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Business larp

Deep in the Arctic Ocean, the alarm sounds in a submarine. Twelve members of the crew suddenly realise that they only have enough oxygen to barely get to the surface. What will they do? Should they descend deeper to their colleagues trapped several meters further down, or should they save their own lives? Calling off the operation might end up costing them billions of dollars!

This is the beginning of two days filled with some unusual training for a group of managers. They are about to embark on an adventure focusing on managing styles, negotiation, argumentation, decision-making, communication under pressure, achieving goals and time management.

This article was originally published: Katrine Øverlie Svela, Karete Jacobsen Meland (eds): Crossing Habitual Borders. Knutepunkt 2013. ISBN 978-82-303-2295-6 (print) ISBN 978-82-303-2297-0 (pdf) https://nordiclarp.org/w/images/3/3b/2013_Crossing_Habitual_Borders.pdf

YES, WE CALL IT LARP

Descent was originally written as a larp for the larp community. With age comes the need to pay bills, and in 2011 we in the Czech organizer team Court of Morovia made a radical step from focusing on larp for the general public, to introducing it to the business market. We began cooperating with professional trainers and coaches, and modified our games for the business clientele. Then, we changed into suits and met with human resources managers and company directors. Although we altered both our target audience and clothing, we did not change our goal: To create larps with good game-design and strong ideas.

“We are in a hurry! If you can’t agree on your leadership amongst yourselves, we will designate it for you,” declares a voice from the speakers. The discussion starts immediately: Should the soldier lead? Or the technician who knows the submarine best? Or perhaps the one whom least people will mind? Sooner than the crew has settled upon a leader, the speakers are heard again: “We are in a hurry! Decide!”

Larping was an entirely new word for the HR managers. It proved a good idea to call our version of training larp, as this makes us new and interesting. At the same time, we do not hide that larp is also a game, and it should be noted that we do sometimes experience difficulties with making our business partners take us seriously. But a number of psychologists and anthropologists could confirm the importance and irreplaceability of games in human lives. And, as the formal educational environment is saturated with serious and frontal trainings, mostly boring and impractical, we propose that larping can prove to be a long-awaited alternative. What makes larping so different from simulation gaming or experience pedagogies? Primarily, the game mechanisms are not set in a way that enables the participants to win collectively. The goals of the various characters are conflicting and it is impossible for all the characters to achieve success. Put in simpler terms: When someone wins, somebody else loses.

“The sealed case with mineral samples is in the airlock” says the console. The geologist grabs the case and before anybody can stop him – opens it. “What have you done?” the officers scream, “this is pure sabotage of the scientific mission. Now our samples are worthless!” . “Leave him alone. I paid him to do that.” A gentleman who has kept himself in the background the whole time suddenly appears. “So, young man, I’d really like to know: Who is the legal owner of all that oil?”

The different motivations of the characters manifest soon after the beginning of the descent. This causes a collision onboard that endangers not only the success of the mission, but also the lives of all the people present. It is not the collective feeling of satisfaction from a job well done, but rather an intense, often negative experience, that is the starting point of discussion, analysis and looking for solutions in parallel situations in the business world. It is our goal that the discussions will enable the employees to see the perspectives of their colleagues, reflect around these and hopefully understand them better. This fosters an open mind, respect for the work of others, and improves mutual communication.

THE MOOD TO PLAY

This kind of training is not for everybody. The unknown situation of a simulated crisis puts the team members into different roles than the ones they normally take in their company. An employee may play the boss and vice-versa. The success of a game as a development activity depends on the right targeting. We recommend the use of larping to dynamic and communicative teams that want to evolve and improve. When approaching the larp, it is important to be in a mood to play, experiment, and constantly be ready to try out new solutions – otherwise it cannot fulfil its purpose. However, we do not leave this responsibility to the clients, as it is the role of the trainer to contact the group prior to the training and motivate them to participate. One should also prepare them for the game in an active and motivating way when at the training event. The trainer has to be a skilled pedagogue, and know how to deal with initial concerns and mistrust between the participants due to the new situation.

“The solution to this situation is obvious,” the agent says, pulling out a gun. He sees no point in a heroic death, his goal is clear – to survive at all cost. Will he pull the trigger?”

LARP IS NOT ENOUGH

When the game ends, it is analysed by professional trainers that have experience in both larps and group coaching. This way, the larp becomes a base for further training, which will be focused on some specific educational topic. We set the aim according to the agreement with the company and the requirements of the group. As participants can hide behind their roles, larps can uncover more than plain assessments or pure simulation. Importantly, it is not the action of the employee during the larp that is considered, but rather the employee’s reflections around the role. The employee is never criticised or given negative feedback. The situations from the larp are used as examples for finding solutions with distance and detachment.

Beeep, beeep. The alarm sounds again. “You’ve reached the point of critical pressure on the outer hull. If you keep descending, you may risk deformation of the submarine”. “We have to keep descending. We are so close!“ shouts the officer. “No way, do you want to kill us all?” The technician refuses to operate the console. “Do it, I´m the officer. This is a command.” The crew starts to rebel. Red lights are blinking at the control desk.

Initially, we had decided to run this as a one-day long training program. However, it turned out that the reflection needs much more space, and we now recommend a two-day variant. The preparation for the larp, the larp itself and the first phase of the reflection (which focuses on the individual processing of the emotions and experiences) take place during the first day. The second day is dedicated to the analysis of the different game situations, where the team looks for parallels with the working reality of the participants, finds new solutions, and sets new personal goals regarding their educational topic. This second day is lead by our coach in cooperation with the manager of the team in order to achieve applicability in the particular working environment. Evaluation with the leadership takes place after the training, and in these meetings we provide recommendations for further work with the group, or give material to the internal company coaches.

Descent, Court of Moravia

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME

We do not want to discourage anybody. But it is necessary to stress that, although the Descent has been redesigned twice since its creation, it took us a year to improve the characters and their aims, and to ensure their applicability to the goals of the projects. And most of all, a large part of the training is up to a professional coach that we cooperate with. Without him, we would never be able to manage an analysis of the game suitable for the top management of a corporation, considering that they come from a very different target group than what we have met earlier.

Still, over the course of the last two years, we have come closer to fulfilling a great dream of ours: To build a company on something we love to do – larping – and this brings us joy every day.

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