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Play and self-loathing for the 22nd century

Tag: LARP

Play Journal: Q1 2015

Oh, hai. I didn’t see you there. Huh? What’s that? Three months? It’s been three months since the last recap? Really? OK. Fine. I’ll give you something to read.

Apparently going through a divorce, moving to a new apartment, and school kicking into high gear moved this play journal thing down a couple notches on my priority… ladder (do ladders have notches? am I just mixing metaphors here?). I won’t turn this into a update on my personal life, but I will say that the recent turmoil certainly has had its effect on my willingness to seek out opportunities for interesting play. More than anything, I’m still exhausted, but it’s getting better and I’m looking forward to a year of unique and challenging play.

Speaking of unique (great segue, Thom), I’m doing a crazy and stupid thing in writing a Game for Lonely People every day of 2015 over at Short Games for Lonely People. I’m now one fourth through the year, and I’d love it if you kept me company by, from time to time, reading some of the stuff I squeeze out of my thinkyhole. You’re free to enjoy it. You’re also unfree to enjoy it.

Short Games

Final notes: I could have written more on Knudepunkt, but for reasons known to me, this year wasn’t entirely focused on play for me. Instead, my big takeaways from KP 2015 was friendships and how to relate to people I know and care about.
Also, I did a 24 hour version of A Drift. In Berlin. Using silent disco technology. It was amazing. In fact, it was so amazing that I’m writing a journal entry just for that one game. Don’t know when it’ll be up. Will tell you when it is. If you ask. Nicely.


LIVE ACTION STUFF

Living Stones at Malmö Museum – These can be found in a sort of hidden room far into the museum. They occupy a corner of a large room, making up a beach to the blue carpet/water of the rest of the room. I really didn’t see that the stones actually were pillows until my kid picked one up and threw it at me. I tried the stones out for a bit, but the real joy was watching my kid play with other kids. I almost only see my kids play together with each other, so seeing the interactions and attentiveness to others was a real treat. Too bad these stones cost a copious amount of money, otherwise, I’d fill my living room with them.

Malmö Play Club Session – Not much to say. A Play Club session is always a Play Club session, and never not interesting. Here’s what we played:
Bomb and Shield
Vampire
Silent Bird
Build Up/Knock Down
Sound Shower
Rain

Action Breaks – As part of a programming course I’m taking, we have what’s called an “action break” every time we have class. The conditions are simple: The winners of the last action break come up with a game that has to 1) be winnable 2) not take place in the classroom 3) involve moving around. Here’s what I managed to be part of:
Murderous Handshake
Everybody’s It Freeze Tag, Foosball Tournament, Ståtroll (Danish name for a variant of Freeze Tag).

Soccer – Took the kids shopping for groceries at the mall and brought a ball along for after we were done. Just bringing a football to this sort of place, even though we played with it outside, at the designated area (poorly) built for play, radically changes it. Play is appropriative, right? Yeah, it served as an invitation to other kids to join, and before we knew it, a game was under way.

explosion

Columbian Hypnosis – Played this with a classmate. I’m slowly realizing how much I absolutely enjoy the kind of push and pull this sort of game affords. Yes, one person leads, but the person following is in a strange power position as well, regulating and signalling whether or not the hypnotist should push harder or cut some slack. We’ll get back to this stuff later.

Playing in the park – Went with big M to play in Folkets Park (literally “The People’s Park”). We played in a piece of wooden playground equipment shaped like a car + caravan, and the kid who was driving was really all enthusiastic about it. Me and my kid sat in the back of the car, shouting destinations to each other, joking about where we were going.
All of a sudden, our kid driver turned around and announced: “We’re here!”
I asked: “Where are we?”
He answered: “Folkets Park”, which was of course true, but not an answer I was expecting.

MovingBaby

Easter Egg Hunt – Apparently, this is now some sort of tradition in Malmö — letting people join a little treasure hunt and go look for easter eggs. It was just enough fun for my 3,5 year-old to enjoy. There were four stations, each with its own question to be answered on the treasure map sheet we received at the outset of our hunt. At each of these stations, there were people in animal suits (bunny, chicken, cat etc.), but the kids didn’t actually have to interact with these characters unless they wanted to. Oftentimes, I think that people designing these sorts of experiences go for high interaction and full-on spectacle, even though that might not be suitable for the target audience. In this case, I’m really glad that interaction was not mandatory, because the animals were sometimes a bit freaky (read: I thought they were amazing while my kid thought they were a bit too weird).

A Drift, 24h Berlin run – There is no way to keep this short, so I’ve broken it into its own post. I’ll put a link here once it’s done.

Tempelhof-square

Knudepunkt 2015 – Like I said in my stupidly long intro, KP2015 did bring some play experiences, but it was more of a year of recalibration for me, as it indeed seems to be in all areas. Here’s a quick summary of what sort of trouble I got myself into:

Universe Building Workshop with Jakob la Cour
– Played around with ASMR and how it could be used to create a sense of space and place. The focus was relaxation, but I think we went much more towards titillation and subtle excitement. Some of my absolutely strongest triggers (good ones) were hit, but I really didn’t mind.

Movement Workshop with Gabriel Widing
– Any sort of workshop Gabriel put together will probably be worth attending, and this turned out to be true for the movement workshop as well. The whole thing was rather simple; Gabriel had prepared several scores for the group to work around, all exploring different ways bodies can relate to each other. Some relations slanted towards the physical, some towards the social. One score stood out to me as interesting in terms of power (back to the pushing and pulling mentioned above). Everyone mills about in the room. Once they lock eyes with someone, they approach each other, and when they meet one must kneel before the other. There’s no talking, so this agreement must be made in silence, using looks and body language. What’s interesting is that the exercise would suggest that the person kneeling is somehow the victim of the person still standing. However, they do not break eye contact or move away from each other until the person kneeling gets back up. Thus, the person kneeling is in control and the submission has become an interesting power dynamic that recognizes its own artificial premise, while still maintaining the actual physical and social relationship that the participants have silently agreed upon.

nailpolish

Control Box Workshop
– A workshop exploring submission (I know, that again). One person is in a square made up by tape on the floor. As long as they’re in there, they follow instructions given to them by everyone who is not in the box. Their only permitted autonomous action is leaving the box.  Naturally, I wish people pushed harder when it was my turn, but there was no way to communicate this.

Masquerade (at the party)
– I didn’t prepare a lot, but in keeping with the theme — Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues — I went as charity, throwing (fake) money at people and being all… charitable. I wore a bird mask and hung out in the sloth room. I also danced at the Danceoke.

Improvised Ritual (at the party)
– Stumbled into a proper Norwegian improvised ritual during the party. It was really intense at times and got just as scary as I think it was supposed to. I can’t really imagine what it looked like from the outside, but being in it felt good.

Ninja (at the party)
– Jumped into a game that just started, wearing my mask and everything. Did not do too well.

Warlarp
– Last day of Knudepunkt, I joined a drop-in boffer battle in the style of the Danish “Warlarp”. It’s basically a boffer game, so the focus is on hitting people a whole bunch, but you have to move in formation and stay with your group. Everything is based on Warhammer in some way I do not fully comprehend or care about, but I had a lot of fun just running around beating people up and dying in very dramatic ways.

Daycare Play – Went to the open/drop-in daycare in my neighborhood and was served amazing food by two of the finest chefs imaginable. food
Built stuff in play-dough. Made this little fella:playDough Also, a lot of other fun stuff kids come up with at daycare. Like, jumping from too high up, kicking someone who’s not actually in the kicking game, and throwing food all over the place. It was the kids doing those things, not me. Just to be clear.


PC/CONSOLE STUFF

P.T. – I finally got around to playing this hype monster, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Do believe the hype, people. First observation: isn’t it funny how a horror game so successfully plays with the corridor trope? I mean, though not a horror game, this was the strength of The Stanley Parable as well; the illusion of choice as represented by rigid architecture. Horror often works on the same level, giving players just enough pull on the world for the pushback to really hurt once it comes.
Second observation: P.T. managed to lull me and Mikael into a sort of ritualistic and occult behavior when we tried to solve the last of the puzzles. I’ve been told that Blaise Pascal said something along the lines of “First you go to church and you kneel in front of the cross, then you start believing in God”. I think the same went for our strange quest for the esoteric knowledge in P.T.: repetition and practice brought about mystic belief in our nonsensical play. Immersion really was the excrement of action.

Portal 2 – Played through the extra co-op level that I had not yet tried, and started going through some of the user-designed ones. There are some real gems there, lemme tell ya. If you’re into Portal 2, you need to do yourself a favor and download a bunch of user-designed levels to try out.

Interruption Junction – Maybe not very game-y, but still sorta interesting. Not much to say about it, though. Well, I guess I could say that… [INTERRUPTION!!!]

Tired

Mighty Jill Off – I played through this game a couple of times for school. We were assigned to play any two games and blog about them, preferably in relation to each other. I wrote about submission, negotiation, and masochism in Mighty Jill Off and Super Hexagon. I don’t think I’ll publish those texts here on the blog any time soon, but there’s some incredibly interesting and potent ideas in the mix of BDSM and game design. I mean, just read this book. This is where we get back to the push and pull, and what I think Anna Anthropy does so well in several of her games. The designer becomes a guide in our submission, but rather than ending up stuck in the proceduralist rhetoric argument, the player also has a say in the negotiation of her submission.

Quake Live – Another game I played it as part of our Digital Game Theory course. There’s only a few people taking the course, so we have a lot of room to improvise and come up with stuff to do. This seemed mostly to serve as a team-building exercise… not that I mind.

We tried getting around the subscription required to host matches by finding matches that looked good and then shout the details at each other until everyone joined the same game. It took us the better part of an hour to get everyone (10-ish people) connected, first to Steam, then Quake Live. I was not on my A game, and I was far from the best in class, but it was damn fun.
We also got to try out our new Game Lab, which turned out to work like a charm and have some proper gear for playing computer games.
Finally, this game gave us the chance to shoot at our professors, which is always a welcome addition to any educational setting.

Nidhogg – I stayed behind after one Quake Live session and coaxed a classmate into trying out some of the variants. Baby mode was ridiculous, and low gravity was great. Never found out what the spine sword did. Nidhogg, great as always.

Micro Machines V3 – When we’re not playing Quake Live or DayZ in class, we meet up to play old PS1 games. Micro Machines was hectic and entertaining, and I’m very happy we tried the multiplayer mode with six players. I really don’t care for the retro obsession some people have, but when it comes to learning from past mistakes and successes, I’m all for it. Here’s a game that did a lot with what was available in terms of hardware. A maximum of eight players for a racing game on a PS1 is not bad, considering how this is to be communicated and designed. Current designers of local multiplayer games could do worse than look to Micro Machines for inspiration.

MicroMachines

Hercules – Herculadedrik! That’s all I have to say.

Three Body Problem – Found this while browsing A Game Design Vocabulary and felt like trying it. It’s really quite good. The difficulty is rather high, but still presents a challenge even after you’ve figured out what it’s all about.

Glorkian Warrior – Got it in a Killscreen bundle. Tried it a couple of times. It’s alright. There’s some sort of tie-in to some thing I don’t know about, so I figure that most of the appeal is lost in me just not getting it.

Tunnel

Drosophilia – The more Twine games I play, the more I want to make them. Anthing Pippin Barr is involved in will always pique my interest. This is no exception.

DayZ – Also a game played in class, DayZ has become something of a focus for me this semester. Along with a classmate, I developed a theory that the whole apocalypse scenario we find ourselves in when playing DayZ was actually brought about by an insane case of hypermetabolism spreading across the world. It wasn’t a mutated rabies virus, or a case of bad mojo, or a toxic spill. No, it was just the fact that absolutely everyone had to eat and drink ALL THE TIME, and once they eventually die, they still have to eat, hence the zombies. The zombies are afflicted like everyone else — doomed to consume.
Is DayZ, then, a critique of our world of mass-consumption and mass waste in the same vein of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead?

— What are they doing? Why do they come here?
— Some kind of instinct. ”Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.

Probably not, but entertaining that thought is entertaining to me, so I’ll keep doing that.

Apart from the hypermetabolism and the Zombies (which I would argue is a nuisance, rather than anything important to the game), DayZ offers a world where life is, at best, ”solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. This is both due to the game’s own rules (you starve, thirst, freeze etc) but also of its encouragement of it due through scarcity in resources that can potentially alleviate some of the threats facing characters in DayZ. This was the case in my killing Espen (my professor) while he logged out. To be honest, I thought he wasn’t done logging out and that, rather than an execution, it would turn out to be more of a ”fair fight”… in the same way a hunter using a rifle to kill an animal on the run is a fair fight, I suppose. I turned out to arrive late to the party and my kill landed me nothing more than a bit of loot (which could have been better, Espen!) and some ill-ish will. It was a conscious and very deliberate choice to do this, and the game is practically made for it. People have called DayZ a ”human nature simulator”, but I think that’s going a bit far. Humans can be cruel, sure, but rarely without some sort of reason. The player’s reason has a higher threshold when it comes to figuring out how much is too much, especially since it’s based on the game context and that DayZ presents a world and surrounding conversation focused on killing for sport, entertainment, or resources. When placed in this world, where life is cheap with or without other players going after you, I feel it’s much more legit to kill your friend (or professor) than in some other games. I also had the chance to force-feed my professor’s avatar some old tuna, which is always nice.

DayZLastly, I had the great idea of dropping all my gear (except the gloves and shades, of course) as I was dying. I thought I could just return and pick it all up after starving to death. I was wrong. Of course I respawned at the other end of the map.

Pac Man in Google Maps – Tried it at ITU, and it worked fine. Tried it where I grew up, and there were not enough roads. Go figure.


MOBILE STUFF

Solipskier – Played this with big M on the iPad. It’s a bit difficult for a three-year-old to figure out (we don’t let the kids use the iPad a whole lot), but it seemed to please the little one, so I was ok with it. Such a soft and nice experience, just like skiing isn’t at all.

Super Hexagon – I’ve felt like firing this up more often than previously. Mostly to deal with anxiety and amusing stuff like that. Also, like I mentioned above, I wrote a little something about it in relation to Mighty Jill Off. The best, as always, is firing it up and defeating the hardestestestest level in one try.

SuperHex

Moneygrabber – Spent way too long playing this. Way too long. Started thinking about spending actual money on it, at which point I uninstalled it.

Crossy Road – Tried it out in order to have tried it out and it totally worked as I have now tried it out. Great success.

Subterfuge – Interesting concept, but I’m not sure I have the wherewithal to internalize a game system of this kind right now. The negotiation seems nicely built into the interface and even with a somewhat complicated game system, I feel I get a good overview of what’s going on.

Sunburn – Solid design, but I get bored with these things very easily, so I don’t know if I’ll actually pick it up again. That’s actually a bit sad, when I go “this is good… but I don’t care”. It happens a lot with games.

Pinna – Taps into some sort of obsessive thing I have for simple/stupid games, but ultimately rather empty. Again, I guess it’s sorta good, but oooooooh my how I have other things to do, or better things to distract myself with.


TABLETOP STUFF

Hit the Hat – with big M. Same as always, the game rules don’t actually matter much. It’s much more important to just play around with the stuff in the box.

HitHat

Torchbearer – Out of respect for the game, we opted to go with pregens and just jump right in the first time we played. I played Gerald the Halfling burglar and I did not fare well in the dungeon, as expected. The second time we played, we created characters and got to the same part of the dungeon as our pregens had during our test run. Finally, the third run saw us delve deeper into the dungeon (big mistake, but hey, a poor murderhobo’s gotta do what a poor murderhobo’s gotta do). Perhaps we played out our characters inner lives a bit too strongly because what ended up killing us was not primarily the dungeon but conflicts within the murderhobo party. In short, my elf went down into a dungeon, hit some skeletons with his dagger, pushed his buddy into an ancient marble coffin, opened a door, and falling asleep in his own puke because the door was rigged with a horrible trap. Ah, Torchbearer, your rage is so measured and subtle.

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Thom’s Top Ten Play Experiences of 2014

It’s been a hell of a year. That’s not just the hook of my favorite end-of-the-year song, it’s also true for my 2014, in several senses. Part of me is just glad I made it through at all. Looking back, my first impression was that 2014 didn’t offer as many cool play opportunities as 2013, but in assembling my short list (28 items!), I realized other stuff often got in the way of my enjoyment of them. This often interfered with my post-event appreciation rather than my actual in-play enjoyment, and I hope that in writing this list I’ll be able to look more soberly at what I’ve been up to.

Like last year, some of the stuff in here will be recycled from previous Play Journal entries. Like last year, you will be OK with this. Lastly, like last year, these experiences are presented in no particular order, so it’s not a countdown or count… up.

Very little of what made my year in play great would not have happened or been as exciting, enjoyable, and beautiful without all of my fellow players. Thus, I want to thank everyone who played with me in 2014. It means a lot to me that I get to keep exploring this thing (whatever it is) alongside some of the most amazing people I’ve met. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

w00t 2014 (May 30 – June 1)

The Copenhagen play festival returned for its second year and this time I participated not only as a player but also as a designer. More about the designer part later.

w00t 2014

This festival was just as good as I had hoped. Unlike last year, I was also able to attend all days this time around, which meant I didn’t miss as many cool things. The whole affair was a bit more polished and well-oiled than last year’s event (doesn’t say much, as that was held in what was basically a huge sandpit, but still).
Like I mentioned, bringing and playing something I designed was a big thing. That deserves its own entry on the list, however, so look further below to find that.

These are cool things I played at w00t 2015:
City Dash – This was great fun, even though our team spent a quarter of the game outside the actual play area. I’ve missed playing a larger street game where you simply get to run your ass off and collect points. I think there’s a view that many street games are only that, but it really isn’t as common as one might get the impression of.
The Avatar Controller – The more avatar play I can get AFK, the better.
Political Volleyball – Brilliant and simple concept. Just like volleyball, but spectators can vote for rules changes through Twitter. The twist is that they’re only voting for the names of the changes, so they don’t actually know what’s going to change.
Push Me, Pull You – The visuals drew me in, and this ended up inspiring a design I was involved in during my fall semester at the ITU in Copenhagen.
Sync – Another clever Local Multiplayer nugget. It’s basically this in the form of a videogame.
Triolectical Football – This is a must-try for… anyone interested in… sports, soccer, politics, art, play, games, architecture, warfare. Yeah.

Finally, I hade the great pleasure and honor to play some games with Bernie DeKoven, who was the festival’s guest of honor.Some people look at cool indie people making strange stuff and wish they were more like them. Me? I want to be Bernie.
Adding to the experience was the fact that I got to play with and see a dear friend of mine play all of these simple and coliberating games, building a shared understanding of what I’ve been getting into these past years.

 

Rain Game at Knutpunkt (April 3)

With 20 people, this is a cool game; with 350 people, it deserves a place on this list.

rain game

Sometimes, I have to argue that things I do are actually games. This is one of the most tiresome debates concerning games one can get into, so I try to avoid it. As long as the play is good, I probably don’t give a shit whether or not you think it’s a game. Rain is one of those games. It’s as much a ritual as a game, and that’s sorta the point. It brings a group together by sound and imagination, and it’s a beautiful thing.

In a car on my way from Halmstad to the Knutpunkt venue, one of the organizers asked if I had some game I could play as part of the opening ceremony. Of course I had a game!
For those who are unaware, Rain, asks players to close their eyes and imagine the last of a summer’s rains. The person leading the game starts rubbing their hands together and other people copy that sound, creating an impression of a growing wind. The sounds then move through snapping fingers, clapping hands, and slapping thighs, all the way to stomping on or slapping the floor. The person in the lead then slowly brings it all back down again by repeating the sounds in reverse order. My favorite moment is the transition from snapping fingers to rubbing the palms together. It really evokes that feeling of a heavy rain that’s just moved on.
As always, a lot of this is autosuggestion, and I did notice some people totally not getting into it, but I was blown away by both the game itself and the response I got from people afterwards. All through Knutpunkt people came up to me telling me that it was not only “fun”, “cool”, or “interesting”, but actually “beautiful”. Very little of those things were thanks to me, but I’m happy I was part of it.

 

A Drift: Gothenburg/Malmö/Copenhagen/Kraków (playtests, CPH, Malmö, Kraków)

The one game design I’m really proud of this year, A Drift was also my first opportunity in years to work with a close friend of mine.

a drift

I’ll try to not make this a postmortem. Some discussion about the process of designing A Drift is required make some sense, though. For the first time in years, I teamed up with my friend Mikael Vesavuori to make something. Joining us was also Niklas Persson, a welcome and balancing addition to the dynamic duo me and Mikael make up for better and for worse.

The idea was to make a street game to be submitted to w00t and Otherplace and for it to be minimal and not site-specific. What we came up with is pretty close to being a more structured and meditative version of Follow the Leader. I used to be uncomfortable with that comparison, but it does fit well and I’m proud we dared to keep it simple. Players team up, put on headphones playing an ambient soundtrack, and take turns leading each other in an exploration of the city.

In total, I did six proper runs of the game in 2014, and I can remember surprisingly much about them. Since every action builds on, or at least springs from, the last one, a sort of associative map is drawn through the city. When I recall the playthroughs, I follow these maps and go on a trip of silly and beautiful memories.

A Drift - playtest note

Riding a tram in Kraków without a ticket, saluting a building, walking backwards across a busy square, hugging an apartment complex, staring at a mall, staring at hot dogs turning round and round on a grill, drawing on pavement with a piece of chalk, venturing into the tunnels underneath Copenhagen, hiding from a heavy summer rain only to emerge and witness the most intense rainbow I’ve ever seen, mimicking other people, kneeling before a couple getting their wedding photos taken, using a street sign ask monkey bars, resting on warm asphalt while looking at nothing but sky…

When you give people the tools to play, they do. That’s a good thing about people.

 

Service at Knutpunkt (April 7)

The one game I attended at Knutpunkt ended up being totally worth it. A mix of ethical dilemma, tense play, and an incredibly satisfying ending secured it a spot on this list.

Service

With some games, you can see the emotional train wreck well before you’re sucked into it. In other games, you think you see a train, but actually it’s a flying saucer, and a Ninja stabs you, from behind, right in the feels. Service did that to me and that’s why it belongs on this list.

I didn’t really know what to expect, more than a larp about the call to military service, made by my buddy Shoshana. Service turned out to be a moral dilemma game, rather than some sort of military simulation. However, contrary to many other wicked problems, the person who was to be singled out among the new recruits was going to be spared (at least for now).
Working through the moral dilemma made up the bulk of the game, and I found it satisfying and was feeling surprisingly emotional by the end. One of the best parts was engaging with a player who was playing an introverted character, steering him into the game to keep him from just standing in a corner waiting it all out. It was obvious he was working through some dark thoughts in his mind and I wanted to see what they were. He let me, and they weren’t pretty, which was… beautiful. He gave me a chilling monologue about how he longed to feel his face sink into the cold mud as he died. Good stuff.

There are two things I think deserve a special mention: the character sheet and the end of the game.
The character sheet was nice because it worked both as an in-game prop (a draft notice) and a way to flesh out who you were playing. It was also part of starting the game. Everyone lined up and then, in turn, read their names out loud to proceed to the briefing room (where the rest of the game took place).
The end, then, also involved a slip of paper. Every player was handed one, lined up and, in turn, read their name and what the slip of paper said. They then exited the room and thus also the game. My slip of paper is the one you see below. This is what happened to my character in the the war. Medal of honor. Congrats.

I found myself in a strange state right after the game. Both the game itself and my character’s particular ending had gotten to me and I wasn’t really done dealing with it when I stepped out of the room. Other players, however, were super excited and immediately started shouting and laughing once they were out of the game. For some reason, this threw me off big time. There was a sort of dissonance where I was still internally processing what I had been through while others did the same, but with each other. This was unexpected but not entirely unwelcome. Though my overall reaction to the game still puzzles me. I wasn’t expecting as much as I did receive.

 

Malmö Play Club Club (March 22)

Malmö Play Club in general had a given spot on last year’s list. This year, we stepped up our… game by throwing a Play Club Club, and it was incredible.

playclubclub

Malmö Play Club decided to throw a nightclub but replace the alcohol with play and guess what… it worked beautifully! Four straight hours of play mixed with Danceoke (a first for many, including me) proved to be a great combo. This was the first time that Malmö Play Club charged money for an event and our fears that we would scare people off by doing so were swept away by the gusts of love and play that participants brought. I hope we will dare to bring the Play Club Club back in 2015.

 

Camel Cup (July 19)

Tons of laughs and just as many friends to have them with puts this board game on the 2014 list.

April_16__2014_at_0715PM

This may seem like a strange thing to put on my top ten list. Most of the other stuff is part of something larger; some transformative social experiment or interesting play shenanigans. Camel Cup? Not so much. BUT! I don’t think I had as much fun or laughed as hard while playing a game as when I played Camel Cup.

The context played a part, of course. I played it at one of my favorite gaming conventions, Container. Container is a special kind of beast. It stretches over 10 days, which means most people who want to make it there can actually sync it with some vacation time and go. The venue is an old place out on the countryside outside Jönköping. We all sleep in a big barn and the whole deal costs around 200-250 SEK, but you fix and cook your own food. Many of my closest friends attend and I’ve been going for the last seven years. Down the hill from the barn, there’s a small lake, and swimming is the perfect way to wind down after a game — even if the game happens to end at 5 in the morning. It’s basically a nerdy summer camp for (mostly) grown-ups.
Bringing a game like Camel Cup to a group of people like that means things will happen. Good things, like shouting and laughing.

 

De Usete (November 21)

Animal masks, fake drugs, live music, international conspiracy. What’s not to like?

Foto 2014-11-22 00 39 10

I wrote a pretty extensive analysis of my experience playing De Usete, so if you want to know more about the details, you should click here. In retrospect, the mood I brought to it ended up being perfect for the sort of game it turned out to be. This mood was, however, brought on by personal events I’d rather skip discussing like this (though I, of course, trust you to keep secrets).

In summary: anytime you give me the opportunity to wear a mask as part of a game, you’ve already got my attention. If you already throw in some amazing co-players, it’s a done deal.

 

TWD S02E03 (May or June)
What. The. Actual. Fuck? A digital, single-player game? On the top ten list?
Yes.

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Many people have lauded the third episode of The Walking Dead’s second season, and with good reason. The drama is tight, the writing is good, the missions are interesting and varied, and the finale is quite the thing. I think that there’s no question that it’s the strongest episode of the entire season.

What I liked most about it was how the in-game space works in parallel with the narrative choices in that they’re both very constraining. Oftentimes, adventure games need to spend some time explaining why more options aren’t available or viable. Putting the main character in a sort of prison takes care of that problem, and actually focuses it on the one goal of the episode: escaping.

This is also an episode where Telltale pulls very few punches, literally. The scene where Carver pushes Carlos to hit his daughter is absolutely painful. You may also be asking yourself: did Thom stay and watch Kenny kill Carver? Yes, he did. And he wants you to know that he appreciates how quickly Telltale made him regret that decision.

The ending is a chaotic and wonderful mess, and once again the particularities of my own playthrough puts its own color on it. Having watched Kenny completely bash Carver’s head in, I joined the others in the attempted escape. When presented with the episode’s final decision — whether or not to chop off Sarita’s hand right after she’s been bit — I opted to go ruthless and hardcore and start hacking away. Once the hand was off and Sarita’s scream carried over into the end credits, I turned my head slightly only to see someone standing right. fucking. behind me. Turned out, V, who had already played through the episode, had walked up behind me not considering the fact that I was wearing headphones and playing the most intense scene of the episode. Then and there, I deducted a couple of years from how long I had previously thought I could expect to live. It was a good scare, though.

 

Mutant: år noll (June-December)

Yes, the game has flaws. Yes, these flaws are to be found in both system and setting. Still, the Mutant sessions delivered some really good and brave play.

mohan

I constantly feel like apologizing for this game, but I won’t. I’ve already written in the journal about how the system doesn’t really hold together, nor push the sort of play the designers seem to be looking for. I’ve also told you (even if you didn’t listen) about how the setting is a mess and encourages character psychopathy. These are problems, sure, but what we managed to squeeze out of this game turned out tasty and refreshing.

Having realized that simply playing according to the system would kill our fun, us players decided to set, and push hard for, our own agendas. Where this turned interesting was when we managed to work ourselves into conflict with each other. The sincere and vulnerable moments that resulted were some of the better roleplaying experiences I had in 2014. In the end, my character and the character he was most attached to went separate ways in a heartwarming and heartbreaking manner. In the zone, this meant that my character gave the other guy the one true gift you can give someone in the zone: a bottle of antidepressants. Godspeed, Mubba. May there always be something beautiful in your life, making you painfully conflicted about whether or not to crush it and watch it squirm.

 

BONUS: playing with my kids
Still not that complicated, really. 

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This will probably be a recurring item on my top ten lists, so I’ll treat it as a bonus from now on. Getting to follow the development of not only one, but two, kids’ play is often breathtaking. The fact that they’re, in fact, my kids probably adds something to the equation, but never mind. Now that I’ve got two of these creatures, just watching them play together is utterly fascinating. I’m happy I get to do it.

Play Journal: BlackBox CPH IV

I broke this post off from my November Play Journal entry because there was simply too much to say. This is what (and a bit of “how” and “why”) I played at BlackBox CPH IV, Nov 21-23, 2014:

 


 

1. De usete (The Unseen) – This was one of only two games I played at the BlackBox CPH festival. I wish I had been in more games, but then again, I also wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller… and so on and so on.
De Usete was a special kind of larp; a mix between blackbox and pervasive play, it took place in a bar and featured a live concert by a band one of the game’s designers sings in. The set-up was one of conspiracy, dystopia, and dark psychedelia. The players took on the roles of people in a secret group known as “the Unseen”. Divided into three houses (red, green, and blue) the players spent the night trying to find potential recruits in the audience and bring them into the conspiracy. A minor problem was, of course, that government agents had infiltrated the secret meeting and were among those trying to get accepted into the ranks of the Unseen. Minor problem So, in short, players were either members of one of the houses or potential recruits. These were all distinguished by scarves of the house colors + white for aspirants. There were also a couple of concert-goers who were not active players, though they had been informed that a larp was going on as part of the concert (or vice versa).

I played a member of the blue house. We were the old money, decadent, aristocracy working to keep the Big Brother Pan-European government out of our business. My team members were great — all dressed up and ready to play. As the game went on, we stayed in our attractively lit corner of the venue, summoning aspirants and assessing them. We also did a bunch of drugs. Strange, strange druuugs, man.

The night at Dark Matter (that was the name of the game’s night club) was shrouded in mystery, wrapped in conspiracy, and laced with . We flirted with, challenged, and invited the aspirants to see what made them tick. We tried to influence the other houses to vote according to our will. We also had our own personal missions, which were somewhat separated from the main purpose of the evening. Mine was: “During the evening, you must meet the love of your life”. That’s probably where most of the flirting came from on my part.

Hartmann

OK, so let me rewind and explain the drugs thing before moving on. I really think I should. The way drugs were handled and represented were one of what I see as the two moving parts of the game (the other being the voting system, which I won’t go into because it was pretty standard). So, There were three kinds of drugs: uppers, downers, and p5ych3d3lic5. They were represented by green, red, and yellow gummy bears, and acted both as commodity as well as roleplaying cues to set people off in new directions. This was probably one of the best parts of the game, and it played into how I received a great roleplaying gift from another player. Roleplaying gift? Yeah, you know, when another player just dumps a thing (doesn’t actually have to be a “thing”, just a Thing) in your lap, basically saying: “here’s a thing. Now, make good play happen with it. You’re welcome, asshole”. The gift I received came from a first-time player who circumvented the whole gummy bear thing and played up his character’s advanced drug dealer goals. Instead of accepting that drugs stopped at gummy bears, he went to the bar and got a small pack of sugar. As we were talking about a potential deal, he held it up and told me that it wasn’t like the other stuff at the party, that it would make me see things as they really were. I saw where he was going and gladly accepted the gift by pocketing the pack and plotting when to drop the super drug. By the time Mother Empire started their second set, I ripped the tiny paper container open, leaned my head back and poured the contents into my mouth. So, it wasn’t sugar. It was salt. Who cares? I surrendered to playing a strange and wonderful trip and the flirt I had been working on up to that point went straight out the window, down the street, across the ocean and into outer space. I danced, got… personal with my house leader and made a wonderful fool of myself, all while wearing the wolf mask.

Wait, I forgot to mention the animal masks, didn’t I? Yeah, so check out this video first and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about (as well as some of the mood the larp was going for):

Mmmhmm… There were a couple of animal masks in the club, and I encountered the first one right away when an aspirant turned to me, holding the wolf mask, and asked: “Sir, did you drop this?” This was clearly another roleplaying gift, so I accepted it without missing more than maybe two or three beats. The wolf mask followed me through the larp, sometimes working as a test for aspirants, sometimes simply serving as a mask to put on for a while and walk around in. If you want to know one thing about me, it might as well be this: I have a thing about masks and being masked. Not a shocker maybe, but I’ll take any chance I get to borrow another face for a while.

Foto 2014-11-22 00 39 10

Crappy picture, lovely mask

In the end, I put my vote on whoever my house leader led me to. I then replaced the wolf mask and danced blindfolded instead.
None of the people our house voted for ended up being the ones brought into the conspiracy. The houses, having surrendered to drug-induced nihilism, instead voted for the two government agents to join us. This was very, very satisfying. The only way it could have been more PKD-ish is if we would have found out that, without knowing it, we were actually working for the government as well (which was actually a rumor I never had time to engage with, though it started at the perfect moment where all four members of the blue house had dropped the yellow gummy bears (or substances of the sodium chloridic kind). It would almost have been a let down if none of them had gotten in).

All in all, the only thing that didn’t really gel with me was how different the views people had on the level of secrecy surrounding the conspiracy were. I went into the game with the impression that we were going to be mysterious and only have a few aspirants to try and figure out. Instead, almost everyone in the club were part of the game, which gave the whole thing a sort of WoD larp feel to it. In hindsight, I think that my assumptions were wrong, but that the expectations could have been handled a bit better beforehand.

 


 

2. All Little Boys are Dead – After getting too little sleep after De Usete, I considered not attending this game, but I’m glad I fought the lazy impulse to just sit at home and went anyway. It was a treat.

BBCPH-maskcorner

 

All Little Boys are Dead is set in the trenches of WWI and takes the players through one frightful night of the great war. Every player has a partner with whom they share a character. They play different sides of this character, sharing memories and hopes, but differing in terms of personality and psychological response to the war. At any given moment during play, one player in a pair will play blindfolded and the will play mute. These restrictions can be switched in the pair on the mute player’s initiative.
The memories the players share are both roleplaying cues (what they are allowed to talk to the other boys in the trench about) and their hitpoints, indicating the extent to which war has taken its toll on them. If you ever run out of memories, you have to be dragged back from no man’s land (if you lost the memory there), or simply play dead in the trench. You can be given memories by other players, thus jumping back into the game, but the memories are few and getting new ones is risky as it entails venturing into no man’s land and possibly getting caught in an attack.

Oh, and you all wear military helmets to protect you from the dirt being thrown at you by the GMs on the other end of the room every time there’s a heavy artillery attack. Yes, I know this sounds silly, but it turned out to be one of the coolest parts of the game. Every time you heard the ominous whistling sound of an incoming attack, you’d hunker down and wait for the impact. The sound of first the bomb and then of dirt hitting the boys’ helmets was very satisfying.

BBCPH-helmets

The trench itself was a thin area along one of the long sides of the blackbox. It was bordered by low stage platforms you had to crawl over to get to the rest of the room: the dreaded no man’s land. The room was full of smoke, dramatic lighting, and the noises and explosions of the battlefield.

So, there we were, blind or mute, crawling around the trench trying to keep close to our partner while finding someone to talk to about going home. One of the points of contention after the larp was whether or not the boys should actually be able to talk about anything other than memories, which was the case in this playthrough. I thought it added a surreal and tiring quality to the game and by the end I just went over my memories to no one in particular, hoping someone was still listening.
The only time the blindfolded character was allowed to talk about anything other than prewritten memories was when addressing the other parts of himself, i.e. the player playing the other half of the same character. Being blindfolded talking to a mute person, the only feedback I got from my partner was physical, but it turned out to be enough. I think we did a good job both exploring the inner workings of our character as well as trying to connect to other people in the trench.

Memory

“Riding fast on motorcycle with best friend, Christopher” – a memory

 

Then, of course, there was death.

Death came in the form of two gangly shapes dressed in rugged trenchcoats and pink gasmasks (as is so often the case with death, right? Right?). Inside the masks were pink LED lights giving the impression that some unnatural light emanated from within the heads of the creatures coming to rip our memories from us. They slowly chased us all around the room until they had taken two memories, potentially leaving players without memories when they left. What made this part effective was the fact that the mute player’s role was inverted. The two halves of a character (i.e. the two players) were not allowed to touch when death was approaching, but the mute person was allowed to shout the character’s name in order to guide the blindfolded player to safety.

Thom-littleboy

Up close, on me, I guess it just looks goofy.

After nearly two hours of crawling around, sharing and listening to memories, hiding from shell attacks, and running from death, I was pretty exhausted. I sat with my back against the wall of the trench and blabbed on about my friend from home and how we used to ride a motorcycle. My partner huddled up to me and just as we took each other’s hands to pray I heard the old, familiar and soothing sound of Nina Simone singing:

“Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel.

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good”

The lights went up in the room. Dawn had come and I walked out of the game,  hand in hand with the other half of my character, smiling.
I wish the music and noise would have been louder, though…

Considering the length of this post, I reckon my only attending two games at BlackBox CPH IV actually was for the better. Thanks for reading. And thanks to the organizers of BlackBox CPH IV! I’m happy I could be part of it.

Play Journal: November 2014

Ah, Novemeberr, the misspelled month. The cold carefully creeps closer and my alliterations are clearly cleverly cunning as ever. What does this have to do with the Play Journal? Nothing, of course. Should I actually be writing my term paper? Yes, but let’s just get this over with. If, for some reason, you want more once you’re done here, check out my BlackBox CPH post, which was originally part of this post. Blablablablabla! Aaaaand here’s stuff I’ve played in Novemibör 2014.

teddy

November means the teddy is back at one of the stops of my commute.

Prototype tests:
November saw our game design group move into full, actual production. In keeping with our sacred bible and guiding star, Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop, we went for an early playtest. We’ve also made sure to test a bit for the other groups, both for the goodwill (favors for favors etc.), but also because it’s exciting to test clunky shit and then watch as it grows (or slowly folds into a miserable little pile of secrets)

My words exactly! – I am so used to playtests being an exercise in civility/not crushing someone’s hopes all too much that I was pleasantly surprised by this prototype. Not only is it one of the few (if not the only) boardgame designs among all of the game design teams, it’s also really good and has been good from very early on. Second playthrough wasn’t as smooth as the first one, though. This was mainly the fault of feature creep probably brought on by the game being more or less finished at such an early stage. Idle hands and so on and so on.
My Words Exactly! is a word association game with a couple of clever twists. Not only do you try and get a player to guess what word is currently ”taboo”, you also try to predict what words other players will use to try and make the guesser get to the right word. If you predict well enough, you get the chance to basically steal the initiative and lead the guesser towards the taboo word, scoring points for both of you.
This is a game I’d really like to play with people (no, I don’t consider other game design students people, #sorrynotsorry). It has the tension of time-attack games, the deliberation and strategy of a tactical and competitive game, and the maniacal laughter of people (i.e. not game designers) I usually only meet in dreams.
KobraKitez – One thing I really appreciate in a design is when it’s clear that the people behind it have made an effort to use the platform’s affordances to their advantage. KobraKitez (apparently only a working title) does this in a couple of different ways. In this handheld touchscreen game, two players face off in a sort of “coopetition” where they try to gather as many points as possible by shooting creeps spawning all around the screen, shoot ’em up-style. The big twist is that if either of the spaceships are destroyed, the game is over for both players. A second, tinier twist is that at certain points, the game allows for the view of the game to be rotated by the two players actually rotating. This comes in handy in boss fights, where the main creep actually has to be avoided by rotating.
It’s been exciting to see this thing grow and become a game in its own right, rather than a 2P version of one of the most classic game types there is.

sketch2

Concept art for You & Eye. You’ll get the pun if you disregard the upper pair of doodles.

You & Eye – This is my group’s game. It’s a local multiplayer game for 2-8 players, supposed to be played in a party setting or wherever local multiplayer nerds gather. The main version of the game pits you and a teammate against a team made up of two other players. You share a controller with your teammate and use one stick each to control an end of an elastic rope. Together, you swing, roll, jump and tumble around trying to kill the other team, get through their levels and make it all the way to the end with a McGuffin-thingy.
We brought christmas beer for the Alpha test, but our professor didn’t drink it. He did hold it, though, and we’ve made our other testers hold cans as well… as a proof of concept, I guess. Though we have a couple of technical issues, the core gameplay is solid, hectic and makes people scream. These are all good things.

error

The joys of playtesting

Nordic Game Day 2014:
As w00t Pop-Up‘s first official gig, we headed to Vallensbæk library to play games with people there as part of the Nordic Game Day. Apart from some technical setbacks, it went well.

ngdBaking

Baking with Friends. Cake in the making.

Baking with Friends – I wrote about this game last month, and apart from me being a bit better at it (I actually made a cake instead of a hotdog this time!), not much has changed. That is to say: I still like it a lot.

ngdLAZA

The magnificent Babycade!

LAZA KNITEZ!! – We brought the trusty ol’ Babycade with us to Vallensbæk and I managed to play a couple of games before the whole thing crashed due to USB hub overload bullshit. I’ve mentioned before, and it’s still true, that I have a hard time giving n00bs a fair game in LAZA KNITEZ!!. I usually am OK at feigning incompetence (haha, yeah… I’m “feigning”), but I think that the fact that you always move forward in LK makes it harder to stay passive. This is of course part of the wonder of the game as you’re forced into tense situations all the time, but I’ve beaten people even when I didn’t use the controller AT ALL (!!).
JS Joust – I would probably skip saying much of anything if it hadn’t been for these guys taking jousting to the next level:

ngdJoust

OK. ’nuff said about Joust. Moving on!

Towerfall: Ascension – One of the mainstays of the indie Local Multiplayer scene, Towerfall is basically required play for our game design group. This was the first time I tried the game with four people, but I don’t feel I have enough experience with it to say much of anything.

Speedrunners – Another LMP game we tried out for our game design. This was interesting, but like with Towerfall, I’d like to play it a bit more before saying much. It sounds like I need to throw a ITU LMP party.

Luftrausers – For procrastination time, make it Luftrausers time. That is all.

Paraversume – Tried it for potential use in my term paper, but it hadn’t stolen the stuff from its predecessor (The recently shut down Shadow Cities) I was hoping for, so I decided not to use it.

Arcana – Tried it for potential use in my term paper, but decided not to use it. Won’t play again.

Nidhogg – Our game is turning out to take quite some inspiration from Nidhogg, so some of the development time is spent playing and analysing it to better understand our own game.

kapital

Just had to put this somewhere. It has nothing to do with anything in this post. You’re welcome.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – I finished a narrative analysis of S:SoC for school early in Novemibherrr and didn’t play it more after that, but I could probably lose myself in this game if I had the time. I could even forgive the use of the fucking amnesia trope.

Toca Boca stuff (4 games) – First off: a wonderful thing about the Toca Boca apps is that their designers call themselves play designers rather than game designers. It shows in the games. Second, these apps are a whole bag of fun. I spent a good part of an evening getting into all of them myself. The music band app is crazy, and it fits the age category very well.

mdomino

Pictured: not a toca boca thingy

Malmö Play Club Session – I finally, finally, finally made it to another Play Club session. I seem to average on less than once a month, and that’s just too seldom. Here’s a list of games I remember us playing, but don’t feel like explaining:
Sound and Fury. Bleed tag; 1,2 looking for 3, 4 for 5,6; Chip Chipoing; Bleed Tag + ambulance; Sausages/Fläsk; Say Yes!; Wink Murder.

Mutant: År Noll – My one continuing RPG campaign continued with a session wherein we used our mutations a lot more than ever before. This pushes the system to a point where I wish it would push back, but the consequences seem a bit too weak. Every time you push a roll (rerolling), you run the “risk” of getting more mutation points, but once you reach the max (10) points, nothing really meaningful happens. Aaanyway, the system has a couple of strange holes that keeps bothering me, but I get to play with good people and that makes up for it.
This session was climactic in several ways. The first, and a bit less interesting, was that I finally changed character archetype from “mutant with dog” to… Zonstrykare (basically a STALKER) Which I reckon will be a bit more useful. The second big and amazing thing that happened was that one of my fellow players drove a PC-PC conflict pretty hard and it ended up in him retiring his character. My mutant and his came to blows (almost physical) on a lot of issues that we both feel has been the result of the system and color of the game basically encouraging PC psychopathy. This is a thing we reveled in throughout the first couple of sessions, but once it became clear that we weren’t getting stopped by NPCs, we realized that in order for our characters to become playable, we had to push for that ourselves. So, the result was bittersweet and satisfying in that things were resolved without actually reaching much of a conclusion.

mcards1

Hit the Hat – This was probably the one of the first proper games for lil’ M. We play with cards and memory bricks all the time, but the focus is mostly on learning numbers and colors of cards or building farms (yes, for toy animals) out of the bricks. A funny and fun thing about playing more structured games with kids (this one being 3,5 yrs) is that it forces you to reevaluate what you think is most important about the game. It’s not always what it says in the manual. This time (and most times, I hope), it drew me towards finding the well-played game. Doing this is helpful for anybody exploring games and what makes people play them, but doing it with little kids doesn’t leave you any choice but to play along, as it were. If you don’t, they’ll adjust by either finding a strategy that works within the game or leaving.

HitHat

Hit the Hat!

If you’ve read this far you’ve… read this far, I guess. The map is the territory and so on and so on, right?

Thom’s Top Ten Play Experiences of 2013

A year ago, Douglas Wilson, designer of Johann Sebastian Joust, published his look back at 2012. This is close to how I look at games and so I give you: my top ten play experiences of 2013. Now, I call them “play experiences” instead of games for two reasons. First, some of them are not really games, or even single instances of play, but they’re still playful. Second, I call the journal I keep on this blog my “Play Journal” and I think that this recap should mirror that. Speaking of the journal; I’m going to steal a bunch of stuff I’ve already written in there for this list. You are going to be OK with this.

Before I go on to the actual meat of the list, I want to thank everyone who has played with me this past year. A clear pattern in the experiences listed below is that none of it was achieved by staring at a screen all by my lonesome. Some things (like The Stanley Parable and Gone Home) came pretty close, but ultimately had to give way for more intense, heart-warming, social, spiritual, communal or silly stuff. These sorts of things demand other people willing to open up and be playful in an inviting way, at times challenging and pushing you to do better, at other times making an effort and realizing the gravity of the play at hand. Thank you, everyone.

Hvid Død (September 6)
Short larp for twelve(ish) people. No talking allowed. Played in minimalist setting. Everyone wears black. Loud music plays. Everyone dies. It’s beautiful.

Hvid Død - eat _ Peter Munthe Kaas

Photo: Peter Munthe Kaas

2013 was the year I started larping for real. It’s amazing to me that this did not happen sooner since I’ve been playing RPGs, hung out with larpers and been invited, and pretty close to actually going, to countless games. Other larps will be mentioned below, but Hvid Død was something above and beyond anything I can hope to experience any time soon.

As has been the case with many of my best roleplaying experiences, this game allowed for a collective and temporary falling in love on a group level. A love marked by a feeling of absolute acceptance between the players. Hvid Død is a very physically active game and as I often do with these things (dance, play, moshpits) I went all in. It paid off, big time. There really is no way to have a good experience with this sort of scenario without allowing yourself to be swept away, as well as making sure to do some of that sweeping yourself. I was later asked how much of this scenario is just group hallucination á la The Emperor’s New Clothes, and I guess there’s some of that going on, but if that’s the question you ask during play, this game will suck real bad. This may sound like an attitude more fitting for a christian telling people to pray their problems away, but I think that this scenario absolutely requires an open and honest play attitude to work. First of all, it’s all about body play so there’s no hiding behind words in the way other larps can end up only being about hypothetical and intellectual relationships between fictional characters. This emphasis on body forces the character interactions to also be very personal and physical player interactions. If you, as a player, give and accept what is given at that point, your play is going to be all the better for it.

Hvid Død has provided me with the basics for approaching all larps from a different angle going forward. I’m happy I got to play in it and I hope you take the chance to play it if the opportunity presents itself. This goes for all larpers, even if you’re initially made uncomfortable by the idea of a larp involving physical contact (god knows I would have been had I read a bit more about it beforehand). And hey, make sure to trust the other players and give them reasons to trust you. We’re only in it for the play.

Hvid Død - pray _ Peter Munthe Kaas

Photo: Peter Munthe Kaas

NGC afterparty (May 23)
A party I organized at Moriskan in Malmö. Kick-ass music. Lotsa dancing and playing. Cool projections on stage. Amazing people.

NGC

Photo: Tommy Rousse

I had the great fortune/misfortune to be responsible for organizing (the cool) part of the Nordic Game Conference afterparty and even though I had irregular heartbeats for two days after the event, I’m very glad I did it.

This party was all I had hoped Spelkultur i Skånes Spelrum:Digital night club/game nights would have been. There were retro games, Jousting, kick-ass music, local multiplayer games and a ton of wild dancing.

I jousted with a  whole pack of chatty Brits trying to throw me off by talking — a lot. It worked.
I screamed into a microphone as way of introducing performers.
I struggled to get games running properly on the backdrop screen.

All in all, I had a pretty amazing time. Two moments stand out as top moments of the night:

1. Playing/dancing Go Nuts during the Nordloef/Salkinitzor/Linde gig.
Apart from the game itself, which is actually a pretty simple and solid concept, Go Nuts! also has some seriously trippy graphics. Just check out this screenshot of a three-player game:

The amazingly strange look of this game added a lot to the insane chiptunes performance on stage. After playing it competitively for a while, me and my play partner started using our colorful cubes to make improvised video art. It worked surprisingly well; we used the dash function to accentuate the beats and worked ourselves into the game’s swarm mode (which looks pretty much like in the picture above) to take up a lot of space on screen. This was one of the play highlights of the whole event, for me. It was like we were jamming along with the musicians and the rest of the audience. I think that’s usually called dancing, isn’t it?

2. Going nuts at the Chipzel gig.
I’m a huge fan of Super Hexagon. This is no secret. In welcoming Chipzel on stage, I even said that it was, by far, the GOTY of 2012. An unsurprising part of Chipzel’s performance was her playing the soundtrack of Super Hexagon. Here, I just could not help myself; I had to play. So, there I was, dancing like a madman (one of the skills I’ve put a lot of build points into) while playing the hardest level of Super Hexagon and listening to Chipzel perform the soundtrack live. For me, it was not far from this image, and I’m aware that that might make me look like a complete nerd. Fine. I’m a complete nerd. Also, despite jumping around, I still made it 12 seconds into the level. Neeeeerd.

Till the State Do You Part (March 22)
Short larp about speed-dating in a dystopian future Sweden. A Sweden where your worth as a citizen is arrived at in curious ways.

Till the State Do You Part - Getting Married

I’ve written at some length about this larp in a previous Play Journal entry, so I’ll keep it shorter here. I think that some of the reason I have for putting this game on my list for 2013 is how surprised I was at how well some of the stuff worked. I was part of genuinely touching and heartfelt moments and some of the people I played with really made an honest effort. In a larp, you’ve come a long way if you only have that.

w00t CPH (May 25)
Copenhagen public play festival. Ran for two days, right after Nordic Game Conference. I was there the first day only.

Inte nudda mark

Ever since I went to my first Hide & Seek Weekender, I’ve wanted to attend other events like it. w00t was Copenhagen’s first public play festival and it turned out great. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one of the days, but that turned out to be plenty. I wrote three different posts about all the stuff I played there, so I’ll point out the two games that still stand out for me:

1. The Ground Is Lava
Remember this game from when you were a kid? You’re not allowed to touch the ground because it’s super toxic or lava or just plain dangerous for whatever reason (as if you need one). When we played this as kids, we did it indoors and used furniture to move around. At w00t, we played it outdoors and used waste from some sort of construction site to step or climb on: pieces of metal, planks (complete with rusty nails and all), pallets etc.

This game had us in a continual and concentrated state of play for a good hour or so and it just felt really silly and really good.

2. Weeping Angels
Street game, in the dark, with flashlights, lotsa runnin and screaming and hiding and sneaking, teamwork – what’s not to like? Great play area, great players. Read more in the third post from w00t.

Limbo (April 16)
Abstract and elegant larp about the space between life and death. Played it on a genuine vintage tram riding through a foggy Oslo. 

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Limbo is a very elegant and hackable game. It can be, and has in fact been, adapted to many different contexts and venues. The larp was originally written as a chamber larp, but it has also been played as a larp/dance mashup and in the week leading up to this year’s Knutepunkt it was played as a tram larp.

There’s a lot to say about this game, but for the sake of brevity I’ll summarize what I’ve already written.

The pre-game is great because it gives you the opportunity to choose how close to yourself you want to play. It also demands that you examine our own views on death and reflect on where they come from. The setup, through the use of unfulfilled wishes, provided me and my character with something to play towards. It also used colored pipe-cleaners to signal common experiences between the characters. Not much else was needed to get people talking and having a clear drive behind their play.

This scenario is very much about that unknown nowhere between life and death and riding in an old tram through a strange city covered in fog helped to drive this home. At times, it all felt very, very surreal and these were the moment when the game really worked for me.

What is really clever about Limbo is how players are encouraged and allowed to play towards completely different goals without necessarily breaking the game or the experience of for each other. I played my character for tragedy, but there was no problem with people having characters embrace the situation and, in some cases, finding it amusing or soothing. Limbo was simply a place where all of these attitudes were to be expected.

In the end, this game didn’t leave me with an emotional puzzle to be struggled with for days or weeks. Rather, it was really easy to enjoy while playing and I appreciate how well it navigated its own meta-levels of play.

Hemligheten (June 6 – 7)
Interactive theater play about the persecution of immigrants in Sweden. Most scenes were set on the streets of Malmö. It ran over two days.

Me, wearing a mask

This is one, I haven’t written about at all in the Play Journal. I was planning on making it a separate post and, as is so often the case with those particular plans, that didn’t happen.

This play (I don’t know what else to call it) took place on the streets of Malmö and had groups of players (once again, that’s the best way to describe the audience of this play) run around town trying to locate and help two children who were in Sweden “illegally”, i.e. without papers. In Sweden, immigration is a hot topic and has been for some time. The theme of this play followed years of scandals and abuse coming from and perpetrated by the state as well as citizens of Sweden. We (V and me) managed to get into the run that started on Sweden’s national day and ended on our oldest kid’s second birthday. These two dates became significant in their own ways as the story progressed. National day in Sweden is not a widely celebrated event and Swedish nationalism takes on nasty forms when allowed to go unchecked. Partaking in a story with this theme while seeing people waving Swedish flags added to the disgust we felt at the mistreatment of the children in it. The play ended with a surreal birthday party for the absent boy and this coincided with our own kid’s birthday, twisting the knife of feels a couple of extra times.

Hemligheten was well-executed, well-measured in terms of interaction and felt relevant. Also, I got to use my roleplaying and gamer skills in making sure our group kept moving forward (while trying not to dominate it, as that was the story’s job). Using these same things, I tried to help the cast by acting on their cues (like actually running down the street, urging everyone else to follow, when we were supposedly being chased by one of the main villains).

Big up to Teater Insite for putting this thing together.

Playing with Lil’ M
Not that complicated, really.

Photo 2013-03-21 18 28 43

OK, so this one’s cheating a bit, but playing with my kid is a whole fairybag of fun. Hide and seek, peekabo, playing with words and songs, playing with toys and just generally being silly is great, great stuff and it makes for wonderful play. Being a big part of someone else’s play development is priceless.

Improvised ritual at Knutepunkt (April 16)
Improvised movement and sounds performed in groups inside an old mausoleum in Oslo proved more powerful and draining than expected.

The  Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum

The Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, in only a small part of its glory.

Apparently rituals are a big thing in Norway (at least in the larp community) and this, of course, means that we had to have one before Knutepunkt. A real one. An actual, serious ritual in an actual, serious place. The whole thing was built around improvised sound and movement with the sound being a sort of chant jam and the movement being an easy version of contact impro dance. The details are boring, but the result was kinda cool.

The mausoleum turned out to be one of the strangest places I have ever visited. A lot of that feeling is, of course, related to the context of the visit, but I can imagine that the scary, strangely erotic, somewhat depressing mausoleum is all of those things regardless of the reason for your visit.

All in all, the ritual turned out to be quite a draining experience, both physically and mentally. After the initial rocky start, the four small groups we found ourselves in started interacting and playing off of each other. The end result was an experience, which for me bordered on the sacrilegious and divine at the same time.

Leaving the mausoleum, walking through the cold rain, I felt both strengthened and very fragile. I think that the exhaustion of work  both before and during the Larp Exchange Academy, of which I had been part, and play had caught up to me. Add to this a pinch of old memories from my time as a christian and you’ve got yourself a cocktail filled to the brim with staring-into-thin-air-not-knowing-what-to-make-of-things. I really made a conscious effort to get carried away, but I didn’t quite expect it to work as well as it did. I guess I need to stop being so surprised these things actually work.

Malmö Play Club Deluxe Summer Sessions
Public play sessions in Malmö’s finest park. The first serious steps towards building a stable play community in Malmö. Featured everything from kids’ games and reality games to jousting and New Gamesy games.

A team in Rock, Paper, Scissors tag deciding what sign to throw.

A team in Rock, Paper, Scissors tag deciding what sign to throw.

I’ve written a lot in the Play Journal about Malmö Play Club and that has not been without good reason. In the Play Club, we have created a tool and opportunity for building a local play community. I hope we are able to continue and develop this in 2014.

The Deluxe sessions were especially great because they saw our numbers bump up from our usual maximum of 10-15 people to around 40. The variety of games that we were able to try out because of this was really inspiring and, finally, the play talks that were given in connection to some of the sessions were really interesting and thought-provoking.

Tiny Games
Simple and brilliant play tool from the superpowered Hide&Seek people. Best game app of the year. Almost none of the play is screen-centered.

Tiny Games - Cucumber Race

Me, trying to get a slice of cucumber from my forehead to my mouth as fast as possible. Because an app told me to… and because it sounded like a good idea.

Tiny Games was the best thing to come out for iOS in 2013. I’ve played with it at home, at events, at the office, during walks. The one I would point to as my best Tiny Game happened with my colleague Chris while we were waiting to be interviewed on live radio about Malmö Playdays. We were in the empty staff cafeteria and we played a color finding game, ran our asses off and laughed more than you’re probably allowed to at a radio station.

There’s really something to having an app that lets you fire up a game instantly, no pretensions, no hassle, no problems. All you need is a playful attitude and a mind set on fun and you’re ready to go.

That last part goes for most kinds of play, BTW.

Play Journal: August 26 – September 8

My first week as manager of the project I’m working at left me with less time than usual for short games. This was more than made up for in quality, however, as I participated in my first black box larp, Hvid Død. The week before that offered no interesting play, so it’s slipped in here without making much of a fuzz.

Dots [I feel so stupid that I was actually excited about the new play mode and didn’t get that it was a marketing thing. Gravity day, go away.]
Vesper.5 [Still still still getting there…]

Hvid Død [This is going on my top ten list of play experiences for 2013, without a doubt. This experience bordered on… life changing, I guess (I really don’t know what word(s) to use to describe it) and I can’t get it out of my mind. Just like in many of my best roleplay experiences, this game allowed for a collective and temporary falling in love marked by a feeling of absolute acceptance between the players. Hvid Død is a very physically active game and as I often do with these things (dancing, play, moshpits) I went all in. And as it often does, it paid off big time. There really is no way to have a good experience of this sort of scenario without allowing yourself to be swept away, as well as doing some of that sweeping yourself. I should probably write about what’s so great about this game before I forget it all. In the meantime, watch the end of Rocky Horror Picture Show (the Don’t Dream It, Be It part) to get a feeling for where I was at times.]

Delta Green: Convergence [Nice to run a Delta Green game again, especially with players who were really into it. The scenario is so DG canon as to almost be too much. It does, however, throw a couple of curve balls at the players and, for our group, this worked out just fine. Finally, this was my first time trying out the new Call of Cthulhu quick start rules and they seemed to be appreciated. I particularly enjoy the simplifications introduced by for example replacing the old stat values with percentile values.]

Burning Empires - papercut

An unrelated image where I display a nasty paper cut I sustained while preparing for a coming Burning Empires campaign.

Play Journal LEA vol. 5 – The End of LEA, the Start of Knutepunkt

Wednesday: This being the day after our game was premiered, not many fucks were given. At least not by me. This also means: not many games were played. Instead, I went to a Café and Laundromat. They were the same place. This place had wifi. I wrote in my Play Journal.

Danish Clapping – There’s always time for some Danish Clapping, isn’t there? This time, I played before leaving to see the Nordic Larp Talks. I had the pleasure of playing it with someone who instantly became super stressed and nervous by it, resulting in the person laughing hysterically. Ah, the things this simple game does to some people.

Oh, and I probably played some Super Hexagon too.

Thursday: Left Oslo and LEA (Larp Exchange Academy) for Haraldvangen and Knutepunkt 2013. Used the spotty wifi before leaving to download two games which I had a very short time to play on the bus to Knutepunkt.

Alpaca Evolution – Found this through a This Week in Videogame Blogging post and I must say that it is one of the stranger things I’ve spent time with in a while. Here, have a tiny screenshot:

Alpaca Madness!

I really don’t know what more to say, other than: It’s free, it’s unlike most other things I’ve played, and you should just look it up and play it.

The Other Brothers – Seriously, I only managed to play like ten minutes of this before we arrived. The rules, however, are the rules and since I played it, I should at least mention it. Will write more when I actually try it out.


^^^This line signifies a break. I am no longer writing about my play experiences at LEA. I am now at Knutepunkt. Mmmk? Mmmk.

The Neighbors – The opening game of Knutepunkt was a version of a Fastaval Grind Night scenario, modified to be played as a short larp with eight players. The two words following the word Fastaval right there? Grind Night. Yeah, they should probably say it all… But since they don’t, I’ll try to fill in some blanks.

Since this was a game set up to be played by practically everyone attending Knutepunkt, the group creation was pretty random and most people were just thrown into groups rather randomly. This was a good thing. You’ll have plenty of time to hang out with your friends later, you know. Let’s just play and get it over with.

A quick word about the characters. Due to the situation, they weren’t all that fleshed out, but they were extreme enough to want to kill each other in the end (which was the whole idea). There were four couples in the neighborhood: The weird psychos, the paranoid passive-aggressives, the rules nazis, and the obnoxious rule-breakers. I played one half of the weird psycho couple.

The play of the scenario itself was amusing enough, but I think our group’s main problem was that we did too much planning before jumping into scenes. Having a few very enthusiastic players in a group is often a good thing, as long as they listen to each other and to the GM. The GM, at least in this game, has a big responsibility to for example cut scenes, set scenes, direct play etc. and if the players are constantly preempting this by “playing before they play” there’s really not much use for a GM.
Thus, we suffered somewhat from chaotic planning of play (which is not as enjoyable as chaotic actual play) and reaching cool conclusions before scenes were even started.

It was funny how easily I fell into playing the part of a weird psycho. The way my partner played helped a lot, and I was happy to find someone I could riff off the way I ended up doing. Also, the scenario encouraged a gonzo playstyle, which I have no problem going for, if I’m allowed to.

In the end, my character died laughing maniacally. I was happy with that.

As an amusing side note, this game had me playing in the same group as someone I hadn’t met since around 2004. That’s nine years. It was a nice reunion. Made me like the random match-up even more.

Oh and BTW, and I probably played some Super Hexagon too.
Yes, this whole Super Hexagon thing is actually going somewhere.
Stay tuned.

Play Journal LEA vol. 4 – Betwixt and Between Larp and Death

Tuesday was an In.Sa.Ne. dAyyy. Went into town. Had “breakfast”. Worked on our larp. Larped on a tram. Ate at Blitz. Performed a ritual in a mausoleum. Ran a larp. Had Børek.
Please, allow me to elaborate (in other words: this is going to be a long post. Get ready).

Limbo

“The game takes place in the realm of Limbo, betwixt and between life and death. Beyond time. A waiting place to reflect on life as it has been so far before either returning to life once again or facing the unknown on the other side of death.”

That’s the pitch. How can you not want to play it? Add to this the fact that the whole larp was played in a vintage tram car while it moved through the streets of Oslo (or: “All cities and none”).

Limbo is a very elegant and hackable game. It can be, and has in fact been, adapted to many different contexts and venues. The larp was originally written as a chamber larp, but it has also been played as a larp/dance mashup and now, finally, as a tram larp.

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Tor Kjetil Edland, one of the organizers, briefing the players before the game.

Let’s start with the pre-game activities. After a short briefing, the players were given a sheet with a boxchecking form. On it were a series of statement with which we stated our level of agreement by checking boxes next to the statements. Having done so, we then stated the level to which our characters agreed with the same statements. The sheet, thus, gave us the opportunity to choose how close to ourselves we wanted to play. It also forced us to examine our own views on death and where they come from.

Finally, the sheet also included a space to write an unfulfilled wish of our character and I liked this part (which is missing in the pdf version I’ve linked to) because it gave everyone at least something to play towards, no matter how little they wanted to return to life. Without this unfulfilled wish, I fear that people would have started to go along with the situation a bit too quickly.

The second significant pre-game activity was picking colored pipe-cleaners and pictures that were significant to the characters. The colors of the pipe-cleaners signified things the character had done or experienced in their life and were to be played as actual physical objects in game. So, the characters would be wearing them, but whether or not they themselves knew exactly what the pipe-cleaners signified or not was up to the individual player.

The pictures were spread out in the room during the briefing and we were asked to focus on one and remember it during the game. I’ll come back to how this worked out, but what I’ll say about both of these techniques is that they served as very good icebreakers. When, in game, you were unsure of what to say or how to strike up a new conversation in this strange place, you could always ask about the pipe-cleaners or pictures. Perhaps you wore the same colors? Why? Who took the picture? Why are you holding a photograph of my dead mother? etc. etc. etc.

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Inside the tram, seconds after the game has ended.

The actual play started with everyone putting a black veil over their heads. The veil worked well in that it was possible to see through it without seeing each other’s eyes (i.e. meet some other players gaze). It was truly a strange sight to behold, this collection of individuals crammed into a vintage tram going through Oslo on their way to Limbo – all of them wearing veils.

Once everyone had put on their veil, the GMs hurried through the tram, throwing pictures on the floor. Of course, by some wonderful chance, the picture I had focused on during the pre-game prep landed right at my feet. I instantly knew where my game would start. But first, one of our GMs read the following passage from a Coleridge poem:

‘Tis a strange place, this Limbo !–not a Place,
Yet name it so ;–where Time & weary Space
Fettered from flight, with night-mair sense of fleeing,
Strive for their last crepuscular half-being ;–
Lank Space, and scytheless Time with branny hands
Barren and soundless as the measuring sands,
Not mark’d by flit of Shades,–unmeaning they
As Moonlight on the dial of the day !
But that is lovely–looks like Human Time,–

Limbo, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

We all “woke up” and began playing. I spent a fair amount of the game playing internally and enjoyed it quite a bit. However, my immediate connection to the picture (I chose to play a photojournalist and the picture was one my character had taken) helped me get to talking to the others on the tram quickly. Oftentimes, I was the one getting questions about the picture I kept staring at, which was nice since I didn’t have to push it on people.

What is really clever about Limbo is how players are encouraged and allowed to play towards completely different goals without necessarily breaking the game or the experience of for each other. I played my character for tragedy, but there was no problem with people having characters embrace the situation and, in some cases, finding it amusing or soothing. Limbo was simply a place where all of these attitudes were to be expected.
The GMs served a role as ticket vendors as well as show-runners. Throughout the game, they walked among us giving out tickets to various afterlife destinations. This ended up building on the customizability of the play experience in a neat way. See, if you grabbed a ticket to “Oblivion” or “Reincarnation”, that said something about your character – something different than if you were to go for “Ghost in the Machine” or “Gates of Heaven”. It gave the other people something to talk to you or each other about. Why, for example, would anyone think they deserved to go to hell? Why would they deserve to go to heaven?
Naturally, they held out until the last moments to give out tickets back to life, which was what I was really looking for. In an equally unsurprising move, there were very few of these and, having quickly snagged one for myself, it was heart-wrenching to witness some people play out their desperation and sadness over not getting a ticket.

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My picture and ticket back to life.

The game ended with the GMs announcing that we were all approaching our final destination and that it was time to get ready. We sat down (not an altogether uncomplicated task in such a cramped space, mind you), put our veils on, fell silent, and listened to our GM reading us out of the game using the same passage we had entered with.

Ritual [workshop] – Apparently rituals are a big thing in Norway (at least in the larp community) and this, of course, means that we had to have one. A real one. A serious ritual in a serious place. We gathered at the LEA house in the eastern part of Oslo, went through some pre-ritual exercises and were divided into groups. The workshops focused on improvised sound and movement with the sound being a sort of chant jam and the movement being an easy version of contact impro dance. The details are boring, but the result was kinda cool.

Aaanywho…

After the pre-ritual workshops, our group was the first to head on over to the mausoleum, which turned out to be one of the strangest places I have ever visited. A lot of that feeling is, of course, related to the context of the visit, but I can imagine that the scary, strangely erotic, somewhat depressing mausoleum is all of those things regardless of the reason for your visit.

All in all, the ritual turned out to be quite a draining experience, both physically and mentally. After the initial rocky start, the four small groups we found ourselves in started interacting and playing off of each other’s cues. The end result was a collective experience bordering on the sacrilegious and divine at the same time.
OK, collective may not be the right word for it, but some parts definitely arose from our collective movements and sounds being exactly that. It almost goes without saying that a qualitative shift often occurs as a result of the quantitative dimension of the group. This goes for political movements and rallies as well as religious or (as in our case) secular rituals.

Leaving the mausoleum, walking through the cold rain, I felt both strengthened and very fragile. I think that the exhaustion of work, both before and during LEA, and play had caught up to me. Add to this a pinch of old memories from my time as a christian and you’ve got yourself a cocktail filled to the brim with staring-into-thin-air. I know that I was asking for it going into the ritual because I really made a conscious effort to be swept away by it, but I didn’t quite expect it to work as well as it did. Even now, writing this, I can feel my eyelids become heavy and cold and I’m back outside the mausoleum, walking to the subway that is going to take us to the venue for our evening game, thinking about the two skeletons painted on the wall of the mausoleum. Above the exit, they are forever frozen in an impossible kiss.

The Touch of Your Voice – This was the larp my group created as part of the Larp Exchange Academy. We ran it after the day I’ve described in this post. So, yeah… It was draining and stressful and hard and awesome and sad and funny and scary and cool. I’m happy with it. I’m also happy with the title I came up with. It is part of this Play Journal entry because the game requires the game masters to play caregivers at a service home (i.e. I did actually play in this larp). I’m (probably) going to write a longer post about this larp and I’ll link to it here when I’m done with it. Stay tuned and all that.

Play Journal LEA vol. 1 – Olsson, Karlsson, Nilsson, Hexagon

Hey. I’m in Norway! I’ve been playing tons of games! I’ve had almost no access to the Internet… So I split the Play Journals from the time here into seperate volumes. This is volume one. Mmmk? Mmmk.

Having slept remarkably well, considering the field bed I slept in and the long trip (not really that long) the day before, I finally really arrived at the Larp Exchange Academy (LEA) in Oslo on Friday. In short, this is a larpwriting boot camp leading up to the Knutepunkt event the following week. Almost 40 participants from eight different countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belarus, Czech Republic, Russia, Portugal and Palestine) meet up to spend a week playing and writing larps. It is incredibly intense.

The day started out at full speed with a quick wake-up, a quick breakfast and a quick intro (for those keeping track, that’s three quick things in just one morning). The intro mostly consisted of warm-up games like Penguins and Flamingos (Flamingos chase the slow Penguins and turn them into Flamingos. Think of it as a zombie game in disguise) and the like. After a very nice chill-out exercise to finish off the one hour intro we swiftly moved on to a 5 hour larp session.

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This image is here because blog posts without images are boring. It’s the street outside where we live.

I don’t feel like writing a lot about all of the warm-ups before the Friday larp, so I’ll just list them here along with a very short description. I know no one reads this, so it’s mostly for my memory anyway. Poop! See? No one is going to read that, so it’s OK for me to write it. Poop! Oh, there I go again.

Truck Driving – physical contact exercise performed in pairs.
In-character Values Exercise – You position yourself in the room according to how much your character agrees with different statements.
Impro Exercise – One person starts: “Do you remember thatn time when we [did X, went to X etc.]?” The other person says “Yes, and we [X]” and they both act it out physically.
Status Exercise – Simple sit down/stand up exercise to gauge the status relationships between characters.
+ super short scene to try out the family dynamics.

Families Olsson, Karlsson, Nilsson – This larp was mainly designed to examine what it can look like when you play separate timelines and spaces in parallel with each other. In actual play, this meant that the game’s five spaces were marked out with tape on the floor of the big room wherein we played. It also meant that scenes played in these spaces could be seperated in in-game time. The players would thus be aware of things going on in other parts of the game’s timeline, but the characters wouldn’t.

The setting of the larp was some sort of camp site where, every year, three families (Olsson, Karlsson and Nilsson) met up to enjoy the summer in their caravans and around the BBQ. Of course, every single one of the twelve characters had their own personal, mental, and physical troubles. Some were more severe (pedophilia and potential kidnapping) than others (petty theft), but all were condensed into a short description accompanied by questions for the players to answer through play. The character description also included instructions on how to play the character in the three different acts.
I played the one character without a blood relation to any of the families, which turned out to be useful when I wanted to be part of scenes taking place where others maybe weren’t expected to be.

There is always a lot to say about these games, but to keep it brief I’ll say that the game really did sing when we played along with the premise of disparate scenes being played at the same time, in the same room. I especially liked a moment in the game where the game slowed down a bit just as a very serious scene was going on in one of the caravans. Everyone not in that scene stood in the off-game area (still in the same actual room, mind you) and waited for whatever was going to happen. I decided to juxtapose that scene (which was taking place late in act three) by starting what turned out to be a very early scene (act one) around the BBQ. The combination of a character crying a couple of steps away from us while we talked about what a wonderful time we were going to have together was priceless. It tethered on the brink of silliness, but never quite went over it.

A consequence of the non-linearity of the game was, unsurprisingly, that establishing facts was very hard to do without contradicting something that had been or done somewhere else in the diegesis (fancy word for in-game truth). There is probably some genius impro technique of which I am unaware that could have been used to mitigate this.

The shifts players made between actor-spectator-participant was very interesting. When not in a scene, people could stand in the off-game area and plan new scenes to complement the ones going on, build on previous scenes in the game or throw it all into a new direction entirely. This freedom also allowed players to very quickly move between different emotional states, leaving one scene to immediately walk into the next.

Finally, in retrospect, one of the coolest things about the game was the split between the diegetic/in-game timeline and the sequence in which we actually played out the scenes. Even though this created it’s own unique set of problems, I was constantly fascinated by the two time axes the game ended up moving along and how well the game actually ended up working in spite of/thanks to it.

Super Hexagon – During breaks, I’ve been whipping out my phone to check e-mail, Facebook and whatnot. The thing is that we’ve had a disturbing lack of internet at LEA (that reminds me; ALMOST NO INTARTUBEZ! SEND HALP!) and that makes checking internet stuff really hard. Not being able to fight my reflexes, I end up staring at my phone anyway and by that time there’s basically only one sensible thing left to do: play Super Hexagon.
I’m happy to say that I’ve improved my high score from 37.18 to 45.48 at the hardest hyper level. This means I’ll probably make it if I just keep at it. I’m consistently reaching 20-25 sec as it is now. If I do beat it, this being the only level I haven’t yet completed, I don’t really know what I’ll do. Move south, start a farm, write poetry; all of these things seem like valid options, to be honest.
Yeah…
Yes, let’s do one of those, mmmk?

Mmmk.

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

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.