Cuban crisis LARP | Theory | For businesses
(1) Cuban crisis LARP (how I became Nikita Khrushchev)
That day in early May in Bydgoszcz, Polan, I became Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet's First secretary during the era of Cold war. My fellow Soviets addressed me as Nikita, they followed my orders. The Americans, led by J.F.K, looked into my eyes while Nikita was speaking.
I participated in a LARP (live-action role play) called Cuban crisis by Krzysztof Chmielewski, Polish professional LARP designer and trainer, and was given the role of Nikita Khrushchev. Now, I have never met the gentleman myself, but I could feel his personal characteristics merging with my personality, plugging onto my being and using my body-mind. But I could also feel myself being powered by Nikita's energetic personality and generally driven by him. A strong character immersion, indeed!
I can say the character is not like me. So becoming Nikita meant forgetting about my idea of myself and letting him run the show, using me as the vessel. Surely there is a psychologist out there to remind me, that there was no real Nikita, it was 'only' my projections of Nikita, thus I was playing a game with myself. Yes, I agree, of course. But when the character immersion runs smoothly, deep and fast, there is actually no knowing of where the projections shoot from. The unconscious? Imagination? The collective unconscious? Does knowing the source, the reality, make any difference results-wise?
But the effect it had on my co-players, our study group - everybody saw me as a great leader after that game. Because, being Nikita, I was a great leader.
MichaŁ Mochocki, a professor at Bydgoszcz's Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego and one of our study group's facilitator, wrote: "Cuban crisis is a LARP focused on the training of soft skills (negotiation, leadership, problem solving, decision making) for professionals. The game is designed for 12 characters, 6 Soviets and 6 Americans.
The groups would never meet until the very end of the game, physically separated in different rooms. We were lucky to have access to rooms which matched the stereotypical theme of US and USSR: the Americans sat in a congressional room with long U-shaped row of tables equipped with microphones; the Russians sat at a desk on an elevated podium facing empty rows of seats in the audience, and used chalk to write on the traditional blackboard. Both groups had a laptop with Skype to role play direct phone calls.
The Americans went in-character immediately – with the Russians it took longer, and they were overwhelmingly dominated by the leader (Nikita Khrushtshev). Still, after half hour also the Russian team with their dictator got immersed in the play, finding fun and challenge in role playing the political and interpersonal interactions. Even now, two weeks after the game, in our online communication they sometimes mockingly address one another with the character's names and refer to in-game events.
What has larp to do with gamification? Not much, usually. Unless you want gamification done 'right', with a meaningful narrative, immersion, and social dynamics as opposed to the points-badges-leaderboards cliche. My subversive idea is to see larp as 'gamified drama'."
If we get a chance to talk face to face, please remind me to tell you the story of how our friend Petros became Raul Castro and demanded that Kennedy provides him with some American women ;)
(2) Little theory: Nordic and Arthaus
I decided to share the experience first, thus creating soil to plant the theory into.
What is a LARP?
A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters' actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called game masters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play. LARPs range in size from small private events lasting a few hours to huge public events with thousands of players lasting for days.
LARP as a game
In a game, you have actors who utilize rules in order to gain resources. In a larp, you have the actors or players who utilize a given set of rules and conventions. Information is the main resource. With information the actors/players can accomplish the given goals of their roles.
According to the classification, larp is a game with a strong element of Mimicry. Mimicry is concerned with theatre, roles, masks and disguise, while Ilinx is the category for dancing and ritualistic games.
But how strong is the presence of rules and conventions in larp? It is possible to claim that larp is almost free of rules and conventions. After all, it focuses mainly on the actor’s free improvisation. There are even fewer rules than in theatrical plays, where the actors’ scripts can be perceived as rules.
I personally see LARPs can be classified as:
- Mainstram (classical)
- >fiction (FRP, Nordic)
- >existing narrative (game, book) based
- >historical (Cuba)
- Arthaus (Parliament)
- Therapeutical (Boal's Forum theatre)
- Applied (abstracts from a real-life situation, transcends the narrative to fiction)
Mainstream, nordic LARP type
Simply put, nordic LARP represents mainstream larping.
The idea of live role-playing reached the Nordic countries in the early 80s, but it was not until the early 90s that we could speak of a ”tradition”, ”style” and ”community” of larpers. While each country invented their larp style independently, they soon got in touch with each other and ideas, players and even larps crossed borders. After Knutepunkt appeared, Nordic integration got a lot tighter and it became possible to speak of a ”Nordic scene”.
What makes a mainstream, nordic LARP:
- Scenography: a lot of Nordic larps play a high emphasis on scenography, to the point where medieval villages are built for fantasy larps and professional theatre scenographers design the stage for arthaus larps. Sweden is the most scenery-obsessed country in this regard.
- Costume: Costume design and sewing is, especially in Sweden and Norway, seen as an indispensable part of live role-playing. It is not unusual for players to work for months, even hand-sewing, on a proper costume for a mere four days of play. Once again, the Swedes are the leading extremists.
- Minimal game mechanics: Nordic larps in general use none or very simple, unobtrusive, game mechanics. The honour system – whereby players trust each other to improvise appropriately rather than resort to rules – is the basis of most larps even though some use simple guidelines for things like combat and magic.
- Little combat: Puzzle-solving, diplomatic intrigue, human events (a marriage, a funeral, village life) and atmosphere tend to take precedence over the fighting that seems to dominate larps in many other countries. “Boffer” weapons, made with latex, are often brought to larps but rarely used. The last-day battle or the nightly raids of enemies are used as adrenaline kicks in some, not all, larps.
- Peristent role-playing
- Genre: fantasy
Nordic arthaus LARPs
aka “artistic larps”, “progressive larps”, “experimental larps”, “indrama” and “weird larps”
Differing from mainstream:
- Non-genre game world, without anything supernatural or futuristic
- Incorporation of moral/political themes
- Blurring the distinction between larp, theater and art
- Focus on actually being the character (immersion) a the expense of just fun and games, pshysical comfort and (possibly) sanity.
- LARP design principles grounded in theory/ideology
Big shout out to the Knutepunkt community (source of this little theory).
(3) For business
Can you imagine using LARPs for purposes other than fun? Let me chip in some ideas:
- LARP as a method of training soft skills
- LARP as a method of solving organizational complex issues (see applied LARP type above)
- LARP as a safe and controlled environmet to explore the underexplored characteristics of one's persona
- LARP as a tool for team transformation
- LARP as a tool for deep understanding of a historical/fictional/living organization, idea or person
How would it change you, if you understood deeply what being a king is all about? Can you imagine what some of the world's greatest leaders had to face while writing history? What would it feel like to transpose your company's issue into a new drama, and develop a solution in a new setting? Can you think of a better method to assess an individual applying for a management position (think assessment centres running LARPs)?
"When people put on new masks, their masks dissolve."
Simply said, put someone in a new role and explain it's a game, and watch them show their true colours and the span of their personality.
Coming back to Nikita, I testify: Cuban crisis gave me more skill in team leadership and negotiations in 2 hours, than professional business trainings usually give in 20 hours. Not to mention how well I got to know my team mates.
>> We are forming an international LARP4Business network. Please let me know if you wish to engage and get to know larping better.
p.s. I have just returned from Poznan, Poland, where we ran an international training for new LARP designers. This shall be the topic of my next post.