Edit-a-thons to help solidify our knowledgebase and share the good stuff. Most recently I wrote up a bunch of text on aftercare and that made me think of the things I do after a game to get myself de-immersed or emerged from the game, character and setting.

 

I tend to go for deep immersion when I play nordic larp, especially with Elli. I don’t believe in letting go of myself during a game, but rather just opening up entirely to the experiences. It leads to some very hefty bleed and a lot of thought afterwards. But as a veteran of CBT I have learned some ways of taking control of myself and my emotions, which are presented below, interspersed with some of my idiosyncrasies that you might not see the point of.

 

In a somewhat chronological order, some of the things I do to ditch a character and the emotions related to it:

 

Body reset

I actively shape my movements for the character, so getting rid of these temporary traits is important to me. What I usually do is jump around a bit and take off on in a full sprint, if possible I go swim in a pool. Pushing my body to it’s limits will sort of reset it and return to a more natural resting mode afterwards.

 

A bloody good cry

Nearly all my emotions tend to converge on crying if they get intense enough and I rather enjoy having a good weep. After a game I can usually get my emotions calmed and over, with a solid blubber.

 

In-jokes and irony

Nothing beats irony for distancing, having someone to be ironic about the gamewith is golden. Also, being able to reconnect to the actual people behind the characters through in-jokes is also a good way to affirm the new status of offgame.

 

Junk food

Games usually have a very specific cuisine. So on the way back I love scarfing down some junkfood and relish in the superficiality of real life. Preferably Burger King.

 

Musical anchoring

I love to use music around larping. I will search for songs that help define my character beforehand and with Elli I’ve explored having a theme song for a relationship, which is powerful stuff.

After the game I will often listen to music that was played during play (if any) and extrapolate a playlist of songs that capture feelings from the game. It helps contain specific emotions. A good example is Dusty Springfield’s Just A Little Lovin’, for the game of the same name.

 

Desensitization

Once I got the emotions captured in musical form, I will expose myself to them quite intensely until the emotions lose their uncontrollable effect on me, so I don’t break down from hearing a song on the radio. iTunes says I have listened to the song above a grand total of 53 times, which is probably about right.

 

Storywriting

To get capture the essential experiences of a larp I tend to write down the story I experienced. Sometimes I do so during the game as well, to keep my focus. Sometimes I do it on the blog, other times it’s more personal. I have also done it cooperatively, which was great. I really got to see the other sides of my own story.

 

Musical

For Kapo I anchored most of the feelings in one album of drum’n’bass and combined it with the story to a sort of musical, that only one other person would understand, but helped me get it all out of my head.

 

My friend Sterling

The beautifully tragic fate of my character in Just a Little Lovin’ was a bit too intense for me to handle, so I began referring to him in the third person, as a distancing act, turning him into an Other. So I don’t really count the experience as my own, but what happened to my friend Sterling from New York in the eighties. Similarly I don’t really see the experiences of 2027 as my own, but instead they are balled up in the couple formed by my character and the one played by Elli.

 

Explaining

I have a wonderful friend who does not do norp himself, but is very curious about the whole thing and loves to hear me chatter on over a cup of coffee. It is quite good to be forced to explain a game from the ground up to an outsider, it puts a lot of perspective on it all. Last time around I could really feel it nagging on me that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do so and it was a great relief when I finally got the chance.

 

Game design deconstruction

As with irony, looking critically on the game itself is another powerful distancing trick. There’s always something to be critical of, if nothing else, the food or the toilets always suck.

 

Souvenir collection

I keep a small, but important prop from the best games in a collection of memorabilia so I can reconnect with the experience later if I need to. It’s quite an eclectic mix of costume bits, jewellery and a crowbar, but it all has meaning to me.

 

Talisman

For the last two games, after the experience  I crafted something I could wear to remind me of certain elements of them. It’s pretty good to have as a meditative focus and to keep the positive bleed a little longer as well as surprise-reminding me of good things. Also an interesting conversation starter: “So, why are you wearing a hexnut necklace?”

 

The main goals of all these things is threefold: First to get some distance and perspective on the experience. Second to anchor the feelings in time and space so they don’t crop up on their own. Thirdly, to turn the experience into some sort of story or expression that can live on it’s own. Basically, to get the thoughts out of my head and placed somewhere more manageable.

 

Please comment with your own tricks and coping mechanisms!

PS: Lots of love to all you norpers fresh from Just a Little Lovin’, good luck finding your way back from the eighties!