Wyrd Times Jun 22, 2010
Being the First in a Series of Overdue Posts about LARP Events
Wyrd Con was at once familiar and strange. It was a larger convention than any Intercon in history. It was a more diverse LARP convention than any I've ever heard of. It was fun, instructive, frustrating, and fascinating. Above all, it was, well, weird.
The con itself
Wyrd Con was held at the Hilton in Costa Mesa, California. This is in Orange County, which for those (like myself) not very familiar with California, is a famously well-off area southeast of Los Angeles. The Costa Mesa Hilton is a nice convention-center hotel, situated within a gigantic swath of suburban sprawl.
Wyrd Con was big. The figure I heard was 318 attendees. This makes it, much to my chagrin, the largest LARP convention ever held in North America. Well, we'll just have to beat them next year… :)
Intercon bills itself as a "multi-genre LARP convention," but Wyrd Con absolutely puts Intercon to shame in that department. Wyrd Con is extremely diverse in the LARPers it attracts: there were plenty of boffer-style players from all literary genres; White Wolf groups; Call of Cthulhu folks; theatre-style teams coming from LA, the United Kingdom, the Nordic countries, and (natch) New England; and there were LARPs I'm not even 100% sure how to categorize.
Wyrd Con had a very well-stocked vendors room. What was most impressive to me, coming from Intercon, was that seemingly every vendor there was LARP-related. In practice this meant they were mostly selling garb, props, and boffer weaponry. As one might expect, most of the stuff on display was from the fantasy and steampunk genres.
Concurrent with Wyrd Con was the 2010 LARP Summit. This was two simultaneous tracks of panels, workshops, and talks on various aspects of LARP. It was pretty similar in content to Intercon's Pre-Convention (nee Thursday Thing), but unlike at Intercon, the Summit was run simultaneous to the rest of the convention. In addition to the events themselves, the LARP Summit produced a book, which you can read online. (I wrote one of the essays in it.)
Intercon uses the con suite as a socialization space. Instead of that, Wyrd Con had an area called the Tavern, which had a bar serving beer, wine, and cocktails. They also had a stage for live musicians, who were scheduled for most of the con. In theory I like this idea a lot, but in practice the sound system the musicians were using was way too loud for the space and made it difficult to socialize, so people mostly ended up hanging out in hallways.
I found registration at Wyrd Con a bit confusing. They had an online pre-registration system for events at the con, similar to Intercon, but I found it somewhat difficult to use, and in addition, people receiving free admission to the con for running games there (like me and Greer) had to pay extra to pre-register for games. At the con itself, you could pick up one of a limited quantity of event tickets, which were meant to be handed in at the event door. But Greer and I didn't find out about the ticket system until Saturday, so we missed getting into some games and ended up waitlisting a bunch.
- Greer and I arrived a little bit late to the con (having come in on the Greyhound from San Francisco). We checked into our room after some confusion at the desk.
- We checked into the con and got our extremely nice metal convention badges! Yay!
- We noticed that there was a game called Casino Arcana running soon, organized by our buddies at Enigma Live Game Labs, so we decided to go check it out. But the game was full when we got there. We decided to wait around and see if anyone didn't show up. One person didn't, so Greer got to play. I decided to go check out the panels.
- I walked in halfway through a panel called LARP and Performance Art - A Crossroads. This was a presentation by Brody Condon, an American artist with a background in performance art, and Bjarke Pedersen, a Dutch LARP designer who is the incoming chair of Knutepunkt. This was a really fascinating look at some of the LARPs they have collaborated on over the past few years as well as their frightening and awesome-looking current project.
- After the panel, the presenters and most of the audience went to get some drinks from the Tavern and talk about the state of LARP in various geographical areas from which we all came.
- Eventually I had to set up for our 2:00 AM (!!!) run of 10 Bad LARPs: Remix! I wasn't incredibly optimistic about getting players for this due to the time, but it turned out we were fine. This was probably our most violent run of 10 Bad LARPs to date (and that's really saying something). Tons of delirious, half-drunken fun was had by all.
- Woke up at 8:00 AM. Ugh. Felt hung over. That turned out to be perfect for...
- Rock Band Murder Mystery! Greer and I got in off the waitlist for this Enigma game. This was what we in New England call a "WYSIWYG" game, or what the Nordic LARPers call a "360 degree" game, meaning that everything in the game space is diagetically real. The couch is a real couch, the panties draped over the nightstand are real panties draped over the nightstand, the bowl of M&Ms with all the green ones removed is a real... I played the band manager, Shannon. This was a fun role that I really got into. The game itself was a perfectly decent murder mystery, perhaps a bit unevenly plotted in places, but solidly designed. What really made the experience special was the immersiveness - everything felt marvelously real.
- We caught the tail end of Lunch with the Queen. This was the aforementioned LARP I wasn't 100% sure how to categorize. It was an unplotted, free-conversation, in-character event without pregenerated characters. When we walked in it felt like a fairly serious, SCA-style affair, mostly centered around being in the persona of a medieval character, but the players actually joked around quite a bit. We asked them about it afterwards and they told us that the tone of their events varies a lot depending on how people are feeling - sometimes it's really serious and sometimes really silly.
- I watched the panel about The US Military's LARP, which was about Fort Irwin's training simulation, a gigantic, extremely realistic simulacrum of an Iraqi town. A guest speaker from the Army came and gave a brief talk, then showed us part of a documentary about the site, and took questions from the audience. It was really fascinating, and I'd love to take a tour there at some point.
- I sat on the panel about The Art of LARP, moderated by Aaron Vanek. We talked about whether or not LARP can be classified as an art form, and what the benefits to thinking of it as one might be. I had attended a similar panel by Aaron at Intercon J and had high hopes for this one, but I don't think it went over as well with the Wyrd Con audience as it had at Intercon.
- I attended the talk by Bjarke on Twelve Nordic LARPs that everyone should know about. This wasn't simply a rundown of twelve important games as I had expected, but rather a look at the various styles of LARP in Nordic countries using these games as a means to illustrate them. General impression: wow, Nordic LARPs are way more intense than American ones. I need to go to Knutepunkt.
- After dinner, Greer and I set up for Welcome to Scearbridge University. This game was way under-registered: we only ever had about half of the minimum number of players we needed to run the game. So I had cunningly printed out a backup game as well, with the intention of probably running it instead. That's how we ended up running The Trial. It went quite well, I thought. Greer did some excellent out-in-the-hallway recruiting, so we were able to run only a few players short of full, and we had one of the more nuanced outcomes I've seen in that game.
- After the game, con chair Ira Ham showed up and talked with me and the remaining players for awhile. It was really interesting to meet Ira and get to hear about the process of putting Wyrd Con together.
- I went to the Enigma Live Game Labs brunch, where I got to talk to a bunch of cool people, including Larry Niven. Yes, that one. Also, I got to have some awesome in-depth discussions about LARPs past and present with two of the Brits who had signed up for Scearbridge: Hanbury Hampden-Turner and Rachael England. Turns out they ran two games at Wyrd Con which I had managed to totally miss. Suck!
- Greer and I were invited out to a dead dog by Fei Leung, a local LARPer who had jumped in at the last minute to fill a really important role in The Trial. There, we got to meet some of the southern California scene, who are a really cool bunch and really welcomed us in.
- Then we went back to the hotel. I fell asleep pretty much immediately and involuntarily. Greer watched the Criminal Minds marathon.
- Woke up early and got my rental car. Went back to the hotel and checked out.
- Greer and I drove to Six Flags Magic Mountain! Woohoo! I realize my roller coaster geekery doesn't really belong in a LARP con report, but I will just say that Goliath and X2 are fucking amazing, and if you're ever north of LA and have the time, you really must go check them out.
So that was Wyrd Con.
It was fun. It was definitely worthwhile.
Will I go back next year? Quite possibly. Will you come with me?