Posted by: Simon James Pettitt | februar 25, 2014

Before and after silence – Gaming with my Black Box class

This post will be in english, because the writers of the book Larps from the Factory somewhere mentions, that they would like to hear about it, if people play their games. Since it is written by other skandinaviens and an american, I thought I would keep this post in english, so that they could read it. Also my english needs training.

Ok first a few introductions:
Me: I’m a roleplayer and Fastaval author, I also just started teaching black box role play, at a local place called Komediehuset (The comedy house) which is a local place that offers classes in acting, dancing, improvisation and now roleplay. This is my blog where I write about my designing process from the first idea to the finished product. But I have also made it a point to write a detailed description of all games I play, because as a writer I know how great it is to read that kind of thing.

Larps from the factory: A collection of larps from Olso based writing collective The Factory, read more about them here. The larps are of many different kinds, sizes and theme, and a great resource if you are looking for some smaller one shot larps to play. I plan on playing three for my class.

Now to the game:
Before and after silence is a game about silence, the writers describes it like this:

“In a world of more and more sound, silence is becoming more valuable. Before and After Silence is about limitations and listening, and about doing almost nothing. It is non-verbal and uses silence as its starting point. It is about shifting the point of view from “what is” to “what is not”, about shifting the focus from “the sounds” to “the spaces between the sounds”, from “the actions” to what is “between the actions”, and to “what is not done”. Rather than playing characters, we examine how we look at ourselves and how different filters can change how we see ourselves and others. We ask you to explore that silence, and to see if you can shape it. Seek to use silence as the point of origin for your actions, or as the thing that surrounds your actions. You should attempt to exercise restraint and to nothing until you have to let it go.”

It consists of a range of exercise that slowly puts the players in longer and longer silences, from one minute two, three then 10 and finally the game which is one hour! But to give your mind something to do each player draws three actions and picks one. They describe something that you can do once during the game, such as hold your hands over your ears and scream softly (the one I had). They also draw three settings and pick one, this describes how you are interpreting what is going on around you. Mine was for example:

“You and the others are old people filled with memories. You wish to share them but fear that the others are completely uninterested. One of the others is a memory you wish to avoid, afraid of what it might trigger in you.”

So you move around in complete silence, and once in awhile someone does their action, but most of the time they are acting out their internal story. But all the others actions and movements means something for your story. So even though you are in the same room seeing the same things you all end up with completely different stories. It’s the extreme version of what all roleplay is: very individual stories told together.

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They people in my class have very different backgrounds and not all are roleplayers, so I made a few changes to accommodate this. First of all I added some warm up exercises before the game. One called helper and opponent, where you try to be as close to one in the group as possible and as far from another in the group, this helped people to become aware of each other. I also did the classic make a machine with your bodies but instructed them to make their movement as small and quiet as possible. Another was tell a story one sentence at a time by taking turns, but with the rule that there had to be five seconds of silence between each line. All in all this is something I will do more, use warm ups but tweaked, so they fit the theme of the game you are about to start.

I was in doubt about some of the warm ups in the game, but decided to do them all anyway, and I’m glad I did, after each I could suddenly see the point with them. The best example of this is this exercise:

“Choose a silence object. It can be anything. Whoever has the object listens to it. Everybody else listens to this person listening, and the person then passes it on.”

I thought what the hell is the point of that? But I did it anyway, and saw straight away what it did. The point is not the one with the object but the ones watching him. It makes it ok to watch each other closely, a very important point in the game, but a thing that can be quite hard to do, as it’s frowned upon in everyday life. So that was very interesting. (But it would have been nice if the book had mentioned this, so I wouldn’t have been tempted to skip it. But maybe space was an issue.)

The warm up silences also showed a great deal, for example the first one minute gave all an impression of how slow times goes in silence. The three minutes with a setting card shows how quickly time goes when you have the setting to keep you occupied. I managed to create a whole little story in that time.

One final exercise was 10 minutes without anything. That was properly the hardest part, because as we had just learnt time flies just with the setting and knowing what one minute feels like made 10 a bit daunting.

Finally the game itself. I decided to do only half an hour (and after they thanked me for that), again because these are not as trained in keeping a story going, but also because I just think one hour is too long, especially because you have no idea how far you are, so there is no way to pace your story. And yes I know that is not the point, but still.

I used two music numbers to start and end the silence, the start went down in speed and volume and therefore brought you into the silence the other went up in volume slowly so worked great as an exit. The intro was: Death from Solace by Tettix and the intro was The Prettiest Remix from the music from the iPad game Sword and sorcery by Jim Guthrie. I can highly recommend both for this game.

Okay the game itself, oh it was great. I have written both what my setting and action was. And that simple starting point evolved into a story about a old man stranded in and old persons home, surrounded by the old and dying with one young women among them: his long lost wife, that is until he realizes that she is not there its just a picture. At this point he breaks down and just wait for death switching back and forth between the past, the coherent present and sometimes something in between mumbling like the rest about baking soda (in my head of course.) When the end music started I let him collapse and slip into oblivion. It work well. The others of course had completely different stories, and it was quite fun to find out what different events had meant to different people.

All in all a great game, but I’m not sure I would want to try it for an hour unless some sound alerted us to at least the half way point. I had my doubts about the settings and actions, but they all worked out rather well because they were well chosen, all about waiting in places where it was logical to be silent.

I took some out though because they were rather sexual, and there are underage people in the group. And also about that: it is not a game for the young, he was rather bored. He did well, but it was not his cup of tea. But then again I think it’s a game the young should try, as the game itself states silence is getting rare, and they should try it once in a while.

Next time I plan to play Fallen stars with them, another game from the book, and I’m looking forward to this.


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