blackboxNotes from a session where Richard W. spoke about Charles Bo Nielsen’s “Blackboxification” presentation from Knutpunkt 2014.The blurb for this presentation was:

“How to make any game into a blackbox game. Mainly built around experiences from remaking Evan Torners Metropolis into a blackbox game. It is all about Blackbox.

Hopefully Evan Torner will be able to participate with video hook-up, entertaining with his original game ideas. And then I’ll go through the process of blackboxification.

This will mainly be based around examples from larps and experiences with blackbox from the Nordic Larp Scene. We might do some testing.”

Charles took Evan Torner’s larp, “Metropolis” (based on the 1927 German Expressionist film) and wanted to blackboxify it.

What is a black box?
– In theatre, a black box is a small, often black-box painted space which can be used for a multitude of projects. It usually includes a projector, sound and lighting rig to create different effects within a space.
– In Nordic larp, a black box is an area outside of the usual space and time of the larp, where players can go to run through larp scenes that take place outwith the larp narrative flow. Scenes run in this way include flashbacks, flash-forwards, in-character conflicts that can’t be resolved within the larps and abstractions of what the character is feeling. The term can also be used to refer to larps run entirely in a black box. More information on the black box is available on the Nordic larp wiki.

What Charles meant by blackboxification
He basically turned the “Metropolis” larp into one big black box, and instead of providing really long backgrounds or character sheets, he used sound and lighting to start and end scenes, direct action and act as prompts for the players to roleplay through different moods.Richard had hoped it would be somewhat different. He explained some of the different types of larps, and how they vary; e.g.:

– Fests – giant events, 360 degree environment (i.e. What You See Is What You Get), loads of players
Black box larps – generally parlour/chamber larps, no verisimilitude, small number of players.

You can see Richard’s amazing larp gradient mapping of verisimilitude to player numbers here.

What he’d hoped the seminar would be was more of a how-to on converting a chamber larp into a black box larp (e.g., how to look at a chamber larp and work out what the most important plots are, how to cut the plot up into scenes, how to change the focus from being realistically plotted to being entirely abstract).What Richard would do to convert a chamber larp to a black box larp would be:

  • Work out what core plotlines you would follow, and what scenes you want to have in the game
  • Once you’ve got the scenes, work out the critical decision points to come out of that scene
  • Make the larp less about the story, more about the character interplay
  • It would be slightly more railroaded than usual, as the players are directed through the play

Richard pointed out that an example of a heavily directed “black box” style tabletop is Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne. You can find out more about this on the UK Roleplayers’ forum here.

Witch is a good example of the blackboxification of a roleplaying game because it’s made up of a number of pre-established, heavily directed scenes; while anything can happen in those scenes, the players have to go through each one in order to finish the game. Also, while the individual scenes and what happens in them changes, there’s always one decision that you have to make at the end: do you want to burn the witch or not? There has to be consensus; everyone has to agree, and this focuses the play away from plot and towards the pure character interaction usually found in larp.
For an actual play of Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne, check out Richard’s blog post here.
We then moved on to talking about how to develop players’ expectations of what a larp was going to be like. Richard described his experience playing BOE2064 (Board of Education 2064). This was a larp set in the far future, after Israel and Palestine had been at peace for more than forty years. Players play those charged with working out what should be included in the history books for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Richard had expected this to be a thoughtful, introspective game about the shared history; however, it ended up quite farcical due to a lack of player alignment about the tone of it, as the “Yes, and…” mechanic meant that players had to accept additions to the historical timeline including an alien invasion and jelly people. (“Yes, and…” is an improvisational theatre technique, and is explained here).

Mo referenced Martin Nielsen’s calibration presentation, which you can read here. This suggests ways in which facilitators can communicate their larp culture more effectively. Richard also suggested using the palette technique from Microscope, an epic story game where players collaborate to describe the rise and fall of a civilisation (see more information here). The palette technique allows players to decide what they want to include and what they don’t.

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