Russian Roulette in Practice

Russian Roulette in Practice

Players Casting: A Case Study from the Larp Skoro Rassvet

This article describes the selection process used for high-resolution dramatic larp called Skoro Rassvet [Breaking Dawn] (2012, 15 players). Its advantages and disadvantages are discussed. Knowing that we could take the risk because the number of potential candidates exceeded the number of offered roles several times over, we decided to perform an experiment and select players according to their motivations and abilities.

Generally in the Czech larping community, the opposite problem is more common: how to find enough players for your larp. Nevertheless there are several events (especially chamber larp festivals and certain specific games) which tried to resolve the same problem as we did. The most common approach is the “click fest” (applicants are accepted solely based on the time of registration), friends-only (one simply chooses people she personally knows), and “pay more to ensure you will be selected”. For a number of reasons we decided not to follow any of these possibilities. Instead we prepared a questionnaire with the ambition to measure the multi-dimensional concept of players´ motivations and abilities.

There were five questions in the questionnaire. First the applicants had to watch a three minutes’ clip from a Czech modern movie adaptation of the Karamazov Brothers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVXAZM3vDSs; English subtitles included). The clip shows a scene where all  brothers are arguing with their father about God, immortality, drinking and women (all these topics were used in the larp). The scene is expressive enough to provide number of associations for answering questions. We chose this clip also because it refers to our larps setting and the movie is about a group of actors playing a theatre drama, mingling their real lives and drama characters (which is in fact quite close to larp). The video was followed by five open-ended questions the applicants had to answer:

  1. Choose one of the main characters from the clip and describe one of his or her aspects, attributes or attitudes which figured there using 3 sentences. This question measured the understanding of the character and sensitivity toward roles of other players. Unfortunately, we failed to perform a final check of the questionnaire and this question (with the same youtube link) occurred twice with different wording. It confused and even discouraged certain applicants. In the evaluation we focused only minimally on the repeated question. We collected a wide variety of answers which were rather difficult to compare (varied from list of character traits, hypothetical past, dynamics of relationships toward the others, to interpretations of inner emotions and possible adaptations for larp), but the length of an answer highly correlated with its the richness and adequacy.
  2. If it was a scene from a larp, which scenes could follow after this one? This measured another aspect of the larpers´ imagination. We were quite satisfied with this question as it was quite easy to evaluate (finally we decide to score the question primarily on the basis of the number of relevant suggestions).
  3. Which elements from the clip are interesting for a dramatic larp? The intention of this question was to measure the understanding of dramatic larp. After evaluation we realized that the players understand the concept well. We received a wide variety of tips: gestures, building conflicts, the themes father versus sons, a clash of authorities, a subtle indication about Ivan´s lover, Christian values, a promise, secrets, an intoxication, an icon, a reflector, props, the table as the center of the scene, a fainting, the seemingly retarded brother and so on. In retrospect I feel this question measured the time one is willing to spend with the selection process rather than the understanding of the concept much more that the others.
  4. Would you like to deal with any of the topics you have seen in the video? Or are there any other topics from Russian literature you think you are interested in and want to deal with in the larp? There was no correct answer, but we had two reasons to ask this. We wanted to see if there is overlap with the topics in our game (and yes, everyone got at least one topic), and we use it as a secondary guide for selecting roles. Applicants mentioned more than 30 topics including family, alcoholism, rationality, traditions, faith, (low) price of the life, war, boredom and love.
  5. In which way are you willing to prepare for the larp? I have to admit that for me personally this was the most determining question. As it was an open-ended question we received a large variety of answers. Some of them were really surprising: “I’ll certainly come”, “I’ll get there in time”, “I’ll do what you tell me to do” and “I’ll be looking forward to it”. Than there were some serious answers: “I’ll go through the materials several times”, “I’ll talk to someone who knows a lot about Russian history”, “I’ll watch the movies/dramas/read books”, “I’ll bring some special props with me”. And my favourite was: “I’ll learn a poem by heart”. Each activity promised received a certain number of points. And even though we did not check if the promises were upheld, it seemed to me, that players we really prepared for the game.

The positive aspect of the questionnaire was that it self-selected the applicants very effectively. We know about a number of people who did not manage to fill it in or refused this type of application. There were several arguments ranging from “I didn’t have enough time” and “I’m not clever enough to fill it as I don’t know anything about larp design/Russian history” to “Your questionnaire is stupid, I’m not at school anymore” and “I’m a skilled larper/famous larp person/your friend and that’s why I’m don’t have to go through this process”. Nevertheless we had to select 30 from 55 applications.

We decided to score each of the five answers with 0, 1, 2 or 3 points. The higher the score, the better the answer. The evaluation was blinded, so we did not know which set of answers belongs to which applicant. After detailed discussion the question no. 4 received lower value than others. We made a sum index and realized that applicants were naturally divided into three groups: approximately 18 of them were in the “green” group with the clearly highest score (these were accepted), around 15 were in the “red group” with the lowest one (these were refused). But so far we had “yellow” middle group. In this group the differences among individual applicants (or rather their scores) were rather small and it was impossible to divide them clearly.

After all we had to select 12 among 22 applicants, which meant we still had to adopt other criteria than those based on the questionnaire scoring. We applied several not very systematic modes of selection: we went through the evaluation once more and reevaluated some answers, we preferred those who already applied for previous runs and for some reasons did not took part and finally we chose three of our friends. The reason for the last step was simple: it was too personally difficult to refuse them (we had to refuse our friends from the red group anyway). To the rest of the yellow group we offered places only in case someone cancelled their participation the game. After the whole process the overall feeling was rather negative. It was time consuming to evaluate all the written answers and the differentiating power was not strong enough, especially among those in the yellow group.

But after both runs we found several positive unintended aspects of the selection: players came in time, they were motivated and well prepared and all of them had read the pre-game materials. Moreover, compared to the previous runs during workshops it was easier to explain to them how the larp should be played. All of these aspects are unusual and we have not seen them all among players of previous iterations. It seems that selection process did not choose the most skilled ones but those who respected our rules not only during the application process but also during the on-site workshops.

To conclude: I have to admit that the selection process itself raised negative emotions around some part of the larping community. The questions only partially measured the dimensions they should have measured. In the end we actually measured the willingness to spend free time with the questionnaire and the ability to accept not very precisely set criteria given by us. This application method discouraged quite a large number of potential attendants in advance. On the other hand as an unintended consequence all the players were highly motivated to take part in the workshops and the game itself. In the future we will probably use the questionnaire only as a partial criterion, improve question wording (and omit questions 1 and 3) and more clearly communicate the questionnaires purpose. All in all I believe that this method of selection is still better than those commonly used in Czech larping.

Skoro Rassvet [Breaking Dawn] (2012, 15 players)

Skoro Rassvet is a high-resolution dramatic larp. The game was about Russian aristocracy in mid-19th century and it is inspired by classic authors like Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol and others. After the first run of the game, the players spread very positive word-of-mouth feedback among the Czech larping community.

Credits: Martin Buchtík, Sarah Komasová, Petr Platil, Markéta Haladová, Tomáš Hampejs, Jaromír Vybíhal

Date: November 2012 – April 2014 (7 runs in total)

Location: Vacíkov u Rožmitálu pod Třemšínem, Czech republic

Length: game – 7 hours, workshops – 10 hours

Players: 15

Participation fee: €50

web: www.rassvet.cz (in Czech only)

photos: https://www.facebook.com/martin.buchtik/media_set?set=a.10202235993481935.1253094743&type=3

Authors

Martin Buchtík
Martin Buchtík has been playing larps since 2001. He designed number of games, recently he was head designer of Moon (2011) and Skoro Rassvet (2012). He is a director of the Public Opinion Research Centre at the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences and specialises in methodology of social research, non-standard techniques (including role-playing) of sociological research and public opinion forming.
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