Posts filed under ‘Training’

Live Action Role Play – My first proper encounter

Empire Event 2 – Spring Equinnox happened over the bank holiday weekend and, boy, was that an experience.

After the extreme cold and being ill over event 1 I was hesitant about event 2, but thankfully, apart from some showers and a lot of wind while setting up on Friday afternoon, we had beautiful weather.  Enough that I came back with even more freckles and actually got to use the parasol I had bought just in case (plastic sunglasses not exactly being in character).  For an event that takes place in a field, good weather certainly helps.

I have to say it took me a while to get into it.  It was actually sort of lucky that I hadn’t been there the previous event as I had plenty of excuses to go seeking people out and asking them lots of questions.  Sometimes I’m entirely too British (ok…And shy…) for my own good and I need a good reason to talk to someone I don’t know.  But it turns out talking to people is how the game is played – well, that and hitting people with larp-safe weaponry.  There are regular battles fought in the woods at the back of the site, and I really do mean regular.  They are scheduled for specific times and those players who want to fight can spend a fair bit of time mustering, fighting and getting healed afterwards.  For every battle they fight, in theory, they should play a monster at another fight to give other players something to fight against.  In practise there was a tendency for there to be less people monstering than there were fighting, even with people like myself, who weren’t playing combat characters, volunteering to monster for a laugh.

I spent the Friday evening and Saturday morning trying to convince myself to talk to people and finally getting so frustrated that I couldn’t find anyone that actually talking to them when I did find them was a relief.  Turns out I should have chosen my time to monster differently as everyone was at the big battle on Saturday morning.  But by around 4pm Saturday afternoon I had finally started to find people and my game began.

I say my game, because each player truly has their own game to play (or story to create if you prefer) depending on their interests, their capabilities and their desire to get stuck in.  Some general categories of game include the combat game, the trading/commerce game, the politics game (which in this particular larp comes in many flavours including the senate game, conclave game and synod game), the mage game and (because this is larpers) the FOR SCIENCE! Game.  But really every player has to make their own game and it can be a lot of work.  Snippets of plot get waved under peoples’ noses, but if you don’t pick up the threads, get interested, and get other people interested, and work together to work out what it all means (if anything) then the story doesn’t happen.

For example some monsters were given a skull to torment the player-characters with during one of the small battles.  The players have a choice whether to fight for it or not.  But their characters believe it could be the head of the recently killed Empress so they fight through recklessly to win it back.  That recklessness caused ripples for their characters that I didn’t get to see.  What I saw was them yelling at each other about whose fault something was outside the senate building, while practically ready to brain each other with the skull (though they wouldn’t have because it wasn’t a larp-safe skull…In a world where larp-safe buckets exist I can’t help but think larp-safe skulls must).  All the other players who witness this have the option to go about their business, but they don’t because that would be no fun.  Instead you get priests wanting to see whether it needs exorcising, mages wanting to scry out its origins, senators trying to take control and someone somewhere no doubt wondering what the autumn eternals (magical spirits in this system) would be willing to trade for it.  In this case the mages got to scry over it, it turned out it wasn’t the Empress’s skull and suddenly people weren’t as interested.

Everyone has to work together, or argue hard enough that they should be the ones in charge.  And since this is a game primarily about politics it all has to be seen to be in the best interests of the Empire.  If these characters just went about their lives, let other people get on with it, then there would be no story.  Larpers can smell out any tiny hint of plot like bloodhounds and jump on it. They get their character’s involved and in so doing they create and cement each character’s personality (if my character responded this way to that, then they would respond that way to this).  It’s quite amazing the energy that goes into creating this story.  Players stay up till the early hours of the morning for days on end, getting up in time to throw themselves into battle (which is especially tiring if you’re a monster in a latex mask who has to keep running back and forth to the spawn point each time you die).

So how does this relate to digital storytelling?  Well it doesn’t particularly I suppose – not to the digital part anyway.  Except that I have heard that the Empire wiki, where all backstory, rules, and knowledge about the Empire and how it works are contained, is now larger than the whole of the Lord of the Rings.  That being said it is an amazing way of creating a story – or maybe living a story, but certainly not telling it.  The story doesn’t exist, it comes into being as you interact with the other characters (and then the funny bits get re-told between yourselves afterwards to appreciate the wonderful things that have spontaneously come into being).

I think it does teach some fabulous things: confidence being highest among them.  Unless you are one of the rare people who can memorise the entire wiki (and there are those who do) you play the game by the seat of your pants.  It forces you to think things up on the spot that are in character and not going to get you inquisited for heresy. Even if you can remember everything (and I swear I know at least one guy who can) a lot of the fun comes from being involved, and the only person who can get you involved is you.  If you’re someone like me that takes some effort at first, but by the end of the weekend it was natural.

It forces you to disengage slightly with technology, since the most advance tech you can get away with in character is a clock and that’s only because you have to be able to know when it’s time to battle somehow.

It’s also great for gender equality.  While there are more men than women on the field it’s not glaringly obvious – I certainly didn’t feel at all out of place.  And while a lot of fantasy literature side-lines women under the argument that it wouldn’t be realisitc there’s none of that in Empire.  Women are senators, mages, generals, cardinals, combatants – the lot.  And watching our friend Rowena recruit troops and then win the battle for the War Mage position at the front of those troops was truly inspiring and not just to me I think.

I think it will take a little longer to fully process what this means in terms of storytelling.  I will say it was an amazing event and I can’t wait for the next one at the end of July – I just hope the nights are a little warmer and the weather is just as good.

June 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Digital Storytelling

I recently attended the Netskills Digital Storytelling workshop in London.  As someone who loves to write fiction (most of the time, my current writer’s block notwithstanding) and likes technology this one was a no-brainer for me.  Luckily Alan thought it might be useful too and paid for my train ticket.

Whether or not this is exactly how they state it in the course, digital storytelling is about engaging people with what they are doing, or what you want to tell them, with something more interesting than a report or death by PowerPoint.  We like stories, we grow up with them, we tell them to each other in our day to day conversation, it’s what we generally choose to read when we have the option (even a lot of the more popular non-fiction books are more popular because they read more like a story than like an academic paper).  The structure of a story pulls us in: we want to know what will happen next, rather than just trying to find a way to keep ourselves awake.

To be honest I had fairly low expectations when I signed up.  I expected it to be either very touchy feely and education-based, as in teaching through stories, or to be very well-meaning, but ultimately some things to think about when doing your standard reports.  Thankfully it was neither. I was really pleased that it actually went into how to tell a good story, a couple of classic narrative structures and put some emphasis on the fact that it takes some time and experience (or a lot of luck – I’m looking at you 50 Shades of Grey woman) to be able to tell a good story.  I was feeling pretty confident until we were told to try and apply it to something work-related.

Now projects should write themselves as stories if you simply apply writing theory.  A story starts when something breaks the status quo (or else why would you be talking about it?) which is kind of the point of a project.  A project is finite, it has ups and downs, twists and turns and can have some exciting endings (success! failure! enticing fade to black with a big question mark over it….), but it turns out that doesn’t mean it’s easy to turn it into a digital story.  For one thing digital stories tend to have lots of pictures and/or video and while charts and graphs can be engaging in some senses they don’t really say “story”. But this is only a minor hurdle compared to the other problem.

The other problem is politics.  Do you really want the people who have funded this project to know that you had some daring escapes from total failure?  That you found a particularly interesting, if convoluted, solution because one of your team members made one little mistake and that completely screwed something up?  Do you want your bosses to know that actually the solution they insisted on caused you headache after headache and you’re now popping antacids like tic tacs?  No.  Reports get sanitised, things get smoothed over and everything is Fine.  It is doubly Fine if you are consultant who wants to work with these people again.

“Fine”, from a storytelling point of view, is incredibly dull.  If everything is fine why do I care? In the words of writers everywhere, “You’ve got to make your characters suffer”.  When these characters are your employers, colleagues and clients airing their suffering to the world suddenly doesn’t sound like such a good idea.

So the options are:

  1. Tell the story of the project and potentially get in Trouble
  2. Try and tell the story of the report and fall asleep or have nothing to base a story on
  3. Write digital stories about something else
  4. Some mapcap, crazy fusion of 1 and 2 that may end up a big pile of something horrible.

….Number 4 sounds like fun.  And if nothing else, working on it should make a good story.

December 17, 2012 at 11:29 am 4 comments


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