Just a Little Lovin’ is a game designed by two Norwegians, Hanne Grasmo and Tor Kjetil Edland. It was played three times since 2011, and I had the chance to play the third run in Denmark this year. We were about 70 people there, during 5 days.
The larp is described on its website (http://just-a-little-lovin.blogspot.fr/) as a larp about friendship, desire and the fear of death. The game takes place in America during the early 80’s, among the gay/lesbian/trans/drag community in New York where people will brutally discover AIDS. Here is a part of the description of the game on the website:
“During the larp we play three 4th of July parties of 1982, 1983 and 1984. Every morning after breakfast there is an act break where we find out what has happened with the characters and their relationships the following year before the next act starts one year later. When the game starts, neither the players nor the characters know who will become infected by the virus, but the lives of all the characters will be deeply affected by the epidemic. Our goal for the game is that all the characters will have friendships that are important to them, experience a little bit of lovin’ at the summer parties and feel the fear of death as people around them start to become infected.”
Experiencing feelings and storytelling
The game is built around three parties, with ellipses between them. Each party has more or less the same schedule, the same guests, each time one year later. An interesting part of the game is to see how the same party can be so different whereas everything seems so similar. There are of course some differences between the acts, because a few people died during the last year and a few others are infected. However, these differences are not enough to explain why the three parties are so different during the game. The brilliant idea of the designers is to associate a main theme with each act. Players have thus to feel Desire during the first act, the Fear of death the next year, and must finally focus on Friendship during the last act.
The recurrence of the party, with the help of these meta-instructions, is a good way to experience really different feelings, with a high contrast between the three acts. These themes make sense because every character may have a story in which he will successively experience these feelings. Just a Little Lovin’ is a narrativist game, where the players are encouraged by the organizers to create their own story. The three different themes are good supports to guide the players to do that, but the designers allowed also other tools.
There are several workshops before the game and between the acts to help the players thinking about the development of their character and how they could live out an interesting story. Another part of the players’ preparation is to think about what they want to experience on the next act, and ask the other players to help them to do that. For example, during the third act, my character was just finishing a rehab for drugs, and I asked the other players to tempt him, because I wanted to experience this feeling and see where it could lead the story of my character.
On the contrary to larps where players have just to react to events and where the story of everyone is thought before the game by the designers, in Just a Little Lovin’, players have to be really active in the construction of their own story. Fortunately, they have tools to do it. Those I described before of course, but also the meta-technique of the blackbox. The blackbox is a space where the players can play scenes that don’t take place during the present time of the game. It might be a scene in the past of the characters, a possible future, or sometimes an abstract scene, a dream or whatever the players can imagine. The blackbox is a very useful tool to build a story when the players think that they can’t do all the scenes they want during the time of the game. The possibilities of the blackbox are wide, and I think that it requires practicing several games with a blackbox before being able to use its entire potential. Fortunately, during Just a Little Lovin’, players with more experience of this tool could initiate scenes for the others, and help them thinking about the scenes which could be interesting. The only slight drawback is that on this run, there were only two blackboxes, with one of them very far from the rest of the game, and it was definitely not enough for 70 people.
Life of a community
If every character lives his/her own story, the larp itself tells the story of a community where an epidemic is spreading. At the beginning of the game, the lifestyle of these people is still uninhibited, and the epidemic spreads mostly through sex. So the designers had to find a technique to simulate sex scenes and their importance in this game.
They chose a meta-technique for playing out a sex scene with a phallic prop. The prop symbolizes sexual assertiveness and penetrative sex in one form or another. The players can use the prop in many ways to simulate the sex scene, and the scene ends with monologues where the participants speak out their characters inner thoughts (more information about this meta-technique: http://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Phallus).
I have to confess that I was really not convinced when I first heard of this meta-technique. Even after the workshop before the larp where we tried to do such scenes, I was afraid that these sex scenes might be ridiculous, and I was afraid to feel completely out of the game during them. But I was actually wrong. Using these props allow the players to do scenes which look like real ones and to simulate many ways to have sex. In that kind of community, with a lot of sex, it’s a good way to do it easily for the players, and to be sure that the others know precisely what is happening when they see a sex scene behind a door during the party. Players have also to adapt the way they have sex to their partners and to the context, so the scenes can be really significant for their own story.
The notion of community is not just a word in Just a Little Lovin’. Every character belongs at the same time to a core group (about 3 to 5 people) and a social circle (about 8 to 10 people). Between each act, players are encouraged to think about their development and eventually change their core group or social circle. It is a way to build many bridges and interactions between all the characters. In many larps, I don’t really like these bridges which are often artificial. In that case, it is of course a way to build a global community, but it is above all a brilliant way to deal with death.
Indeed, during the larp, some of the characters will die of AIDS. Building a new character at the middle of the game is certainly not an easy experience, and people who lived that could probably speak about it better than me. Only a few characters will be infected and die, because otherwise the game wouldn’t be manageable. The designers made a really good choice to deal with disease and death. At the end of each act, there is a meta-scene called the lottery of death, which is probably the most intense scene of the game for everyone. The risk to be infected exists for all the characters, and the randomness of the scene is really heavy. Every character could be picked up of course, but above all, because of all the links between the characters, everyone will know someone who will be picked up. And that’s why this scene is so strong, and why everyone feels belonging to this community.
The community is then reinforced during the larp, because of the recurrence of the party and the similar trials that the characters can share. This feeling is really stronger at the end of the game, and Friendship is a relevant theme for the last year.
Playing Just a Little Lovin’ was a real pleasure, and I think that this game is a good example of a larp with a lot of transparency, which succeeds to keep many unknown outcomes thanks to its clever game mechanics. Every run of the larp allows living new stories. Every run of the larp arouses emotions, whatever happens.
Just a Little Lovin’
A game by Hanne Grasmo and Tor Kjetil Edland
Producers of the danish run: Flemming H. Jacobsen, Nynne Søs Rasmussen and Helene Willer Piironen with the Rollespilsfabrikken association (and the help of Petter Karlsson and Morgan Jarl)