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I'm a long way behind on posts, but luckily that lets me tie up two threads together that'd work poorly on their own. It's all about the games.



In March I went to Gothenburg for the Monitor Celestra larp. I've felt continuously conflicted about the game ever since. When the game ended, I walked out feeling like I hadn't had a good time. One nap later my brain suddenly sprang a list of scenes on me that I should have played better, and then I just felt like a terrible player who'd let the game down.

Then, after the meta-larp (aka, the afterparty, where we larped about the great larp we'd just had), I felt much better about the whole thing again. The afterparty/meta-larp was great - at least one person I've spoken to since said that it rescued the entire game for them. Not because it was anything more than an evening in a bar, but because - I think - it finally let players work through their characters together, even retrospectively. One roams the party, grabbing people one recognizes and thanking them for shared scenes, even if trivial. And I did in fact have two or three great scenes, of threatened violence and blasphemy, for all that I didn't play them out to as lasting effect as I wish I had. Once you've had those conversations, and had that human reinforcement of the best parts of your game, the memories of the entire event take on a brighter shine.

There were a lot of logistical and technical issues in the game. The scope was huge, some things didn't work out as well as planned, it happens. But between the nagging sense of personal guilt for having not played as well as I wish I had, and the fact that I know, admire and like some of the organizers of the game, many of these things were hard to talk about; feeling either disloyal or discomfiting.

So I pretty much didn't, until this last trip, when I went to Oslo for my second exposure to the Nordic larp conference crowd. There, it seemed that every conversation that I had about the Celestra revealed that many others had similar experiences to mine. For me, this was an enormous relief. Much of the collective angst came out in a three-hour panel that felt quite brutal in its examination of the game, with the panel moderator at times seeming to be the most vituperative one on stage. It was quite profoundly cathartic, particularly thepiece at the end, where the moderator, having vented her spleen, asked for a show of hands first of who had played the larp, and secondly who would play it again if it were on the following weekend, and pointed out the huge overlap. I'm really looking forward to seeing it come to the US, and I'm definitely intending to play again if it does.

Some of the detailed discussion was quite revelatory: a common opinion was that the game had set aside the last decade of advances in larp design, and suffered for it as a result. These advances have led to various techniques that deepen player engagement with the game, with their own characters, and with each others', and I recognized many of them from the previous game I'd played. It was interesting to be thrown into this one relatively cold instead, working from several pages of general background information and several more hours watching (the unbelievably bad) Caprica (thank gods for Amazon Prime Instant Video; I'd have hated to pay for it) and, somewhat less usefully, BSG, but with no character development work save whatever one had had time to do on the pre-game forum. The effect was stark. With that said, I met any number of people who described it as the best larp they'd ever played, so go figure.

Knutepunkt in general was amazing. It's hard to believe that I first touched this scene just a year ago, at Solmukohta. Now it feels like I know a meaningful percentage of people at the conference, and catching up with folks that I've only played with is delightful: there's a bond, from whichever game, that you feel with that person, only to realize that you have no idea who they are, and that this might be your opportunity to fix that. Or not. Weird but lovely. Part of this is due to my lucking out and playing in two of what are perhaps the most interesting and engaging games of the past year: Just a Little Lovin' and the Monitor Celestra, which leads to instant connection and debate with all and sundry.

I played my first short games at this conference. The opening game was a freeform that I didn't particularly relish (I'm not overly convinced by the general idea of freeforms, to be honest; I think my game experiences to date have spoiled me rotten and sent me irretrievably down the epic immersionist path); Prison was a game for twenty or so imprisoned players who repeatedly must choose amongst themselves who will be next to be executed, which met my basic game requirement of getting me choked up; and finally White Death, which was eye-opening and great.

Had I known the background brief for White Death I'd probably not have signed up. But the first I heard of it was a callout at the end of the Celestra panel, when it was recommended but not described, and I signed up on a whim. It was simply glorious, and merits more write-up than I have room for here.

Interestingly, it was also one of two 3-hour sessions that I signed up for out of curiosity, had a deep sinking feeling about half-way through, and then walked out of feeling exalted. The other one was a writing workshop for pocket larps, catchphrase "write games for people, not players." It was also somewhat reminiscent of NaNo's model of "just write, dammit," since that's largely what we did. More about the results of that in some other post, too.

In short, it was one heck of a great time, and I'm still fascinated by and falling for the scene. There may have also been a drunken commitment to bring another larp back to the US. It may involve tango.
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Miki Habryn

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