Larp over Bay of Pigs

Remember the edu-gamification studyvisit 12-16th of May? Among other programme items, we had a larp focused on the training of soft skills (negotiation, leadership, problem solving) for professionals. It was set in the Cold War era, with two teams of players – Soviets and Americans – trying to solve the Cuban crisis. The game was written by Krzysztof Chmielewski, one of the most famous larpmasters in Poland, who uses larp professionally to train business and legal clients. (Krzysztof happens to be a freshman at Gamedec.UKW: a peculiar choice, as he could actually be teaching here - and soon will, in all likelihood).

The game was designed for 12 characters, 6 Soviets and 6 Americans. We had had 12 guests signed up for the visit, but two did not arrive, so we filled the two seats with our students (they did very well!). The groups would never meet until the very end of the game, physically separated in different rooms. We were lucky to have access to rooms which matched the stereotypical theme of US and USSR: the Americans sat in a congressional room with long U-shaped row of tables equipped with microphones; the Russians sat at a desk on an elevated podium facing empty rows of seats in the audience, and used chalk to write on the traditional blackboard. Both groups had a laptop with Skype to role play direct phone calls. 

The game had simple yet powerful mechanics: each character had a special power with a limit of uses. Neither leader wanted to start a nuclear war, but each had to face opposition within his ranks that pushed for war. Strict timing divided the play into free discussion (15 minutes), votes and binding declarations (9 minutes) and short periods of contact with the enemy (4 minutes) on Skype. The Americans went in-character immediately – with the Russians it took longer, and they were overwhelmingly dominated by the leader (Nikita Khrushtshev). Still, after half hour also the Russian team with their dictator got immersed in the play, finding fun and challenge in roleplaying the political and interpersonal interactions. Even now, two weeks after the game, in our online communication they sometimes mockingly address one another with the character's names and refer to in-game events.

What has larp to do with gamification? Not much, usually. Unless you want gamification done 'right', with a meaningful narrative, immersion, and social dynamics as opposed to the points-badges-leaderboards cliche. My subversive idea is to see larp as 'gamified drama'.