Forfatterarkiv: Simon Pettitt

Being in Minsk

I haven’t written about any of the things I’ve been doing since JaLL. I haven’t had the time for the long rambling posts I used to. I have long drafts for last years Larpwriter Summer School, Black Box Copenhagen and Before We Wake, but haven’t had time to get them edited and everything after them I haven’t even had time to write a draft. And it looks like that won’t change for the foreseeable future.

So I’m going to try and develop a new and quicker way for me to write about my larp experiences. This is an attempt at that format. Tell me what you think.

So this weekend I went to Belarus to participate in Minsk Larp Festival. They had invited me several times and finally I could go. This first post is about my time in Minsk. The next will be about the games I played.

The format I’m trying out is to write this on my phone on my way home. And I’ll try and make it picture based by picking some pictures I took while there and write whatever thoughts they give me.

All in all it was a great trip where I again and again thought “wow this is not something you experience every day”. Right after we were picked up at the station came one of these experiences.

  We went to a flat some of the other international participants had airbnb’ed. Through a hazarded and definitely not building regulated route they showed us up on the roof of the building that sat right in the centre of Minsk to the view above the central square of Minsk.

  
The next day our local hosts (all my fellow LWSS alumni) showed us parts of Minsk. Me and Yauhenia (Who I stayed at during the festival and who was a great host and guide) started out by visiting the national library that is housed in the space station you see above. It’s just one example of the size of Minsk. Everything is built big and with lots of space between.

  
We went to the top of that building and got a great view of Minsk including these soviet era buildings still with the original murals. 

  Inside the top floor was a small art gallery. This picture is from that. The artist painted these landscapes littered with these strange ghost ladies. Very moody. 

  We then meet up with Jamie and Mark, some of the other international participants and lwss alumni, and went to a museum for sculptures. As you can see most of them prominent communists.

  They were all by by the same artist apparently known for his ability to show emotions and personality in is works.  (can’t remember his name). This picture is of one of the first female officers in Belarus, I really like the strong expression.

  The artist was very fond of sculpting Lenin.

  As you can see…

  We were told that during the soviet an artist could make a living just making Lenins because every city, no matter how small, always had to have at least one Lenin. This artist was known for making some of the best Lenin’s. 

  After that we went to the area where the festival would be. It was in the middle of the hippest part of town. 

  It was an old factory area were the old factories were being turned it to studios, cafes, workspaces, galleries and so on. A very strange mix of old rundown buildings and incredible hip and modern activities. 

  In one of the galleries was a showcase called “21” it was a group of 21 year olds who each had been given a disposable camera (with 21 pictures) and asked to show their life and identity through the pictures. It was really interesting and they had really but some thought into the pictures. 

  It kinda connects to “…And that’s it” a game I’m designing where I want the players to create the characters through mood boards.

  We talked about that it could be interesting to give players of a long larp a disposable camera as preparation and take pictures to represent how they will play their character. Then you could put them on wall before game start and that way everybody could get a visual idea of the other characters. That could be cool. 

  In connection to the gallery was an independent publisher and its bookstore. They had not been outright banned but their permit to print kept getting delayed by small “mistakes”. So they had been fined for printing books without a permit. This created an outrage and people donated money to help pay the fine. All these stars are names of the people who helped. 

  In the evening I had the most special experience of the trip. We went to see The Belarusian Free Theatre. A well known theatre group where the writers and directors have had to flee because of their critical plays. Now they continue to work in London and the actors still perform the plays but in hidden locations. 

  The play was called Being Harold Pinter and was a mash up of parts of his plays and his Nobel speech. It was very intense and I both felt like an outsider and like I was being included in something special. I understood the play on an intellectual level. But looking at the local audience I could see this struck them much much deeper. One of them said afterwards: “it was like they kept poking us with the things we know about our country but don’t want to think about.” It was a very powerful experience. 

There’s many many things I haven’t mentioned now that I’m trying out a shorter format. Many cool talks and you know all the social stuff. But you might later hear about it from the ideas and thoughts that they gave me. 

Humm that became longer than expected. Next time is all about the larping. What do you think about the format?

A question and a few ideas

I have so many blog post in draft form, about all the things I’ve been up to, the larps I’ve played. But I just havn’t had time to write them up. And now I wonder if there’s even a reason to write about things that happened in the autumn. And while I ponder that (feel free to help me ponder), here’s a few ideas I’m working on. What do you think, do you have suggestions?

…And that’s it
That’s it. We’re done. Humanity is over. You are the last group of survivors and the first sign of the illness has just reached you. Now you know your fate, it won’t be painful, but over the next day you will one by one fall asleep and never wake up. You know that this is the end, and that you are the last. What do you do with your and humanity’s last day?

Steve-E – A Wall-E larp
For 200 years they have been doing what they were made for. Now with the discovery of a functioning tv showing bits of old films a whole new world of dancing, feeling and exploring opens for them. How will this little group of robots handle it?

Dance of the Perseids
You are shooting stars, and you are about to burn up. But as you dance across the sky you have one chance to live a story. One story, that’s all a shooting star gets. They have to take all their longings, dreams and desires and put into this one story. Not a life, a story. It doesn’t have to be happy, it’s not about joy. It’s about living and experiencing in that one hour you get. It’s about creating a story so bright that people looking up at you will see your fire and wonder.

This last idea is the one I’m furthest with, the core mechanic is dancing. Not being good at dancing but finding that zone when you are just enjoying to move your body to music and don’t care what it looks like. I want music to be at the center of this larp. From character creation to story creation to how the players move and interact.

Ticket sale for Black Box Horsens start december 17th

It’s been quiet in here for long, mainly because I have been very busy. And don’t expect it to liven up in this year. But In the new year I hope to write a lot. I have a lot to say to old things I’ve been to, but not written about yet. I have it in rough texts, but it needs to be gone over quite a lot.header-1

But that is not the point of this post, the point is Black Box Horsens 2016. I just wanted to bring this message:

The ticket sale will start december 17th at 18.00 CET.
The complete program will be online soon, and it looks great!
Admission to the Festival will be 14 euros.
Tickets for games will be 7 euros each.
See more on: blackboxhorsens.dk

JaLL – The end – What others wrote – Everything I wrote

Some of the other players of JaLL have written about the game. I’ve collected the ones I could find here. But if I have missed some please tell me, I want a complete collection. Here you will find both academic and design comments on the game alongside very personal accounts of the game (sometimes within the same post). But I can highly recommend to read them all as they all either puts to words my thoughts in a much better way or even highlights elements that I had not even considered. Good reading.

Losing friends and the stories we tell ourselves – Just a Little Lovin – Denmark 2015
Evan both retells his characters story in a very readable way, but at the same time offers some thought on why the game works.

Love sex death and liminality ritual in Just a Little Lovin
Sarah looks at rituals and what part they play in a game like JaLL. This one really blew my mind and I’ll be returning to this when I really start designing “The Longest Stay”.

Just a Little Lovin
For Mo this was his first Nordic larp and he gives a good account of what made it so strong and good.

The bridge between love and death
Eden writes about death in roleplay. She compares the role death plays in JaLL and “White Death”. She also gives an account of her JaLL experience that is just so well written.

Sikkerheds mekanikker og sikkerheds kultur
Here Troels talks about how safety techniques are not only there to be used, but that the mere presence of them creates a culture of looking after each other.

A fantastically horrible journey through the early 1980s
In his by now 3 part series (more on the way) Emil retell his personal story much like I did. As you will see, he had a completely different narrative than mine, and I can tell you each and every story within the game was that different from each other.
Part 1 – Background
Part 2 – Act 1
Part 3 – Act 2

They luster on
This very personal post about the game by Erik is so damn well written and captures so well some of my own thoughts about the game and the experience it was.

The Book
From the first Danish run of JaLL this book was made. It contains accounts from that run. I haven’t read it but will at some point in the future.

The Speech 
This is not from that game but a speech Eirik gave before his larp Koikoi that Tor readout at the beginning of ours and should be read out before each and every larp.

This is my last post about JaLL, I had planned to write about the tools, techniques and structure of the game and also my favorite scenes from the game. But both posts didn’t quite work, so I won’t do those. But this is a cool way to end it. Because all the post above in one way or another covers those two points better anyway.

One thing I want to add is that when trying to write my favorite scenes I realized how little of the others play I had seen. I had been so focused and I suppose worried about my own game that I never just sat for a bit and watched what was going on around me, something that is actually completely fine to do in a long game like this. I think that is a lesson, I’ll try and take with me, and another reason to why I want to try to play an In game photographer. Then you have an excuse to observe other people. And I know that I’m differently aware when I’m on a photo job, and it would be cool to move that awareness into a game.

So that was it, that was JaLL. In in a roll of the credits this all the posts I made about JaLL from beginning to end:

Pre JaLL posts:

Just a Little Lovin – intro: The very first post I wrote about this game.

Just a Little Lovin – Bruce: My presentation and thoughts about my character.

Just a Little Lovin – Thinking about the character: the thought process I had used in preparation for the game.05-BJAR6498

Just a Little Lovin – Talking about the character: How I had used talking to others as a tool for preparation, and tips for others on how to use it.

Just a Little Lovin – Theme music for a character: the role music played in my preparation, and tips on how to use it.

Post JaLL posts:

Just a Little Lovin – Intro post: the first quick reaction after the game

JaLL – The dual story of Bruce – Act 1 the rich bastard in doubt

JaLL – The dual story of Bruce – Act 2 love and confusion

JaLL – The dual story of Bruce – Act 3 happy ever after, breakdown and buildup

JaLL – Clothing and magic items: how to use costumes and items as a immersion tool both in preparation and during the game.

JaLL – Just a Little Sexuality: A on request post about my experience with sexuality in this game.

Thank you for reading along.
Simon James Pettitt – 2015

JaLL – Clothing and magic items

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Flamboyant eighties

Clothes might not make a man but in a larp like “Just a Little Lovin” it goes a hell of a long way to make the character. There’s the obvious thing: JaLL takes place in the eighties known for its outrageous and colorful fashion and the characters are all part of the most outrageous of these trends in each their own way, (Flamboyant gay, drag queens, disco stars, 54 partygoers, spirituals, hippies and so on).

So as the organizers kept saying: this is not a reenactment, we wouldn’t be criticized for wearing items that might not strictly belong to the eighties. It was much more about the feel and power of the look than historical accuracy.

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Note not only the epic Diane but also the many colors in the background. You can’t make out details, but you get a general feel of the whole thing, thats pretty much how it felt. I wouldn’t be able to recall specifics but the general look of the people stays with me.

And when you look at the pictures from JaLL you can see that it worked, the people there were such a powerful mix of color and expression. Especially in the first act, it’s just strong colors and combinations everywhere, (in the later acts some took it down, some up, but it was never as crazy as act one). And just standing among these people looking so different from everyday life and looking different yourself goes a long way to get you into the mood and into character.

Clothes In perpetration
But clothes does so much more than that. This might be obvious for larpers but for a chamber larper with a background in Fastaval and black box it’s not. In fact I have ridiculed people for spending so much time and money on costumes for a larp, (and might still do, there’s a limit to everything.) But JaLL and in parts “Fladlands Sagaen” (or just Sagaen) (Østerskov Efterskoles fantasy campaign) has taught me how much help just looking for the right clothes is for your understanding of the character.

I played along once in Sagaen, so I needed to quickly come up with something playable for one session. Having never owned a single piece of fantasy style costume, I had to depend on the costume cellar at Østerskov (which wasn’t the worse thing, as this roleplay school is pretty well stocked.) Going down there I didn’t really know what I was going to play, but though slowly finding bits and pieces to wear an idea emerged, and for each new piece it became clearer. The larp “Sarabande” does much of the same, part of the character workshop is to chose an item of clothing that fits the character, but it is done at a point where your character is still very loosely defined. So just this one choice makes it much more concrete.

The same is the case for JaLL just on a much larger scale. I became so used to going into every second hand shop I passed in preparation for JaLL, that after the game I kept almost doing it still, but had to keep reminding myself, no, you no longer have to do that. Very rarely did I buy anything, but just looking at clothes and I suppose also just rejecting things because they didn’t feel right, was an important part of me finding out how I would play Bruce.

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“It’s cool and fun yes, but it doesn’t really say Bruce…”

I found several things that would fit his stockbroker image (soooo many striped suits that almost fit), but every time it felt slightly wrong. This wasn’t the part of the character that I wanted to play up. I wanted to use his raw animalistic power, life force and also hunger, hunger for always more.

It was only when I found the white tuxedo that it felt right, so I had to buy it even though it was a bit expensive. But I’m so happy that I did. I only wore the whole set in act one (because the pants don’t quite fit), but it still had the right effect and that jacket worked surprisingly well with just light brown slacks. For me that jacket made Bruce.

So clothes limits and focuses a broad idea and as we know limits feeds creativity. But clothes also helps in the way that saying no to certain items says something to you about the character. And finally clothes may put a new spin on a character give it just that twist the character needed.

Clothes during the game
During JaLL we joked around in my room with the fact that in this larp the men spend as much, if not more, time fretting about their outfit as the woman. A crude cliche of a joke, but for me it had some truth, I have never been more aware of what I was going to wear. Each act we changed, different things was in focus, the characters was in a different place and it was a surprisingly strong tool to use what I choose to wear to show that. It might not have been noticed by the other players but for me it was important.

In act 1 my clothes was wild and colorful, it has been compared to a pimps outfit, and that’s not far of. This was a man letting of steam, a man out for a party, enjoying life without limits. In act 2 it was much more stiff, still the bright white jacket, but now with a buttoned up shirt with a tie (a bright pink tie, but still I could always feel it tight around my neck, (and when I took it off, it was at a point when Bruce was tensioning down a bit.) It was also a more stern look that fitted the relationship between Bruce and Mickey in that act, (read the story here). And finally in act 3 Bruce was a bit more loose, letting go of control trying to find some peace and being more relaxed. So still the same jacket but now a black t-shirt underneath, still very eighties but definitely more relaxed and more comfortable for me. So the feel of the clothes on my body did a lot to my game, it became a physical subconscious reminder of the style of game I wanted for each act.

Magic Items
“This sword gives me plus two when fighting dragons!” “Oh but this necklace gives me plus two at playing Bruce, and these shades can hide or show my true intentions.” Bruce had two magic items, but they were magic for me not the character. More than anything I wore did they helped me get into character.

IMG_4372The shades
The most obvious was the shades, shortly after arriving at the location I put them on because I knew I wanted to wear them at all times, so I needed to get used to that. It was surprisingly easy. They also took some of my softer features and hid them leaving me looking sterner and tougher than I am, or at least it felt like that, and that’s the important bit.

With them on I felt stronger and more attractive and I used that a lot in my play. But that wasn’t all, I was very aware when I took them on or of. I would take them of when Bruce was being more open and honest or just showing feelings. He didn’t do that much in act one, but from act two and on especially in the morning they came on and off more and more often.

The player of Sam noticed this in one scene where they were talking about a tattoo for Bruce (she was a tattoo artist) he had the shades of, talking honestly about the need for this (the tattoo would be the initials of Sinclair a hidden tribute to his lost friend), But then someone else joined the table and on came the shades and Bruce quickly changed the subject.

This was a surprisingly powerful tool for me. Props can really enhance the game, just like I wrote about with shoes in my post on “Tilbagefald” (Relapse) (in Danish sorry).

IMG_4370Necklace
My other magic item was a silver necklace I wore at all times, it was rarely visible, but for me it became the symbol of Bruce. Between acts I would quickly change into my own comfortable clothes and relax in that, getting well out of character. But I kept the necklace on to keep this one connection between me and Bruce. It became the strongest connection between me and the character.

And It was the one thing from the character I kept on after the game ended, it didn’t feel right to take it off just yet. And then suddenly sometime during the afterparty I went by myself and it felt right, so I took it of. There was something about it, even though it wasn’t visible I could always feel it’s weight around my neck and that kept reminding me, that now I was something different. And that’s important I think.

So items or props can be used outwardly to signal things to other players, subtle as it might be. But they can also be used inwardly to remind you about certain important things.

 

JaLL – Just a little sexuality

When I published my intro post about the larp “Just a Little Lovin” I asked what people would like to read about in my posts on JaLL. One suggestion that came up was sexuality. Apparently others have had very strong experience with this. I remember several of the gay and bisexual players talking about how great it was to finally play a game for them. Erik put it very well:

“JaLL making the plotlines gay and queer made them easier to understand for me, or at least identify with, so I could appreciate the *stories* on their own merit without having to make mental adjustments and hypotheticals.”
(You should also read his account of the game, it’s way better put than mine)

Many also commented on the fact that it was great to experience a larp with a set of characters from their world view so to say. (As someone joked: finally the straight roles was outnumbered in a larp)

That for me as a straight(ish) male has really been an eye opener. I have been thinking about this before for example in connection with “Things That Happen to Other People.” (A Fastaval game also by Tor). That this larp is sadly special because many of the characters are LGBT, but other than the fact that AIDS hit this group first most of the conflicts and stories don’t arise from the fact that the characters are LGBT, it’s just a fact like any other part of the character. It’s the same in “Things That Happen to Other People.” It’s about a group of people fleeing a civil war, and in this group there’s a love story, where the two lovers just happen to be men. It’s not an issue, it’s just a fact, and I love that and we need more of that.

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Foto: Petter Karlsson

Another thing that is kinda connected to sexuality or more correctly gender (I think) is something I took from the larp: those who know me, know I’m not the most manly of men in that boring traditional way. I have in the past been asked if I’m gay. My stance and body language is not traditional masculine and my favorite cocktail is the cosmopolitan. I’m ok with that, I have accepted that. And luckily I have never been ashamed of it. It’s such an ingrown part of who I am, that I have never tried to change it. Not because I was particularly proud about it, but because I know it would be uncomfortable and in wain any way.

And I know now who very stressful and tense it would be to try and change, but I’ll get back to that. As I said I’m not ashamed of it. But I’m fully aware that some men and probably also women have looked down on me because of that. And I have seen it as a weakness. It’s hard to 2-IMG_3727explain. It’s a bit like I know I’m not that good looking, but I’m not ashamed of that, there’s nothing to do about it. But I’m fully aware that it’s a weakness that puts me at a disadvantage in some situations.

Bruce on the other hand was very masculine. I even went to Hanne, who ran a gender bending workshop, for people playing a different gender than their own, to get some tips on how to be and move more masculine. That by the way became a great tool for getting into and out of character. I would dramatically change the way I stood or moved and I would feel different. When getting out of Bruce I would exaggerate my own body language to show myself that I was me again, it felt so liberating because it felt very tense to be in that manly way and to be so aware of how I held myself at all times (that’s what I meant by stressful and tense. It helped my immersion, because Bruce was stressful and tense, but to try and do that day in and day out? Never!)

But Bruce felt very powerful, so sure of himself and his place in the world. Even when cracking when facing death and confusing love he was still powerful. He was still this pillar of energy, power and command. Just on shaky ground. And without thinking about it after the larp I felt this power stance move from Bruce’s way of standing and moving into my own way of standing and moving. I suddenly felt proud of my body language almost defiant. It has since gone away a bit, but I can still once in awhile feel this defiant power and proudness of my way of being. Before I didn’t care what others thought, but I was aware that they might see my body language as week compared to other men. Now I’m at times able to feel proud of my way of being. This is me, this is my strength, and I’m fucking proud of it. There’s power in it not weakness. That is a strong experience. And that is what I took from the larp in form of sexuality or gender or whatever it is.

Now playing gay, well as I said I’m straight(ish), but I have played gay before. I have even played straight relationships where my female partner was played by a man. And I have played gay relationships with a woman playing my gay lover. And I have never had a problem distinguishing the player form the character and being aware that the love I played was towards a character not the player. So I didn’t really have any issues with playing gay. It’s just yet another love story just with different genitalia combinations. And who doesn’t love a good love story?

JaLL – The dual story of Bruce – act 3: Happy ever after, breakdown and buildup

Read my introduction here
Read act 1 here
Read act 2 here

Right continuing where we left off:
So the goals for Bruce in the last act was to try and work out a better relationship with Mickey, and find out what that meant. But also to avoid the empty church, he had seen in his mind, when no one came for him after the brush with death. Many other things were planned as well, but I won’t go into them here.

In 3 act I tried to go for a more relaxed Bruce, a man confused about his spot in life and relationships and not angry any more but still hurt. As I write this, I now see how close to home that is. During the game Bruce drifted closer and closer to me, I see that now.

Do you know how hard it is to plan to create meaningful relationships in game? Especially with only one act left. What was I thinking? Anyway that’s what I tried to do. It didn’t work. The beginning was fine Bruce had a great shouting match with someone who wanted his financial support, but almost demanded it from him because his friend was sick. To which Bruce shouted: “I was one of the first to lose someone! You do not get to play that card at me!” While the other hurried off. Loved it.

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Mickey and Bruce in the 3 act. They look happy. And see how more relaxed they both dress compared to act 2. Foto: Elina Andersson

It was interesting to watch Bruce and Mickey try and find a way to be in a relationship they both could be comfortable with. This was explored in a few rather subtle scenes that I still love. They kinda just showed in small ways that things had changed and now they were figuring out how to do this as equals, but also as two men used to power games and wearing masks. They both struggled with the same issues but in very different ways. It was hard to play because it was so subtle, but looking back at it now, it feels kinda beautiful. Especially in contrast to the ugliness of act two.

I keep coming back to one tiny moment during the drag show. Bruce was shouting some comment at the stage and suddenly Mickey gently put his hand on Bruce’s knee and shook his head ever so slightly as if saying “enough.” And for the first time Bruce relented and muttered “you’re right, sorry.” No one saw this, I’m not even sure Mickey’s player knows the importance of that moment. But for me it showed that Bruce had changed, but also how special Mickey was to Bruce. The only one the shark would listen too.

I want to mention two other scenes as they kinda closes the story of Bruce and Micky. One might have happened twice once in the evening once in the morning. But the point of the scenes was Bruce once again telling Mickey, that he loved him but now saying, that he knew that Mickey could not say it back or maybe even feel it back, but that Bruce was ok with that. And that he knew that this might not be forever, but that he would enjoy every moment of it as long as it lasted. Or something along those lines. The essence was that Bruce had come to terms with the relationship and the uncertainties in it and was in a word: content.

The other scene was a double black box scene towards the very end. It was basically either Bruce or Mickey dying first. With Bruce he left half he owned to Mickey, the other half to the fight against AIDS, but left no note. This confused and saddened Mickey. He didn’t need the money, that was just a hassle, he needed a note, a goodbye, anything! But that was Bruce in a nutshell, bad at relationships to the end.

In fact the missing note was so frustrating for me as a player, that a few days after the game I had to write two versions of the goodbye note just to please myself. The player of Gwen’s interpretation is that Bruce wrote these, but didn’t show them, “No. Too emotional”. But as Mickey’s player said: all versions are true, that’s the beauty of role play. In the other scene Mickey dying first it turned out that he had quite a bit of money and could easily have made it on his own but chose not to. He left the money to his half sister Sam with a note saying:

“She needs it more.
I love you too.”

Ah that still breaks my heart in such a beautiful way. It turned out that the money was something he had stolen from Bruce as a safety for when Bruce threw him out. But Bruce never did that, so in the end he gave it to Sam. Bruce was rich enough to not care. Again I love the fact that these two scenes are both true! In what other medium is that possible!?

Even though we had more scenes together (For example: Sam, Mickey and Bruce (weirdest family ever) holding hands during the wait at the last funeral) those three scenes kinda ended the story arc of Bruce and Mickey and now it’s time to end and kinda begin the other story or more experience that I had during the game.

As I have hinted to a few times, another theme for Bruce was loneliness and that he wanted to spend act three trying to create some meaningful and lasting relationships. I don’t know what I was thinking, I don’t even know how to do that in real life, how did I expect to do it in a game?

So towards the tea ceremony I found it more and more difficult to find play. Most others were deep in their close relations working towards the conclusions of them. Which makes sense. But for me it meant that it became more and more difficult and taxing to find scenes to play. I was also more tired than I knew at the time.

I had to think hard to come up with anything to do and everything I came up with was over very quickly and it became clear, that I was falling in creating meaningful relationships, well except for Mickey, but that was kinda done by that point, not much more to play on.

This situation was draining me and I was starting to feel rather unhappy and having a hard time remaining in character, so after the green tea I went to my room, that was still technically in game, but that I know would likely be empty, to just take a break and think about what to do now. I was gripped by a strange intense feeling of sadness, frustration and loneliness, that I couldn’t quite place. I felt very out of character. After a bit I knew I could not ignore these feelings, so I decided to just include them in my play. This was after the green tea, so it would make sense to Bruce have a little breakdown. So I went and sat in the central lounge area and let the emotions go free and tried to incorporate them into the character.

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Foto: Elina Andersson

So I sat there alone, head in my hands letting what ever was in me flood over me, while the others was out sending up lanterns for the dead. I did not know that at the time, but it explained why I was alone in that area. Suddenly a flood of realization hit me.

I knew this feeling! And I definitely know this experience! Of feeling alone at a party and other situations. Of having plenty of people to talk to in the beginning but always about superficial and practical things, but as the evening wore on people would find their closer friends and that would leave me alone. Also this whole struggle to find more meaningful relationships and not knowing how to do that. Not being able think up things to talk about other than practical stuff or intellectual stuff. Not being part of their shared anecdotes. That was all so familiar. I was as alone as Bruce.

This is of course a truth with modifications. I’m not as alone as it sounds, but it still something I struggle with: “being alone in a sea of friendship” I think I called it. Throughout countless conversations afterwards, I now know that this was not the only issue at play, but I’ll stay with this as we don’t want this to turn into another therapy session.

No matter what, the result was a breakdown. I opened my mouth in a silent scream and tears started flowing unhindered down my cheeks. I have never cried as freely as that. Does this sound like too much? Like over the top and too emotional? Yes it properly is, but at that moment it was important to me. I was tired, I was already emotional from the game, and had just decided to let go of my hold of my emotions and just feel, now it’s no wonder for me that it happened.

Anger and frustration suddenly hit me: “This is something I don’t know how to solve in real life how on earth am i supposed to fucking roleplay my way out of it?!” That and the way my mind and body reacted made it clear for me: Something is wrong and I need to go off game for good. I basically just burst into the organisers room, sat down on the floor and continued crying in front of a rather surprised Nicolaj (sorry mate).

I know now that I would never normally have done that, I would never had shown such loss of control in front of any one. This is my greatest fear, as I have struggled with temper tantrums (a too small word for it) in my childhood. I have lost friends and respect because of loss of control. And the last thing I wanted was to have my new great community of roleplayers see that side of me. Seeing the disgust and pity in their eyes. So I guard myself very hard, and that has been an important part of becoming the nice, calm(ish) man I am today. But that day I learned that at some points I have guarded myself too hard, I’m in the process of trying to find the balance. (I could go into much more detail here, but I think you get the gist of it.)

Alarm bells were ringing in my mind, stop it, don’t show it, hold back. But that night I was so tired, so worn, so vulnerable that I stopped caring, and just let my breakdown show to the organisers, somehow, somewhere knowing that it was important to do. (This is still very difficult for me to write. But I have since learned that it’s when I feel this instinct to hide that I must be open about it, it’s the only way to work my way through it. The mental resistance to writing this gives me the stubborn strength to continue writing.)

I hadn’t sat there for long before Anna showed up (oh and Nicolaj didn’t go to me because he had strained his hand so don’t blame him). She took action straight away and after sorting Nicolaj out went to me, held me and just let me talk. (This is harder to write than I thought, I still feel a strong urge to just delete it all. I’m just so god damn grateful for Anna and Arvid (you’ll see why) in all this) (I use real names here, to thank them and because that feels right).

To begin with I just told her, that I was leaving the game. But I felt like I needed to explain why, but also I felt a great need explain myself and maybe somewhere knew that this was an important moment and that this was my chance to do something about all this. This is the same reason I’m telling this very emotional and silly story on my otherwise rather calm blog. I know every time I feel like shuting up, I need to do the opposite, it’s my way of breaking down the blockade I have built over the years. It might matter nothing to you, but it’s important to me.

So I started talking. I told her how my game with Bruce echoed my real life. How I couldn’t handle that not in game, not in real life. She just sat with me for a long time, calmed me down and said it’s ok, don’t feel guilty, I don’t think you’re wrong or pathetic. Just basically giving me the exact opposite than that look I feared so much. Instead of pity, disgust and shock came compassion, understanding and even thankfulness that I had the courage to show this to her.

I told her, I would drop out of the game and thought that was that. But she said, that this is one of the things this game can handle and that I should give my fellow players the chance to show me that I and Bruce do mean something for them. This I rebelled against for the same reasons as before, but also I felt guilty. As I have said everyone was in the midst of their very strong end game. I didn’t want to take time away from that to deal with little poor me. But she opposed me saying they would be honored to help out. That’s what we are all here for and that it would ruin nothing in fact the opposite. My strong experience would enhance their game. I thought she was humoring me, but still I could resist, not at that point.

She suggested to get in to play again at the latest tomorrow, but at that point I was beginning to see that this moment, this crack in my defenses was important, not sure why yet but I knew it was. So I agreed to return to the game, but that it had to be tonight, or else I might come to my senses in the morning. We agreed on some players that I trusted and that it would make sense to interact with Bruce at this point. I stilled hated doing this but also knew that it was a good idea. I mentioned: Mr. T (played by Arvid), Ike and Artie.

She came back with only Arvid, but that was fine, then I only had to tell it all again to one person. I told him the same story, and he reacted exactly like Anna had said they would. Hugging me hard, tellin me it was ok, that I was brave to do this, and that he was honored to be there for me. At the time I kinda suspected Anna for instructing him on how to react, but I chose to believe them now (well ish).

During all this I slowly got the idea on how to return to the game. The dance floor was full, and in act two, to get the party started the disco star Leon had given a late night performance. So I suggested: Why don’t Bruce give a song. And I knew just the song: “Don’t stop me now” the theme song for Bruce though out all this. Both Anna and Arvid shouted: that’s my favorite song, and again I suspected them for humoring me. But at least they thought the idea was good. So we went to the dance floor, got the DJ Tony to set up the song. Mr. T presented me: “Bruce wants to give you all a number, and give him a big hand as he’s feeling a bit down!” Not in a million years would I have seen myself doing something like that. But this was the time to do it. I don’t know how many was on the floor, but it felt packed.

The song started and I went crazy, just acting out all my emotions dancing and pretend singing like never before and the floor went amok, singing along at the top of their lungs dancing with me, around me, it was insane. I have rarely felt so much support and love and the most amazing thing? They had no idea why I did it. They just thought it was a crazy event. It still brings me a smile when I think about, it it was such a powerful moment, I will treasure for a long time. I might have looked ridiculous as I dance very badly, but it must have looked like I meant it.

It was like being recharged, so I spent a long time on that dance floor, dancing my heart out having many different dance partners or just enjoying myself on my own. I even felt enough surplus energy to start interacting with other players that looked like they needed some game. I particularly remember Rosemary, whom I later found out had come from a very emotional experience and was on her way to sleep and me and two others got her on the floor and we ended up dancing very close after which Bruce shouted: “first time I’ve done that with a lesbian!” I was later told that, that little dance had meant a lot to Rosemary. That night I felt as low as I rarely have, and as high as I rarely have, it was very powerful. It also taught me some important things, but i’m still figuring out exactly what.

And I’m gonna end my retelling here. As for the story of Bruce this is the dual stories he (and I) had. The complex at times ugly but in the end happy love story between Bruce and Mickey and then this strong emotional experience that I’m still trying to figure out what meant. There was much more to JaLL and it feels wrong to leave it out, (For example the whole last funeral and a lovely last minute wedding, but that might get mentioned in the favorite scenes post, if I do it), but from a storytelling view that is it.

Thank you if you read this far, though I think only very few did. Coming up is more posts about JaLL (selected scenes, playing on sexsuality and maybe something on design and structure.) And then posts on the Larp Writer Summer School and what I took home from that. And then who knows…

JaLL – The dual story of Bruce – act 2: Love and confusion

Read my introduction here
Read act 1 here

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The act 2 get up, much more stiff and tense. But still defiantly Bruce. Foto: Petter Karlsson

I’m just gonna continue like you know what this is about, so you should at least read the act one post, if you haven’t.

In the planning between acts me and Daniel (I’ll use people’s characters names here) agreed that they had dated for a few months after the party, but then Daniel just stopped returning calls and kind of disappeared as he had a habit of. It was also decided that Sinclair died a few months before the next party. So during that year Bruce was abandoned in his first attempt at a relationship and lost his close friend, a man he thought was invulnerable, but he also realized how little he knew Sinclair and even worse no one knew the real Bruce (whoever that was). This marked the beginning of the second story I experienced: the fear of loneliness.

Me and Mickey also decided that Mickey had lived with Bruce that year and gradually Bruce started showing him of as his boyfriend, but also started building up Mickey to a level where Bruce could be seen with this young man. “I can’t just date anyone.” Bruce got him a studio (Micky was an art photographer) and made sure he got his art showed at just the right galleries and received good reviews.

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The new core group after act 1. For me the way Bruce, Mickey and Gwen stands really well show the relationships there. Gwen leaning on Mickey Bruce holding Mickey, Mickey caught in the middle. Foto: Petter Karlsson

Mickey was part of a core group with Lester and Gwen who’s theme was all about dominance and power, so Bruce fitted in well there. But where the others played, Bruce didn’t. He actually looked down on BDSM, “If you need wips and robe to make sex work, then you’re not doing it right.” So the master and servant like relationship Bruce and Mickey had became a real one to mirror the game that Mickey, Gwen and Lester played. It was only after the act I saw how cruel and oppressive I ended up playing.

In act two Bruce was a shaken man, Sinclair’s death was still close and the first time he had exposed a bit of himself, he had been abandoned by Daniel. And then there was this young Mickey living with him, doing everything to please him. But Bruce was not nice to him. I Later learned the Micky was sacred of Bruce. He knew Bruce could crush Mickey and feared it would happen any day. But Bruce didn’t think like that. He was distraught, confused and not handling the new emotions very well. It was a very tense act for me. And for Mickey’s player as well, as I, especially in the beginning, played very possessive and commanding.

Early on in the act me and Mickey had a trio of black box scenes to show how our relationship was. Ok better put in a trigger warning here: The scenes were not nice.

The first was Bruce coming home from Sinclair’s funeral, we did that as a kind of symbolic dance where the player of Mickey utilised something called contact improvisation, that sounds really cool. In essence I moved around going through the many emotions that Bruce felt after this, anger, fear, sadness and so on, taking it all out on Mickey. When I pushed Mickey, he would move closer, when I pulled him in, he tried to move away. It was great, it was perfect, a cool metaphor for it, rather than just doing the scene. I Still remember lying on top of Mickey my arm raised, hand in a fist, seeing the fear in the young man’s eyes and then just collapsing and crying on his stomach.

The next two was Mickey trying to keep Bruce happy, thinking that he alone wasn’t enough for Bruce. So he brought him gifts. The first a drag queen for Bruce’s pleasure. The next gift shocked Bruce: two young boys 15 years old. Angry Bruce yelled at Mickey. “What on earth were you thinking?” Mickey looking confused and hurt said: “But it’s the only way to keep you safe. These have definitely not been exposed to anything.” Remember this act was about the fear of death and we were beginning to learn that HIV was transferred via sex.

Those three scenes so simply showed all that was wrong in that relationship. They both kinda liked each other and Mickey at least wanted to take care of Bruce even if he fears him. But they are both so damn bad at it. The look of fear on mickeys face had intrigued Bruce, it was the first time he saw anything else than a mask of friendly servitude. Bruce became fascinated by what lay beneath the masks that Mickey wore.

This only deepened as Bruce saw more and more of the real Mickey. He saw the young man talking to other artists and suddenly he saw a passionate young man, who created art, and was good at it. The life Bruce saw in the eyes of Mickey when he talked about art was intoxicating for a hollow man like Bruce. Bruce was falling in love slowly, fearfully but surely.

Therefore throughout the act Bruce confronted Mickey in different ways, trying to push him to show some real Mickey. And also being afraid of getting hurt again he kept wanting assurance, that if he did allow himself to fall for this young man, he wouldn’t be left again. But Mickey on the other hand (I learned later), was afraid to show himself to this dangerous shark, better just keep trying to please him. None of them realising that the other wanted the exact opposite.

Things really got hot when Bruce discovered what relationship Mickey had with Gwen (Lester being much out of the picture at that point) and that it was still going on. Mickey got caught between Gwen and Bruce, who both wanted him, and also needed him. We had many scenes back and forth, Mickey trying to keep the balance and also to keep the dangerous Bruce pleased. Mickey even going so far as to offer to punish Gwen on behalf of Bruce. That struck Bruce as silly, but later he said yes do it, do the worse you can think of. Again he didn’t care the least about Gwen, but he used it as a way to push Mickey, “show me something! React! Push back! Don’t just accept!” But Mickey did.

After the green tea Bruce made the ultimatum: “leave Gwen!” He wasn’t sure he meant it but he knew that it would push Mickey to perhaps show some real emotions or to actually leave Bruce, so it would be over and done with before Bruce fell too far. Mickey tried to be allowed to keep her: “Don’t you want to control her through me?” But again remember: Bruce was falling for Mickey and wasn’t interested in controlling someone he saw as beneath him anyway. And on the other side Mickey still hadn’t realized that Bruce was falling for him. He still feared him and saw him only as a power hungry capitalist. I love how much Bruce falling in love with Mickey confused Mickey.

Mickey said he would leave them, but Bruce still deeply mistrusted him, both because he was clearly doing and saying everything he thought Bruce wanted to hear, but also because Bruce felt very vulnerable and wanted to be sure he would not get hurt again.

But a talk with Ike, another important character for Bruce, that I don’t have the space to get into here, (I hope to cover him more in a post about my favorite scenes) convinced Bruce to give Mickey a chance and to try and trust him. I had planned to be really tough next time Bruce met Mickey, so Ike saved him from that. Instead Bruce confessed his love to Mickey and got only stunned silence in return.

But by the end of act two Bruce had come to a kind of acceptance: He was in love with Mickey, and might get hurt, but he should try and trust him and have patience that Mickey might someday open up to him. So we had a great scene where Bruce said: “If you promise to try and open up to me, I promise to give you time to do that.” Mickey looked back stunned and tried to show something but couldn’t yet, but the effort was enough for Bruce. Oh and it also helped when Mickey offered to get his stuff from Gwen’s place.

At the funeral scene Mickey name was picked, that was a punch to the stomach. So it felt like a true relief when Bruce was picked as well. At least he would be there for Mickey. Neither Bruce nor Mickey died, but again the funeral had an element of loneliness for Bruce. No one rushed to him, when he came back from the ordeal, unlike everyone else. Artie even brushed past him to get to someone else more important. That hurt.

When Bruce saw Mickey’s sister Sam (who he had talked to the other night to get to know Mickey better) and Gwen standing together looking for Mickey, he hugged Mickey and pushed him towards them, trying to signal that it was ok. Then turned his back and stood alone yet again. Soon after Mickey came and stood silent besides him. I didn’t know at the time that he had walked straight past them still following my order.

In the break both me and Mickey’s player agreed that we didn’t want this power play anymore, we wanted a more equal relationship. It took us some time to figure that out, because we both thought that the other wanted more of the same.

JaLL – The dual story of Bruce – act 1: The rich bastard in doubt

Read my introduction here

So without going on for over 20 pages (which I did in the process of just writing the whole damn thing down), I’ll try to quickly tell the stories, I experienced through my character Bruce at the Larp: “Just a Little Lovin.” (edit I failed this thoroughly so this will be divided into several posts, and it will still be very long sorry.) Remember: this is the retelling of my story, mostly done for my own sake. I hope to write more intellectual and design focused posts on this later on.

To avoid having to explain the structure of the game several time during this, I’ll just quickly do it here:

  • There were three acts, each one a fourth of july party for these many colorful people in the years: 82, 83 and 84. Each act had a theme: desire, fear of death, and friendship.
  • Game would start at 17.00 with the theme song “Just a Little Lovin” playing with us standing frozen at our chosen start point, at end end of the song, the game would start with a bit of mingling before Mr. T, the organizer of the party would give a speech, we would then sing the star spangled banner while the flag was raised.
  • The next point was dinner in Peppers Diner, later on there was a drag performance and other things that characters wanted to show, (from poem readings to strip tease.)
  • At midnight there was a grean tea ceremony around a bonfire held by the saratoga people, a group of spirituals and cancer survivors. This also had the meta rule, that when you drank the tea you should choose to either increase your game by 150 percent or make a 180 degree turn of direction of your game.
  • We were ingame during the night (even though we did sleep) and in the morning until 11.00 were we would gather in the diner and an eerie music would start. This was the lottery of death, were one or more people would die.
  • After that was gamestop, workshop and planning what happened in the year between the two parties until 17.00 where it would start all over again.
  • We were all part of a small core group (closest friends and partners) and social circle (more lose relations) and both could and did change between acts.
  • Available was also two black boxes to do scenes that took place outside of the party in the past or in a probable future or even in a dream.

As I mentioned in my last post I kinda had two stories. It’s important to note that I had many more great scenes that didn’t fit in this retelling, that I feel sad leaving out, as they were an integral part of the experience. This game was for me very much defined by short beautiful scenes linking together to form a surprising narrative. I might later do a post just with scenes that I liked.

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Bruce act 1. Foto: Petter Karlsson

But it all started in act one with me playing as I had planned: arrogant, brass, bold, taking up a lot of space. I wore a white smoking, a pink buttered down shirt, sunglasses at all times (the use of them is almost it’s own post) and a silver necklace, (It’s not only in fantasy we have magic items).

I spoke my mind whenever I felt like it, uttering every loud, self confident, bragging line I could think of, (just as I had planned). I was also intense, engaging in conversations with power and looking people straight in the eyes, never apologizing for being a rich bastard, aggressively flirting with all the young men.

Very shortly after game start Bruce had his first conquest, if you could call it that. The young man literally threw himself at Bruce and the encounter left Bruce feeling empty. He had seen the whole thing play out before it happened, it was all just too easy. This combined with people talking to him about relationship had him thinking that maybe it was time for something different, (even though he on the surface ridiculed those idiots in stable relationships “think of what you are missing!”)

So Bruce started considering trying out this relationship thing, you know just as an experiment. In act 1. there was two options. Daniel / the drag queen Lady Verona whom he’d had a flirt with before game start and Artie, a nice guy. One that believed in the good in every one, even Bruce. Disgusting, but you know kinda cute and clearly interested in Bruce.

Bruce and Artie had a great flirt scene in the drag queen’s dressing room. We were all just hanging out after the drag show and just being sassy to each other and everyone else. But while talking me and Artie ended up sitting on the floor holding hands never commenting on it, it was just there in the air unsaid.

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Daniel as Lady Verona doing his drag performance, during the song Bruce joins in and start acting along to the song. This is from that moment. Foto: Elina Andersson

In the end Bruce slept with Daniel, and actually ended up rejecting Artie after that. Both out of tiredness but also in a week moment thinking: I’m not good for Artie. But during all this one other important thing happened: just after the green tea ceremony a young man also literally threw himself at Bruce.

Bruce didn’t know this Mickey, and off game I also knew very little. Only that he lived with Gwen and Lester as their young BDSM master, and Bruce knew Lester from the stock market, but not that he was into BDSM.

All Bruce cared about was that this young man threw himself at Bruce offering himself to him with the words: “I asked around for the riches man and every one said you.” Just the right thing to say to a man like Bruce. Bruce had his way with him in a rough kind of ekko of the first young man he had at the party. But still there was something different about this Mickey. So when Mickey hinted that he might need a place to stay, Bruce casually handed him the spare keys for his penthouse.

Walking away from the bonfire one of the lesbians, Rosemary, came to Bruce for advice and Bruce feeling like a generous God sent Mickey running and listened to Rosemary, not something he would normally do, but the green the was still in his system.

So in essence Bruce had three persons to tryout this relationship experiment with. Mickey Artie and Daniel. He ended up choosing the latter, why I’m not sure, maybe because I as a player knew that it was doomed from the start because Daniel being a love’em and leave’em type (#nordicpain). But then came the death lottery.

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Sinclair giveing a speach. Foto: Petter Karlsson

Sinclair, Bruce’s close friend and lover of Nate, Bruce’s other good friend. (These three were my core group) was drawn in the death lottery. Bruce and Daniel was almost carrying a barefoot Nate in the rain under one umbrella as we made the long walk to find out whether or not we would lose our Sinclair.

After a painful wait we had our answer: Sinclair was dead. This was by far the most intense funeral. I still remember it vividly. How the rain gently patted our umbrellas until it stopped just as the eulogies were read out and then the sun came out.

Bruce held back tears for long, choosing anger instead. But then Bruce took a chance turned to Daniel and let the sorrow overwhelm him, and he wept on to the shoulder of Daniel. He let Bruce do that for about two minutes before he gently but firmly walked away from Bruce, leveing Bruce alone, standing with the back to the rest of the group. The sense of abandonment was intense, almost a good experience to let it just flow through me. (Little did I know what would come later). That was the end of act one.

Just a Little Lovin – intro post

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I like this picture, not only is it some of the players I spent a lot of game time with, the look of them is also a very good example of how the game looked and felt.

Ok so in an hour it’s a bit past five which means it will be two weeks after the start of my run of Just a Little Lovin’ (JaLL). Others have already written about their experience properly a lot less rambling and more eloquent than me, (I haven’t read them yet but might do after this post and I’ll make sure to link them in a later post as well). As regular readers know I like to write detailed and rambling straight from mind to word about my role play experiences, which until now has been at conventions. With the larpwriter summer school (LWSS) last year being a bit different but Still the same.

I’m a bit in doubt as what to do this time, as the experience was very personal and hard to explain without going on for plus 15 pages, I know because that is what I have done. Before writing this I wrote a long and detailed retelling of the whole thing. Not to be published but as an exercise in remembering and as it turned out handling the whole experience. It’s an epic journey in notes, ramblings and disorganization. If I ever write it up I might publish it a bit hidden as some have asked to read it (the poor bastards).
But this will then be the short version to try and tell just quickly about my JaLL experience. And that will properly be followed by a few other posts, we’ll see. Right now I’m on the train heading to the alumni gathering at the LWSS, so I might get around to write some more posts there. Any way let’s get going. (Edit it’s still five but now it’s the other five and I’m at Riga airport).

JaLL is without a doubt the most intense and through designed game I have ever played. I understand now why some call it the best larp in the world. There’s other as well designed games out there but it’s the mix of brilliant design with a theme and especially the handling of the theme that creates just a more intense experience.

Quick recap (read my posts leading up to JaLL for more about the game and how I prepared for it here) the game is set in the gay and alternative communities of New York in the eighties and followed how the aids epidemic devastates the community, but also brings people together in friendships that defies even death.

In short: a well designed game will give a strong experience, a game with the themes such as death, friendship and happiness in the darkest hour will, even with a halfhearted design, give a strong experience, and a game with such well written, colorful and just living the hell out of it characters would even without the theme and design give a strong experience. Combine all three of them and you got why JaLL does what it does.

I knew that the theme and the design was strong. Through out the game the designer in me thought oh that’s just perfect, that’s just pushing all the right buttons that little detail there. But it’s only now I’m fully realizing the importance of the characters, it’s not only that they are well written (although they are) it’s that they’re just right. They are intense, they are living life, they are well I lack words, just right. They all have the themes of desire, fear of death and friendship written into the core of them. That’s the lesson your characters shouldn’t just be the right kind of people to tell the story (we need a stockbroker and a drag queen and a closeted senator) they should also be the essence of the themes and feelings you want your players to explore. I only see this now, but it’s brilliant.

I know part of the credit have to go to us players (yay pat ourselves on the shoulder). Just to mention one thing: people went all out on costumes, found looks that both felt like the right time, but also made it very clear what kind of character you were and as the acts progressed also showed the development of the characters. I was very aware of this in my own game, each day thinking over what clothing would best show the situation of the character. And it was clear that so did everyone else which just gave such a cool effect.

So what about my experience? Well wow it’s, well it was in a word intense. I kinda had two parallel stories that complemented each other but was very different in hummm emotional effect. One was a cool and different and in its own twisted way beautiful narrative, the other a much more emotional journey for me as the player. Close to home in a way I have not tried before. I think I’ll retell them shortly in a separate post, just like I’ll do a separate post on the design and in that also the structure of the game. (Edit I’m doing that now and finding it very hard to build down the story so that might end up as many posts).

So let’s stop this post here. If there’s any thing about the experience that you would like me to write about feel free to tell me. As I’m a bit in doubt as to what to write about this time. So what do you want to hear about, that would be a great help.