In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “ Make us your slaves, but feed us.Last Will is a larp on the subject of a fading human dignity in a world run by money and consumption in which people can be bought and sold as commodities. The larp is set in a future where debt and poverty breeds slavery and slavery perpetuates poverty.
The larp was run by the organization Ursula, and the story was set in the gladiator-stable Jericho, with six fighter-teams as well as an administrative staff running it all. The larp depicts some twenty hours in Jericho. The trainers and the coach prepare the fighters for gladiator fights, the doctor and psychiatrist evaluate the fighters and other team members, the pleasers perform their duties towards the fighters, as do the physiotherapists while the guards make sure everyone does what they should do and only the right people slips in the showers.
All the while lives and relationships go on. Some of the people in Jericho are free workers, having contracts that allow them a salary and a little more freedom but also the risk of being let off with no further notice.
Others have signed a life contract, which gives them the security of food and a roof over their heads, but no say on almost everything else. It is the day before the national election to parliament, but only the free workers needs to decide if they should take the risk to sign up to vote or not. The lifers need not worry; they no longer have the right to vote.
Last Will revolves around hope in a hopeless situation, where the desire to create a future battle with constant fighting against fear and hunger. In a time when freedom is weighed against security and survival every day the question echoes – What is my value?
Inspiration: “I Owe My Soul to the Company Store”
Slavery – the word makes us think about chains and whips, blood and colonialism. But the system of humans as commodities is even more widespread today, wrapped in inhuman working contracts and debt that is passed down from generation to generation. We wanted to show what losing self determination does to a person and that it can be done with a piece of paper just as much as with chains of iron.
India: The forced labour of women and girls has become known as the “Sumangali system”. It affects unmarried girls and women aged between 13 and 18 years old who work on three-year contracts, often in mills that operate 24 hours a day, using three shifts. The workers are not only required to work any shift but also to carry out unpaid overtime. The girls are confined to the mills, sleeping in hostels, during their contract period and are rarely, if ever, allowed out during that time.Slavery on the High Street (2012), http://www.antislavery.org/
We wanted to create this larp to look at modern slavery through the lens of a fictional future. We can not claim to give a true portrait of a sweatshop in China or a mine in Africa, but by taking bits and pieces from different places and putting them together in Jericho, we can give our participants a feel for what life is like when agency has been taken from you, and what it does to you when you feel that you have no value. And what it makes you do to other people. We hope that experiencing something with your whole body will make you take something home from it.
The setting of a gladiator-stable was a design choice we made to incorporate play on the loss of bodily integrity. We wanted people to sell their bodies to be used by others, for pleasure, entertainment or profit, but we didn’t want to portray a brothel.
Reactions: “Now I Know What It Is Worth.”
As you read this, Last Will will have been run two times, and as we write this, we are preparing for the second run. We decided on doing a second run after the preliminary sign-up for the then only run had over a hundred people sign up in less than a week. The larp was massively hyped, and the first run sold out in only eight (8) minutes.
For the second run we used a different sign-up system than first-come-first-serve, and a hundred people signed up to let us draw lots for the 44 spots on the game. It is strange to arrange a larp with such a hype. Thrilling, but scary.
Will we be able to deliver what all these people fervently wants us to?
What exactly was it that they thought they would experience? Had they really all read the participation contract? And if so, why were they surprised when we told them that they would not get eight solid hours of sleep? The sleeping schedule was a big issue, and something we will re-design for the second run. Having two runs and an extensive questionnaire after the first run gives us this chance of re-evaluating our design choices.
Based on the questionnaire and our own evaluation, we have decided to change some things in the pre-larp workshops and post-game debrief and the above mentioned sleeping schedule, as well as little things as the amount of in-game drugs already present on the game floor at the start of the larp.
In all, we wanted people to get a feeling of how poverty deprives you of your agency. Participants telling us things like this makes us believe we came quite close to our goal:
You felt like an animal, in your head. Everything but the here and now disappeared. You were stripped of your agency and told to shut up when you had opinions. Zero discretion, zero authority. All actions were reactions. Your initiatives were very few and usually caused by something that happened in the past and had the purpose of keeping up appearances.Player
It was overwhelming, overpowering and scary; my first reaction was that I never wanted to expose myself to anything like that again, but when the experience settled with me a bit, I realized that it had developed me – I realized that I was actually grateful that I am free and I have a healthy and loving family. This is how Ursula really succeeded: rarely have I been so submerged in dystopia. Every little thing played its part, from the crowded gym that served as venue for the event to a clogged drain, the violence, the horrible vacuum-packed food. I felt hopelessness, like a serf and completely lost.Player
Perspective: “You Used Larp to Tell an Important Story.”
We have been asked why we think this larp got so hyped, and while we can think of several possible explanations for it; we had a very nice presentation package, the setting and roles intrigued many people, and we offered an intense experience without an overwhelming amount of preparations or money needed – we also got another explanation from a friend:
It was the Hardcore larp of the year, and there was a demand to fill.
To be honest we hadn’t really thought about it as hardcore ourselves when we designed it. We focused on the story we wanted to tell. We wanted our players to live and feel the horror, frustration and degradation of their roles. We did not see this as a game for everyone, nor an experience that anyone would want to have.
We did have some players that were fairly new to larping. That was not a problem, though. Like in most games of this type we put a lot of effort into introducing the players to the world, making them feel safe with each other and providing a safe space in which they could indulge in some horrible play.
What we worked for, and hope we succeed with – at least for some – was to leave an impression on our players that would help them see and think about slavery and poverty from a new perspective.
Stories: “The Cruelty and the Pressure Hit Me Hard and My Eyes Start to Water.”
These are some snapshot images from Last Will, told by participants of the first run:
The player of Jericho’s Coach gives us a snapshot from the darktime:
I open my eyes and stare out into the darkness with eyes hurting with the lack of sleep. At the same time thoughts grind and grate. They are always the same thoughts. I am thinking about how it would be if I wasn’t in this sour sweat-musk of Jericho. I am thinking about what I would have done if I had not signed that lifetime-contract.
As always I cannot form a picture in my mind of a different kind of life and I come to the conclusion that I can’t because I have been here for so long that I have forgotten what it is like out there, in freedom. At least I am not hungry. /…/ When the lights come on and the morning buzzer sounds I am nauseous from having gotten too little sleep. The Lifer collar has made an indent into my neck and I casually scratch it as I pack away my sleeping gear.
The player of the fighter Eli tells us this story from not long after she and her teammate have been in the pit fights:
The doctors came by the Team 2 sleeping area and injected Eli and Milo with pain relieving drugs to make them able to impress during the owners’ visit, despite them having been badly beaten up and injured in the arena just hours before.The words with which this was done made it perfectly clear that Eli and Milo were regarded as no more than animals: “There’s going to be hell to pay for this later, but they’ll be fine during the visit.
Another fighter gives us a snapshot from her game:
The time before my fight was quite extraordinary, and coming back from the fight, too.You really felt like a broken star.” /…/ ”The second time the lights went out, when Mitsuki’d been walking back and forth outside the toilets to wait for the painkillers to set in, and finally went to sleep, and just lay there and stared into the ceiling, and felt that this was her entire world, her entire life. It was breathtakingly horrifying.
The player of one of the psychiatrists tells us about a memorable moment:
The rape of Ataru was incredibly strong. As I imagine a real rape in war or a concentration camp. It was so deliberate, so well planned. Not in any way about sex, just power. Ataru sat there, extremely passive, eyes staring straight down at the floor. Never said “no” or “stop” but just sat there. Silent. Motionless.
The player of Team 6’s pleaser tells us about an impression from the game:
Cleaning the shower room from blood after love interest JT6FIL’s suicide. It was horrible but also became a very private way of saying goodbye.
Credits: Frida Gamero, Annica Strand and Sofia Stenler
Date: August 15 – 17, 2014 and January 2 – 4, 2015
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Length: 23 hours game time, 3 days total
Budget: ~€3,000 per run
Participation Fee: €73 regular price, €37 subsidized price
Game Mechanics: Not described.
This article was initially published in The Nordic Larp Yearbook 2014 which was edited by Charles Bo Nielsen & Claus Raasted, published by Rollespilsakademiet and released as part of documentation for the Knudepunkt 2015 conference.
Cover photo: A lifer collar with the Jericho id-code. (Post-game, Ylva Bergman). Other photos by Lisa H. Ekbom, Sofia Stenler and Annica Strand.