Posted by: Montola | April 20, 2009

Begyndelsen

The coolest pervasive thing I heard of in this Knutepunkt was the Danish collective pervasive larp campaign Begyndelsen (Eng. “The Beginning”) designed by Jonas Trier-Knudsen. The simple but effective formula goes like this:

  1. The players form groups of 4 people each.
  2. The people in the groups create character teams that investigate paranormal events.
  3. The groups also serve as organizer teams that stage paranormal events for other character teams.

In the beginning of the campaign, the participants had a workshop where they found out which themes were cool topics for the game (Nordic mythos: in, vampires: out), and after the workshop all organizer teams are free to explore these themes as they want.

Begyndelsen relies totally on player-created content. The cool thing is that the investigators define the ultimate truths of the game world. After the scenario is played, the characters report their findings to other characters. Everything that is said in the report is “true”, while all following discussions are “speculative”. Thus, a mythology emerges. Jonas told about a scene where one organizer group had created a satyr creature that the other players could encounter. However, the investigators concluded that there was no satyr demon, but merely a shaman dressed up in horns and furs. Their interpretation is now the fact of the matter which the future scenes will build on. Cleverly written reports of course always leave open questions and further leads to pursue.

Jonas called this karma larping: roughly speaking, for every scenario you organize, you get to play one as well. Give, and thou shalt receive. If you want to be a hyperactive player, you also have to be a hyperactive organizer. The only real job of the initiating GM is to make sure that teams are assigned to cases in a manner that maintains a proper karma balance. You can actually count karma points if you want to.

Begyndelsen is not the first pervasive larp going for communally created content: For instance in Helsinki there is a new weird campaign Neonhämärä (Eng. “Neon Twilight”) running on quite open-ended player creativity. But the beauty of Begyndelsen is its structured, formal and karma-based approach.

Oh. Jonas also emphasized that not all paranormal occurrences need to be your average pervasive larps. For example, a brief ARG thingy could also very well work as pleasurable game content for the other investigator teams. Also, there is nothing that would prevent international investigations from country to country.

When we talked with Jonas, Begyndelsen had apparently started winding down. They decided to break down the teams and allow players to self-organize freely, which  apparently broke the karma system to some extent. Obviously, a game like this only runs as long as people are motivated to create content for others to explore.


Responses

  1. Sounds extremely cool. It’s the effect we were aiming for in Agabadan, which also relied on player-created content (and distributed puppet mastery, just like Begyndelsen). The team organization seems to have worked out better in Begyndelsen, and the mission focus and initial co-creation has probably helped a lot in structuring the game.

  2. In my limited understanding, Begyndelsen was quite well defined right from the start; more or less everyone had a clue of what was the purpose and the vision of the game.

    I suppose the players of Neonhämärä and especially Agabadan have had harder time due to the more open-ended nature.

    However, I may have presented Begyndelsen above in a slightly too positive light. After all, that game started falling apart some two months after the start. Perpetual motion machine remains uninvented.

    – Markus

  3. This is really neat. Reciprocal services are core to a lot of community-organised leisure activities, not only larp. (Which I found out through interviewing people from very different organisations and wrote about in an appendix to an IPerG report – what a stupid place to hide that observation!)

    Making those structures sustainable over time is HARD, and seem to require some kind of reputation system. Both individuals and teams somehow need to earn fame from hanging in there over time, both because fame is fun and because these organisations run on competence. Feeling competent was a major motivation factor in my interviews…

  4. @Matthijs: Begyndelsen was indeed very inspired by Agabadan. E.g. your lesson about participants having to physically meet before the game, was the reason that we insisted on this.

    It’s very true that Begyndelen has yet to succeed in finding that ingenious trick that keeps us all motivated throughout the game.

    One thing that seemed to work well however was that the writing of the game design wasn’t a closed process. During the months leading up to the launch, a series of meetings were held where we discussed the design and changed it.

    This way – thirty something people ended up having a say in how we were going to play and possibly helped fuel the collective vibe, so crucial for a game like this.

    -Trier

  5. So cool to hear about Jonas’ experiences with this. Also, Annika’s thoughts on reward systems are something to consider.

    We’re talking about a new Agabadan these days, so let’s see what happens. It might be very different from last time, though.

  6. Jonas also mentioned that one of the central building block of this approach is open endedness. The players were instructed to always leave something open in their interpretations. “There was the shaman, but we did not understand the relevance of some of his gestures.” Also, they were instructed to always include “the red plastic cup” in the scenes they created. This means that emergence and coincidence was fostered by including something random, something mysterious, in the scenes that were played. Something that was open for interpretation.

    Juhana Pettersson has talked about a similar thing as “the mystery”. All art requires something that you can’t quite explain away (think about the film Mulholland Drive for example). Otherwise it is just a puzzle to be cracked.

  7. I am part of one of the more active groups participating in “Begyndelsen”. In our version of this type of game, I think it is difficult to determine, when it is over. In my view for example the game is still going on, although somewhat more loosely than before. For example, I’m meeting with my group this week to plan an event.

    Also, the frequency of game events need not be particularly high for it to remain present in some of the participants minds. I would claim that less than one a month is enough.

    Finally, I think the “onion model” where it is possible to engage in the game at different levels of involvement is inevitable in this type of game. Some players may be content to spend a small amount of time just browsing through discussions and reports.


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