Tuesday 2 October 2018

A Game For All Seasons

September has now sauntered off the calendar and into history, so it's time for a blog post celebrating what I got up to during its blustery, somewhat sodden days.

It was mostly a month of working on projects I can say very little about, three of which are for Chaosium, Inc., and one for Green Ronin (a late entry that sneaked in just under the wire on the final weekend.) There's been very little writing going on, because all of the jobs were on the editorial side of things: actual editing, proofing, art direction, and development.

There was also a fair bit of research reading happening for a project slated for sometime next year. Although it's unlikely I'll be doing much writing for it, I'm probably going to be its lead, so I need to know enough about it to choose the right authors and create an outline that will be interesting and useful in game terms. But again, not much I can really tell you about that one as of this moment. (Although some of you may well be able to guess what it is, seeing as I publicly volunteered myself for it several years ago.)

A goodly bit of the month was gearing up for a LARP. Set during World War II, Wing and a Prayer followed a day in the lives of WAAF plotters at a World War I aerodrome pressed into service after the destruction of that area's main base. (And yes, it did take place on an actual World War I aerodrome: Stow Maries in Essex.) Most of the characters would be women (at least two-thirds), while the male characters would be pilots in the RAF responding to what the plotters were getting up to. Indeed, the tagline for the event was "A Woman's Place is in the War."

I'd signed up for the LARP precisely because it was about putting women front and centre of the experience, with the men attending very much as the supporting cast. Although many LARPs now are at gender parity in terms of attendance, focusing on the war time experiences of women doing such a challenging job was, as far as I knew, a unique opportunity.

Costuming proved to be a bit of a so-and-so, and caused much anxiety. Trying to get hold of surplus women's RAF costume (not quite authentic, but near enough for a weekend's LARPing) was difficult anyway, but getting it in anything other than small dress sizes proved to be impossible, leaving many of us feverishly sewing two skirts together or inserting extra panels to get things to fit. Given the unfortunate presence of the "costume police" at many LARP events, I was doubly stressed, as I've been on the end of various withering comments over the years about not having sufficiently accurate clothing and props. And then you have the whole brigade who don't think plus-sized women should LARP anyway because they're fat and look ugly in costume, spoiling it for all the beautiful people in their immaculate cosplay outfits.

I love to see cosplay, but to me it isn't LARPing - not on its own, at least. If you want to really go for it in the costume stakes at a LARP because that's what you enjoy - wonderful! Just accept that not everyone has the figure, time, skills or money to be able to do the same. It should be the roleplaying that's the most important element, but some people seem to forget that at times...

Anyway, thankfully, the costume police were noticeably absent from the event, and the hodge-podge nature of everyone's costumes lent it an even more authentic "make do and mend" air, completely appropriate for a World War II event. Everyone looked wonderful, and the black and white pictures produced by the event photographer quite often make you double-take as to whether they're genuine period ones or not.

 And as for the refs: they really knocked it out of the park. Not only had they gone to the trouble of building a working oscilloscope to act as a Chain Home radar screen, they'd wired the entire barn so people were in radio communication with other spotting stations (NPCs feeding us the necessary information) and with the pilots in the various RAF flights. The pilots, once scrambled, were in a separate room carrying out their sorties on what was basically a flight simulator, with the outcome of dogfights handled by a card mechanic, with the decks stacked depending on how well we plotters had done our jobs.

It was a tremendously immersive, exhausting and remarkable LARPing experience, very much rooted in the routine of being a plotter and having to handle the tremendous amount of information that was being thrown at you during a raid. We actually managed to break two bells, we were so enthusiastic when scrambling the pilots!

I'd always admired the plotters and the work they'd done (my Great Aunt's best friend was one), but having had just the tiniest fraction of their experience, under completely controlled conditions, made me realise just what an astounding job they did, under great pressure and with very little training. Watching the blokes come in during the final raid (100+ bombers heading for London during the Blitz) when it was all hands on deck, and seeing the realisation dawning on them of just what we'd been doing all weekend, and the admiration that followed, was quite something.

Bleed can be an issue after LARPing, particularly the emotionally-charged, Nordic style ones, but this event seems to have affected people in a very profound way; I suspect because of the intensity of the experience and the camaraderie it built amongst the various plotter shifts as we all pulled together to make the best of it. Hiding under a table during a blackout as German bombers thundered over head, unsure if we were their target, someone took hold of my hand in the darkness and asked if I was alright. It was a small moment, but very moving, and unlike anything I'd had before in all my years of LARPing. (The refs had rigged cameras in the Ops Room so they could keep an eye of everyone and make sure they were coping with their duties, and that moment of us all taking shelter caught them completely by surprise - they'd not expected it, but it just added to the whole atmosphere immensely.)

As a gamer, I have been lucky enough to play with some wonderful people and witness the creativity and passion of a talented bunch of folks exploring and evolving their hobby. Some of these experiments don't always work, but when they do, they are really exceptional. Not all gaming has to be profound and meaningful - there needs to be room for the lighthearted, frivolous and escapist as well - but the fact that we have access to a game for all seasons, depending on our moods and needs,  is one of the reasons our hobby is so very special.

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