She strode down the stairs, purpose forgotten in the new surroundings. She had done what she had never expected to do: signed up for the kind of event she had never been part of before, and travelled to Poland on her own. Until now it had been an amazing experience, perhaps the first of many.
I have always thought of my body as my own, not something other people could own. Often it seems that I have more control of my body than my mind. Maybe that is why I have marked it with wolves and birds, lines and symbols. But the body is a canvas that can be filled out. At the time I played my first larp it almost was.
Being part of a larp is an exhilarating experience. For a few days of your life you can be a queen or a pauper, a whore or a nun. But as you play more games you start to realize there is a price to pay, rules you must follow, parts you must play. As time passes you learn, and you start to make choices. And when you become as old as I am, your life’s experience and the knowledge you have achieved will be part of your game.
And so, it begins.
They came for us in the early evening. We were hurled into a bus; they only gave us time to collect the most necessary things. We were not told where we were going, why this was happening to us. After some time, the bus stopped, and we were unloaded. The officials processed us and led us into the stadium. I am here now, looking at faces I have seen before and faces I do not recognize; waiting for the next move, the next atrocity.
I remember the real faces of the refugees from Pinochet’s Chile and the coup d’etat in 1973. I met them in 1978 just after I had moved to Copenhagen, young and without even the trace of an idea of what they had been through. I lived at Øresundskollegiet with the guy I would later marry. Just down the hall from us lived a famous Chilean harpist. We could hear her play when we came home.
As time passed some of the refugees stayed. Others went to other countries or back home when it became possible. But their memory stayed with me. A memory, something that is part of your personal life or history, can be the trigger that allows you to realize the true horror of being lost in a situation you cannot control, whether it is a detention center on the Welsh border or a prisoner in Villa Grimaldi in Chile. You start to recognize the same patterns in society today. This is part of the magic.
Larping can be an incredibly self-indulgent experience, even the very unpleasant scenarios. Fulfilling my dreams and desires has never been enough for me. Hugaas and Bowman (2019) write in their “Butterfly Effect Manifesto” that bringing a personal experience into your character can have a profound effect on your game. You may think that being an older person also means that this transformative experience is no longer possible. You are wrong. No matter how old you are, it is never too late. So use your experience to create change in your life and your community.
She had failed them all, her husband, her daughters, her family. For years she had been silent, never complaining, always supportive of her husband, even when they had to leave their grand home in the country to live in this shoddy apartment in the city. Why had she let it come to this? Why had she not said ‘no’ a long time ago? Now everything was gone, everyone had left her.
Families are perhaps the most complex organism to use as the background for a larp. That complexity also makes them the perfect place for murder and mayhem, either symbolic or real. I have met and recognized parts of me that are different from how I normally perceive myself. I have met and played with amazing sons and daughters. Not just as the maternal figure who always supports her family, but sometimes also the monster. Sometimes you meet your own bad personal choices, your weakness in personal relationships, your failures in connection with your children or your family. I certainly did when I met this character.
I always wish for an older character given the choice. I larp because I want to learn about myself and maybe change the person I am now, warts and all – not the person I was a long time ago. Some of your choices in life may be wrong. As a human being, you constantly lie to yourself about your life and your relationships. In larps, you are sometimes forced to confront the bad choices and the lies. Often they will bleed into your character and be part of how you react to your “family.” You may not realize it until later, but they will come back to haunt you.
My dear daughters,
I think this will be the last letter I write to you. As you have probably already seen, I am now part of the Countdown Show, waiting to be killed. There is only one survivor and I very much doubt that it will be me at the moment. We are slowly being decimated person by person, but the violence has been hidden away, only visible in short outbursts. But enough about me – how are you doing? I hope my mother is looking after you both. If I am lucky, you now have her fame and are living in a nicer neighborhood. So, this will be my final goodbye. I hope you may have a better life than me and make better choices. — Your always loving Mum.
In this game I am a woman who is caught in a reality show from hell. Her every move is seen by a whole nation, including her mother and her children. Every move she makes is on a knife’s edge. She is incredibly lonely even in the crowd. Every choice she makes will be recorded; the future of her children will depend on these choices.
Children are important and having children is a joy. Even when you reach my age you will still be apprehensive. As time goes by you will also learn the fear of losing them, of not being a good enough parent. And you will make mistakes. I used this knowledge to give strength to my character, to make her into a fighter. Love is often part of larps, but mostly as romantic love. The love between parents and children is different. It can be strong or weak, and is often accompanied by loss and misery on both sides. It is dangerous territory but if you want to dive deep into your character it is an interesting place to explore. You can dive into the magic of fairy tales and mythology and be a good mother, a bad stepmother, or a fairy Godmother – your choice. But when you meet someone like me – remember that being old also means that I have been all of these and more.
Gluttony and Greed
Menu for the summer party at a country estate around 1800
Pie (meat, vegetable)
Cold meat and fish (ham etc.)
Bread and butter
She was up early because the bread had to be prepared for the guests. Next she had to prepare the vegetable soup that his Lordship always insisted had to be served at lunch. An old friend had told him that it was good for the stamina required for the excesses experienced during the evenings and nights. This was the best time of the day. She enjoyed the quiet, the music and the occasional guest coming down for a cup of coffee.
Sometimes you can use personal work experience and knowledge collected through a lifetime as part of a larp. I know a lot about historic food. I was the cook at the summer party of Lord Mander at his country estate for the two runs of Libertines. The food had to be solid country fare, appropriate for keeping up the stamina of the house guests, something required of a true Libertine. The food was based on recipes from the era and served a la francaise, with all the dishes on the table at the same time. Luckily, I was blessed with a great kitchen staff, without whom this would not have been possible. But this was a larp, not reenactment,As an old reenactor I agree with Harviainen (2011) in his differentiation between larp and reenactment. the food was not the center of the play and I was the cook, not a player – or was I? An old woman will have a certain role in this scenario: the undesired but all-knowing procuress or mother.Angela Carter writes about this in The Sadeian Woman (1979). As the days went by, the line blurred.
I used my experience to create the meals, but not the play around the dinner table. Still, the meals were part of the different acts of this play, almost like a ritual. The outcome is prewritten, but the participants create their own story using their own knowledge and experience just as I used mine. It created a special and safe magic circle, where you can take risks. Libertines did just that – and I like to play with fire.More about this in Bettina Beck and Aaron Vanek’s (2018) “Let’s Play with Fire! Using Risk and its Power for Personal Transformation.”
Love was easy for you; you had always known that you were beautiful in the eyes of others. When you looked in the mirror you saw what others saw. But now you are beginning to see another person in the cracked mirror, a skinny and haggard woman hiding beneath the doll’s face and dress. Will you always be loved even when you are no longer beautiful? And will you be able to connect and love anyone but yourself – and who are you?
(Trial for a larp character in a larp not yet written)
Larp is magic. If you dare to invest yourself and use your knowledge you can be part of the magic no matter how old you are, how broken your body.But there is a physical limit that you must respect. I have presented you with ephemera from some of the larps I have attended since I started in 2016. Each piece represents an aspect of my journey, a piece to the puzzle. Together they represent aspects of what I already am, what I already know. They are also tools to be used in a personal journey. Jonaya Kemper (2020) talks about “wyrding the self.” She describes it like this: “When one does wyrd the self, they seek out emancipatory bleed, steer for liberation and investigate themselves through the lens of play.” But you can not do this by yourself.
I am one of the wyrd sisters, forever toiling, forever looking for trouble.
Come play with me!
Beck, Bettina, and Aaron Vanek. 2018. “Let’s Play with Fire! Using Risk and its Power for Personal Transformation.” Nordiclarp.org, March 1.
Carter, Angela. 2015. The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography. Virago, November 5.
Harviainen, J. Tuomas. 2011. ”The Larping that is Not Larp.” In Think Larp: Academic Writings from KP2011, edited by Thomas D. Henriksen, Christian Bierlich, Kasper Friis Hansen, and Valdemar Kølle. Copenhagen, Denmark: Rollespilsakademiet.
Hugaas, Kjell Hedgard, and Sarah Lynne Bowman. 2019. “The Butterfly Effect Manifesto.” Nordiclarp.org, August 20.
Kemper, Jonaya. 2020. “Wyrding the Self.” In What Do We Do When We Play?, edited by Eleanor Saitta, Jukka Särkijärvi, and Johanna Koljonen. Helsinki, Finland: Solmukohta. Available at: https://nordiclarp.org/2020/05/18/wyrding-the-self/
Cover photo: Photo of the author at Countdown (2019) by Not Only Larp. Photo by Martin Østlie Lindelien. Photo has been cropped.
This article will be published in the upcoming companion book Book of Magic and is published here with permission. Please cite this text as:
Petersen, Inge-Mette. 2021. “A Ramble in Five Scenes.” In Book of Magic, edited by Kari Kvittingen Djukastein, Marcus Irgens, Nadja Lipsyc, and Lars Kristian Løveng Sunde. Oslo, Norway: Knutepunkt, 2021. (In press).
|↑1||As an old reenactor I agree with Harviainen (2011) in his differentiation between larp and reenactment.|
|↑2||Angela Carter writes about this in The Sadeian Woman (1979).|
|↑3||More about this in Bettina Beck and Aaron Vanek’s (2018) “Let’s Play with Fire! Using Risk and its Power for Personal Transformation.”|
|↑4||But there is a physical limit that you must respect.|