After nearly a year of radio silence on this blog - here is another post. The news is that my interest in game design has moved forward into an interest in larp (live action role play), thanks in large part to the Larpwriter Summer School, which I was very fortunate to attend in July this year. The experience of attending LWSS deserves a blog post all on its own - but that will have to wait. At the moment, I am making a larp project with a guy called Duncan Hay called The Lowland Clearances which will be playing at Camden People's Theatre in January, 2016. Like me, Duncan is a newbie in terms of larp experience - but he has written a great article about how his 'Outsider's Perspective' on larp has changed through working on this project...over to you Duncan.
Could larp Change the Face of London?
Ask most people about Live Action Role Play (larp), and if they’ve got anything to say about it, they'll probably mention costumes, rubber swords and people pretending to be elves. Which to be honest, if you’d asked me about it six months ago, is what I would have said too. My impression was that Larp was mostly about escapism and fun, but since I’ve been working with Hobo Theatre on their forthcoming production The Lowland Clearances, part of Camden People’s Theatre’s ‘Whose London is it Anyway?’ festival in early 2016, I’ve learnt that there’s a whole other side to Larp - Nordic Larp - that’s quite different.
There are some big differences between Nordic Larp and the sword-and-sorcery games more familiar to English-speaking audiences. Nordic Larp is primarily about story and character. As a player, you don’t have to worry about Hit Points, Armour Bonuses or defeating an opponent: it’s about working with a group of people to create a compelling, shared narrative experience. And whilst there’s a strong strand of science fiction and fantasy in Nordic Larp, many games are set in real-world settings and explore complex issues. For example, a game such as Lindängens Riksinternat (http://nordiclarp.org/2013/03/11/state-boarding-school-of-lindangen/), explored power dynamics in boarding schools; whilst Brudpris,(http://nordiclarp.org/2015/01/23/brudpris/), a game set in a fictional 19th-century Nordic community, allowed players to investigate how patriarchal societies evolve and sustain themselves.
Nordic Larp designers aim to create experiences that allow players to identify strongly with both the game world and their character’s place within it. This can be as low-tech as the use of simple props or character-building workshops, through to something on the scale of College of Wizardry (https://killscreen.com/articles/i-spent-weekend-castle-poland-doing-harry-potter-larp-and-it-was-awesome/), where a Polish castle became somewhere very similar to the school attended by a certain boy wizard to allow players to indulge their magical fantasies for a full weekend.
Nordic Larp gives people the opportunity to become someone else for a while, be it for a few hours or for a few days. Yet as the range of subjects tackled by Larp designers suggests, one of the most powerful things about it is that it allows people to look at problems or political questions from different perspectives. Our game, The Lowland Clearances, is about housing, and is set in Victorian Somers Town, the area in which Camden People’s Theatre is located. Housing is an extremely pressing question in the UK, and in London in particular. A combination of factors including successive Government policies such as Right to Buy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Buy), insufficient house building, and a growing private rental sector have led to a situation where more and more people are finding London too expensive to live in or are being moved to other parts of the country. Yet when we talk about the problem, we often do so from our own perspectives as tenants, landlords, builders, or home owners, and from our own time.
Researching the history of Somers Town brings up uncanny correspondences between the Victorian era and our own. If HS2 goes ahead, large numbers of people, their communities and businesses, will be displaced from the area. Yet this won’t be the first time this has happened: between 1800 and 1890, Somers Town was transformed from countryside to a densely-populated urban landscape, and the building of the stations of Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston displaced thousands of people. Moreover, the language that characterises so much contemporary discourse about who gets to live where and why - the government’s rhetoric of ‘shirkers and strivers’ surrounding the Bedroom Tax (or ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ as they prefer to call it), for example - is an echo of Victorian talk of the deserving and undeserving poor, resonating across two centuries.
By giving them the opportunity to take on the roles of some of the people who inhabited Victorian Camden - landowners and industrialists, dustmen or costermongers - The Lowland Clearances will help players think about how Somers Town has come to be the way it is. We hope they’ll think about who benefited and who lost out, why decisions got made, and how those decisions still have an influence on the present. Yet more than this, we hope that exploring the past will illuminate the current housing situation in London, and give people new ways of thinking about what sort of future they want for their city and its people.