Once a year, larpers gather in Paris to talk about their hobby, share tips and schmooze at the GNiales. Originally directed at a French-speaking audience of larp organizers and «players who want to become organizers», since last year the event has gotten much more international, with a full track of items in English. For me, this was a combination of old and new: the usual «let’s touch base with the Frenchies I always talk to online but never larp with» combined with an extra helping of «let’s (re-)connect with people I only saw as speakers at Nordic larp conventions but never in France». The theme this year was «mass larps», meaning there were more items than usual covering this topic (it’s not a very common style of game in France), but it was not intrusive either.
A day in Paris
A pilot event this year was inspired by the «A week in…» pre-events of the Nordic conventions and by requests from previous international attendees to both provide more time to socialize and leverage the fact that the convention was in motherfucking Paris, France, City of Lights etc. So on Friday the GNiales organizers arranged attendance at an investigation-visit of covered passageways in the center of Paris. I expected a lightweight touristic event, but this was actually a full-blown murder mystery/scavenger hunt. The «guide» was playing an NPC assistant to Vidocq, a famous gangster-turned-policeman in the 19th century. He introduced the time period, the case, grouped attendees in teams of 5-6 and gave us a pretty nifty booklet with many, many questions to answer. These ranged from general trivia to observation questions with answers in the neighborhood to riddles, all centered around the period and the case. Murder mysteries are big in France, so I expected us larpers to ace the thing but we actually came second and did not discover everything about the plot. So it was nice intellectual exercise, but because the various parts were time-limited, we couldn’t really enjoy this nice neighborhood for its own merits. There were relatively few attendees from the GNiales proper (less than 15) but it did work well as an ice-breaker, as team work under time pressure often does. It’s a pity no English-speakers were there, and the poor late coming Belgians had no chance to catch up with the complex investigation, but I think it’s a worthy concept to repeat next year.
One night in Paris
On Friday evening, participants gathered at the Dernier bar avant la fin du monde, Paris’ geeky theme bar. The ground floor decoration is full of R2D2 statues and comics posters, but the downstairs rooms take the concept further, with spaceship-like decoration, a Tardis doorway and a medieval-themed room. The best is probably the men’s room’s urinals that enable you to control video games with your pee. It was fun to run into Elge Larsson, whom I remembered from a media & larp panel at Solmukohta. He was not going to the convention proper but we could arrange both a full evening of larp conversation and a place to crash. With the mix of Italians, Germans and Nordics adding to the locals, it started feeling a lot like the pre-Solmukohta bar night. It was great to experience this feeling in Paris, and seeing veteran, traditional French organizers interacting with foreigners was really cool. Most of us got a bit drunk, but the famous Paris Metro delivered us home safely.
A big difference of the GNiales compared to the Knutepunt series is the number of program items presenting larp technologies or even actual hands-on crafting. As I like both the visual, material aspects of larp and the more conceptual and social side, I’m always torn to pick program items. In this case it got really tough because there were sometimes four parallel tracks, a first for this convention. Here are the items I attended:
Welcome & state of larp in France
A short recap on the French larp scene, from the point of view of FédéGN, the French larp federation. Roughly, 150 larp groups are part of it, representing 6000 players and 172 games were registered on their official calendar last year. Beyond this, they estimate that 500-600 games actually took place (e.g. many small, invite-only murder mystery type games), with 40 000-50 000 French people having larped at least once in their lives. They then highlighted important events of the year, two of which I covered in this blog post. I translated these speeches live into English, so it was interesting when they became political because it was the first time I was loudly repeating ideas that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Some things I took home:
- there are divisions in the French larp scene, so it’s important to focus on what makes the hobby unique, the creative part of making a story for others to live, or living a story ourselves, and possibly growing as persons from this experience
- people should refrain from focusing on different names, labels and techniques (e.g. mass larp, airsoft scenarios, murder mystery) but just focus on the common experience of living a story and proudly call it all larp (GN in French)
- differences should be used to enrich each other at events like the GNiales and not to say that one style is superior to the other.
Stop wasting energy in larp!
A tongue-in-cheek presentation by eXperience of Pareto’s 80-20 rule applied to larp organizing. It was a long list of funny real-fake examples of wasted organizer time: expensive fireworks that no player could see because game events took them somewhere else, plots that were so numerous people trashed most, amazing set decorations that was never discovered in game etc. Bottom line: focus on what gives you the most bang for your (time) buck. This whole presentation was actually a teaser outlining the problems, but the solutions were in another program item on «how to write a larp in 4 hours». As I had not planned to attend this one I didn’t, so I hope there will be debrief on electro-gn or workshop handouts on the GNiales website.
Pre-larp workshops, how and why
In a presentation I had missed at Solmukohta, workshop guru Peter Munthe-Kaas explained what pre-larp workshops are and how far they can be used. He then made it very practical by asking an organizer who was working on a game to tell us his design goals so that we could simulate pre-larp workshops for this game. I loved the energizer exercises and am now convinced that yes, you can get a decent larp character creation by the players, as a group, building interesting relationships while staying true to the organizer’s vision. And players will not be disappointed by their characters because they’ll get to play what they want to play. Part of it is building group, from the group of players as people, to group creation of characters. The former is more about getting to touch each other, have fun doing silly things with each other etc in theater-like warming up exercises. Then create individual characters using images or words as creativity boosters, establish status and other important dimensions for the particular game, e.g. who is the meanest, most powerful etc. It was all done in fast forward mode to fit the 3h time slot and I was not bored at all, which is quite a feat.
Alternate Reality Games
German ARG organizers Waldritter e.V.and Basa e.v. presented the type of games they organize for institutions like schools or companies, where players play themselves but reality starts to change, strange spies appear, call players on their cell phones, send them on treasure hunts through the cities etc. We were amazed at the positive response from authorities, e.g. the fact that you can arrange kidnapping scenes by explaining them the police of German cities in advance (in Switzerland they would just say no before the end of your sentence) or that local administrators give you access to off-limits underground tunnels etc.
Next: Cuddling with a bearded Danish wife! Russian electronics! Belgian beer!
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