Artificial Affluenzas

Artificial Affluenzas

Playing a super-rich character in a larp probably sounds fun and easy. It is neither, at least not at all times. Centrally, it requires a fine line of balancing, in order to not take the role over the top, but sufficiently close, in order to provide the most optimal playable content to other participants. We believe, based on our experiences at for instance, Tuhannen viillon kuolema, (Pettersson, Hannula et al, 2018), that this is best done in groups or ensembles. That way, an individual character’s affluenza[1]The unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence regarded especially as a widespread societal problem, such as A: feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation experienced by wealthy people. B: extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships (Merriam-Webster) becomes part of a greater whole rather than a corny stereotype.

Creating a believable super-rich character is difficult. How to combine a real, playable personality, with a sense of affluenza? Role-playing usually requires a sense of connection and interaction, so the player has to be able to convey playable realism and a sense of unreality at the same time. Avoiding satire, comedy or outrageous in-game spending is usually recommended, unless the larp organizers specifically want a two-dimensional non-player character. Like simplified villains, they can of course fit some larps, but here we want to look at a more realistic approach.

In our experience, the first element for successfully constructing a super-rich character is the origin of their money. This has a significant effect on character personality. For example, it is possible to play someone who has inherited their money as either ruthless and efficient or as complacent, but if the money has been earned somehow through one’s own actions, the character will probably default to the former — even if they are now resting on their proverbial laurels. Remember to interact with other characters: a character who has ennui, or just hides in an enclave, is not useful as more than story decoration. However, by approaching the ennui and talking about it, or planning the enclave (as in Tuhannen viillon kuolema), creates playable content for others.

The second recommended step is to find at least two types of affluenza. The character should optimally be able to deviate from typical middle-class behaviour in at least one way, and be outrageous to poor characters in at least one as well. If these are different things, all the better. They should also be playable, so that they come out during play often enough. Maybe it is an off-hand art purchase that is expensive, but not immensely so, or the firing of several people during a phone call that others can hear. A classic solution is to emphasize in play how “everyone could be rich, if they just worked as hard as I did”. Unless the character is supposed to be a ruthless tycoon or something similar, however, it is far better to come up with more interesting ways to express the increasing removal from understanding the realities of those who earn or own less. One of the best ways we have found for emphasizing this, is to select some things (e.g., optimizing travel without caring about prices) that are not at all easy to the poor or even the middle class, but which the super-rich character takes for granted.

The third suggested step is to find at least two types of mental relations outside of the social class of the character. These are ways in which the character believes that they relate to other people. It is very typical for even the very rich, at least in the Nordic countries, to think that they are “not that different, just wealthier” from hard-working people with less money. Therefore, playability and interaction increase, if the rich character has situations where they can sincerely say “I’m just like you in this regard.” For some topics — like both characters going to the gym, even if one of them has a group of personal trainers and the other a student discount – it can create believable temporary empathy. In many others, this can be used to emphasize the affluenza, because the rich character’s statements will sound dissonant to the other, who will not likely see the presumed “similarity”.

The fourth step is linked to the third one. The artificial affluenza gets more realistic, if there is not just one or two contacts outside one’s economic core group, but rather a large number of characters from the middle class and “poor people”. Power is not taken, it is given, in this case by the other characters’ reactions. Playing the rich among others of similar standing provides little content to others, and can quickly become boring. Doing so in an environment of economic differences that are not just transactional creates fruitful play — and emotions — for all concerned. While playing aristocrats and their servants has its own charms, playing a rich character in a more open setting offers more possibilities.

Finally, playing rich is best done in a group of rich characters, each of a different type. Tuhannen viillon kuolema really emphasized this point for us, in its contrast with many other larps with similar themes. One super-rich character can easily get satirical, even if played well and with good care. A few of them together, with different types of estrangement, become a surprisingly realistic group of people. This also enables some of them to take the play to the level of occasional satire, especially if such satire still reflects something seen in real life (think “pharma bro” or “trophy-hunting heiress”).


References   [ + ]

1.The unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence regarded especially as a widespread societal problem, such as A: feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation experienced by wealthy people. B: extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships (Merriam-Webster)

Authors

J. Tuomas Harviainen
J. Tuomas Harviainen (b. 1972) Associate Professor of Information Practices, and has been playing and writing larps since 1995. He is one of the editors of the journal Simulation & Gaming.
Vili von Nissinen
Vili von Nissinen (b. 1987) is a theatre director, performer, visual artist, and larp designer. Vili combines different art forms, a politicalphilosophical approach, and humour in their larps.
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