What does the chest from the end of “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain”, an old and wise silverback gorilla and a robe described in the novel “The Man who was Thursday” have in common? Read on and find out! Warning: Contains very surreal content. If anybody have stumbled onto here without knowing that a black box larp is, take a look here. It’ll help for everything else to make more sense (hopefully).
Before We Wake: The facts and the ultra-short version
The ultra-short version:
I had my share of quite serious doubts when I signed up for “Before We Wake”, but I must say that not one of them came to be true. I do have some hopefully constructive criticism, but all in all it was a very interesting experience. It’s been a “slow burner” as for roleplaying experience go, where it didn’t feel shocking when I was in the middle of it. But even now (over a week since I played the game) elements and moments still reside in my thoughts. Before We Wake was not the best role-playing experience I’ve ever had (no idea what that would be honestly), but it is definitely one of the most interesting games that I’ve ever played. And by god, it was one of the most avant-garde artsy games I’ve ever played (also in a good way).
As for facts: Before We Wake was 6 hours long and had two runs with roughly around 24-26 players per run. Workshop with all of the players was on Thursday and I played the game Friday. During the workshop, we had to take elements of our dreams (as written down in our dream journals) and make them into “elements of meaning” (IIRC) which then became a part of our game. These elements were then added together with various objects (a cane, a sports bag and a small drum in my case). As a part of the workshop, we also created the “Dream Envoy”, which was a being that tried to send a message to the Dreaming Self (for example: in the case of me playing it, the Dreaming Self was actually me Thais Laursen Munk and parts of it took part in my actually dreams). My dream envoy ended up being a silverback gorilla in a silk robe (more about that later).
What mostly stuck with me during the workshop was that I think that I managed to mess up in some of the exercises, but it didn’t matter at all in the end. What seemed to be the point was that we established a connection with out subconscious mind by working with the elements from our dreams and worked to make them more tangible. At least that’s what happened with me.
During the game all players were dressed in white/very light clothes where the organizers added white sleeves and hoods (both very loose) that we could use as we saw fit. The play area was located in a theatre and was made out 3 parts: a large floor with a projector, a small “wood” with about six trees and the Night Cafe (where the dream enjoys met and discussed dreams, their Dreamers and other things). There was also really cool sound effect (one example would be that the sounds the players made recorded and played back at us, but in a changed way. So the sound of a wolf howl was answered by a strange sounding wolf howl)
There were 3 layers in the game, where one of them was the Night Cafe, one was the Dream and the third one was weaving. “Weavers” were made of 2 or more Dream Envoys joining into one group. This worked out by people usually beginning by touching each other (often by being back to back) and then trying to find a common theme or mood. Weavers couldn’t speak, but they could (and did) make noise (often a lot of it), which meant that people ended up sounding like one being, more or less (more on that later as well).
There were 3 acts. In the 1st act, we could not speak or communicate in the Night Cafe or in the Dreaming, though we could weave together and interact in some ways. In the second act, we could talk in the dream and the Night Cafe, though we stayed in our own separate dreams for example: a played else talked about soldiers while I was in the middle of a dream taking place in Odense. That meant that the soldiers she was talking about and very afraid of were actually somewhere in Odense in my dream. It was different for her as she was in her own dream, which meant that she interpreted my signals very differently. In the third act, we had to accept what other people said and work that into our dream. This meant that when someone greeted me with “Oh, here comes the space director!”….well, obviously I was the space director about to send some awesome astronauts off to Mars!
Before we go any futher, it is important for to me point out that all my points of criticism should have the addition “….but it still was an awesome game” 🙂
-There was a slight problem with one of the metal poles (which was otherwise bolted into the floor), where I crawled onto one of them and it slid down about 30 centimeters (due to my weight of +93 kg no doubt). I’m sorry that I didn’t got around to tell the organizers to tell them about it, but there didn’t seem to be any problems the rest of the time.
-The people in the Night Cafe at times felt a bit too pushy. I’d going over various items and wondering which one I could use for the game when one of them asked if I’d like to take something out, instead of letting me come to them. It might just be me (I don’t handle that sort of stuff well and tend to see pushy behaviour even when it’s not present) , but I think that it could have worked better if the Dream Envoys were left alone a bit more. I don’t like that sort of coaching in-game personally, though I was very happy with the out of game one I got between act 2 and 3.
-The third one is more of a question/a background for debate: I wasn’t entirely sure about the structure of the dream layer between weaving and the Night Cafe. It might just be me, but it is my impression that other struggled a bit with it as well. I later realized that it was a question of our Dream Envoys playing larp with each other which then became dreams, but I felt like this point should have be stressed a bit more. I’ve done this sort of game before (one example would be the awesome game “Stjernetegn”/Zodiacs by Simon James Pettitt), so that was the way I went with it.
“We only do red drugs in this house” (more about the awesome surreal madness that was Before We Wake)
I would like at this point to say that “I have no idea where the silverback gorilla came from”, but that wouldn’t be true. As a part of the workshop, we took the elements of meaning from our dream and placed in our “dream chests” (via a guided meditation). And my chest showed up….in the form of the warlock Zargor’s chest with 3 locks from the end of “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain” and the novel “the Trolltooth Wars”. So I placed elements from my dreams there, which came oddly naturally to me. We were then told to “close the chest and look at out dream envoy, which is standing on the other side of the chest”. And I saw my older self, wiser and with grey hair. So I wrote down “silverback”, after which my image of my Dream Envoy became significantly more ape-like (my old roommates used to tease me with looking like a gorilla when I couldn’t find my keys/mobile phone, furrowed brow and hunched shoulders). So silverback gorilla it was. And suddenly a robe from the novel “The Man Who Was Thursday ” showed up! In the novel, the main character is dressed in a robe of “sun and star”, a symbol of the 4th day of Creation from the Bible. So there you have it. They were all part of my experience with the blackbox larp “Before We Wake”. 🙂
As previously mentioned, there were 3 acts in the game. For me first act was interesting, the second was quite frustrating and the third act was really good and sort of combined the good parts from both of the other two acts. I didn’t feel fully “immersed” in the first act, though there were some good and interesting moments, most notably when weaving. I was sceptical about weaving at first, but in the end it ended up working a lot better than I though. In general I can have a hard time not thinking too much about something, which made weaving hard for me. It did work out in the end, especially in the first act. I had a weaving scene, where we fell into an embrace and began weaving. As we began to make sounds, we breathed in and out in unison. Slowly, we both began to breather faster and heavier, muscles beginning to tense up and it was undoubtedly very sexual in a very powerful and primal way. We then both breathed out in concert and slowly drifted apart. I had not seen that coming and I had not ever imagined simulating sex in larp like that before. It worked surprisingly well, but I would not have believed it beforehand if someone had suggested it. Very powerful experience, especially because I never would have imagined it to work in practise.
The second act was fairly frustrating. as I continued a “trend ” from the first act of thinking far too much about the game and not just going with the flow. It felt very long, I stubbed my toe along the way (thanks a lot to the kind organizers for providing an ice bag as soon as i stepped into the off-game area! :-)) and in general I just felt uncomfortable in my the scarf and bandanna I’d made out of the white clothes the organizers gave us in addition to our white clothes. I wasn’t sure about why or how, just that I was very frustrated and didn’t know what to do. The part about having to not accept other’s reality and still play on was kinda frustrating because it meant that the reaction often was that you thought that other people were talking jibberish constantly. I don’t know if it worked for the other players, but it didn’t really work for me. It broke the flow quite often for me, which were very annoying. What it also did do however was to establish other people’s dreamscape “in the raw” (she’s got something about preparing for an onslaught by soldiers going on, he seems to be a lot about various anxieties, he’s fairly zen, etc).
Then we had a dinner break between act 2 and 3, which was good. Partly because the food was good, but also because Sanne was so kind as to coach me and listen to my frustrations. She then (IIRC) suggested that I focused on a feeling of feeling lost and not as a player trying to escape from that feeling, but instead exploring it and tried to go as much with the flow as possible. This helped me a lot, as it gave me a direction. What also happened was that after I “woke up”, I asked various people if they knew where we were, as I was feeling lost. They didn’t know, but ran into Peter Munthe-Kaas, who was sitting cross-legged on a platform. The following conversation then unfolded.
Me: Do you know where we are?
Me: Well, I’m lost and not sure where I am.
Peter: Do you have anywhere you need to be?
Me: I guess not….
Peter: Well, I guess you’re not really lost then?
I then dropped the bandanna and the scarf on the floor (which felt like a great weight of my shoulders), bowed and sat down to Peter’s right. I ‘ve never slipped that easily into a meditative state of mind before and it helped establish a feeling of my Dream Enjoy telling me direct: Don’t worry about it, just go with the fucking flow already. For most of the third act after that that I just went from scene to scene and pretty much just played whatever people told me they were doing. Otherwise, I hung out at the Night Cafe in a friendly gorilla-like manner and tried to go alone if somebody wanted help. I in particular remember being an Indian elephant and at one point carrying Sarah on my back (who was of course riding and elephant swimming in the ocean). It was very interesting for me, because it dawned on me that it was a very unique experience in role-playing: I was both playing something that I couldn’t physically represent as such and at the same time I was physically interacting with my surroundings. And as an additional bonus, I got to play with Sarah as well (we’ve known each other for about couple of years or so, but never played in a game together).
“Before We Wake” was intended to be kind of surreal and that did happen. I went from being a gorilla (obviously) representing someone’s anxiety to ending up at a dinner at the house with a sign on the wall saying “We only do red drugs in this house”, where I helped make a tomato cake which resulted in the sentence: “Did you put the fairy in the dough for the tomato cake?” I had a had time keeping a straight face after that….
The debrief was very well handled as well. One of the other participants (Alex from the UK) made the very relevant point that while act 2 was dream-like (as we usually use that word) act 3 was actually like a dream with the same strange logic as in dreams. I couldn’t agree more.
Personal experience and learning about myself through larp
What was also really interesting for me about this game was that we as players ourselves choose how much of ourselves we wanted to bring into the game. I really liked that it was entirely up to me how much of myself I wanted to include or bring into it. Somehow and some point though the workshop, I managed to connect with a part of my subconscious and bring that into the game. The result was very interesting as it meant that the game really hit home on a lot of points. Before the game my very aweswome friend Ida Mia said that if this was the second time I tried a black box larp and if I was somewhat sceptical about the media, I was about to go jumping off the deep end (sounds like me in a lot of ways actually). I’m glad to say that I had a good and intensely interesting experience with my second black box larp. It felt to have been worth the time, money, effort and energy that I put into it and it was a great inspiration for how to work with dreams in role-playing games. I feel like I learned some things during the larp that I might not be able to put fully into words, but which still mattered.
For those who reached the end, thank you very much. You deserve a cookie at the very least. Sleep tight and sweet dreams.