Play Journal 2013-03-22: Till The State Do You Part

by Thom Kiraly

Tills staten skiljer er åt (Till the State Do You Part)

The general concept:
Till the State Do You Part was a satirical and dystopian speed date LARP set in an alternative Sweden. A country wherein your whole life is a race to pay back for everything the state has provided you with since the day you were born. The state itself is mainly an instrument to make sure that everything is “fair” and that everyone gets what they’ve “earned”.

The idea for the setting came from one of the organisers, Anna, hearing a Danish politician go on and on about immigrants being so expensive and bad etc. while actually, the people who are really “expensive” in Denmark… are the Danes! So, the Sweden we played citizens/customers of in the LARP was a Sweden where this sort of reasoning had been driven to its logical conclusion. Everything is privatized, the state is a corporation as are all municipalities and regional governments etc.

A big part in the setting was the class system. Instead of being measured by, say, your place within the processes of producing commodities, this system was based on the biopower wielded by the state. Constant measuring and evaluation of the country’s populace helped the state put people into neat categories ranging from “A” to “H”. The closer to A you were, the more you could expect to be able to ask for from the state. Having kids and being in a relationship helped in these evaluations and there were matchmaking agencies making good business trying to get lonely suckers married quickly. That’s where the speed dating comes in.

All players played a character that had recently been contacted by a matchmaking agency and offered a spot on one of their speed date nights. This night also carried with it an opportunity to get married on the spot with pre-approved applications for making children as part of the package deal. Some characters came there looking for genuine love while others (like the guy I played) was in it for more practical reasons.

Till the State Do You Part - Briefing

Players being briefed by the organizers

Jens Simonsson
I’m not going to say too much about Jens, the character I played, but I will outline him quickly: He was a bonafide entrepreneur through and through. He had practically been bred for that purpose, been sent to the right schools, worked hard and started his own, fairly successful business and so on. His company, Inga Konstigheter, took care of municipal and regional procurement of art and culture. His job was to make sure that the art did not cost too much and that the cultural expressions were profitable.
Simply put, Jens was one of the people the system was supposedly built for. Jens did, however, have to struggle with one thing – the fact that he was gay. In general, in-game society was OK with people being non-straight. The problem for Jens was climbing those last rungs on the class ladder. He felt he had been treated differently because he had chosen to be open about his sexuality and was bent on getting the whole kid situation taken care of to once and for all clear any doubts about his ambition and commitment. Jens went to the speed date hoping to find a woman who would be willing to try insemination as a way to get pregnant and then let him more or lessnot take too much responsibility for the kids.

Till the State Do You Part - Jens Simonsson

Me, in character as Jens

I’m ambivalent about the ways I played Jens. I could have pushed harder on his careerism and ruthlessness, but I think that letting myself bleed through instead set me up for the more emotional scenes of the evening. Some of them will stay with me for a long time. Read about them below.

The evening (in game, i.e. not including pre-larp info and debrief session):

Intro – 15 mins
Speed dates – 9 (amount of people to date) x 3 min + time to quickly evaluate each date and make some small talk
Hanging out – 30 mins
Longer dates – 3 (the three people) x 10 mins
Hanging out – 15 mins
Marriges – 30 mins
Outro – 10 mins

Actual play time: roughly four hours.

Most memorable scenes:

  • Finding an ally in Frida, one of the other player characters.
    I was eavesdropping on her speed date with the guy next to me and realized her and Jens had the same taste in literature. I quickly looked up a Dostoyevsky quote and used it to come out to her. She was the first character to know about Jens’ sexuality.
    Here’s the quote I paraphrased.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Frida and Jens helped each other out for the rest of the evening and it was Frida who introduced Jens to Jonna for the next memorable scene:

  • A character coming out to Jens as being transsexual.
    This scene took my by surprise. I thought I had the evening pretty much figured out until Jonna came along and offered to marry Jens as long as he promised not to judge or hate her. She promised to give him children if he agreed to finance her sex change. The whole interaction ended up being very powerful. Jonna’s player portrayed fear, shame and insecurity very skillfully and it was hard remembering that Jens would probably not be as sympathetic to this as I would. This scene also served in a wonderful way to break my flow a bit, which was very welcome. As you’ll understand, I thought I knew who to marry and why, but Jonna presented me with a dilemma that served tore at both me and Jens throughout the game.
  • Finding the perfect match.
    In hindsight, I can see that something like this was bound to happen, but I love the way it actually ended up happening. On Jens’ last speed date, the time was running out and I decided to out him again. Julia, the woman I was talking to, responded similarly, that she was into women, not men, and then our time was up. Julia ended up being the one Jens married and it seems like that particular couple was the only one content in their decision. Julia’s player/Julia had even prepared a marital contract for any possible candidate to sign. Great stuff!
    One of the best moments of the game, and it almost did not happen.
  • The long date with the woman who seemed to be compatible with me, but turned out not to be.
    After each speed date, everyone evaluated their temporary partner by writing down a number on a piece of paper and handing it to the speed date organizers (played, BTW, by the larp organizers). After all speed dates, the ones who liked each other the best got to spend some extra time together. Mia was the person Jens had felt could be the closest to agreeing to his terms for marriage. It turned out that what I had interpreted as anger or unwillingness to participate really came down to her being terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. This was a very painful scene, both because it forced me to play somewhat close to home and because our characters really wanted to help each other, but were utterly unable to. What resulted was a sort of beautifully tragic scene of silent acceptance and quiet mourning.
Till the State Do You Part - Getting Married

Jens and Julia getting married, overseen by our organizer/officiant Anna.

General closing comments:
The only straight up meta technique in the game was the use of what could best be described as suggestion cards. Every player was handed three of these containing info about other characters and suggestions on what to talk about with them or just general suggestions to bring into play whenever things were going too well for one’s character. We were told to not look at these cards beforehand, but many of the suggestions were missed due to this and it seemed to surprise the organizers. I read everything on my cards and managed to incorporate the suggestions to some extent, but they did not guide my overall play. I think it would have been best if everyone had read the cards right away and been told not to bring them into play as soon as the game started.

I regret not having at least contacted the players of the characters Jens had a previous relationship with before the event. I just get a feeling we could have squeezed a bit more out of our relationships had we talked beforehand.

All in all, this was a wonderful evening. I laughed quite a bit, but there were also moments where I was almost moved to tears. The players were all good sports and the organizers really worked their asses off to set us up with something cool, absurd and hilarious.

My last larp before this one was probably a dinner larp at CrossCon 2011 and that one did not really aim for immersion nor hardcore character development. Till the State Do You Part definitely left me feeling really good about getting more involved in larping in the coming months and years, starting with Knutepunkt and Larp Exchange Academy in two weeks.