Together Forever (2020) is an online larp designed by Karolina Soltys, Patrik Bálint and David Owen, which focuses on romantic relationships and dating in a near-future dystopia. Social distancing is the norm, everybody stays inside due to the infection that started in 2020 and mutated uncontrollably.
The larp took place from 20-21 June 2020 and was played entirely via discord. The characters were created by the players, altered and connected by the larp creators. Most of the time players were matched together in one on one interactions, but they also had friendship and work connections with other participants as well as belonging to small in-game support groups. The players were matched together on three different dates.For those who wanted it was possible to stay in-game the whole time. The participants could stay in touch with each other via video chat, texting or they could use a fake Facebook profile on discord. An in-game HelpBot that was played by the creators helped the players and gave them helpful information.
The Game World
The larp was set in a world 40 years from today where social distancing is the norm. It was inspired by the movie The Lobster and the Black Mirror episode “Hang the DJ.” In the reality of Together Forever people live at home, either with their families or alone. Meeting other persons in the physical space is very rare and physical interactions only occur when it is absolutely necessary, e.g. seeing the doctor. Workers who are required to perform their work outside have to wear a hazmat suit for protection. Most activities are done by computer and VR. Professions which require leaving the house are much more hazardous and are considered blue collar work, which means they are underpaid and considered less desirable.
It is possible to leave your family and live together with another person in a romantic relationship, but to do that you must go through the Together Forever programme to get matched. In game, the programme is specifically designed for people, who want to interact in actual physical romantic relations to find the perfect match.The Together Forever programme is a once in a lifetime opportunity to live physical relationship. The matches spend at least several hours together, chatting over video calls. After the calls, you will hopefully be matched with the match chosen by the Together Forever programme and the two of you will live happily ever after. The choice is final and cannot be altered.
The Playstyle and Accelerated Time
The theme for the larp was playing on romance, so that was the key focus of the game. The players spend a few hours in one-on-one interactions played via Discord video chat. The game operates on the concept of accelerated time, which means that several months are played in just a few hours. This gives the opportunity for the players to play a long lasting relationship while focusing on the important and intense moments.
The Idea Behind It
The creators of Together Forever wanted to create an online larp that centered on one-on-one interactions. According to Karolina Soltys, that is “usually where most drama stems from” so “online dating was an obvious choice.” The creators wanted the players to experience intense relationship drama while they have several dates with multiple people. Their pitch was “a story about attempting to have romantic relationships with a variety of people, some better suited to you than others, about growing as a person and looking for true love, whatever that means.”
The creators wanted to recreate that tone of dating in dystopian worlds, where the characters perceive the world to be their “normal.” In the casting form they asked the players what they would like to experience and arranged the dates, the family meetings, and the support groups according to their wishes.
Aeryn Ciccelli: A Failure of the System Looking for Her True Love
As usual, every player in a larp has a different story to tell. And here I would love to share mine:
Aeryn Ciccelli, 32, social worker specialized in children’s rights, was participating in the Together Forever Programme for the third time, which is unusual, because the programme has a 99.5% chance to match the perfect couple together and the programme accepts rarely second time candidates. For this reason she was pretty embarrassed from the beginning. The character’s background was that she was matched and married in her early twenties. When she found out back then that she had a severe and rare genetic mutation preventing her from having children (even vat-grown), her husband divorced her. Two years ago, she joined the programme again. Due to her trust issues she wasn’t matched with anyone in the end, even though she had found a person she really liked. So, she now joined again knowing that it would be her last chance to find her “Together-Forever-love.”
Aeryn’s Matches and Inner Conflict
Aeryn was no stranger to the programme and knew some other participants, including her best friends, Genesis Samson and Kira Alder. When she was matched with Genesis, she was excited. She helped her through the trauma of losing a loved one and was also Aeryn’s secret crush. Their time was limited to 12 hours and they video chatted and talked all through the night. It felt natural to talk with Gen, and she was so relieved that she was matched with someone she already knew and secretly loved. Gen was so understanding when it came to Aeryn’s insecurity about having children. It was all perfect. In the morning they had to say goodbye. They were not supposed to have contact over the next 18 months, but they promised that they would keep in touch anyway.
Aeryn’s next match was Cosma Lodoni, also a person she already knew from her therapy group and loved to spend time with. Cosma had gained custody over their niece Carlotta, because her dad, Jordan, could not take care of her after the death of Carlotta’s mother, who was Cosma’s sister. Cosma was afraid of losing custody over their niece and Aeryn pulled all strings in her position as a social worker for children rights to ensure that this wouldn’t happen. She also defended Cosma in front of Carlotta’s father and felt like a knight in shining armor. After nine months she really loved Cosma and dreamed about taking care of Carlotta together with them. Still, the inner conflict grew due to Aeryn’s feelings towards her first match.
After she had to say goodbye to Cosma, Aeryn briefly wanted to quit the programme. She had already undergone turmoil and to spend another 9 months with a stranger was something she didn’t want to endure anymore. But her faith in the programme pushed her to continue. She didn’t want to be in the 0.5% that would fail the programme again. Her last match was Kira’s brother Darius Alder.Even if Kira, Aeryn’s friend, seemed to be supportive and happy about it, Aeryn still felt a lot of pressure. T When she saw Darius for the first time, she was immediately reminded of Tom, her ex-husband. The hair, the smile, the voice… and even though she tried not to, she absolutely fell in love with him in the first few minutes.
The chats with Darius were always sweet and nice, but Aeryn knew that he wanted to have kids. So she told him that she would lot be able to have any. He reacted so tenderly, so immensely understanding, that she started to cry. She was so relieved when he said he didn’t care. But she started to doubt. But what if he divorces her again? What if he finds out that he wanted to have children after all? Would he leave her? Would he confirm her being a failure? After a while she started to doubt if the programme would really match her with Darius and she proposed that they run away together into the Wilderness.
He sweetly talked her out of it, telling her to have faith in the programme. Aeryn confessed her love to Darius and she hoped that her faith in the programme would pay off.
The Final Match
During a support group meeting the final matches were announced. Aeryn received following message: “We hope you enjoyed your time in the Together Forever programme. The algorithm has now assigned you your Together Forever match: Darius Alder. Feel free to share the joyful news with the rest of your support group.” Finally, she had made it. Finally, she was no failure anymore. But then her joy was overshadowed by the reactions of the others. Nobody else in her support group was happy about their matches; one participant even didn’t get matched at all. Her phone pinged and she got a message from Gen. He claimed it was all a conspiracy, that the programme was rigged. But Aeryn didn’t want to hear it. It could not be true. It SHOULD not be true. The HelpBot told her that a taxi will wait for her outside to bring her and her match in their new home. Aeryn sat silent. Her phone pinged, one message after the other, Gen asking her to join a rebellion. She turned off the computer and put on her hazmat suit. Tears were running down her face when she looked at the last conversation with Gen.
Genesis Samson: “I am sorry.”
Aeryn: “Don’t do anything stupid!”
Genesis Samson: “Goodbye.”
Aeryn: “Gen…don’t…GEN! No, you are my best friend! Gen… please… don’t”
Aeryn dried her tears, closed the suit, put her phone on the kitchen table. The doorbell rang, she smiled. Everything started burning around her, her friends started a rebellion. But Aeryn didn’t care. She and Darius would be happy together. No failure. Just love. And opened the door.
My Experiences as a Player
It was my second immersive online larp during the COVID-19 pandemic and though I struggled first with the romantic aspect due to some previous bad experiences in larp romance, I was really excited. The whole buildup for the game started a few days before, with people posting captions and pictures on their fake Facebook wall and I also started to chat with some connections off-game a few hours before the game started. I felt the excitement of my character, so I tried three different outfits for my first date.
During the workshop the organisers briefed us the safety rules which were short and fitting: use the expression “off-game” if anything is up or you want to have a break in the game. You can also use this as a safe word. And don’t play on someone’s physical unattractiveness.
Even if we were 36 players, I always felt that the organizers always had good contact with us, helping us out where it was possible. The timetable seemed to me a little bit too complicated at first, but it was no problem to follow and the schedule was perfect for me. The one-on-one conversations were never too long or too short and though I am not used to playing with accelerated time, it turned out to be very easy and felt natural. Karolina said that the schedule was one of the hardest nuts to crack:
“Judging by experience, this is much harder to do in online larps, where people tend to get ‘stuck’ in a particular conversation and find it awkward to leave. This is one of the reasons why we needed to enforce particular durations for the scenes. We found it quite hard to guess what durations would work best, as it would depend a lot on individual player preferences and the chemistry between the players.”
The thing that astonished me the most was the story and how it was told. I was one character and just got a little glimpse of all what was going on: the Facebook, my connections who told me about other people, the support group, and the family meetings. All of that gave me the impression of a big and diverse world. Especially at the end where my story basically found a happy end, it became bittersweet because I experienced the feelings of all the other participants and that there was a rebellion going on. That gave my ending the perfect Black Mirror feeling.
It was an amazing experience to play a subtle tone with my matches. I sat there for several hours in front of the computer, and it was an emotional ride. I really didn’t expect that kind of immersive and intense play via video chat.
Together Forever was a very well-constructed and player-focused online larp with a lot of thought that was put into the design, the schedule, and the player experience. The larp gave the possibility to play romantic and intense dating scenes in a world bigger than just the one-on-one dates.
More About Online Larps (also known as LAOGs)
Together Forever was one of the online larps that were organised during the pandemic and was very positively received. I also played Animus – the Inner Circle created by Chaos League, which ran four times and also will return for a second season in September and October. Together Forever and Animus alike stand out for their intense and immersive player experience, even if you just sit in front of the computer.
If you want to know more about online larps / LAOGs, you can find here Gerrit Reininghaus’ Manifesto for LAOGs.
Together Forever was scheduled to run again with two runs already played in August and more runs currently planned. For more information, please click this linked site.
Cover photo: In-game photo of Together Forever by Lolv Peregrin.