This wasn’t the first game I played at Black Box CPH, but because it’s my game I’m going to be selfish and start with that, I’m also running it at Knudepunkt in a very short while, so that kind of fits, then I can do another post about how that went later. (I have run this game one more time at Østerskov Efterskole with a few changes, so I will refer to that once in a while.)
It’s the story of a plane crash, but seen from the eyes of those loved ones waiting at the airport, as the plan first gets delayed, then have technical problems and finally crashes.
The idea originally came from the plane that was shot down over Ukraine this summer. I read a story about it, that said that it was a double tragedy, because there was quite a few AIDS researchers onboard on their way to a conference. And it struck me: there must have been people at the airport waiting for those, wow that must have been horrible.
But my mind expanded on that thought: that’s how it must be every time, theres always someone waiting at the airport, and they must go through the worst set of emotions, from happy anticipation to the most horrid loss. And then, because that’s how broken we nordic larpers are, I thought: that would make a good game.
The game has two main challenges: could wating be interesting play? And can you feel for a fictional character you never met?
Dealing with the second one first: we all know this problem, we play in a story where we are lovers and it’s not really working because it’s hard to simulate love. This is especially true for written characters. If it just says: “you love him very much,” then how do you play on that? No feelings must be created during game or at least in workshops.
So how do you do that with a fictional character that we never meet in game? I drew on another true thing: player ownership: they feel more strongly for things, they have created themselves rather than something written for them.
Which I just now realize is the weakness with “The Courage of Teddies” (one of my other games). Here the players have to as Teddies fight for a dying child that they only meet once in game, but if they get a say in the kind of child he/she is they might feel and fight more for him. Any way I digress.
So what I did was to hold a long character creation workshop starting with the person on the plane called the traveler. I drew heavily on some of the things I learnt on the Larpwriter Summer School.
We started with a bunch of bags I had gotten before the game, as different as possible. Then all the players (all four of them) were given post-its and had to go around write short thoughts and words for each bag and put the notes on them. Starting from the question: “Who would own such a bag?”
Just free association. Notice they don’t yet know which bag they will create their traveller from, they have to think about each bag. We go through a few rounds of this, where they can also look at the notes already written to get inspiration for new notes and so on.
After this they get time to look over the notes and in their head choose two bags, they want to create a traveler from. Then the sorting starts, they each pick two bags and then I sort of sort out, who plays with whom. The optimal is to have two or three sharing each bag, as they only develop relations with those. You can play alone, but that is a bit challenging and no one should be forced to it.
After this they start creating the traveler, the one they are waiting for. I spend a lot of time on this again to get the players to have just a bit of connection to this fictional character they are about to lose.
I also asked the players to create a sympathetic person, if you make an asshole you would just think well good riddance and that was not the story we were looking for. There could be conflict, but not one you would hate. Interestingly enough they ended up creating people balancing on this. Well thats nordic larpers for you.
After they have created the traveler they create their own characters by asking: “who would be waiting for this person?” In both runs the players had touched upon this during the creation of the traveler, you can’t help your self that, but now they clarified and expanded it. I switch between the player on his/her own imagining his character and then they two or three talking together getting it all to fit. As mentioned they only create relationships with the one or two other players they are waiting with, the rest are strangers who just happen to be waiting for people from the same plane. In both runs this barrier disappears as the tragedy unfolds.
With both the traveler and the characters in place the game starts. The game follows this run: first they just wait and all is good, it’s an opportunity to get into character and settle down a bit. This is the waiting part of the game, it’s ok if it’s a bit boring, thats part of the simulation. One of the things I stress during the workshop is that silence is good and not awkward in this game.
Then things start to change. As part of the game area is a screen with plane times on it, I change this during the first part of the game. As that changes the plane they are waiting for (Flight GO901 from the title) gets more and more delayed and the anticipation becomes frustration. The first part of the game ends with the plane disappearing completely from the screen turning frustration into questions and maybe a bit of nervousness.
Two things to mention here: the run of the game is completely open, the players are told how it will go from the start, but how they react and how much time there is between each change is unknown.
The other is: This game is fiction, during the design I considered contacting an airport and ask how they would handle it. I might still do that at a later point, but for this version I stuck to what gives the best story, not what is real.
I give the players a bit of time in this uncertain state and then a NPC (played by yours truly) enters the scene. I play a flustered airport personnel that ask if any one is waiting for the plane.
The players of course say “we are,” “do you know any thing,” and so on and they are told that the plane has some technical difficulties, nothing to be worried about, but they might have to wait for awhile, while they try and figure it out. And then is offered to let them wait in a meeting room. That will be more comfortable and private and also to keep them together so new information can reach them easily.
Again this has been told to the players beforehand so they know to accept this and follow along. They will ask a lot of questions and I did the mistake of starting to answer these in the Copenhagen run, but that gave the game more details than this lose fiction could handle. Such as where is the plane and what is the problem.
So for the second run I told the players during the workshop, that they were welcome to ask questions as part of their play (it’s only natural) but don’t expect any useful answers. One of the themes is uncertainty about your loved ones. And during that game I gave more vague answers such as: “its something technical, I don’t know anything more than that.” This worked better.
From this point on the players are in this meeting room, but the format is much the same, they wait for new information, just now it comes from me not a screen. The next time I appear they a told that we have lost contact with the plane and that this could just be the equipment malfunctioning, but it could also be something worse.
Next time is the worst: it’s confirmed the plane had crashed there is signs of survivors and that rescue personnel is on their way to the site and that they must now wait for news of survivors.
Finely they are told who have survived and this is where the games go into a more metaphysical mode. So they are still playing, but we break down the barrier of realism and use black box techniques.
The players gather in one part of the room, the light is low and a spotlight shines on the floor. One by one the bags they used to create their traveler from is placed in the spotlight and those belonging to that bag must go in and look for a small glass heart in the bag. If it’s there the traveler survived if not well quess.
In the first run I placed the hearts after the game had started, but it was suggested that it would work better, if they were placed beforehand, so that by choosing a bag, the fate of the traveler was already decided. So the players know that the fate or their traveler is decided, but they don’t know what it is. This is a great idea but if any one open a bag or even lifted it the heart might be discovered, (by sight or sound).
So what I did instead was to before game starts chose a random number of random numbers and they were the survivors. Only a few rules applied: the number of bags must be greater than the number of participants and the number of survivors must be very low.
In the two runs so far there have been none survives, all the hearts have been in bags that were not used. Lets see how it goes at Knudepunkt.
For the second run I changed one other thing: I got some passport photos and postcards that the players had to pick for their traveler. The passports work well in making the character feel more real, the postcard did nothing. But I need to find more passport, as one group designed a young child and I only had one photo of a boy and of a girl, so they were limited to those two. So more diversity!
Wow this become way too long hope my process and thoughts were interesting.
Next time the other gems I played.