Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mellanrummet - the full monty

The second performance of Mellanrummet* ,by NCID*, has been finished for a long time. Time to tell the full story of this very interesting lajv (larp).

As you can se on the webpage (if you know Swedish) the participants did not get much information at all about the "story" of the lajv. You got to know the theme (guilt), some short stories with dark and personal themes, and some religious quotes. Except for date, time and general playing guidelines (The only actual game rule was no violence), that was all of it. When preparing your character you had to make a real person, without any information on the environment you was to play this person in.

When registering for the event we made the choice to play together, that is our roles was to be connected to each other in some way. The group was me, Sven, Anna and my girlfirend Linnéa.

I liked our roles from the start. We were to play a group of Laveian satanists living togeather and running an café. There was very little info about the characters, to the point of us being a bit upset about it. We did get lots of info about satanism but nothing that couldn't easily be found on the net. I already knew all the info we got so it did feel a bit thin. In retrospect this lack of information may very well have made our roles better by forcing us to design the characters in a way that we ourselves could easily relate to. No risk of "not understanding the role". We know that other people got more detailed roles, and it would be interesting to know how their experience of the lajv differed from ours.

Johannes, played by Sven, was the central character of the collective. His strong beliefs and charismatic personality had made it possible for him to found a small grotto of Satanists who lived and ran a café together. He had converted two women, Eva (Linnéa) and Tove (Anna), by being there for them in a difficult part of their lives. We realised that this sounded very much like a destructive cult, but made a point in that the experience was constructive for everyone involved, and that both women were stronger and more independent than ever before.

Even thou he was clearly a full memeber of the group, my character Carl was someting of an outsider. His rootless childhood had made him never rely on anyone else and had also put him in contact with criminal circles and drug use. His primary interest in Satanism was magic and rituals. Most of his spare time was spent painting and writing, with writing actually making him almost enough for a living. Being more independent than the others he had some problems with strict rules of Johannes. To Carl, there was no other true rules than the will of the self. He also did not agree with the others in their wish to keep the true focus of the collective a secret. As a very overt Satanist himself, he feelt no need to hide his belifes.

Below I have posted the text I wrote on Carl as a part of the preparations. It's in Swedish, so foreginers are out of luck. I will not refernce this part in the rest of the post, so just scroll past it and continue reading.


Carl

Bakgrund: Carls föräldrar skilde sig tidigt, och han kan inte minnas en tid då de visade kärlek för varandra. Allt bråk om vårdnaden, allt baktalande av den andre och alla nya partners gjorde att han inte kände sig hemma vare sig hos mamma eller hos pappa. Men det finns mycket att ta sig till i Stockholm, mycket att fly till. Han spenderade mycket tid i vad de flesta skulle kalla ”dåligt umgänge”. Inte som en del i något speciellt gäng, utan snarare som en vandrare bland dem, en observatör. Under de tidiga tonåren greps han av polisen flera gånger, oftast för att ha brutit sig in någonstans bara för att undersöka eller för att se om det gick. Senare började han experimentera med droger främst cannabis, LSD och psilocybin. Det är något han fortfarande använder ibland.

Skolan var alltid problematisk för Carl. Själva kunskapsinnehållet hade han inget problem att ta till sig, det var strukturen som störde. Han ville inte inrätta sig i skolans tider och normer. Hans föräldrar lyckades övertala honom att börja på samhällsvetenskapliga programmet, men efter två år där hade han inte fått godkänt i speciellt många kurser. Till mamma och pappas stora förtret bytte han till estetiska programmet med inriktning bild och formgivning. Det fungerade bättre och de frivilliga kurserna gick åt till skrivande. Strukturen var fortfarande ett problem så betygen var dåliga, men ett bra resultat på högskoleprovet gjorde att många val stod öppna för högskolan.

Det blev inte blivit så mycket med universitetsstudierna. Han tog litteraturvetenskap A och en del poäng på Teoretisk och Praktisk filosofi. Mest jobbade i kassan på Konsum för pengarna skull, och skrev och tecknade för sin egen skull. En del pengar kom in från publicerat material, men det var inte så mycket. Mycket kom att förändras med Kollektivet.

Satanismen: Det är mycket som tilltalar Carl i satanismen och LaVeys läror. Han har alltid varit en individualist. Inte nödvändigtvis en ensamvarg men en som gått åt ett annat håll så fort gruppen inte passat honom. Mörkret och mystiken fascinerar honom, något som är tydligt i hans konst. Carl upptäckte satanismen i slutet av högstadiet och han läste mycket om det och umgicks med personer från många olika ockulta sällskap. LaVeys enklar och raka läror var något som ständigt återkom, och idag är det grunden i hans livsfilosofi. Johannes anser nog att han tar lite för lätt
på lärorna och blandar in för mycket från andra inriktningar. Carl svarar att en sann satanist skapar sina egna budord, och att en gud inte har något annat ansvar än att vara sann mot sig själv. I praktiken skapar inte de här meningsskiljaktigheterna så många problem, och Carl accepterar de regler som Johannes satt upp. Dock händer det att han ibland vägrar berätta om detaljer ur sitt liv, något de andra tycker är lite underligt.

Det är ofta Carl som leder Kollektivets ritualer. Inte så mycket för att han ger dem större spirituell signifikans än de andra, utan mer för att han älskar dess estetik. Han kan spendera dagar med att dekorera rekvisitan som ska användas, så att den ger den avsedda känslan av kraftfullt mörker. Genom att se till att alla detaljer passar
ihop perfekt hyllar man satan i sig själv.

Kollektivet: Carl hade gått och funderat ett tag på att starta ett satanistkollektiv. Han hade till och med hittat ett Café med tillhörande bovåning som stod tomt. Det borde gå att hyra billigt. Problemet var bara att han saknade några att flytta in med och Carl var inte rätt person att övertala folk till det. Johannes var lösningen på
problemet. De hade haft kontakt med varandra en tid efter att ha möts genom sitt gemensamma författarintresse. Så fort han fick höra om idén blev det fart. Johannes tog tag i det hela med sin överväldigande karisma, och det dröjde inte länge än de var fyra i Kollektivet. I början kände sig Carl en aning undanskuffad av Johannes, men den känslan försvann snabbt. Mer familj än så här hade Carl aldrig haft och för varje dag blev banden bara starkare. I Kollektivet kunde han både vara sig själv och bidra till något större. Balansen mellan det gemensamma och det privata visade sig fungera perfekt.

I caféet är Carl en mångsysslare. Han kanske är den som bidrar minst till den gemensamma driften, men han drar in hyfsat mycket pengar på sitt skrivande och tecknande. Sedan inflyttningen har hans förmåga att fokusera på ett jobb ökat, vilket gör att han kan illustrera och skriva beställningsjobb. Det senaste året har han blivit allt mer eftertraktad.

Klädstil: Carl klär sig nästan alltid i svart och är den i familjen som ser ut som en satanist. I övrigt så varierar han sin klädsel rätt mycket, från kostym till skinnbyxor till renässansutstyrsel. Däremot har han aldrig några metal-tshirts på sig, även om han lyssnar en del på sån musik.

Personlighet: Carl är inte speciellt framfusig i sociala situationer men ändå rätt utåtriktad när det väl tar fart. När han väl fått kontakt med en person så kan han tala på om magiska teorier och olika filosofier.

Det är mycket svårt att få Carl att visa att han är upprörd över något. Snarare kan han visa ett irriterade lugn under de mest pressade situationer. Blir han ansatt i en diskussion så blir han aldrig hetsig utan snarare elakt odräglig. Med komplexa antydningar och en odräglig överlägsenhet försöker han få den andre att tappa besinningen.

De andra i kollektivet kan ibland tycka att Carl verkar lite okänslig på sättet, men de har förstått att det bara är så han är och det har gång på gång visat sig att han verkligen känner för familjen.

Carl rör sig långsamt och kontrollerat, ständigt betraktande något i sin omgivning som inte alltid är uppenbart för människor omkring honom.

Det ska också noteras att Carl är rätt bra på att manipulera andra om han anser det behövs. Han kan tillfälligt lägga sig an med en helt annan personlighet om han tror att det kommer gangna honom. Det rör sig mest om sådan som att övertala en restaurangägare om att göra ett bord ledig eller slippa en parkeringsböter. Det hela skulle nog fungera ännu bättre om inte Carl envisades med att alltid klä sig i svart.

Sex: Carl har provat homosex, bland annat med Johannes, men kommit fram till att det inte ger honom något. I övrigt så gillar han sex i samma utsträckning som folk i allmänhet. Egentligen är inte rituell sex något han fokuserar på i sitt magiska arbete, men han gillar både det och "vanlig sex". Han har inte så ofta sex utanför kollektivet, mest för att han inte tycker det är speciellt intressant att ragga. De andra kvinnor
han isåfall ligger med kommer oftast från allmänockulta kretsar i Stockholm.

Familj: Carl är enda barnet och han har ingen kontakt med sin
familj. Ni vet att hans pappa är tandläkare och heter Lars och att hans mamma är
revisor och heter Lena. Han pratar mycket sällan om sin barndom.

Ok, lets continue on the lajv itself. After some waiting at the site of the event, we were released into the venue for the actual game. Our characters had no memories of anything after a certain point in time. This time was in the middle of the night, as we were having tea after engaging in a sexual ritual. We all wore morning gowns.

The room we entered, together with around ten other persons as confused as we, was stylish in an old fashioned way, with heavy furniture and old weapons lining the walls. We were all instructed by a man to get seated for dinner. This was weird. These random people were having an buffet seated along on a big table. In one end was several men, quiet and dressed in white. In the other end a collection of frantically chatting men and women dressed in black suites.

As you may have already guessed (and as we actually guessed before the lajv) we were all dead. Not only dead but stuck in between lives because of some kind of mistake in the cosmic order. There were angels and devils but none of them could tell us anything really useful. Our characters couping with this situation was the main point of the lajv.

One very important part of the game was when the imps tricked us into confessing our sins, mostly for their own amusement. This was traumatic for both the confessor and the listeners and spawned all kind of interesting situations. Carl never confessed, maybe the only one not doing so, but some of the confessions in our group was without guilt and regret.

Another important part was when Eva told us that she had decided to murder her former husband, who had severely abused her. The collective gathered and tried to convice her that there was other and less risky ways to get a satisfying revenge. We all swore to help her, if we somehow managed to get back to our lives.

The later part of the lajv (which lasted for an evening all in all) was the most interesting for me and my character. I felt more and more disconnected from the collective, as they started to feel sympathy for the others and pity them in their weakness. As the time passed, my contempt for my adopted family increased. In the meantime I had handled the situation by considering it as intersting and worth studying in detail. I associated with the imps (very obnoxious in the beginning, but not that bad when you got to know them) and the angels as much as I could. I did not gather much infomation but being dead I figured I had all the time in world.

The lajv ended abruptly when one of the angels announced that the problem had been fixed and that we where to be transported to our new lives. Everyone but two got sent to a lower level of reality, where the world was darker and grimmer. We all got especially bleak possitions in this reality, myself being a street urchin in South America. One of the lost souls got sent to heaven and one was found not really dead but just in a coma.

My last thought in the game was considering my new life, naturally with some fear but in the same time the conviction of me being able to handle and rise from it.

That was it. In conclussion a good larp. The only part we that did feel was a bit weird was our (and some of the other souls) strict sentence. The organisers hadn't read our roles and how we had developed them. To us they felt like comparably nice persons who had actually managed to forge a life where everyone could be honest to the others and realise their true potential. We was of course not flawless but being sent to the lowest levels of hell seemed a little to harsh. Not that it mattered that much, it was only the last minutes of play.

All in all the most important part of the game was the interactions in our group. This was made possible by our extensive preparations, like very detailed characters, lots of discussion on the dynamics of our group, and running a short pre-lajv to test and get familiar with the characters.

I look forward to the next larp by NCID*. Rumors says that they will go back to lovecraftian myths (as in their last game Aurora Borealis) and even vaguer rumors that it will maybe be a more physical experience.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Vincent said...

This is very interesting stuff, Jonas!

3:23 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Thank you!

I can elaborate a bit on the system (as I have percieved you using the word), as I know this interests you.

As you already know there was no mechanical confict or scene resolution mechanics. But there was some very important rules, as stated in the information before the game.

The most important was no violent contact at all. The primary reason was that the venue of play had very fragile and expensive furniture and decoration. Almost as important was the focus of play. Violence was not intended to be a way of resolving character conficts in the game. If you wanted, you could imagine violence being impossible in this space between worlds (althou this was not stated in the rules).

The second most important rule was "Do not block play". In this kind of game you are supposed to stay in character during the whole game. Some events want you to only consider the character and the immersion, but most, like this one, limits the immersion to where the fun ends. You should not play your character in a way that ruin the game for others. "Inviting play" is a term for playing your character in a way that makes it easier for others to play theirs. In some way this could be seen as a reaction to the Finnish Turku school, where you should never consider the other players enjoyment of the game.

The last rule was about how to slow down or break play if you get in a situation that does not feel comfortable for you as a player. In this way you can play hard, knowing the other part signaling when something becomes too much.

Apart from this there was a request to not overdress the characters. In many larps there is a tendency to dress up in very stereotypical clothes, in an effort to make your character stand out more. In this game you should strive for a bit more plain dressing, and expressing your character through play. Our decission to play in plain morning gowns was partially due to this. There was no risk that our satanic beliefs was to be expressed in any other way than how we acted.

12:54 AM  
Anonymous Vincent said...

Those seem like good, sensible rules.

"Do not block play." That seems like a real skill - something a person would learn and get better at with practice.

How much training or experience would you say a person needs in order to follow this rule well? If you had to say, how broad is the range of skill between the players best at following this rule and the players worst at following it?

(Does that even make sense as a question?)

5:52 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

One of the difficult parts of "Do not plock play" and "Inviting play" is that it is not very well defined. Of course, at the most basic level it is not much more difficult than being a sensitive and not forcing your will on the game. In this specific case, it was rather easy as there was very little in the way of a goal in the game, meaning little risk of a player getting it wrong and trying to "win" at the expense of others.

If we continue to the more advanced levels of inviting play things get less tangible. Some players undeniably got skills that makes it easy to play against them. It is several small things that together brings out your own talents. I cannot put a finger on any specifics and do not know if I myself have any of these skills at a consirable level.

All in all, the basic level is easy to understand and apply but the finer points is elusive and takes experience.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

One more thing...

As most of the players in these games like to be deeply immersed during the lajv, most of these rules must work by instinct. I cannot go around thinking "How am I going to approach this person in a play inviting way". It needs to function as a nearly transparant layer between my characters mind and the environment. In some cases it works, and in some cases it don't, in the same way that I can sometimes fool myself into not getting distracted by knowing the player of another character in real life, but sometimes a small voice tells me "This is not really Johannes, it is your classmate Sven".

(I have another rule I forgot to mention. All parts of the scenery that seems inappropriate to the setting should just be ignored and never commented on in-game at all. Another case of "fooling yourself" something doesn't exist.)

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Vincent said...

Interesting.

This is a tricky question to put, so let me try again if I get it wrong:

Occasionally I hang out with people who're practicing the kind of "fooling ourselves" you describe. My experience is that we pretend we're fooling ourselves, each of us individually acting like we're fooling ourselves in order to better support and respect our fellows - but they're pretty much only pretending and acting too.

Like you say "...but sometimes a small voice tells me 'This is not really Johannes, it is your classmate Sven'" - but I imagine you don't let on that you're thinking that, you act to maintain the illusion that you're deeply immersed.

If you had to guess, how much of the game was actual deep immersion, and how much was everybody acting immersed?

Hey - and this is kind of on-topic even - did you ever read these actual play writeups of mine? I think they'll give you a look into where I'm coming from:
Adventures in Improvised System
Adventures in RGFA Simulationism
Adventures in Dramatic Drama

3:40 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I think I get you, just ask again if my answer seems unrelated :)

Exactly how this deep immersion is experienced differs from person to person, but I can assure you that it is not *only* acting and pretending.

In most cases immersion is a sliding scale so there is no easy way of defining when you are immersed in your character and when you are not. If was to estimate my level of immersion during mellanrummet I would say I had enough (for my own enjoyment) immersion about 80% of the game time. "enough imersion" is in this case not having any conscious thougts of your own. There is still lot of "myself" going on in the background and I always realising it is only a game but I do *feel* like my character. I never think "How would my character react now" or "How do I want the story to unfold". In most cases sliding in and out of immersion is smooth. Maybe I see my girfriend, react emotional as myself and not my character. This distracts me for a second or five but then I´m back in character. Sometimes I am out of character for longer parts of the game, due to various reasons (like if I start daydreaming it is always as myself). In some instances leaving character is more traumatic. During one very emotinal part of the game (Mellanrummet) I suddenly saw a magazine that was obviously not a part of the setting. At first I could't really unerstand what it was (being really deeply in character) but then reality crashed down on me violently. I totally lost my character and it took some time recover. Of course none of the other players discovered this happening, and it would be a severe breach of etiquette to show this if not really necessary.

The level of deep immersion experienced during a game varies from person to person. One of may friends say he never do it and belive himself to be unable to. He acts out his character and are happy doing so. He is good enough about it that we could never have realised the difference. Other people claim doing stuff I could probably never do, like staying in character alone by himself for several days. The point is that immersion is very personal. As you do it purely for yourself you do not need to feel bad for not immersing enough. For me, it is a wondeful feeling.

How high is the general level of immersion? Hard to tell but I belive most players experiences is close to my own. At the very least there is a stive for immersion. Games like this (that focus more heavily on character amd immersion than the general nordic fantasy larp) at least strive for immersion. At the start of the game there is a period of contemplation, usually to appropriate music, where everyone goes in character. Likewise, at the end of the game, there is specific time dedicated to leaving your role completely. Many players reported having problems totally releasing their characters for several days when not having this type of de-roleing.

Do this make sense to you? Can you also imagine this type of play not mixing at all with scene resolution mechanics and the like? I realise it could both sound a bit weird and freakish if you never tried it, or like it is something we just make up to sound special. But, at least in my own case, it is for real and something completely different than acting.

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Vincent said...

"Do this make sense to you?"

Yeah, of course. I play that way a lot - you'll probably see evidence for it in my "Adventures in RGFA sim" writeup. The rigors of tabletop are different from the rigors of live action, of course, but you can see that my usual game is all about feeling our characters deeply.

If you asked how often I have no (apparent) thoughts of my own, thinking just as my character, I'd put myself lower than your 80%, but still above (say) 40%. I do all the pre-play getting into character, the during-play surfacing and diving, all the kinds of things you describe.

That game's pretty much freeform, though.

"Can you also imagine this type of play not mixing at all with scene resolution mechanics and the like?"

Sure.

Can you imagine scene resolution mechanics so radically different from the ones you're used to that they could mix?

My goal, if you want to look at it this way, is to make "don't block play" foolproof - which good resolution rules can do - without much damaging immersion. I think it's possible!

(I didn't really mean to pick up the old argument, sorry.)

4:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

"Can you imagine scene resolution mechanics so radically different from the ones you're used to that they could mix?"

Hmm... maybe. I can certainly imagine *systems* that do not interfere much on immersion (note *much*). Some Nordic immersion focused games do use more rigid systems than Mellanrummet, usually advanced scene framing. I´m not sure if such a system (the one proposed by you, not scene framing) could be called "scene resolution" in any meaningful definition of the word. But I´m certainly open to trying any such systems.

May main point is that system and rules detract from immersion. "Do not block play" hinders immersion to some extent. Then why use it? Because maximum immersion is not the only goal in a game.

"...without much damaging immersion. I think it's possible!"

Without *much* damage to immersion. That sounds resonable. It is the *no damage at all* claims I oppose. And even if we can never agree on that single point, discussions related to it still have merit.

4:39 PM  

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