Welcome to PanoptiCorp – A satirical ad-agency larp

Pete PS under PanoptiCorp 2013

A normal day at work. Pete PS (Petter Karlsson) and Jes Sic (Josefin Westborg) pitches a crazy concept to morally corrupt clients. In-game. Photo: Cosmic Joke

The Danish organizer Claus Raasted missed larp PanoptiCorp in 2003. Ten years later, he decided that the larp should be put up again and in June 2013 the cynical advertising agency PanoptiCorp was once again created. The result was an intense 36-hour experience with participants from all over Europe. In addition, some filmmakers who were also attending put together a mini-documentary about the larp. Welcome to the opening of PanoptiCorp’s new Copenhagen office.

Table of contents

Video documentation
Story
Setup

Techniques used
– Social media
– NPC Customers
– Functional play

Organizer thoughts
Player thoughts

Further reading
– Blog posts
– News articles
– Other

Video documentation

While PanoptiCorp was a great experience, I was also very happy that the English production Cosmic Joke behind the upcoming larp documentary Treasue Trapped came and made a mini- documentary about the larp as part of the film project. In the video below, other participants and I describe the larp and also talk a lot about why we do it. I seldom see documentation of such high quality, so big kudos to Cosmic Joke.

Story

The big advertising firm PanoptiCorp is going to open a new office in Copenhagen. The board has put together a team of experienced “corpers” that are flown in and hand picked locally. Some are high skilled veterans and others are new potential talent.

PanoptiCorp is not a normal job. It is a lifestyle. You live at work. And you are ready to work 24 hours if needed. Cred and cash are what matter.

PanoptiCorp is the world’s leading PR-Marketing-Advertising firm. Through labels such as Eisenstahl Media and NexSec Subvertising, and units in every major city of the industrialized world, we are able to provide comprehensive solutions in the fields of brand building, market manipulation, public opinion engineering and civil society redesign.

Setup

Along with a bunch of other Swedes, I went to Copenhagen to larp an advertising agency. Together, we started up the new office of PanoptiCorp. Some played veterans and others their first day on the job. It was intense, fun and thought-provoking. Customers with new projects appeared on site, via Skype or phone around the clock.Over the course of the larp, each player worked on at least one project. Usually three simultaneously.

We portrayed an advertising agency without morals. Few projects felt like something we would have liked to work for in reality, but at PanoptiCorp we had to deliver because if you delivered something that managers and customers liked, then you increased in status. Literally.

Approximately every 8 hours we voted on who in the office was “Hot” and who was “Not”. After the poll, which was done digitally, the results were presented on a screen that was always visible. The managers always had the last word. Those who were “Hot” increased their status and got the more exciting projects. Those who where deemed “Not” experienced the opposite. Status was highly important and could change incredibly fast.

Hot_Not-Board

There was a constant pressure against what would happen in Hot -Not vote. A mood of tactical game, like a reality soap, arose prior to each session. In-game. Photo: Cosmic Joke

In PanoptiCorp you’ll be woken up by a phone call at 03:26 from a customer who needs a campaign idea for limiting the freedom of the press, and you’ll be required to be at your desk five minutes later, looking sharp and smiling like a winner. This is a larp that takes the empty smiles and ruthless morality of the advertising industry one (or maybe three) steps further. It’s supposed to be fun, engaging and thought- provoking.

As the larp continued around the clock you could either choose to sleep as your character or “going off game”, which meant you went to a room where the larp was not going on and you slept undisturbed. You could choose your own level of participation and sometimes I really needed to take that break.

The larp started on the afternoon of Friday 14th June and then continued until Sunday. At 12 o’clock on  the Sunday after about two days of hard work our characters received an email:

panoptimail

IMPORTANT OFF-GAME INSTRUCTIONS

Dear players – fasten your seat belts, we are preparing for landing. Here are your end-of-game instructions:

1. Stay silent from now on until the countdown has ended. Nonverbal interactions (smiling, pointing, hugging) are OK.

2. Take your time, but no more than 10 minutes. Take a last look at your characters world. If you have some last-minute roleplaying to do: a googleplus update, a final comeback, a loose thread to tie up – do it now. This is an exception to instruction #1.

3. When you are ready, walk out the door and out of the back yard, and across the street. We will gather on the square in silence. Once we’re all out, we’ll return to Huset for countdown.

Love and care from,
The organizers

One after another, people read the email and started following the instructions. The participant each took the time they felt was needed before leaving the area. After some hugging outside the venue we returned in for a very well organized debrief which was done in several smaller groups.

During the debrief the “Third person rule” was used. It was new to me but I have used in it for several debriefs afterwards.

The third-person rule: it is forbidden, post larp, to refer to any in-game actions in the first (“I did…”) or second (“you did…”) persons. Only third person (“your character did” / “My character did”).

From “Notes on Kutt, Brems and Emotional Safety” by Eirik Fatland. Read more about debriefing and larp aftercare at the Nordic Larp Wiki.

I felt like the organizer did take good care of the participants afterwards as this indeed was a strong game with big emotional impact. They could maybe have done more but from what I saw it was well taken care of.

Techniques used

Social media

PanoptiCorp was also played around the clock in the digital world. All players had created a Google account profile for their characters. This meant that everyone had an email with which they communicated with colleagues, customers and managers. In-game emails were sent with quickly written copy texts and projects were delivered.

panopticorp-peteps

Most fun was probably Google+ Group. Google+ is Google ‘s equivalent to Facebook, and here we had a hidden group where people were either constantly trying to brag about having succeeded with a pitch or focused on mocking other characters. But it was also a place where there were links on the “latest and hot”and a collective judgment or tribute could occur if you have set up the “right kind of funny picture.”

NPC customers

An NPC is a “Non-Player-Character”. That means someone who participates in some way usually coordinated by the game masters and not on the same basis as the regular participants. On PanoptiCorp we where 30 players who acted as the office. Thanks to the amazing work by the organizer, we had 54 people from 10 countries who acted as customers either by physically visiting the office in Copenhagen or by contacting us via Skype or email. This  created a great “us and them”-feeling and an a strong realism in that you never knew who could pop up and how a customer would react.

Functional play

Another really good thing is that we used “functional play”. Some in the office worked with customer relations and writing contracts while others did reasearch or copywriting. I was working with design and rapid concept sketches. The idea was that we would never actually produce anything, but rather create concepts – only something very quick, in draft form, in order to get it assessed internally.After the initial conpect design, a slightly more detailed concept might be created and presented for approval by the customer, if the managers thought it was good enough. This meant that the participants always had a tangible task to work with, even if they were not particularly good at creating advertising. I want to compare it with my experience of the Battlestar Galactica larp – The Monitor Celestra where many players had a profession that they actually could play out. It can create a really nice realistic feel, but it’s also a really good for enabling participants to keep themselves busy and then create play and interactions through their work.

All PanoptiCorp characters are competent in their field. Don’t let this limit you too strongly when you look for that perfect role for you and this larp.Your character doesn’t have to be all that specialized, but we don’t need slackers or “The Shy Girl”. You only need to be able to bluff your way through your characters field, if she has one. Talk some of the lingo, know the basics. And most important, look cool and confident.

Organizer thoughts

I asked the two game-master from this year to give a comment each about the larp.

Claus Raasted
Main organizer, Rollespilsfabrikken

claus-raasted

I didn’t hear about it until after 2003, and then I thought “Damn, I wanted to have been there”

I decided that I wanted to do a re-run, and the idea floated around for some time. Then in 2012 I talked to several of the original organizers in a more “now it’s happening” manner, and ended up making a decision on actually doing it.

But the main reason for re-doing it was that I thought it was brilliantly well-designed. Flexible. Meaningful. Easy to run. Interesting. Powerful. Fun.

I loved it.

And ended up doing something a lot darker and tougher than the original, and learning a LOT about differences between Danish larp “givens” and Norwegian ones.

Eirik Fatland
Game master on PanoptiCorp 2013 and one of the main organizers of the original run in 2003.

eirik-fatland The 2003 PanoptiCorp was a humorous dystopia, a dark and exaggerated version of the world we already lived in. It was the product of a hive-mind, an organiser collective who did not agree on that much in terms of larp or politics but who still agreed a lot on what the larp should contain. What the content, in turn, actually means is a question best left for individual organisers or players. I tend to see the essence of PanoptiCorp as the moment when you, the player, observe your character in the mirror and ask: “how much of this is me?”

I am proud of PanoptiCorp. It is neither genre, nor derivative. It makes unique statements about the world that could not be made as literature or film or game. It is exactly what we, in the 90s, hoped larp could become.

I am also troubled by the larp. Some of those who attended the 2003 edition found the emotional cost higher than what they signed up for. Some of those who attended the 2013 run regret doing so. The larp’s light-weight and comedic surface is painted on top of a fairly brutal core, much like the industries it satirizes.

I think the 2013 edition inherited and highlighted two flaws in PanoptiCorp’s design. For one, it is difficult – in practical and organisational terms – to run a fake advertising agency where all players/employees are simultaneously gainfully employed. There are cracks in the design. It is easy to fall through them without anyone noticing, and not much an individual player can do about it.

Secondly: The conflicts you are exposed to are those of status-hunting and maintaining face and performing under pressure and fearing rejection. Bullying and being bullied. Discovering that your passions have a price attached. These are not the hardest things you can experience as a human. But they are, for most of us, very close to home.

I think PanoptiCorp, both for the sake of gameplay and player experience, would benefit from more distance. In 2003 the character development method felt aesthetically weak, in 2013 it was almost absent. I’m focusing my redesign efforts on a new character development method, to ease immersion and strengthen alibi, and on mechanics that enhance comedy and make characters less dependent on their player’s skillset to compete.

It is a great honour for a larp to be re-run, and I should also point out that there were some ways (location, content, NPCs) in which the 2013 edition vastly surpassed the original. I hope we haven’t heard the last of PanoptiCorp.

Player thoughts

Josefin Westborg
Playing Jes [Sic] ex famous blogger now working as a “spotter”, someone who finds the new trends.

jessic

Jes Sic. In-game. Photo: Cosmic Joke

Most stuff in larps we can fake. Stuff that we just have to perform. But you can not fake creating ideas. The ideas will always be your own. That is really scary, when they are being judged. It also affected the level of immersion for me. It is really hard to stay in your character when you are under a lot of pressure. At the same time as you got something to do you also had to deliver, and the only place you have to draw from is yourself. That makes it really hard for me to get into the character, because I was so busy getting in to the work that was supposed to be delivered. But in one way it also made the illusion feel more real, there was always a deadline to produce for.

I thought it was great to have so much to do but you also came to realize that you would not be able to keep it up in that tempo for very long. I see a lot of parallels to the real world and how we look at employment today. It really makes me a bit scared. Is PanoptiCorp where we will and up? I really hope it isn’t so.

Petter Karlsson
Playing Pete Steehn Graffman (Pete P.S) working as an up and coming designer.

peteps

Petter during player interview. Off-game. Photo: Cosmic Joke

I am grateful to the organizers for the game being held again and I really hade a great and strong experience. Re-runs of great larps is really happening this year in it is a great thing. Crazy fun doing absurd pitches and playing out extreme ad-agency stereoptypes. But It also was a larp that made me think.

The thing that fuelled most thoughts afterwards was not the total lack of morals. That felt like something I knew about before and something that it was fun to play with. Instead, I reflected a lot afterwards about the constant quest for status. Something that I think that I do myself. Both in larping circuits and others. How to “do the right thing” and who spend time with to “be in the right circles”. Of course we all, in one way or another, want to receive external validation, the question is perhaps how and why we want to be seen. PanoptiCorp reminded me of that.

Further reading

Blog posts

We soon discovered that this larp wasn’t about points or weapons like we’d seen before, this was about ‘being’ in Panopticorp; being the Head of the Office, being the junior worker trying to climb the career ladder, being the hot new artists and illustrators trying to keep their heads above water and winning pitches.

Cosmic Joke – Cosmic Jokes Does Copenhagen Part 1 – LARP Culture Shock
Cosmic Joke – Cosmic Jokes Does Copenhagen Part 2 – PanoptiCorp Opens
Cosmic Joke – Cosmic Jokes Does Copenhagen Part 3 – The Plot Thickens
Cosmic Joke – Cosmic Jokes Does Copenhagen Part 4 – The End
The filmmakers Cosmic Joke writes about their experience to see larp from a new perspective.

PanoptiCorp’s portrayal of capitalism is a satire, and it is easy to see what it criticises and how. You don’t have to experience it to see evil side.

Ludosofy – PanoptiCorp, part 1: the Soul of a Corper
Ludosofy – PanoptiCorp, part 2: When Now Is Too Late

This style of larp is an open door; anything can be larped, from a futuristic fast food shop to a political prison camp.  Most Nordic larps are very free-form and easy to understand from a mechanical standpoint. If you can portray the character, you can play, no weapons, spells, or hours of rules research necessary.

I was deeply satisfied with the LARP, and found it very intense, as well as very good fun at times. It’s the only RPG-experience I can think of that has made me shed a tear. I’m glad that I’ve identified Kicks, and somewhat repulsed by the thought that he’s part of me.

OPG – Panopticorp a media satirical larp
Norwegian Ole Peder Giæver wrote about the 2003-run.

Spridda observationer – Sanning och sensation, del 2: Bisarrt rollspel (In Swedish)

News articles

Nordic-style larps are different from your typical fare by being incredibly accessible; you don’t need to know spells, or stats, or even many rules, you can just turn up and pretend to be someone else, in a game that could be about anything.

Kotaku – Role-Playing Not As A Warrior, But As A…Guy In A Suit Doing Cocaine

“The idea of the gamers being ‘contestants’ is a strange way of putting it,” he continued. “This is more like collective performance art. There is nothing to win. It is simply playing pretend in a safe environment.”

The Copenhagen Post – Story as real as role play

Daily Mail – It’s not exactly Trivial Pursuit

Larping.org – 15 Minutes of Panopticorp; ‘An Advertisement Agency from Hell’ Larp

 It’s a really intriguing look at an unusual phenomenon if you have 15 minutes to spare during your lunch break.

Agency-spy: Check Out This Mini-Documentary About Satirical LARP Agency, ‘PanoptiCorp’

PanoptiCorp 2013 - Apple Daily Video

《PanoptiCorp》真人騷遊戲在哥本哈根一個攝影室進行,40位「同事」要為黑心企業及大軍閥服務,例如度橋推廣由兒童玩偶製成的性玩具、為殘暴獨裁者做形象工程等等。為求逼真,參加者還要假裝有毒癮,或大搞辦公室性關係。

Apple Daily Hongkong – 扮吸毒亂搞關係
真人騷過火 玩家崩潰

Apple Daily Hongkong – 【短片】真人實境版角色扮演 玩家太入戲崩潰

Resume: Bisarrt rollspel – spelade reklamhöjdare 50 timmar i sträck (In Swedish)

Inlajv.se – Välkommen till PanoptiCorp (In Swedish)
This article was previous posted on Swedish larp magazine Inlajv.se

Other

PanoptiCorp at the Nordic Larp Wiki

PanoptiCorp – Promotional larp website

Back to table of contents

7 thoughts on “Welcome to PanoptiCorp – A satirical ad-agency larp

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