Zombies and stories

Mary spoke about Zombie LARP at The Story conference in February 2011. There’s audio of her speech here, her slides (drawn by Grant and featuring several real Zombie stories) are embedded below, and her notes are on her personal blog here.

Here’s an extract of her talk that deals with how Zombie tackles froth:

Froth, in the live gaming world, is when someone who has played at a LARP event talks through what happened to their character, describing their personal story and trajectory through the game events. This can be solitary – describing the event to someone who wasn’t there – or a group experience of collaborative storytelling, fitting new or previously unknown snippets of story into the narrative to build up a shared conception of the group experience. It’s a form of oral history attached to LARP. Personal stories can seem minor in the grand scope of big events that might include thousands of participants and huge world-shattering official plotlines, and it’s through froth after the game that those personal stories can come to assume a larger significance and that an individual player might come to an understanding of their place within the wider event.

This is vital currency for Zombie, so part of the construction of our story machine has been encouraging, institutionalising and curating froth. After their mission, the players are taken into a room and “debriefed” – in part because we want to know what happened and how the game went, but mostly because encouraging the players to tell their story in a group helps to cement the narrative and make sense of a massively complex, rushed, disorienting experience. The brain does weird things with adrenalin – time slows down when you’re scared or stressed, as you are in Zombie, but it makes it harder to remember what really happened in a linear way – so talking it through as the players calm down helps make sure the experience doesn’t get lost. Our frothing debriefs are story sprouting sessions – and some of the stories become the game’s urban legends, especially when they involve Danny.

And after the game, we end up with all sorts of unexpected story-based results. People have written highly subjective short fiction based on their missions; people write in-character official mission debriefs; they make and buy costumes for next time; they paint their Nerf guns specifically for our game; they draw posters, they created card games, and in one case they’ve had our logo tattooed on their neck. We’ve even had one fan write slash fiction about two of our non-player characters. These are all products of the players’ imaginations and creative desire, not ours – they’re story machine products.

Everything we do now is about making the story machine better, refining it and making it work as effectively as we can.