Content Warning: Self-Harm, Disordered Eating – rambly format
I am on a complete high following an online LARP on Saturday. I really am enjoying the Together Forever setting, (though admittedly I haven’t played the poly iteration of the game) I’ve written before about it’s dystopian future dating premise. This game was based around the couples needing to get their parenting license in order to have children. The test involves parenting AIs as newborns, preteens and then teens and the game is set in the teen parenting stage. I opted to play one of the AI’s who thought she was an angsty goth teen who wasn’t doing well in school (except for in Psychology and Drama) and had an anxiety problem rooted in her poor grades leading to self harm.
The game left me high but also exhausted, it lasted from 1pm to 8pm and it was so packed full of roleplay that I didn’t have time to do everything I had planned to. The character I was given had crushes on her best friend, Prudence and also the smartest girl in class, Electra. I did some preplay with Electra which was supposed to (in my mind) be passionate argument leading to passionate crush fulfilment/rejection. In reality there was just so much to do that we ended up arguing before time in on the TikTok representation (a Discord text channel), during the initial part of the LARP I offered to tutor her in drama (in which she was only getting an A), she sent me a Spotify playlist that she’d made with her Mum to help me make the playlist for Prom and we were both so wrapped up in other roleplay happening that we couldn’t pay it off.
Something I love about the set up for Online LARPS, which I think appeals to my ref and set dressing instincts, is preparing my space as well as getting into costume. In this case it was black sheets hung behind me, a Halloween candle and the Rage Against the Machine poster from their free gig. It just got me into the space of the angsty teen, if I’d thought about it I might have tried to get a poster of Brandon Lee to really get me in the mood. That in combination with kitting up is very good for my getting into character. I also made up a bit of fake blood, grabbed a selection of tarot decks and a knife from the kitchen and put my makeup bag next to my computer. The dance between IC and OOC space in an online LARP isn’t just about what the viewer the other end of the camera can see but also what space I create for myself and where and what I put in the OOC space to create affects in the IC space. In some ways it sounds more theatrical than a conventional LARP but actually it’s just more concentrated in space which makes for an interesting role playing headspace. Or maybe that’s me being overly reflexive.
I really loved all the Homeroom time for the teens as we established ourselves. I also loved the discussion on limits and how far we were comfortable going with our various addictions, self-harming behaviours and general obnoxiousness. I do feel kind of like I failed with this good boundary setting when it came to establishing play with the other players I interacted with – how much was that because most of the other players were playing parents/figures of authority I’m not sure. I do want to remember to specifically make time to establish play types and limits more than at the beginning of the LARP but also within each scene, some of my being bad at that was almost certainly down to how quick paced I found the LARP, there just seemed to be too little time to manage everything.
The initial stressor for Valentine was that she had hexed a classmate and then the next day he had run off into the Wilderness. Clearly her fault! There was some great drama out of that amongst the teens as it was revealed his partner thought it was their fault, a girl he’d called thought it was her fault and my best friend, who he’d bullied revealed she was glad he had gone! Valentine aggressively blamed all of the others to cover up her own guilt and then started messaging her Tarot Teacher about hexes and such things.
Thus began the defining parental relationship of my game… not with either of the assigned pairs parents but with my Tarot Card Teacher, River and her partner, Terrence (played by Beautiful Lute and the Fae Ref ). The way the structure of the game works is that at the half way point the AI Teens are all assigned to a second set of parents. We think we’re just progressing in our school year and have no memory of our parents ever being different and they continue in their test for a parenting license. Of course my memories kept the people who weren’t my assigned parents as significant parental figures in my life.
One thing that I did enjoy from an Out of Character perspective was that, having played multiple games of Together Forever and listened to The Fae Ref and Weasel talk a lot about theirs, I recognised several of the characters that various players were reprising. That wasn’t only fun, as an AI it gave me a few places to hang my hat and push buttons.
Anyway, I ended up pairing up for schoolwork with my best friend’s former bully, Clover and she organised with the pair of hippies, River and Terrence, for me to do a purification ritual and then an astral projection to reach out to the missing teen. There was some excellent use of a small toy, a split screen smoke filter and for my part, The Zelda Tarot deck! My assigned parents on reaching out to check I really was at Clovers house were initially comforted and then concerned about my doing a ritual…
There was a lot less cutting when River fed into Valentine’s self-blame and also as she gradually worked out with her parents that the staid Mum was into tarot and set and that she could go to a more practical drama school rather than an academic university. But then the half way point and the new set of parents are even more academically focussed than the last. From an OOC perspective I loved that my message history with River basically went from ‘Mum says it’s ok I can go to drama school I think I can admit to her that my grades aren’t too good.’ to ‘Mum wants me to get a PhD and I haven’t graduated high school yet’
And so the cutting got worse. In this set of parents Dad was basically monitoring her whole net presence and noted her buying of scalpels and mediwipes.
The amount of thought I didn’t really need to put into come up with a successful cutting strategy when he put cameras into the house is certainly indicative of something. Ah well, you’ve got to draw on real life experiences to add depth to your art right? But of course by this point in the game my Best Friend Prudence had come out as having a serious eating disorder.
I say come out, we’d gone on our first date to see The Woman in Black at the theatre and come out to her collapsing after putting a tarot card in my pocket. Also significant I got a gift delivered by drone and Clover showed up in time to see Prudence collapse – the teen panic this triggered was only matched by the teen awkwardness that ensued after the paramedics took Prudence to hospital and it turned out that both Clover and Prudence had asked Valentine to prom!
I said that the significant parental relationship in this game was with River and Terrence, in the second half it got even more so as Valentine’s Mum was pretty much triggering her self harm with every conversation and after every self harm reference on her TikTok River would send a message of unconditional love. Which actually is likely why I didn’t hospitalise Valentine as I was considering. But of course they were also at this point Prudence’s parents and they were treating her Anorexia with… acupuncture. Which Clover and Valentine were very concerned about and they were even more concerned that their parents wouldn’t step in and try and get Prudence a real doctor. This did mean that Valentine did bond with her self-harm inspiring Mum over liking River and Terrence for astral stuff but thinking you need a real doctor when you have an eating disorder. In that conversation Valentine’s Dad revealed that he would impose strict boundaries (waaay over the line of reasonable) if she was doing the same and of course I responded positively to loving (if slightly toxic) boundaries being set. So the only parent the AI admitted the self harm to was the Dad who installed surveillance cameras in her house!
And then River and Terrence offered to adopt Valentine on the astral plane which she accepted, much to her Mum’s dislike. I got further revenge by letting her see Valentines self-harm scars when she wore her Prom dress.
The finale of the game was us finding out if we graduated or not and which uni or drama school (in Valentine’s case) had accepted us and who had won the app vouchers and who had been voted Prom Queen – Prudence. We were all worried about her so of course that’s who we voted for.
This doesn’t really encapsulate the sheer amount of teen drama that I very much enjoyed playing out as a programmed AI stereotype. That level of distance I suspect really let me enjoy it in a way I don’t tend to enjoy playing games where you’re really playing a teenager. It also doesn’t cover the LARPer Pride I felt when one of the other players complimented the level of realism they felt I added to scenes of High Melodrama.
I really enjoyed the final Homeroom scene as they deactivated the AIs and we, unknowingly, listened to a track together and then winked out as we finished the song at slightly different rates.