Intercon Q Part I: White Death

Another Intercon has come and gone. It’s been two weeks and I still have a bit of the post-con blues.

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I think the post-con blues hit a lot of the Intercon community a bit stronger than usual this year. For the first few days after the con, I could feel it radiating out of various online social media communities. I think this convention is particularly prone to producing the post-con blues. At many conventions, attendees don’t plan anything until just before the con and many figure out their schedules on the fly; at Intercon, most attendees know their schedules months in advance, and start prepping the LARPs they’re running, making the costumes they’re wearing, and reading their character sheets and other materials in the weeks (or more) leading up to the con. And if you’re like me, you might be already looking at the LARPs for the next Intercon as soon as the previous Intercon is over. (Did you know Intercon R already has a number of LARPs up?)

Additionally, in order to avoid traveling during the blizzards that bookended Intercon Q, I was at the hotel for nearly an entire week. (A good number of other attendees were there for extra days as well.) Intercon Q felt like that much larger of an event. That made it that much harder to leave behind.

Knowing it would be snowing hard for most of Thursday, I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, after helping a GM to pack a U-Haul van full of paper goods, props, and a ton of set dressing for Orgia Domi Lomaximus (my Friday evening LARP.) We weren’t the only ones with the idea of arriving early, so there were a handful of other LARPers at the hotel on Wednesday night and Thursday all day. Unfortunately, the snow really interfered with travel; tons of Intercon attendees were significantly delayed, and even worse, a few missed the con altogether.

The panel schedule for PreCon got shifted around a bit due to the snow and delayed/missing people, but my first LARP of Intercon ran as scheduled late Thursday night, starting around midnight. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from White Death. The blurb contained descriptions like, “[t]he genre is not realistic but rather uses an abstract, poetic approach.” I knew  all characters would be created in a workshop at the door, that there would be no speaking, only communication through physical actions, and that all characters would die (or transform, depending upon  your interpretation), one by one, during the LARP. But I couldn’t really visualize in advance what the experience might be like.

I have mixed feelings on “spoilers” for White Death. It is designed with transparency in mind, (as per the blurb: “[t]he game is completely transparent and the focus is on the atmosphere rather than the outcome.”) And the outcome is right there in the blurb: all of the characters will die over the course of the LARP. But I do feel that some elements of the LARP were better for me, personally, because they were surprises that I hadn’t had a chance to anticipate. So I think I’m going to compromise here and share the things that I think wouldn’t have detracted from my experience had I known about them in advance, and I welcome readers to decide for themselves.

So — potential spoilers below, but this LARP is designed for transparency, so deciding that spoilers are not a concern is valid.

We initially had two full runs of White Death, but due the snow, we ended up with two runs with about the minimum number of players. (As it turned out, I thought the number we had worked very well.) We opened with workshops, mostly practicing different forms of movement. There were two broad categories (moving like humans: slow, heavy, awkward, stiff, hard, sudden, violent, etc. and like White Ones: light, soft, flowing, friendly, etc.) We also developed our characters, their movements and relationships, with randomly assigned elements — whom we were close with, whom we disliked, what our movement restrictions were, and how we felt about some of the others. (That last category had things like, “you dislike tall people” or “you want to be close to people with smaller feet than yours.”)

We went briefly over the rules, things like only humans can be in the light, humans can only see White Ones during the storms, how humans become White Ones, what abstract concepts the various props represented, and of course, there would be no talking. The in-game time would be divided into four storms (indicated by the soundtrack), and the time between them. When the soundtrack started, we began the LARP proper.

I admit I sometimes I have difficulty shedding my skepticism when it comes to abstract, “poetic” style LARPs, and I thought there would be a good chance that the LARP would feel pretentious or meaningless to me, that I would feel self-conscious and unable to understand the point of what we were doing. But I was determined to try anyways — I’m a very big believer in trying everything at least once when it comes to LARP.

In practice, while I did feel self-conscious on occasion (especially towards the beginning), I did have a lot of fun playing White Death. (It helped to remind myself that there was really no wrong way to do things like represent the elements of fire and earth through walking.) And I was surprised to discover how much we could convey through movement, expression, and interaction with the props. We created miniature narratives, brief sequences of interactions where we protected and assisted or bullied one another, shared and stole or even destroyed props, and mourned or fell into despair as others were lost to the storm and became White Ones. I liked how my inner circle of trusted friends/family spontaneously developed a hand symbol to reaffirm our loyalty to one another.

Because of the no speaking rule, everything was widely open to interpretation, from the miniature narratives to the general understanding of the White Ones. During the post-LARP discussion, I was surprised that other players had much happier interpretation of events than I did. My own interpretation was pretty bleak. (It reminded me of the end of The Giver, which is also open to interpretation, and I personally buy into the tragic version. I also have similar feelings about The Velveteen Rabbit.)

I think the soundtrack, which interspersed music with a howling wind storm effect (to demarcate the storms) is worth mentioning, though I won’t get into specifics because I felt being caught off-guard by the music was a significant part of my experience. Let’s just say it wasn’t at all what I would have expected, and was very much a presence in the LARP that had an appreciable affect on play. I really liked it.

My personal experience in White Death reminded me of the Allegory of the Long Spoons. It’s a parable that describes heaven and hell as places where everyone is given such long utensils that they cannot feed themselves but can feed one another. In heaven, where everyone is kind, everyone gets to eat and is happy; in hell, everyone is selfish and no one gets to eat. There are various versions of the parable — I originally heard the one where no one can bend their elbows (or simply don’t have elbows). And my physical limitation was that I could not bend my elbows. (I also couldn’t turn my head, but I found that part of it a lot harder to remember and abide by.) I quickly discovered how difficult this made basic actions that I do so commonly I don’t even think about them, and how reliant this made me on the other players. I couldn’t brush my hair out of my eyes, and I had to push my face into other people’s shoulders to move my glasses up the bridge of my nose when they slid down. One of the props was edible, so like in the Long Spoons parable, I found it incredibly difficult to feed myself, but some of my fellow humans took pity on me and helped feed me. (We made quite a mess with the edible props. This LARP requires a vacuum for clean up.)

The physical restrictions for humans made the transformation into White Ones poignant; by the time I succumbed to a storm and joined the White Ones, my elbows were aching from holding them so stiffly for so long; flexing them again hurt but also felt like a huge relief. And I could freely do things like adjust my hair and play however I liked with the props that ended up outside the lit areas. Still, I couldn’t help but interpret everything as a tragedy.

So that was White Death. Worth trying if you want to give the stranger side of LARPing a try (though it’s arguably more of an extended improv exercise than a standard LARP) and see what kind of narrative and communication can be expressed without words, while exploring themes of community and fear of death.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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10 Responses to Intercon Q Part I: White Death

  1. Cam OOC says:

    I ran White Death because I thought that it highlights aspects of our LARP experience that we don’t often talk about or that can get overshadowed during Interactive Literature or Boffer play. I plan to run it more, including at Festival of the LARPs this year, and likely at Intercon R.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Aspects like communication through action? Using physicality to represent our characters? Abstract plots? Lighting and sound as set dressing?

      • Cam OOC says:

        Just so. I think the less abstract aspects of LARPs (like the plots and the characters) tend to dominate our conversations and design thinking (with good reason – I think these account for a lot of the variance in IL), but it is good to have a concrete touch point with these other things.

        • Fair Escape says:

          Hm. Some of it sometimes gets discussed at length (I’m sure lighting and sound/music has been covered a few times at PreCon/NELCO.) Some of the other things, like physicality to represent aspects of our characters tends to only get mentioned as a single item when people are coming up with long lists on ways to develop a character. But now I’m trying to envision other ways to develop physicality in LARPs. Maybe we could have more modules with temporary physical restrictions that are outside of the Accelerant ruleset… I think I wrote a post ages ago about incorporating unique salutes into IG cultures…

          • Cam OOC says:

            I agree that Lighting and sound do get discussed! Although the no-talking restriction in this game does change the dynamics that are often discussed. For that matter, the fact that there is very little to read during game also changes some of the lighting requirements we have often talked about (and which I have run afoul of); for example a common conversation I have had is about how dim lighting is a good way to produce a certain atmosphere, but that is in conflict with any game where reading is required (e.g. An Interactive Lit LARP with long character sheets or a boffer module with detailed text props or puzzles).

            I hope that experiencing this game might help designers crystallize ideas that rely more on the physical interactions in play. Also, I think that often artifacts of a game (even abstract one) can become very evocative and meaningful to the players and that this game does a very good job of highlighting that (If I recall, you had a thought about this from All Quiet on the Potomac and the room full of discarded troops as represented by index cards).

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