Sunday, March 17, 2013

I spent last weekend in space. How was your weekend?

Last weekend (March 8-10) I had the geekiest, most fun and rewarding experience I can remember doing, pretty much ever. For three days, I was in space on a spaceship in the Colonial Fleet. Let me tell you about it. 
Ship's insignia

I am a fan of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (BSG), one of the best shows that has been on television in my opinion, up there with The West Wing and Star Trek: TNG. I follow a BSG forum on Facebook and in January noticed an item that looked interesting. A group in Sweden was creating a real life game based on the BSG universe. They would create costumes for participants, rig a 1950s Swedish destroyer to look like a space ship and come up with the story line to be played out over the course of a weekend. 

That sounded pretty cool. I wavered about doing it, but my wife encouraged me. Hennie said "You have to do this. You will regret it forever if you don't." As usual, she was right. 
Initial briefing outside the ship
This is called a larp (live action role play). I had never heard that word before, and googled it, expecting it to be some Swedish term. It turns out that larping is a huge scene pursued by thousands of people, with all sorts of sub cultures (black box larping, fantasy larps, medieval larps...). I had heard of medieval fairs or war re-enactors but that kind of thing never interested me. This sounded, and was different. The group organizing this event did a huge amount of preparation to create a realistic, involving and engaging experience. I really feel, no I know, that I was in space, fighting Cylons and finding a way to live together with refugees from the other colonies. 

A prop notebook 
This would be a Nordic larp, which emphasizes improvisation and emotional involvement more than winning or competition. One of the Italians I met on the boat described their preconceptions about Nordic larping as "People crying in a corner because their character is so sad." Most people were shocked when I said that this was my first larp. Most have been doing it for years, and treated this one as the ultimate experience they had been building up to. 

A few weeks ahead of the event, I got a short overview of the character I would play: Rishi Antall, a sublight engineer on the Celestra crew. I was encouraged to fill in more details myself within the guidelines of the character sketch. A week or two later I received a more detailed outline which also described the political and social environment I would be in. 

I already knew most of the background from watching BSG. In the BSG timeline, this event would start just after the mini series and before "33" for those who know it. A lot of the Celestra story deals with Tauron culture, so I ordered the Caprica series on DVD. Caprica is a far inferior prequel to BSG, but it has useful information about what it is like to be a Tauron. 

Me and my fellow sublight engineers. 
I got to Gothenburg on Thursday March 7 and met up with some of the other sublight engineers. The next morning, I got my costume and we set off of the ship.  We got some final instructions and went aboard. 

Torpedo console
 The organizers had done a marvellous job kitting out an old Swedish destroyer to be a ship in the Colonial Fleet. Many of them were game designers I found out later, so they built custom consoles for helm, navigation, torpedo control, power distribution and damage control. The atmosphere on board was exactly how I expect an interstellar space ship would be. 

Engine room
Galactica and Celestra officers in Ops/CIC
I would spend most time in the engine room and at the power distribution console. We quickly figured out the tradeoffs of which function (helm, communications, damage control, weapons...) should get how much power, how hard to run the reactor, battery charge level and waste buildup. The engine room had lots of satisfying levers to throw and knobs to twist that we associated with various ship operations. 

Ladder to engine room
From the time we entered, the organizers made sure there was plenty to do, with military officers from the Galactica coming on to our civilian vessel to "help" us (that did not go down well), Cylon attacks, religious fanatics uprising and a corporation seizing control of parts of the ship. 

While some events were initiated by the organizers, each participant (there there 120 of us aboard) chose what they wanted to do. There were suggestions and some expectations derived from your role on board, but each person created their own story. 

Aftermath of the shootout
And there were LOTS of stories. Rishi got involved in a Holoband session with some cousins he didn't know he had where he found out why his mother left her clan, a rebellion where the engineers took a politician hostage, and later on in the game a bloody shootout associated with a criminal organization that was on the road to becoming a force for good. Those were just the ones I was involved in. 

While the broad outlines of the story were defined ahead of time, each character's story arc was completely up to each individual. There were at least 20 other story lines going at any one time. I didn't hear about most of them until the after-party. There were Cylon interrogations, religious rumblings, a (possibly) fixed election, execution of a Tauron sympathizer, sacrifices and love affairs. I learned about many of them afterwards at the after party or reading the discussion forums for participants. 
Damage control console

The overall story is too complicated to describe (if you are familiar with BSG, you know that nothing is ever black and white, and it is always complicated), but it was masterfully done by the organizers. It fit perfectly into the BSG world and enough surprises to amaze the participants. Another participant did a great write up on his blog both from the character's perspective and from his own as an experienced larper. I copied that idea to write a blog entry from Rishi's point of view.   
Me, post-game. The bandages indicate where
I got my ultimately fatal wounds. 

The biggest revelation to me was the idea of larping. Everyone was committed to creating a great, believable experience even if it meant something bad for your own character. It felt like an extended theatrical improvisation, except it was aimed at us, not at an audience. I saw and experienced deep and moving emotions as participants discovered things about their characters and themselves. I was able to get totally into a character who is very different from myself, taking actions instinctively that were right for him, but I would never do. 

Some larps are built around a quest (Free the princess, defeat the dragon...) but we were encouraged to "play to lose." If everyone wants to win, the game gets boring. It is far better to make your character lose if it makes for a good scene. 

I am not sure that I will be pursuing the larper lifestyle after this because I am not sure I would be interested in most of the subjects they explore. It would also be hard to top this experience. But I would highly recommend this particular one. 

Thanks to the photographers I linked to in this. Most of them are mine, but I borrowed some from a communal photo board. I am not sure who took them. 

1 comment:

Claus Raasted said...

Excellent review, Jeff.

Thanks for sharing!

- Claus