I’ve done a couple of online LARPs this year, that is to say, they were all *called* LARPS and proved that some LARPERs have clearly not done much roleplay by post, tabletop or forum RP. LARP stands for Live Action Roleplay guys, not just Roleplay… ahem, right that’s my irritating pedantry out of the way. And the LARP this weekend really was a LARP.
In any case as a Format loving ref the way that the format of Together Forever beautifully fitted the setting. We were living in a dystopian future where no one can go outside and dating is done via organised program and algorithm. The program takes place over 2 years kaleidoscopes into 2 days game time. And yeah, I had my doubts about the way they kaleidoscoped – I was so wrong!
We started out hour for hour, then gradually the different scenes got closer together and time effectively sped up and it worked brilliantly as a bit of a warm up easing you into play.
My character Selene Ryker was a wholesome primary school teacher with a bit of a past, she’d been addicted to drugs and had to go through the Narcotics Anonymous program. My reasoning is always that in a dystopia I get more out of playing adorable cinnamon rolls because I just want to let the setting torture them. But I wanted her to have a bit of a bite so things would be not too easy for her. The refs were brilliant because I wrote this character but they provided me with three connections going in, my best friend since school, Kira, my friend from NA, Bloom and my cousin with whom I was very close, Stellan.
Pregame we established relationships, and were provided with a Discord Server to make into a faux Facebook wall and communicate over. I’ve made a playlist of all the songs that made it either onto my ‘facebook wall’ or were shared between my character and those she dated and conversed with over the course of the game.
I’d never met any of the people I had in game relationships with so it was fascinating figuring out how people with very different roleplay backgrounds approached everything. After the game I discovered that there were way more timezones involved for the poor organisers! I think the furthest west we went was Dallas, Texas and the furthest east was Lithuania. In terms of cardinal points the northernmost player was in Finland and the most southerly I think was the player in South Carolina, just. As someone in a timezone nicely in the middle I really lucked out for sleep schedule.
Setting myself up for this LARP was interesting in terms not just of characterisation, I had my space in front of the computer set up so that all my props were around. Off-camera was several changes of clothes, jewellery and make-up. After all I wanted to give the impression of time passing but I also wanted my space to be my character’s space, it’s that thing in a normal LARP of how much is under the bed where you stash your out of character bits and pieces and how much are you letting spill over. One part of my life that has really prepared me for this lockdown is definitely the cam-girling, knowing where the edge of the camera is really does help. The way this applied to this LARP was thinking about the bits in front of the camera as being the ‘front’ of the tent in a field and the bits that were in front of me were the things I put in the tent that I know are there to keep *me* IC but doesn’t really matter if anyone else sees them or not. The stuff to my left were the bits of prep that you keep under a bed with a little OOC purple note on them. The one time that my carefully set up webcam went skywards my partner in the scene very kindly ‘didn’t see anything’.
I know a couple of people who do LARP more regularly over Discord raised their eyebrows at my having props and costume changes but to be quite honest, I know what I enjoy out of a game and I wanted to have those things this weekend.
At time in I and my friend from NA were nattering away over video chat establishing characterisation and relationships so we were a little late to time in…this might have been a pattern.
We timed in in our Support Groups, which were nicely labelled in Discord Channels. This is where I met the five other people who would be supporting cinnamon roll Selene through finding The One! Luckily for me this included my best friend from school and my cousin. There was also Verity from Hawaii who’s husband had cheated on her and left her – so she was in The Programme for the second time! (Yikes!) My best friend’s sister was in the group and there was a gamer fan of a MMO that my cousin had designed. We had a few brief minutes of introduction and a bit of set up and then HelperBot announced our matches!
Selene, desperate to meet The One and find her True Love, her Soulmate, was paired with her best friend’s brother…
This was not optimal… both of us were a little stilted as I think out of character neither of us were totally familiar with the format, however I did get the impression that both of us were fairly experienced roleplayers so the dates went well from an out of character perspective. In character, as Selene messaged to Kyra and Bloom – “There’s no spark!”
There was a very cosy evening spent playing word games, curling up on sofas and swapping music and a walk on a volcanic beach which was either somewhere in Iceland or on the Baltic. Then Selene took him snowboarding…
I really like that the format and the roleplay was reasonably creative. Walking around in Googlemaps as a phys-rep for walking in VR was good with audio connection between the two. I got better as the game went on about using youtube videos as a phys-rep for snowboarding in VR. (I had prepped so many tabs with youtube videos, pictures and song links previous to the game and it made things run reasonably smoothly).
During the date HelperBot had us fill in Calibration forms for our Implants, some of these were separately and some together. That was pretty good fun actually but eventually sleep had to happen. (I can only imagine the delight of reading these in the ref bunker). There was a chunk of downtime so that people in various timezones could rest, but that was pretty good as I got to message my character’s cousin and friends and put things up on Selene’s ‘facebook wall’.
The second day started with a break-up – Selene’s was pretty amicable, in the support group it turned out that she and Stellan (her cousin) had had similar first relationship experiences. They both felt that they had made a new friend. Selene’s best friend Kyra, had had the romance that Selene had wanted. She and her first date had walked in the rainforest and shared a kiss in VR. Selene was happy for Kyra but a little bit jealous so she was hoping that she would get the kisses in her next match.
Of course she paired with Layne, the guy that Kyra had had the romantic kiss with! Beautifully done ref-team! And Selene promised Kyra that she wouldn’t fall for Layne…and the first meeting that Selene had with Layne he told her all about how in love with Kyra he was!
Selene ended up missing Lucian – Kyra’s brother! At least they’d listened to good music together. Obviously Layne promised Selene he’d try and make it work and so she decided to try too. They went snowboarding together…and then she met his family. Which is the point that the family asked her how many kids she wanted.
Of course I’m playing Selene as a wholesome primary school teacher so she wants three kids, spaced out over the course of six years, naturally. And she’s not compromising on three of them. Layne, equally obviously, doesn’t want kids and hasn’t really brought this up.
They had some tense moments, she arranges for Layne to come into her class (all done via the dystopian future’s Zoom equivalent) and get to know how to interact with kids.
They’re really trying but Selene confesses to Kyra and Bloom that she doesn’t think it’s going to work out. Bloom expresses sympathy but is head over heels with her first match, Magenta, who is head over heels with her too. This is when Kyra reveals that she’s had a VR date with Layne whilst he was matched with Selene!
Oh the drama! And I may have overdone the argument that followed because the guy wanted to make sure I wasn’t OOC angry with him… oops. It was BRILLIANT! Never mind the debate over kids, Selene told the local gossip news channel that he was envious of her cousin’s fame.
(After time out I found out that Layne’s sister ran the gossip channel but was so pissed off that he had cheated on Selene that she ran the story anyway!)
So many comments, so much passive aggression and then a final “If you get together with Kyra at the end of this then I’ll make up with you. But right now, I’m angry and I don’t want to see you.”
There was a very satisfying part to turning off the video at that point.
Support group including Kyra was *fun* after that. Most of the rest of the support group had met the loves of their lives but Selene was trying not to get her best friend into trouble with the Programme (cheating ruins the calibration implant readings after all) whilst being a little angry with her! The other things of note in support group was that Verity from Hawaii had been paired with Bloom who had spent their whole relationship texting Magenta and Verity had issues with cheating when she started this Programme…
What I didn’t know was that Bloom, who Selene had also told everything to, was in the same support group as Layne and his sister and between the two of them they were ripping Layne a new one!
From a format point of view the out of character time that this was taking to represent months in character was really working as it was speeding up towards the end of the LARP and it felt hugely effective.
So then we moved onto the third relationship. Selene got paired with Bloom, and thus began the relationship of many tears – luckily the player of Bloom was just as into sobbing cathartic emotional roleplay as I am! Selene felt like she would never get the Romance that she wanted and told Bloom as much when the relationship started. What she didn’t tell Bloom was that when she announced in the Support Group that her next match was Bloom Kyra had offered to swap dates around and had actually had a conversation with the HelpBot about that. She had more importantly reported Bloom as a drug user to try and get Selene out of dating her and Bloom knew that someone had reported her…
I admit when Kyra suggested that she swap dates there was a certain amount of OOC desire to do so because I knew the player that she was set up with. He’s The Fairyland Ref that I got to torture with stoner romance as an NPC in February! However, doing it for the OOC shiggles was not really in keeping, especially when IC the HelperBot was very much not up for it!
The ref team also need a beautiful set of salutes as the ‘meet the family’ event in the middle of this was Bloom and I, Lucian (my first date) and Stellan my cousin, (my second date)Layne and his sister Lily. Oh the beautifully awkward moments – everytime Layne brought up and apologised for cheating on me! Also everytime Lily talked about the fairytale romance she was having with Lucian poor Selene had it brought home to her how much she wasn’t getting what she had hoped for!
So IC months into this relationship with Bloom taking Selene out on dates (which again unbeknownst to me were the dates Magenta had described as being her Ideal Dates and obviously Selene was putting them up on her facebook wall for all to see…) we get a little OOC prod to aim for a scene with some drama in it. So the player of Bloom tells me I should maybe ask more about the amount she’s texting Magenta. I felt great pride as a player (and also happiness that we were both playing in very compatible ways) when I suggested that she talk more about who reported her as a drug user.
Oh the drama! Oh the tears! Oh the betrayal! Both of us were making our makeup run! It was so good.
We agreed to work on things and then it was time for that relationship to end, and the support group was full of tension. Three of them Kyra, Jordan (Kyra’s sister) and Stellan (my cousin) were hoping that their True Love’s would be matched with them. The MMO fan, Quinn, was also hopeful. Selene and Verity were not so hopeful, because Verity had spent most of her relationship with Bloom watching her text Magenta and most of her relationship with Magenta watching her text Bloom… of course Selene was full of other concerns but the cheating did hit the odd tense memory for her too.
Now you’d think that the final matches would signal game over, but we’re LARPers and Verity’s player especially ran the drama up to the final whistle.
See Bloom and Magenta didn’t get in touch with Selene and Verity upon the final match being announced because they were busy saying goodbye to each other. Selene was ok with that, it gave her time to process and say goodbye to Kyra who maybe was more drama than a best friend should be… and also to welcome her cousin’s new partner to the family. Eventually there’s this happy family moment of Selene, Bloom, Stellan and Cosma and it’s lovely and hopeful, which is when Magenta and Verity join them, and the facial expressions on the cameras on that channel were things of BEAUTY. I loved every single player present for that. Of course Stellan and Cosma vanished as soon as they could leaving me to time out with the taxi beeping coming to take me away to the processing facility and Magenta and Bloom swearing they weren’t going to cheat on me and Verity!
And then the announcement of Time Out accompanied by Panic by The Smiths – very, very appropriate.
There wasn’t much in the way of a formal debrief, though there was a safety ‘talk down’ and a quick link about LARP crushes. Both me and the player from Finland missed a formal brief so she basically organised one. And the wind down was good because then I stepped rather than drove away and told The Jellicle Cat all about it!
I think I’ve only really had one LARP crush years ago but I did love the stirred up emotional feeling that this game left me with. The drama of it all was exactly what I was hoping for and the way that the setting and format meshed together was beautifully done. I’ve got two more games this year and overall considering the international pandemic I’m pretty happy with the amount of roleplay I’ve been able to do. This game though is going to be hard to top in terms of flow, organisation and sheer quality of roleplay from the other players. If they run it again I want to play again (but not as Selene).