Crewing The Quota: guest post by Sarah Cook.

This is a couple of posts by Sarah Cook on her experiences of crewing The Quota which I’ve nailed together.

Post 1

“Back from crewing for @The Quota, a Broken Dreams larp and Avalon Larp studio game where I was three distinctly, differently awful people.

Unlike my usual awful people, none of them were funny characters. There was not a lot of levity, and that was quite hard. This game was very unlike any I’ve crewed before with its focus on a real world situation (detainees seeing if they can pass the process and get a new life in another country) and the themes of hopelessness, unfairness and powerlessness, seeped through everywhere.

I played a spec ops interrogator, a guard and a psychiatrist. They were all deeply unpleasant, disaffected people who for various reasons cared little for the emotional or physical well being of those around them. But they were also, normal. They were practically the definition of the banality of evil. They were not “insane” or “evil” – they were three people doing three jobs.

As crew we had detailed notes from players on what they were and were not comfortable doing and having done to them, including scenes they actively wanted to do, and we did our best to deliver. Some of those scenes were very intense and created stories which are usually only alluded to in games rather than played through.”

Post 2

“I have had a nice sleep and have some additional thoughts about crew roles. I think overall I played technical/structural characters (as is fine and fitting for NPCs) and they did the things that I enjoy most about LARP which is to build on what players have provided and offer opportunities for, ooooh, let’s call it character growth.

I’m much more interested in how my NPCs come across and the impact they have on players than in their rich inner life, so a lot of what I said or did was based on the situation. My briefs were fairly short and I had a lot of agency (a lot more than the players or their characters) – there was only one role that I knew about ahead of time, the others formed into being as I went along.

For me, the role of NPCs is to reinforce the setting and to provide story options for players that other players cannot / will not do. I’m also a big believer in NPCs that encourage player on player action. A lot of my musing is therefore about the form and function of my NPC roles rather than who they were because honestly, unless I had some writer-given plot or facts to drop, they were whoever the players thought they were.

Because of the simulationist nature of The Quota, realism was always fairly in the foreground of my mind and there were times when that made them harder to do, and that meant these people were very different to my usual bunch of gods and monsters.

There is another post for a later day about why I do not play heroes and am rarely, if ever, cast as sympathetic roles. I do baddies well. And I’m OK with that.

MEDIC “There will always be a place in this world for a person like me.”

Medic was a technical expert in torture and I spent about 4 hours phys repping water-boarding people and a lot of hurt/comfort and sens dep amongst other things.

First role of the night. Interrogation specialist, probably ex-army, probably now a highly paid mercenary. She was not necc the person who got the intell, but she was the person who got people to the place where they could give the intell. Honestly, this character should not have looked like me. She should have been of medium height, build and with an entirely forgettable face. A perfect 0.

This role was all about control and experience. From my POV it was about controlling a player’s experience and delivering an experience that felt uncontrolled in a controlled fashion. It was a very physical role and the most tactile and hardest technically I did all weekend. The scenes were dark and intense – often quite literally dark, which added an extra element of challenge, and I did a lot of work around holding people’s face, and keeping them physically close to me, in part so I can read their body language but also because of the feeling of threat/safety that presence provides.

Anything that she said or did was about controlling the scene. Thumping the wall to make a player jump, feigning emotional closeness as a counterpoint to simulated pain, using the detailed OC notes to provide space for characters to fall or stumble into their worst IC fears.

It was also about the tension between “safe” and “real” – how realistic can you make something whilst still keeping people safe? Especially when you have never met them before in your entire life. We had good OC tools for managing this, with some hand tapping and specific language for “more” and “stop” and “slow down”. Having paper files in the crew room / site office was a godsend. It meant that we could read all about the character and knew where to push. It also meant we had a lot of OC safety stuff around limits and so on.

TANYA KING, GUARD. “I don’t give a fuck about your feelings.”

The security guards were also about control but in a very different way. They delivered the presence of authority and also represented the failings of that authority. They had power, but were also very human, very underpaid and emotionally-ground down, because the more you feel for the people in your care the more you will struggle to do your job.

She very definitely was about “doing her job” and it was therefore about presenting the kind of person who would do that job, which was relatively straight forward in a setting that offered a crumbling society with economic crisis, failing system and a racially charged politick. There was a background hum of anger and frustration as well as institutionalised boredom that I tried to keep on my face. However, like all the guards, Tanya had a hook. And hers was that she was gay, in a world with a lot of homophobic tension. Later she was also worried about losing her job.

A lot of the role was just about presence. Walking the halls. Scowling. Being an obvious figure of authority. However, she was also there to humiliate and beat on an extremely unpleasant male character who had specifically asked for comeuppance in his player booking form. The ideal goal was for a group of women characters to be given him in an empty cell and a promise that no-one would see anything but despite the offer none of them wanted to do it so there was an interesting (from the crew side) clash between what one player wants and what the others are prepared to give and to what extent this should be filled by the crew. Which meant stripping him to his underwear, putting a sign around his neck, and then walking him back to class after some general roughing up and kneeling. And keeping a blank face on at all times because it was really, really important to make this neither funny nor sexual – it was about delivering misery and powerlessness to a character who was fundamentally a bully.

I think that as an individual scene it worked well, but in terms of impact it probably varied. These depictions of institutionalised violence are made worse because of their dailiness, the endless grinding down of them. Being pushed, shoved, excluded and stripped of clothes and dignity every single day without recourse. As a one-off I am not sure it had that effect, but it was the tool and the space we had.

I then spent the rest of my time as her communicating in nods and eyebrows as other players circled around him. And glaring. So much glaring.

DR ALICE PAULS “I’m here to evaluate you.”

Psychiatrist. These roles were lovely pieces of 1-on-1 theatre to paraphrase Ian.

Dr Pauls was about envy and unfairness. I dressed her in clicky, shiny high heels, red lipstick and a red frock (her inspiration was the woman in red from the Matrix, a deliberately distracting and slightly out of place vision that will get you harmed). She was there to make people feel uncomfortable, sad, ugly and not good enough. I presented her as a wealthy woman with all the privileges in the world, working on a well-paid contract from the Welsh government as a way of getting political contacts for her own business. She was the poster child for capitalism and weaponised toxic femininity.

Unlike the other two she did not touch anyone. Her tool of choice was words and the type of empathy where you read every cue and adopt whatever format you think will get people to tell you how they feel. It was about giving players a private space to reveal bits of their character or have their character reflected back to them in (hopefully) unexpected ways.

The interviews varied in terms of what happened but the format was the same. Armed with the OC information and a blank piece of paper I had around 15-20 minutes to offer the characters a chance to tell their story. Then pick it apart and show it back to them in the worst possible light. If someone havered they were “indecisive” if they were forthright they were “arrogant”, if they worried for their safety they were “paranoid” and if they ever contradicted themselves or their notes they were “pathological liars”.

She was looking, ironically, for “goodness”. But it was a particular sort of goodness. A right-of-centre box-ticking sort of goodness. The kind of goodness it is easy to have if you are wealthy, well-educated, lucky and clever but hard to have otherwise. Her assessments looked for strength of character, consistency, selflessness, personal agency, self-awareness and evidence of impacting positively on the world. She didn’t care about why people might or might not have these things. She didn’t really care at all. I imagine that she dined out on stories of these “poor sad people” for months, and probably did a few emotive speeches at fundraisers then went to get her nails done.”

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