Ever since I played Monitor Celestra I have been convinced that Blade Runner’s ‘replicants’ are dramatic gold (for those who didn’t get the reference, Nexus-6 are the newest model of replicants in Blade Runner). I’m also fascinated by totalitarian regimes and the insane things they make people do. Then, for some reason, I thought it would be nice to give airsoft a try.
The result was a retro-future “Battlestar Galactica meets the battle of Stalingrad”, where soldiers fighting a losing war for a North Korea-like state gradually realize that some of them might be replicants planted by the enemy.
Most techniques I stole from other larps (who probably stole them from other productions themselves): shadows from Monitor Celestra, letters from Last Will, colored lanyards from Life is Cheap, monologues from Just a Little Lovin’ and many more, including of course safe-words from just about all Nordic larps. Most of these techniques are not particularly novel but had barely been used in France before, making the game a bit of an experiment.
I wanted a hardcore game, because that’s one of the things I love playing myself. The players got very little sleep, little food, some action and a lot of psychological pressure. They could tune the pressure level to their taste using the safe-words, lanyards and an off-game area.
The location was also pretty uncomfortable and haunting: An abandoned 1920s hospital, used as a prisoner camp during the Second World War and surrounded by woods. The place is often used by local airsofters who were very helpful in showing us how to use our rented airsoft weapons (almost none of the participants had ever handled one before).
To make things extra interesting, there was of course no water or electricity. Much of the experience was recorded by photo- and video cameras (handled by organizers, NPCs or the players themselves, both diegetically and not) – a good thing, especially for the busy organizers who did not get to see much of the actual game!
Players and organizers were very much overwhelmed by the intense experience. The larp was physically and emotionally exhausting, and very different from what most participants were used to (this was precisely why most of them signed up in the first place). The “get out of character” workshops and debriefing were well received, and it took days (in some cases weeks) for participants to stop singing the game’s “national anthem” (adapted from a Soviet war-song – another idea I stole from a previous larp; in this case Robota). Some players recorded feedback videos, to be used for the benefit of future players.
What made this larp a success for me was the balance between hardcore in-game conditions and the safety of the rules and off-game environment.Participant who played Soldier DA-X-746
Everything did not run smoothly, of course. Luckily, the obvious things did not happen: thanks, in part, to a very heavy focus on safety, no one got shot in the eye without their glasses on, and no one broke their neck falling down stairs in the dark. Some airsoft guns did malfunction, though, the local fire brigade had to come back and put out the fire they had started on-site earlier as an exercise, and an unsanctioned airsoft team even turned up in the middle of the night (they were kind enough to leave once they realized what was going on)… Among other miscellaneous mishaps.
Airsoft and larp have been moving closer together for a while in France, and this larp certainly confirmed the potential. First off, the airsoft guns look pretty realistic. Knowing that it will sting if you get shot and hearing BBs hitting the wall right next to you also contribute to the experience. It might seem obvious to some, but we discovered that, handled carefully, airsoft guns are just the same as latex swords for larping purposes. Better yet: Just like latex swords, they fit in just fine with a narrativist approach, since you can simply decide how bad the injury is when you get shot (from a scratch to instant death). As already mentioned, airsofters helped out during the larp, and they were very much impressed by the passion we larpers put into what we do. I would not be surprised if a few of them turn up for a larp in the future!
I humbly feel NEXUS-6 has contributed towards making Nordic larp better known in France. The next step is to organize it again in the summer of 2016, this time in English, to allow more French larpers to interact with foreigners. The road ahead is exciting!
How was the larp? It was… It was… It was real.Participant who played Commissar DC- X-811
Credits: Hoog (design and production), Baptiste Cazes (additional design and production), Matthieu Nicolas (production), Aurélien Duchatelle (video documentation), Rémi Dorbais & Philippe Carrère (photo documentation), eXpérience (logistics support), ARCAN (airsoft support)
Date: July 24-26, 2015; July 30 – August 2, 2015 (two runs)
Location: Aincourt, France
Duration: 24 hours + workshops
Participants: 10 players per run (20 in total)
Budget: €1,500 for two runs
Participation Fee: €70
Game Mechanics: Text-message voting to determine replicants, airsoft weapons, shadows, playing to lose, no character death before last act
This article was initially published in The Nordic Larp Yearbook 2015 published by Rollespilsakademiet and edited by Charles Bo Nielsen, Claus Raasted & Erik Sonne Georg. The book is available for pre-order through June 2016.
Cover photo: Promo picture (Pre-game, Hoog). Other photos by Hoog & Philippe Carrère.