On Saturday morning at Intercon, I played in an American Freeform game called Here is My Power Button.Originally, I told myself I should either sign up for a LARP that started later on Saturday morning, or perhaps just skip that slot and sleep in. I knew Friday night would be a late night packing up Orgia, and Saturday night is always a late night, what with the dance and the suite parties.
But I couldn’t resist Here is My Power Button. For one thing, I like to try new things in LARP, and I haven’t done much freeform. Power Button didn’t sound like much else I’ve played. I was intrigued by the idea of exploring emotional intimacy and power in relationships in LARP. But more significantly, I have a new character for a cyberpunk boffer campaign, Threshold, who is an AI, and as this LARP is all about the relationships that develop between a human and an AI, I thought I could really use the experience as inspiration. The blurb on the website suggested that players sign up with a buddy; I signed up with the player playing my human handler in Threshold.
This being a freeform LARP, I’m not going to worry about spoilers here. This LARP is mostly about what players bring into the structure, not about surprises or twists.
We started with introductions and a simple ice-breaker game — trying to each shake everyone else’s hand in increasingly shorter periods of time. Then we broke into groups of two and started brainstorming ideas for the human characters who had volunteered to participate in a focus group for a company developing AIs. We each were given a short list of questions (I think the lists varied a bit) to help us work out some details in their lives and what they might want or need an AI for.
Next, we split into two groups, one for the humans, and one for the AIs. For the first discussion, our group represented the engineers developing the AIs, discussing what the humans might like out of the product. Then we took on the AI roles and met our humans for the first time. We alternated back and forth between ten minutes in two groups (AIs and humans) and ten minutes in pairs with our humans, developing our relationships. There were sometimes large skips of time between our meetings with our humans. And I think one more of our large group discussion was again as the engineers, towards the end. And at the beginning of each meeting with our humans, the humans had the option of wiping our memories/developing personalities and starting over with a blank slate.
I think I had one of the more unusual experiences as an AI. Many of the other humans wanted their AIs as companions and/or someone to confide in, but my human decided he was an artist and the blank slate of his AI’s mind was a new medium, a canvas to turn into a work of art, by exposing the AI to the wide spectrum of human emotion and creation. For our first meeting, he played music for me — Johnny Cash. (In a later session, my AI chose the name Cash for itself.) Next, he played a snippet of a classic old movie, I think Casablanca. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the mood of the things he shared with me into my AI character, so I mostly reflected back his own sort of reckless, enthusiastic attitude and mannerisms back at him, and spouted his theories on art, and how impressions and memories creating immortality to the other AIs. (When the topic of being reset or permanently deleted came up, the other AIs seemed to strongly disagree with me.)
I think only one AI ever got reset over the course of our run, and towards the end, we all become focused on not being permanently deleted or powered down and left indefinitely in storage. Some of the AI had developed a sense of self-preservation and/or had become very attached to their humans and didn’t want to abandon them. Some of the stories developed were rather heart-breaking. Cash, meanwhile, became rather cavalier.
While the direction Cash went with its (her?) relationship with the artist ended up a bit too different from my vision for my Threshold AI, observing the other relationships developing around me did create inspiration. My only suggestion to the GM after the LARP was that some of the group discussions for all of the AIs (and possibly the humans, though I don’t know what their discussions were like) might be broken into smaller groups so that each AI has a bit more time to share their own experiences with their humans. Otherwise, I think it was a very enjoyable freeform LARP that has the potential to go in different directions for different runs.