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And another project starts to get very real
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jducoeur
Two days until Intercon O signups open (if you don't have a membership yet, get it now). That's going to become more and more a focus for me, since I'm finally diving back into LARP writing, after several years away from it.

This year's game is "experimental" for me -- that is to say, it is weirdly normal and down-to-earth. I've mentioned it before here (indeed, I mentioned it the day after I thought it up, a year or so ago): A Respectful Calm is going to be a somewhat dark, very real-world story, set in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a company downtown. Instead of being a game of violence, it's a game about the repercussions of violence, and the ways our society reacts to it. (It says something that the four major groupings of characters in the Factions list are "Employees", "Police", "Media" and "Politicians".)

It's an unusual game for me in many ways. One is the complete lack of fantastical elements: I think this is the first time I've ever written a game that wasn't at *least* satirical, and nearly all of my games have been fantasy or science fiction. Aside from a little bit of high-tech speculation in the background, this one is totally down-to-earth, with normal people dealing with an abnormal situation.

Maybe even weirder for me is the lack of uber-plot: for better or worse, my games usually have The Big Thing that takes precedence over everything else. I try not to let that overwhelm everyones' individual stories, but it's always there. Not in this case, though: The Big Thing has already happened, and we wind up with something of a fractal of reactions, as everyones' lives spin off of that in different directions.

I'm also trying my hand at writing gender-neutral characters, after having treated gender quite casually in all my previous ones. The topic of gender bias in games has come up a lot in recent years, and I've decided to run at it quite deliberately. I'm allowing myself to write gendered characters in the cases where it is seriously relevant to the character, but that's only a modest number; most are written gender-neutral, to the extent that the underlying Querki database has both male and female names for each one, and I'm planning on writing a few functions so that pronouns get adjusted automatically after casting. (I allowed myself ten specifically-gendered characters when I bid the game, but it currently looks like I'm coming out with four, out of thirty.) It's being an interesting exercise in challenging my own assumptions about how relevant gender is to character.

And of course, it's all written in Querki. This kind of brings the Querki project full circle: it started as a LARP-design system about ten years ago (I believe I originally built the prototype for Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Hidden Castle). This time, I'm planning on not just writing the game in Querki, but doing the printing and casting through it as well. I expect it'll be a learning experience, as usual.

For those who care, I will admit that the game is not fully written yet: at this point, I have the character list, the major plots and a lot of the interaction web, but I'm still fleshing it out. I've never failed to have a game ready well before gametime, though, and I don't intend to start here.

It should be an interesting game, and I look forward to seeing where the players take the stories. I hope you'll consider signing up; it's scheduled for Friday at 8pm...
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Sorry -- I didn't actually know that history.

I think you're taking the word "game" in the wrong sense, though -- as far as I'm concerned, it's simply historical jargon, and doesn't really mean "game" in any sense that you probably understand it. Modern LARP, at least my wing of it (it varies a lot), is very much an artform, one that is quite close to novels and theater. And like those forms, it is often used for difficult topics.

(Serious question: if I called this "improvisational theater", would your reaction differ? Why? Aside from the lack of an audience, there is essentially zero difference between the kind of LARPs I write and improv theater.)

Basically, to me, there is *nothing* different (and I mean that pretty literally) about writing a LARP on this topic than writing a book or a play. The details of the medium vary, but the social and artistic impulses are basically the same. The most important purpose of any art (IMO) is to delve into the harder aspects of the human experience.

Your point is well-taken, and I'll be trying to deal with the issue honestly and sensitively, but I genuinely don't think *any* topic is simply out of bounds for LARP. Like any artform, it is *usually* used for simple entertainment, but at its best it strives for more.

(Keep in mind, as a lifelong and hardcore comic book reader, I am *very* sensitive to people saying, "This medium is inappropriate to this topic", and usually disagree quite strongly...)

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As you say, we're not likely to come to consensus here, but your points are valid. "Small" artforms are much more varied, for better and worse -- for instance, these objections are often leveled at performance art, and for many of the same reasons: it's often *very* challenging, varies a lot from instance to instance, and is more likely to cross subjective lines of good taste.

As for unpredictability: absolutely true, you're right that I can't control what the players will do. I hope that, by being clear with folks that this is a down-to-earth, serious game, I'll get players who treat it in that spirit -- frankly, it makes for a better run when the players are sympatico with the intent of the author. But that trick sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. (It's worth noting that the same is true of theater as well, albeit usually to a considerably lesser degree.)

I should note, BTW, that all of this is why we (in this case, the Bid Committee that evaluates proposals for the con) pay a fair amount of attention to whether a game has appropriate trigger warnings, and gives a clear sense of what it's about. The sort of reaction you're having is *not* unusual, although it is more frequently a reaction to sexual or gender-identity issues than violence ones. We try fairly hard to make sure that players can judge whether they will find a game personally unpleasant. (Fortunately, having ten tracks at Intercon means that it's usually easy to avoid a game that is a bad fit.)

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There is actual potential harm here.

Always true, at least for any game that is about deep topics. In this particular case, though, I have to point out that what's unusual here is that I am *not* trivializing the topic.

I mean, like (sadly) most media, violence tends to be underplayed in LARP, treated much too casually. Oh, look, that guy has a gun. Oh, dear, he's killed that character. Oh, well -- pick up an alternate character for the rest of the game; pity that that one didn't make it. I'm overstating the usual case, but there's a bad habit of treating violence as relatively inconsequential, and I'm intentionally shining a light on that. You're correct that it's dangerous to poke at that, but I think it's a healthy and important risk.

And it's important to note: this is a game *about* violence, not *of* violence. If I actually expected a gunfight in game, I think the risk you're talking about would be considerably more substantial. As it is, I will agree with you that it's non-zero, but I don't think it's nearly as likely, especially since folks are usually good about avoiding games that will be personally traumatic.

In that sense, your particular story smacks to me of a sort of nerd-voyeurism, a desire to create and share a lightweight window into other people's real trauma. An arm-chair disaster tourism of the tragedy of others.

True as far as it goes, but again, not very different from other artforms. The amateur artist is usually in over his head when he steps outside his own experience, sometimes succeeding in representing the subject well, sometimes not. Trying to understand tragedy, and help others do so, is the basis of much of literature.

Again, I think part of the problem here is that you have a very different understanding of the medium than I do. It really sounds like you're having trouble disengaging the notion that there is something fundamentally trivial about LARP, relative to other artforms. From the inside, I see it quite differently. Yes, there's a measure of voyeurism to it -- but that is equally true of every medium worth talking about, and moreso of most of them than LARP...

(Deleted comment)
I should also note: I understand the gut reaction. Heaven knows I have my own triggers, and not always obvious ones. It is almost physically painful to me to see pink-ribbon campaigns: Jane hated them with a burning passion, and to me those often feel like they are full of people who are trivializing a mortally serious issue, assuaging the horror by trying to wrap it up in sweetness and light and relentless positivity. So I quietly stay away from them, as I do most stories (in whatever medium) that are treating with the subject of cancer.

The world is, sadly, full of topics that are triggery to various people...

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Sympathies, and I'm sorry that I touched a sensitive nerve...

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Well, it's been a helpful conversation to have, especially at this point in the process -- it helps remind me of the seriousness of the subject matter, and how sensitive it can be. (Not that I was taking it lightly before, but the reminder is still useful...)

"LARP is limited to a rather small sector of the population: nerdy, educated, literate, with money and free time. I'm not just saying that it lacks the wide net of other media: I'm saying that it is, by its nature, a narrow medium for a narrow pool of people."

The attempt here is to make a non-nerdy game, potentially expanding the audience. As to "educated, literate, with money and free time", that applies to theatre at least as much. Goodness knows, plenty of people do theatre that deals with violence and tragedy in a serious, not-"fun" way.

"In that sense, your particular story smacks to me of a sort of nerd-voyeurism, a desire to create and share a lightweight window into other people's real trauma. An arm-chair disaster tourism of the tragedy of others."

If artwork is allowed to talk about these topics, as we seem to agree it does, what makes nerds, in particular, less appropriate as an audience? Nerds are hardly immune to violence or tragedy. What makes this any more "tourism" than a play or a novel?

"The very thing that makes LARP different (experiential role-playing which produce a close simulacra of real emotion), well: that's the heart of my unhappiness. It's a small audience of insulated people, using the real tragedy that others have experienced for the benefit of having a fun weekend"

Wow, you hit an astonishing number of my buttons for such a short paragraph.
* You assume that emotion produced by art, especially experiential art, is not "real", but a "simulacra".
* You seem to think that a "small" audience is a criticism. All art starts with a small audience. Some grows, some doesn't. Being small is a value-neutral descriptor.
* You assume that the participants are insulated.
* You assume that the only point of the weekend is "fun" (which is, among certain segments of the game design community, a word reviled for its meaninglessness.) Is "One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch" "fun"? Art serves many emotional needs; "fun" is not a useful word to tar medium with.

"the trivialization of other people's tragedy"

Again, as throughout, I think your use of such negative characterizations says far more about your own prejudices against certain art-forms and communities than it says about what Justin is trying to accomplish here.

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Given the presence of a 4 week old (+/-2 weeks) I believe my game this year wok be confined to "Consuite: the Gathering" with my costuming being a big sign posted on Pluot's back that says: "1 month old. No immune system. If you have a cold, please don't hug us."

I'll play less challenging games next year. ;-)

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