ephraimjohn: (Homocidal)
[personal profile] ephraimjohn

This is a companion piece to a review that I have written for larp.guide. In that article I look at the mechanics of my time at Fairweather Manor, the Nordic LARP game that I attended in Poland in November 2015. Here I look at the personal and emotional game that I experienced. There are spoilers about the character that I played, but given that all players were allowed to read all character sheets if they wished, I'm not sure how much this is giving away. I'm sure that my interpretation of what I was given will be very different to that of whomever plays my character next.

I think I’ve stopped crying now.

I think.

I’m still not quite sure why I started crying in the first place, I think that it had to do with the music. I didn’t cry when I heard the music in Mozsna, but then I was performing a terrible waltz, trying not to step on my partner’s feet or bump into other dancers, whilst worrying that my daughter was still not speaking to me. I didn’t cry because I was furious for my best friend who had just confided that his niece and nephew had been left orphaned by the malice of his foster brother. I didn’t cry because I was sad that my poor friend Wendy had been jilted once again.

But I cried in my hotel room after the game. I cried tears of relief, of sadness and of happiness. A cocktail of ferocious feelings expertly mixed over the course of two and half days in Poland with complete strangers. My character, with his repressive Englishness and his buttoned up feelings, made it through the entire process with only a tiny cry of joy. Me, not so much. I’ve got all that Englishness, buttons firmly fastened, and still even now afterwards I’m somewhat embarrassed about the tears, but they came unbidden as I thought about the game.

I’m trying to figure it out, to analyse it and dissect it, to understand it so that I’m less scared of it. You’re reading a part of that now, that process of examination and of recovery. I don’t need to perform an analysis, but the telling of it helps. Some of you, I’m sure, will nod and agree. Some will smile but shake your heads sadly. And a couple might think less of me for it. You can excuse yourselves from this article, it’s not for you.

Framing the emotion was a narrative of our own design. Not for Nordic LARP the show and tell awkwardness of some UK games, nor the exquisitely crafted precision of the best of our games; this was more organic. More emotional. They call it "playing to lose"; taking the course of most drama - I've heard friends in the UK describe it as "bad life choices".

My own character wasn’t much like me, but still I found myself engaging with him. He was nicer than I am, but also much more of a doormat. Clayton had married for love, his wife for money. He had a passion for the new, which drove him to constant infidelities. Not ever out of malice, simply because he could not help be engaged by a pretty face and a comforting smile. He was poor at banking, as it was never his great passion. Unfortunately, he was also poor at poetry, which was. He had a daughter whom he loved with all of his heart, but failed to understand. He believed in the primacy of happiness, love and joy - and sought these in all forms to be cherished and shared - and hated to see others unhappy. In the context of Fairweather Manor, it was never going to end well for him.

He was weak and easily bullied, even by himself. His inability to stand up for himself, especially against his own transient desires, was at the root of many of his problems. He could muster a backbone occasionally, most notably when intervening in disputes between his wife and daughter; but after a flare of strength, he would return to drifting along. In a family of go-getters, he was a failure.

He was good company, however, and loyal and kind. He had easy relationships with many of the other attendees. He was equally at home talking with his Lordship as he was with the lawyer or the actresses in the theatre troupe. I’d have liked it if he’d have been able to have more relationships with the servants, but despite the pre-game suggestion that we could act as a bridge between upstairs and downstairs, any time I attempted to communicate with the lower order, I was shoo-ed away.

So what actually happened? Well, not a lot and a lot all at once. The nature of the game was such that there was never going to be a series of killings or an invasion of pod people from beyond the stars. We were actually told that we could choose to die if we wanted, but were warned not to turn the game into a murder mystery. Instead, the game was a subtle succession of scenes of small scale personal drama; linked by many opportunities to simply be.

It felt like a series of Downton Abbey condensed into a weekend. That’s meant as a compliment, as it really felt as though the stories fitted the genre. As Clayton I was never likely to steal the spotlight, but my game was all about the relationships. The up/down rollercoaster between him and his wife, from their arguments about their daughter’s future to the love poem that he read publicly to her. The slow disintegration of his relationship with his daughter, as it slipped away from him despite his every effort. The sad half-hearted attempt to seduce the politician’s wife, which turned merely to friendship as he saw his own situation mirrored in her cuckolding and he resolved (unsuccessfully) to stop his philandering. The brilliantly awkward moments when he encountered one of the Duke’s granddaughters who had tried to seduce, a relationship consummated with less than a dozen words right at the end of the game. The swearing of a vengeance pact against his best friend’s foster brother for past sins. the comfort sought in quiet words with the director of the theatre company, his past and present lover, and about the only relationship of equals that he had. And the love/hate relationship with the Polish poet, who was as depressive in his outlook as Clayton was optimistic.

I came away from the weekend rueing the missed opportunities, as I always seem to do when leaving a game. My mind was full of the conversations unspoken. But looking here, at the previous paragraph and remembering all the things that I have not written about, I realise that I did a lot (as I always do).

It makes sense that I came away emotionally drained. Looking at this on the electronic page, I see a lot of hope and fear, a lot of love and loss, that I lived whilst inside Clayton. And though he kept smiling through it all, his was a sad story. I feel for the poor old duffer.

The game felt sometimes a little like therapy. Exploring ideas and emotions left untouched by my Britishness, and indeed the very idea of that Britishness itself. The reserve that I have in my real life, was definitely a contributory factor in Clayton’s situation. How do I feel about that? Where should that knowledge take me? And is there something that I can learn?

Children learn through play. I see it in my little girl. And I feel like I have learned through my play in Fairweather Manor. It wasn’t life-changing, but it was life-affecting. It has fed my thoughts and left me with some self-examination to do. I’m different, in some small ways, than I was before the weekend. I’m pleased with that.

Navel gazing aside, I had a fantastic time. I met some wonderful people, some of whom I hope will turn out to be friends. And I’ve got some amazing memories of the physical and the emotional time that I shared with Clayton. Plus, I got to spend 3 nights in a beautiful Polish castle. There aren’t many ways that it could have been better.

A re-run has already been announced. I'd heartily recommend it. Details are at http://www.fmlarp.com
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