Papers – Creating a surreal office larp

papers-fromgoodtogreat

In the spring of 2013 me and Martin Rother-Schirren sat down to create a larp. What started with themes of child’s play ended up with a larp that fooled around with office culture. This text make probably a lot more sense to you if you have played the larp. However, this is the story of Papers

Inspiration

The process that ended up in the larp Papers  started for me and Martin when we visited the Nordic larp conference Knudepunkt 2011 in Denmark. Gabriel Widing and Ebba Petrén from the group Nyxxx hosted the workshop Dance, Movement & Scores. A part of the workshop was to form an human assembly line in which a paper was passed between the the people in the line. One person crumbling the paper before sending it on, the next person straightening the papers out and then sending it on to the next person who crumbles it again. Then it continued like that with the whole line, and a lot of papers. After that exercise I kept wondering if that single thing could be extended into a larp.

AVATARVARO på Turteatern - Foto: Petter Karlsson

Avatarvaro at Turteatern 2012

Another important mark was the interactive play Avatarvaro. Once again by Nyxxx and first held at Turteatern in 2012. In the piece you walk around in an environment as an avatar being led by voices  received through headphones. You explore the scenography and the other avatars either alone, in pairs or as a group while interacting with each other. In one part of the piece you get an instruction to draw a geometric figure at the same time as your partner drew the same thing. This was then repeated a few times. Since you where drawing the same things but in a bit different ways the result created a simple yet interesting drawing. In the end of the play the drawings appeared and were presented as art pieces that could be bought.

Tova Gerge who later also became a part of Nyxxx wrote the play Papper (Papers) in 2005 which Martin saw at the time. It’s a story about a group of co-workers, stamping and archiving papers in an office but also about their relations. It also included assembly-line-like office work. One could think we could have come up with another name for our larp. We’ll have to claim we call our naming a homage.

So if you want to point in one direction in the question of where we got our inspiration: ➜ Nyxxx

At Orionteatern (The Orion Theatre) in 2012 I was also inspired by their surreal version of Orfeus. In their version of Orfeus an occurring theme was the building of a seemingly crazy an unnecessary project referred to as “The Project”.

Another important thing is the circus music by Georg Pommer. For some reason it just stuck with me at some point being silly, playful and energetic. After finding it I wondered if this could fit into any upcoming design.

Production

After having collaborated a few times in the past, me and Martin felt that we wanted to create something together again. It all went quite fast, we decided to design a chamber larp (a shorter larp played in one or a few hours) for the larp conference Knutepunkt 2013 in Norway.  After three evening meetings we had a working script. Both of us had been impressed by the stuff made by Nyxxx but were also just really eager to do something a bit physical and also fun. We mashed a lot of the inspiration we had been wandering with as described above.

Going from Good to Great in this larp overview from 12 April 2013

Going from Good to Great in this larp overview from 12 April 2013

Some early and scrapped ideas were that the larp should shift between the players being colleagues at an office and then turn into playing their inner childs, drawing drawings playing around on the floor. And not to forget also doing monologues. However, we did seem to manage to make it surreal anyhow.

An early focus was to create the first part of the larp into a sort of tutorial which meant very few rules needed to be explained, in fact the only rule explained is the in-game rule of “This is totally normal – it’s just something you do at the office”. This means that if you think what we are doing is weird, it is weird, but that’s just fine. Don’t worry.

As the larp goes on the participants learn how things work, create their characters and groups as a part of the larp, aiming for as much a seamless process as possible. All with the circus music of Georg Pommer in the background. We lead them between working with “The Project” and then back to breaks and then back again.

We also wanted to experiment with how little “larping” it actually could be. More doing things than talking. And if you where talking, what do you talk about in this office? In many larp where you have nothing to actually talk about at times – what are you supposed to do? Thankfully America has figured this out giving pointers to what to talk about during your break by your water cooler. Lists like this Do’s and Don’ts by the water cooler therefore became included in the larp.

A design challenge we took on was the scaling problem of chamber larps, how can you design something that can be run flexible with either few or many participants. Or if you have a signup to your larp and then you have participants dropping out before the start. The main thing we did to tackle this was to include the character creation in the larp and to include some things to do within the larp to make it run smooth if you would have a lot of players. Basically like in cards game you change how many cards you have on your hand if you are either 3 or 7 players, we in the script give advice to the larp director running it on how to alter the exercises to fit the number of participants in the run.

Papers can be viewed as dark and a critique of alienation at work, new public management and lean production methodology lead by mysterious consultants. Or maybe a cranked up telemarketing office. However it can also be viewed as childs play, creative and lust-filled. All in the view of the player.

Making the larp available online took some more time and it was not until the fall of 2014 we published it under a creative commons licence for anyone to freely download and play.

Larp runs

The larp premiered in Norway in 2013 and has since then been played in various other countries. Notably at Minsk Street Theatre Festival in 2013 in Belarus and in France in 2015 to which Stephane Rigoni translated the larp into French.

Papers at Knutepunkt in Norway April 2013

Papers at Knutepunkt in Norway April 2013

Player reactions

“Amazingly silly and funny and at the same time bloody fucking serious.”

“Papers is a total charmer. It’s an experiential masterpiece that grabs the player, spins him around madly and finally leaves him baffled: what just happened? My highest recommendations.”

“I think this was one of the most bizarre larps I’ve attend. Yet it, it mostly was so darn recognisable. The layers where shifting between confusion and clarity. After a while I experienced a revelation that gave some sort of meaningfulness to the meaninglessness.”

“I loved it. This game is for everyone who has ever been exposed to a decision at work that you thought was perplexing, Kafkaesque or just plain stupid. To me “Papers” refined corporate madness into “normality” and allowed me to laugh where I usually would clench my fists in anger. Having experienced a decade in the corporate jungle this game had a profoundly cathartic effect on me.”

“Just attended a larp about an office. I experienced confusion and meaninglessness. A constant result-focused process where buzzwords are used to motivate. Where it never is time for conversation about how and why. Where the breaks are filled with chit-chat about lowest neutral common denominator. It felt really good to have played this!”

“Fantastic music! Fantastic game!” 

Gallery

Hosting the larp Papers for Kulturkompaniet in Oslo.

A post shared by Petter Karlsson (@petterkarlsson) on

Spelade precis Papper på #STDH & deltagarna gick från GOOD till GREAT! #lajvsverige #lajv

A post shared by Petter Karlsson (@petterkarlsson) on

Credits

We would like to thank everyone who has contributed with feedback either by playing, hosting or co-hosting Papers.  An extra mention to Elin Gissén who was the first one playtesting the mechanics.

The works by the group NYXXX gave inspiration to the cornerstones of Papers. For this we would like to aim an extra round of thanks to Tova Gerge, Ebba Petrén & Gabriel Widing.

For feedback and proofreading we would like to thank Teresa Axner, Karl Bergström, Sarah Lynne Bowman, Martin Nielsen & Anders Östlund.

The lovely illustrations are made by the great Jesper Wallerborg Almerud.

Play it!

Download Papers today at paperslarp.wordpress.com so that you also can go

FROM GOOD TO GREAT!

 

Papers - Larpscript Promo

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