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Author Topic: inside : outside (LARP description)  (Read 2915 times)
Eirik Fatland
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Posts: 8


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« on: May 26, 2004, 08:20:52 AM »

The following is a description of the LARP inside : outside, posted as a separate topic to avoid cluttering the original thread with such a long, moderately on-topic, text.

basics
The initial aim of inside : outside was to bring some of the quality (in terms of debth, complexity, scenography and intensity of experience) associated with larger scandinavian larps to the convention-game format. The larp was run with 5-17 players (10 being the normal amount), for four hours, usually with two hours preparation and one hour debriefing. The larp was held some 12-14 times in rpg cons, LARP cons, as standalone events, at an art musuem, and at the summer camp of Socialist Youth. All in all, some 100-150 people have played the LARP. Inside : outside was authored by Mike Pohjola and myself, produced by Irene Tanke, with Rune Haugen as scenographer/technician and with an assortment of helping hands and NPC players from event to event.

system
The larp had no game mechanics, though there definitely was a "system". All players were expected to be in-character for the entire larp (OOC talk was strictly prohibited), except when safety words were used : "cut!" which stops the game in an emergency and "break!" which tells another player that she is doing to much of whatever she is doing, please slow down but continue playing. All things were what they appeared to be, with some exceptions: the walls were unbreakable, the door would be locked in-game even if it was open off-game. No-one was to be harmed for real, combat (i.e. wrestling or fist-fights) was to be handled through improvisation - a symbolic hit was a hit, and stay away from heads and genitals, please, as even a symbolic hit can be dangerous/harmful. If the larp becomes "too much", you can just walk out and talk to the gm responsible for psychological security, or you can say "cut". Rape and sexual harassment were not to occur, not even as very symbolic simulation - these issues become a lot more sticky in larps (where the characters body is your body) than in rpgs. All in all, a pretty standard system for a Nordic "arthaus" larp.

characters
Characters were created by players choosing from a list of character "skeletons". Each skeleton was a piece of personality, and a lot of values/politics/morals. They had names like "middle-class Christian" or "green activist". During a 5-10 min. interview and an hour of pre-larp dramatic and meditative exercises, players were expected to flesh out the character to become a real person with a name, family, occupation and childhood memories as well as a unique way of walking, talking, thinking. The imperative was that the characters were to be ordinary people - they could be your neighbour, your mother, your boss.

Opening scene
At the opening of the larp, the characters were waking up in a cell (seen "the Cube", anyone?). The cell was under heavy surveillance - a camera and microphone clearly visible. The characters did not know eachother. They did not know how they got here, last thing they remembered was going to bed. They did not know where they were. And they did not know why they were all wearing white uniforms with a number. Usually, the players were given 15-30 minutes to roleplay this scene (introductions, speculations, anger, joking) until the external world intruded. A womans voice would call in one of the characters - "prisoner 0071, enter the courtroom!". The courtroom was a large cell, also white, and also under surveillance, with a single mirror on one wall and (when we had the time to build it) a raised platform in the center. Apart from that, it was empty. Enter our main antagonist: the Judge.

the judge and the "game"
The Judge was a voice, who spoke through loudspeakers in the courtroom. The Judge could see you, but not the other way around. In fact, "judge" was only our name for him, the players came up with different nicknames. Part of my difficulty in describing this larp is in putting down exactly what the Judge was like - he was a collective identity, improvised by Mike and myself taking turns at the microphone (sometimes, one of us  would take over mid-sentence). The judge was assertive, but not authoritarian. The judge could not be talked into anything. The judge always deflected questions onto the asker. The judge had all power, but would only use it according to certain principles. You could scream and insult the Judge without any consequence, but if you didn't leave when your time was up there would be punishment. "Why am I here?" you might ask, and the Judge would reply "You know why you are here, prisoner 0054", "No I don't! You took me here! You imprisoned me! Why?", "We did not imprison you. We do not know why you came here. You know the answers to those questions, We do Not." etc. etc. The judge was one part therapist, one part God, one part computer chatbot.

The guards
Characters would be taken into the courtroom one by one. If there was any disobedience - say, if a character refused to enter or leave the courtroom, or refused to talk to the Judge, then the Guards entered play. They were NPCs, mute, hooded and gloved so that not one square centimeter of skin was visible. They wielded nightsticks, and would beat up disobedient prisoners and then exit. In one run of i/o, the characters managed to capture a guard and beat him  unconscious. They removed his hood and outer clothing and discovered a human in a prisoner suit just like their own. Five minutes later, another guard entered bringing a gun (the kind of replica pistol that makes a very large and believable "bang!"). He shot his unconscious colleague, and left. The characters didn't try to capture any more guards.

The "rules" and the "dilemmas"
During the course of an inside : outside, each character would spend 2-3 sessions in the courtroom. Early in the larp, these would be mostly what we called "judgespeak" - questions and non-answers with no explicit consequence except to confuse the character/player and provide small pieces of information. After a while, the Rules would be explained to characters. The rules were simple: if you want to get out, you need ten points. If you do not get ten points, you will not get out, neither will you receive any food or water. How do you get ten points? That will be revealed in due time.

After an hour or so had passed, characters in the courtroom would begin facing dilemmas. At first, these were simple - "you may take three points for yourself, or give one point to every one of your cellmates except yourself". Usually a choice between "best for me" or "best for the collective". As the larp came closer to it's end, the dilemmas got more and more severe, and so did the judgespeak. The tolerant, slow voice from early in the larp spoke faster, trying in every possible way to fill you with severe fears "You will give the number of one of your cellmates. This person will be beaten, and you will receive five points. If you refuse to name a cellmate - both you and a random cellmate will be beaten." In the final sequences of the LARP, the dilemmas would bring characters to life-and-death situations, some characters would actually receive ten points, and disappear from the game area, others would die. The final dilemma always implied choosing one person to be killed, and usually it couldn't be yourself.

themes
The "essence" of the larp was in the interplay between cell and courtroom, character and player. The intra-personal conflicts that always arose in the cell, the discussions of tactics, strategies and values, would all be balanced or canceled out by the next round of dilemmas presented in the courtroom. We tried to "wipe the slate clean" a few times during each larp - once the characters were convinced of a theory of what was going on and a strategy for how to approach it in a moral way, we would try to invalidate that theory and render the strategy useless (without changing the rules of the game).

Finally, the aesthetics and the judge-character dialogues were consciously designed to blur the player/character distinction. That distinction was emphasized strongly before and after the larp - for example players were instructed to speak of the character in third person when OOC, "he did" not "I did". But during the actual larp, almost every technique we used served to blur that same distinction. All costumes and scenery were white making it very hard for the player to express individuality of character through costume. While we didn't use our knowledge of players personal lives when playing the Judge (that would be unethical) we tried to push players into such deep into a maze of words and questions that any reply would have to come from themselves and not from what they thought the character would think. At the same time, we could never know whether the reply was coming from the character, the player or both - thereby the illusion that everything was just pretense, and nothing "real" was ever revealed, could be safely kept.  

The explanation
There was never an explanation for what "really" was going on. The larpwrights, had no answer to questions of who the judge was, how the characters came there, or what the point of it all was. Just as the players, we worked from a number of different hypotheses - none of which could explain everything. Players whose characters received ten points, left the game as their characters left the courtroom.

Feedback
At almost every run of inside : outside there was one player who never really got into it, and didn't think much of the larp, and one player who thought that the larp was too hardcore, too emotionally demanding, but at the same time was grateful for the life-changing strength of the experience. Most players were closer to the latter. "This gave me something to think about" was a fairly common response to the larp, and the one we loved to hear the most. One reviewer compared the larp (favourably) to works of Jean-Paul Sartre. We won awards, and I was invited as guest of honour to the largest Finnish roleplaying con mostly as an excuse to get inside : outside run there. I mention this not to brag, but to show that this weird mixture of reality TV gone bad, star trek philosophy and moral dilemmas actually worked. It was received equally well by the self-appointed "cultural fascist" in his 50s, as by the teen con-goer who - when asked which kind of values his character should have - replied "oh, you mean good, neutral or evil, right?". The ridiculously diverse backgrounds of the players were contrasted by the fact that they played and responded to the larp in surprisingly similar ways.

A final disclaimer: this represents my view, and my view only, of inside : outside. Other organisers and players (I know some of you read the Forge) are welcome to correct it.
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hullu norjalainen
xiombarg
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Posts: 1183


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« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2004, 10:22:40 AM »

Wow! Thank you. Very interesting, indeed. And something worth thinking about -- a good example of immersive Narrativism.

So, did people generally choose to help themselves or the group?
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Matt Machell
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« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2004, 02:54:35 PM »

Very prisoner meets the cube.

What interests me here is that the setup is near identical to some Freeforms I've played in, but the approach is nicely focused on the character's moral dilemas. Same character skeletons. Same people in a room with the paranoia ramped right up. More scenery/costume though (most freeforms are not quite LARP enough to be costumed).

Were any of the character's linked at creation, or were bonds between them supposed to be formed only by the play?

-Matt
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JamesSterrett
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Posts: 118


« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2004, 07:31:18 AM »

Wow!

Thanks for describing that.  :)
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Revontuli
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« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2004, 12:04:11 PM »

I happened to browse the Forge, and noticed Eirik had talked about inside:outside a month ago. I'll add a few comments.

Quote from: Eirik Fatland
The larp was run with 5-17 players (10 being the normal amount), for four hours,

Once in Norway we ran the game for eight hours instead of four, but strangely the dramaturgy stayed exactly the same. (Although we had to invent ways to give the characters some water.) Everybody only got one or two visits to the Courtroom, and we had to rush the ending to get everybody in at least once.

Quote
players were expected to flesh out the character to become a real person

I think a large part in this was the questionnaire which provided a bunch of aspects for the player to think about the character. This created some very different interpretations of the same character skeletons.

Also, you ran some pretty good drama exercises about the characters' last memories and stuff. You wanna describe them a little bit?

Quote
Part of my difficulty in describing this larp is in putting down exactly what the Judge was like - he was a collective identity, improvised by Mike and myself taking turns at the microphone

And he developed much in the course of the year we ran these games. I think he started more as an evil omniscient philosopher, and ended up as some kind of a naively curious, almost child-like oppressor. The chatbot aspect was pretty strong at times, considering how we could basically keep a conversation going in circles for as long as we wanted. "Why do you ask when you already know?"

In some sense, I think a dramatic arc could be constructed detailing the Judge's growth to self-awareness: in the end it was almost as if the Judge was trying to find out the reason for his existance by talking to his prisoners.

Quote
Five minutes later, another guard entered bringing a gun (the kind of replica pistol that makes a very large and believable "bang!"). He shot his unconscious colleague, and left.

A guard being captured was, incidentally, something we hadn't thought possible earlier on. It was, I think, the very last time we ran the game, when one was finally caught. I think the shooting was a pretty good improvised save, although guns didn't work too well with the imagery over-all.

Quote
"You will give the number of one of your cellmates. This person will be beaten, and you will receive five points. If you refuse to name a cellmate - both you and a random cellmate will be beaten."

Sometimes, our PA equipment permitting, we would play questions or answers also through the megaphones in the Cell stirring the dynamics even more. Once or twice we even played an entirely different dilemma for the Cell than the one we actually asked in the Courtroom.

Quote
The intra-personal conflicts that always arose in the cell, the discussions of tactics, strategies and values, would all be balanced or canceled out by the next round of dilemmas presented in the courtroom.

Sometimes the characters managed to all agree on some strategies, but we could usually disband them. At the last game, there were a few very strong anarchist leader types, and they convinced all the 15+ prisoners go into passive resistance, and simply stop co-operating with the guards or the orders through the speakers. This, of course, rendered us almost incabable of action, but seemed a suitable course for the game nevertheless.
At another game there were very few characters present, they started fighting amongst themselves, and one of them killed a fellow prisoners when one of them was in the Courtroom.

Quote
Finally, the aesthetics and the judge-character dialogues were consciously designed to blur the player/character distinction.

They were? I have no recollection of this, and would think I would've objected to this.

Quote
All costumes and scenery were white making it very hard for the player to express individuality of character through costume.

No, it made it very hard for the characters to express their individuality!


Mike
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