WyrdCon 2012

         This was my first time attending Wyrd Con - an "interactive storytelling" convention in southern California - mixing LARPs, ARGs, pervasive games, and transmedia experiences. It includes a number of panels on issues of interactive storytelling as well as games. I was introduced to Wyrd Con by meeting Aaron Vanek, Sarah Lynn Bowman, and Lizzie Stark at Solmukohta in February. There seemed a Nordic influence on the setup, but the crowd was quite different. The events that I participated in were:

cf. Other people's summaries of Tri Wyrd Con, by Lizzie, Mike, Rachel, and on the Facebook group.


LAGP: A Haunting in the Hotel

GAME / 11PM / Run by: Susan Bell

This was a transmedia experience run by the "L.A. Ghost Patrol" - who ostensibly engage in real ghost-hunting. It was for a team of five to ten players (my group had seven), and lasted about an hour. We didn't have characters per se, but we were given equipment with the explanation that we would be working for LAGP to investigate the hotel. We went through seven or eight areas of the basement and encountered six people playing scripted parts that each directed us to a new area. There were various spooky effects we encountered on the way.

         It was not really a larp or a game, in that we weren't expected to do much. My impression from social cues was that the people organizing resisted when we made up things or came up with independent ideas. There were some clues for us to chase down later including a website, but I didn't follow up. For me, it wasn't very compelling.


The Lake

GAME / Friday 10AM / Run by: J Li

This was a modern-day larp where we were thirty-something adults going back to the lake and cabin where we had spent our summer as teenagers. Overall, it was an interesting experiment in design, and it was also interesting for me in that I created a game-changing role for myself.

         The pitch was a curious contrast. On the one hand, we were gathering to celebrate our time as kids which was described as wonderful and magical. On the other hand, out-of-character the adventure was described as addressing past trauma in our characters. This implied the past was both magical and awful in ways. The game had a long introduction and character-creation phase that took about an hour and a half. We briefly got the full 15 people for the event, but then two people who had walked in left. There was a long verbal introduction, then a process of choosing eights cards from sets of 15 each. The first four sets were present status: relationship status (i.e. "married", "searching", etc.), one for children (i.e. "no children", "two children", etc.), one for current job, and one for a current negative issue. The next two sets were of the past: one for our job within our games (i.e. "prophet" etc.), and one for our name and impression (i.e. "quiet one", "know-it-all", etc.). The next two were about our emotional wounds: a default emotion ("LOSS", "ANGER", etc.), and a question that we are searching the answer to.

         We put our eight cards on a ring, then filled out one page of questions about our character - focusing on relationships and psychology. In all, the generation took a while - a little over an hour and a half. I lost my notes on the characters, but as I remember it, the characters were:

         Of these, a number of people were larping for the first time or with limited experience, mixed about half and half with experienced larpers. My character was defined by being an annoying know-it-all as a kid, with position as "Left Hand of the King" - while as an adult he had three kids but no spouse (relationship status "searching"), and his default emotion was "LOSS". I at first was picturing him as a single parent, but then decided that he had lost all custody, and was in severe depression over this.

         In setup, there was a post-it note that anyone could take out-of-character to indicate that they were responsible for the drowning of the kid who acted as the third "High King", Daniel. This perhaps-accident was what shut down everyone's use of the lake. There was also up on the wall a number of past NPCs, and a rough map of the area.

         As the game started, it seemed to me that the social atmosphere was basically a reunion. Everyone was more or less polite, and there was casual talk. I then went and took that note, deciding that I had doctored Daniel's drink as a prank and that he had then died when he went swimming. I got drunk and effectively confessed to this.

         I played Percy as a hugely self-involved asshole who was depressed and self-destructive, and who acted mainly to piss off everyone. When he was socially rejected, he went back into the cabin by himself and trashed the place - after which the first fight broke out. Before long Sam the doctor tied me to a chair. My antics catalyzed a bunch of stuff in the game, as everyone else went into debate over what to do about me, and eventually whether to kill me or not. This was an interesting twist of group dynamics, because I took a dominant role but not by leading.

         Overall, I think the game setup and character creation was way too complicated, but I thought it had some interesting ideas - like the card-selection process and the ambiguity of the setup.


Social Conflict in Role-playing Communities

PANEL / Friday 4PM / Run by: Sarah Lynne Bowman

This was actually a talk I had heard before at Solmukohta a few months earlier, but I attended in support of Sarah, and because I was interested in people's reactions and discussion. I took notes this time, but lost my page. There were about eight people attending, so it was hard to generalize. Still, I think people identified with the examples of conflict that Sarah brought up, and accepted the Threefold Model terms that she used. There also seemed general agreement that White Wolf's Vampire set up problematic social consequences.


Sunken Places

GAME / Friday 7PM / Run by: Kirsten Hageleit

This was a mechanic-less larp with a strong meta component in that our characters were supernatural, fae-or-elf-like organizers of another game that humans would play. It was closely inspired by the young adult dark fantasy novel of the same name by M.T. Anderson. As the introduction went,

Two warring tribes of Otherworlders, the Norumbegans and the Thussers, fought to the brink of mutually assured destruction. Before the final, terminal battle was joined, a truce was called. Both sides desperately agreed to another way to settle their differences: a Game. But not just any Game. To ensure fairness, both sides agreed that the designers and the players of this Game must be neutral parties, people unaware of the outcome’s importance, or of magic, or of the Otherworld. In other words; humans.

The players were:

         So roughly, the action of this were that Samantha and J came up with a game design, while the other four of us implemented the design using props and materials from several bags. What we came up with was a game in three parts: (1) a timed scavenger hunt based on pictures; (2) an artistic contest to photograph people posing as cards from an Art Nouveau tarot deck; (3) a timed clue trail, following picture cards that each gave a distinct picture of the next location.

         So a bunch of the action of this was interacting with the rest of the convention, while we were sort-of in-character. The characterization was pretty thin for most of us. I was an insecure type who would invade personal space and accidentally (?) surprise and eat people. So I jabbered a bunch about Tusser superiority, dirty elves, and tasty humans. Still, out-of-character I wanted to make a fun game for the participants who just jumped in without having characters. It was definitely fun as an icebreaker, since a big part of the action was going out and interacting with people in the con. I like the game-within-a-game idea, but I'd prefer it if I had in-character reasons for making the in-charaacter game fun.


Films: Marital Combat + Walking in Circles

FILM SCREENING / Friday 11:59PM

The first was an extended film short - a romantic comedy about a husband-wife conflict that used a group of larpers as a stand-in for surreal medieval warriors. It was a fun film that heavily featured the larpers, even though the plot was unrelated.

         Walking in Circles is a web series about fantasy characters - the barbarian head of a motley adventuring band. It had lots of role-playing / larp references though it never quite broke the fourth wall in the two episodes I saw. It was definitely amusing.


Dreaming Real

KEYNOTE / Saturday 9:00AM / by Jeff Gomez

This was the keynote speech that I missed most of. Jeff Gomez is someone who works in transmedia, I think for studios, but he had no bio in the program. The speech went into a lot of detail about his life from childhood, and how he connected with various media properties starting with Japanese manga and film. It was curious to me in that for the part I saw, the talk was only about imaginative media but not about games or interaction.


Using Larp for Education

PANEL / Saturday 1:00PM / Run by: Aaron Vanek

This was a presentation by Aaron Vanek where he reviewed various uses of larp for education - with a particular focus on his educational larps, Star Seekers and Hit Seekers. He naturally spent some time talking about some examples from Nordic countries - especially Østerskov Efterskole in Denmark, as well as various summer programs - including traditional larp but also others such as a mock town where kids are given roles like shopkeeper or banker. It was a good overview, and I'd look forward to more in-depth discussion of techniques after more trials of Hit Seekers.


Doubt

GAME / Saturday 2:00PM / Run by Lizzie Stark

This is a freeform game (aka "jeepform") written by Fredrik Axelzon and Tobias Wrigstad in 2007, as run by Lizzie Stark. I've played a number of the jeepform group's games over the past several years, including The Upgrade, Drunk, and The Mothers. They are generally closer to theater games than traditional larp, in that it is common to step out of character or make out-of-character declarations to step out of the scene. This game has a number of fixed scenes, some scenes that we collectively decide in the beginning, and the option to call for unplanned scenes. We went played two scenes at the beginning to decide on casting, but we didn't find out how it was decided. The players and their characters were:

         I had known J for a while, and Aaron and Sarah Lynn (and Lizzie) from earlier in the year. So it was pretty comfortable. We started by talking about relationship stuff that was going on with us in an open manner. We then talked out that this was in New York, and our list of scenes. We picked my (Tom's) temptation as a talent scout with a wonderful apartment; while Julia's temptation was her ex. The temptations of the play characters are pre-written.

         The game play itself was curious because of the juxtaposition. At times it was easy to default into seeing these as two relationship stories going on at once. However, in the story, Peter is a character played by the real actor Tom. J and especially Aaron did try to make their characters more like play characters, and had monologues. Still, it was about halfway through that I started to really incorporate that Peter is a character that my character is playing.

         The short form: Peter and Nicole fought after Nicole found Maude's underwear (designed by her) in their bed - but they retained some affection. Tom got an offer for a movie to go to L.A., but Julia broke up with him after he threatened her ex on the jogging track. Highlights of the game for me:


Death in Valhalla

GAME / Saturday 7:00PM / Run by Mike Tice

This was a game set in mythic Valhalla with a mix of characters including the Asgardian gods, elves, dwarves, giants, Norns, and valkyries along with two human heroes (Siegmund and Sieglinde), plus Ratatosk the World-Tree squirrel. It was ostensibly a murder-mystery in that everyone was gathered to learn who had killed the god Wili (Odin's brother).

         The mystery was handled not as traditional murder-mystery clues, but by each character having a set of if-then logical statements, and certain statements that were guaranteed true. The statements were usually had no in-character connection. For example, "If Nidhogg the dragon is lonely, then the murderer did not move the body from the scene of the crime." There was a further mechanic that while no combat was possible, you could make other tell you one or more facts they knew if you defeated them in a contest. Lastly, each player had two guesses where they had to specify the killer as well as the means and location of the murder.

         Overall, there were a series of showy contests - generally done to prepared Wagner music - and a bunch of socializing and some private sharing of logic puzzle pieces. In the end, Loki was the one who solved it - but only in the last five minutes after hearing several other people's failed guesses. I liked everyone's play along with the costumes and the music, but didn't like the disconnect between the out-of-character logic puzzle and my in-character play.


Tomb of the Goblin King

GAME / ongoing

This was the first time I'd played something like a boffer larp. It was a major production that was running over the course of the whole con. A section of the parking garage had been curtained off to use as a series of larp challenges, in a deliberately rather video-game-like design - where players would go in multiple times trying to make it past all the obstacles. I went with Aaron, J, and Roy. We were prepped in advance by people who had gone through before, and so we got reasonably far. We jumped from square to square in the first room, then fought some giant spiders. Three of us died in the third room (including me) in a trap. So we watched as Aaron and J negotiated with the Goblin King and then died fighting some bandits.

         It was reasonably fun as a quick one-off, and I might try another boffer event in the future, but mostly it confirmed that this thing isn't my cup of tea.


Wake the Dead Dance

EVENT / Saturday 9:00PM

This was a general social dance. I didn't arrive until later, but apparently the dance floor wasn't attended and a boffer larp took over the space. Eventually that wrapped up, and then more people getting out of evening larps took over. There were still only a handful of people on the dance floor, but there were enough to keep it up. Others occupied a two tables and got a fair collection of drinks - thanks to Aaron and others. I was up until 5-something discussing lots of larp and other related topics.


Live Games Labs Brunch

SPECIAL / Sunday 10:00AM / Run by: Aaron Vanek

I had been scheduled for an improv larp at 9AM, but I couldn't make it. I instead showed up late to a generous free brunch hosted by Live Game Labs. It was just a general social event where people chatted. I got to talk a little more with people I had met over the con, and debrief a little more.


Conclusion

This was definitely worth the trip down to SoCal for me, and I got to meet a lot of new people. It seems like some people are taking after Knutepunkt in their approach to this, but it is definitely its own thing. A few things worth noting:

 


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Sat Jun 30 23:59:44 2012