I Stepped into the Eternal Circle, Animus: the Larp

I Stepped into the Eternal Circle, Animus: the Larp

Animus: the Eternal Circle — a Transmedia Larp is an online game.[1]Sometimes called a LAOG, see Reininghaus (2019).  It has been run four times over the course of 2020 and included 288 players. The designers, a team originated from Italy with helpers all over the world, Chaos League, describe Animus as:

A story in which ordinary people with their doubts, weaknesses, and fears, are confronted with a greater destiny. It talks about our lives and what we might have been in another time and space. Other lives. In search of our own self. In search of the people we are connected to.

Inspired by Sense8 and The OA, Animus is about friendship, courage, hard choices. About what we were and what we still are deep inside. Animus is a larp that speaks to our emotions. It’s a journey to discover who we really are.

Animus takes place nowadays and tells of the past and present lives of a group of special people bound by destiny. (Chaos League)

I participated in both Run 2 on 23-24 May 2020 as a player, and in Run 4 on 13-14 June 2020 as an NPC and facilitator.

In this article, I will present the larp Animus: The Eternal Circle, discuss its mechanics, and  share how the different tools used in designing this game have contributed to my good experience both as player and facilitator. I will first describe why my own story as a larper Animus was so appealing.

Preparing the Leap of Faith: Before the Game

I started larping in 2012. Before that, I was used to tabletop games and forum role-play. I first played locally in France, but went exploring in the international scene in 2018, taking part in the larp Suffragette! 

I am attracted to larp because the magic circle is one of my specific interests, as is storytelling. I love all kinds of larps as long as I can share a wonderful, transformative experience with my co-players and organisers. I’ve been a Wachowski fan since The Matrix, so when I first heard about Chaos League’s Sense8-inspired transmedia piece, I had to have a look for myself. Sense8 (2015-2018) is a television show about 8 people across the world who are linked together psychically and empathically.

Enough to get me on board, indeed, but what made me stay after and enroll myself as NPC?

Animus was not my first online larp. During the lockdown, I was lucky enough to try several.  For example, Mo Holkar’s After Dark, which was workshopped and played on Jitsi, is a game in which you play the last reunion of a family over visio-conference before their emotions get the better of them and they die of an unknown virus. I also played Are You There?, a Discord-based online larp by Mia Welander. The game follows a forum chat by a group of survivors after a deadly virus killed ninety-nine percent of the population at the beginning of 2020.

While I loved delving into Type 2 fun,[2]“Type 2 is a strange beast, because it isn’t actually fun at the moment. In fact, it feels much like suffering. It’s only after the event, and in reflection, that you come to realize you actually had fun” (Peck 2017). Animus with its hopeful story seemed like the breath of fresh air I needed. As I saw lockdown in France persisting, I signed up to play it.

Although the game is mostly “Discord-based,” it is a transmedia experience.[3]Wikipedia (n.d.) describes Transmedia in the following way: “Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.

In Animus, the players use audio files, Google docs, a website, and a musical soundtrack, all of which make the play richer and all the more stimulating. The play, scattered across different media, tells one beautiful story.

After my sign-up, I received a form with a short description of each character. The files were well-made and the short description included the themes, keywords, and triggers relevant to each character. We were asked to choose four characters out of six in our order of preference.

Later on, we received specific files for our final character including their past, present, how they were perceived by others, and the first feelings and impressions that strike them when meeting the other characters at the beginning of the game.

The Lines of the Circle

Background

The larp was set in the present in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in an international lockdown. The characters were a group of people getting online self-guided group therapy to treat their compulsive fantasy disorder, also known as maladaptive daydreaming, a condition that they first dealt with using beta-blockers.[4]In Sense8, beta-blockers are a type of medicine that characters take to shut down their psychic link with others.

Setting

The seven pre-written characters: Alexis, Camille, Elliot, Jackson, Sasha,  Robyn, and Hayden (NPC) are complete strangers when they get acquainted through a self-analysis platform, The Beacon, and are grouped together as a Circle by a team of online therapists. They’re all from different places in the world, from different age groups, ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds with the very same goal: stopping the worsening of their condition, which is starting to wreak havoc into their life and impeding them from enjoying it fully.

Little do they know they are linked to one another.

During two days and three therapy sessions, each of them is expected to share with their peer group their fears, their hopes, the content of their daydreams, and most of all, their secrets. In revealing these things, they will unveil a bond that goes beyond what is written in stone or the stars.

The game is based on two strong pillars: 1) emotional play and interactions of characters mixed with 2) discoveries and mystery solving. The characters tell a story while working together, hoping to bring the hidden truth to light.

Despite this search for truth, the game is also an exercise based on trust, fostered by an off-game workshop where the principle of “no false bottom” was introduced and developed. No false bottom means that the key facts of the premise, the therapy, the beta-blockers, and the psychological condition contain no twists or surprises; there is no team of evil doctors nor secret scientist programs like in Sense8. The secrets lie inside the character’s lives, their present, past, and future.

Structure

The game was divided between official time slots (the group therapy sessions) and two free time slots.

The therapy sessions and workshop were played over video conference, a new feature that the platform Discord added to their vocal channels and released within the first day of lockdown. During the free slots, the players were welcome to use the text channel as well as the video/vocal ones.

After a short workshop meeting with our facilitator on Friday night, we started the game in character the next day to engage in the first of the three therapy sessions.

The sessions always followed the same structure: each character took the floor and revealed one secret, unveiling their link as they did so, while the other characters listened, offered advice, support, and care.

The players were encouraged to fill in a diary: a shared document on Google Drive. In the fiction, the characters were asked to write in the diary for the therapists, explaining the content of the session,  their feelings, and the questions each character harbors for their peers, etc. Furthermore, the diary being available to all, everyone had an opportunity to play on the other characters’ feelings, to flesh out their relationships, and to make them evolve with each session.

The structure was repetitive, but that was a good thing, setting up an atmosphere of comfort and familiarity.

This structure meant that by the time of the third session, despite the tension of the game, we knew what we had to do. The group was closer and everybody’s role in it was clear.

Photo of 7 players in a Discord larp called Animus

Run 2 of Animus larp. Photo by LolV Peregrin.

Entering the Circle as Player

A Perfect Trust

I first entered the Circle playing Sasha. Written as a burned-out humanitarian who has been working in a convenience store for the last ten years, I interpreted him through my prism: of someone living with PTSD. Based on my own perception of my syndrome, Sasha was on edge — a bundle of good intentions and very raw, very intense emotions. A soul still marked by his experience and the horrors he witnessed after the earthquake in Haiti.

He was shy, lonely, but sweet and eager to connect with these new people and to try to get better. He was starting to have enough of his convenience store life: safe, comfortable, a bit boring, but not happy.

Sasha wanted to stop waiting and start acting again, but without losing himself this time. He wanted to reclaim himself and start protecting others in doing so.

During the game, he tried to help to the best of his capacity, sometimes coming close to losing faith: faith in himself, in others, in his belief that a moment — his moment — will come.

He was supported, cared for, and helped through his tough time by his Circle members. When allowed, during the very peculiar and secret circumstances of the end of the game, to leave a message that will outlive him, he wrote:

I’m not afraid anymore. I have found myself. I have found something to protect. I am ready to enter the Circle with a perfect love and a perfect trust.

A thought that he shared with his friends before they made a big decision together, a leap of faith.

My time with Sasha was good, but not great. My experience was beautiful, but complicated. I confess that I bled heavily; Sasha’s struggles and mine overlapped in too many places to not feel uncomfortable and uneasy when our time together was cut short at the end of the game.

In lockdown, away from friends and family, I had no means to fix my problems, and I had a huge amount of larp-blues to deal with atop of that.

I tried to enjoy our departure stepping out of the Circle and I wished Sasha well for his future, for he deserved it; but at first, I wanted to never hear about him again.

I sent my feedback to Chaos League, expressing some of the issues I encountered. The form also included the following question: “Would you be willing to help organize/facilitate a future run of Animus: the Eternal Circle?” I answered positively because, no matter my own feelings toward Sasha, I still felt mostly positive about the game, and I was enthusiastic and curious about the prospect of facilitating. I was longing for the friendship and closeness I got to explore in my run as a player while aiming for a bit of emotional distance by playing an NPC.

Coming back to the Circle as a Facilitator

A Perfect Love

I returned to Animus for the 4th run as facilitator and NPC. I played Hayden. Hayden who worked with AI in a big company but who looked like a rock star. Hayden who felt too much but was hiding from it the best he could, channeling it, conceptualizing it, distancing himself from it. The boy who loved stories and hides in music. Hayden who managed to live through his anxiety attacks but was now dealing with severe maladaptive daydreaming. Hayden who didn’t even want to do therapy but was chosen by the team from the Beacon, among his Circle members, to facilitate the group therapy session.

As a player, I felt a strong connection to Hayden; yet his way of processing, addressing, and dealing with his emotions was sufficiently distinct from mine that I didn’t feel like the situation was too close to home.

I already knew the themes, the plot, the characters, and what was expected from me. Entering the Circle felt like coming back to someplace familiar.

Indeed, as a facilitator, I had access now to several new channels, including one where I was navigating the ambiance of the therapy session. I had to deal with a bit of code and a bot every now and then, mostly to start the audio tape and the soundtrack made by the organizers. Even though this felt alien, I had help when I slipped up, no grudge was held, and no player was the wiser since, after all, larp is a good chunk of improvisation and adaptability.

Playing Hayden as an NPC, making sure we were on time, fostering closeness between the characters, and supporting the players was easy. Facilitating the weight of the secrets of the game in my hands felt comfortable.

The only wild card was the players. I was deeply afraid of messing things up for them and for the Chaos League, of not being “good enough” as a facilitator. But by the time the third therapy session rolled in, thanks to the amazing players in my Circle (which was named Hadar), and the tightly linked and supportive organizers team, I felt as if Hayden and I were coming home.

Conclusion: Leaving the Circle?

Entering the Circle was not always easy but it was, for me, a teaching, transformative experience. I made new friends, I learned, and I grew from it.

Talking about coming home, even though I’m still unable today to write a letter to Sasha, I’m enthusiastic at the idea of coming back to the Circle as a player in a few weeks; this time in Animus 2: In Search of Sky.

The Circle is a Never Ending one, opening the ways for stories of friendship, support and connection across the world. It was Chaos League’s goal, and personally, I think they have succeeded.

Useful Links

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2015. “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character.” Nordiclarp.org, March 2.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne, and Evan Torner. “Post-Larp Depression.” Nordiclarp.org, January 19.

Nilsen, Elin. 2015. “A Beginner’s Guide to Handling the Knudeblues.” Nordiclarp.org, February 17.

Peck, Tim. 2017. “What Are the Three Types of Fun?” Go East, January 6.

Reininghaus, Gerrit. 2019. “A Manifesto for Laogs – Live Action Online Games.” Nordiclarp.org, June 14.

Animus Larp Credits

Production: Chaos League

Character Design: Andrea Giovannucci, Mikhail Sustersic

Character Writing: Chiara Cappiello, Livia Blasi, Fabio Garbo,  Mikhail Sustersic

Music and Sound Design: Stefano D’Arcangelo, Alessandro Giovannucci

Video: Daniele Bergonzi

Technical Support: Fabio Garbo, Melania Esposito, Davide Ruscica, Andrea Giovannucci

Promotion: Fred Brand

Safety Team: Alessandro Giovannucci, Chiara Cappiello, Mikhail Sustersic

Documentation: Daniele Bergonzi, Chiara Cappiello, Andrea Giovannucci

Website: https://animus.chaosleague.org/

Cover photo: Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay. Photo has been cropped.

Editing by Elina Gouliou.

References

References
1Sometimes called a LAOG, see Reininghaus (2019).
2“Type 2 is a strange beast, because it isn’t actually fun at the moment. In fact, it feels much like suffering. It’s only after the event, and in reflection, that you come to realize you actually had fun” (Peck 2017).
3Wikipedia (n.d.) describes Transmedia in the following way: “Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.
4In Sense8, beta-blockers are a type of medicine that characters take to shut down their psychic link with others.

Authors

LolV Peregrin graduated in Ancient Languages and Archeology and now works as a social worker in a non-profit association that focuses on learning through play. They are a queer autistic activist and performer who uses larp and arts to put disabilities, mental illness, community, and LGBTQIA+’s narratives in the spotlight to raise awareness on these particular subjects.
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