Usually, the games I play can last anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on the game. Before JaLL, I’d never done a long-form immersive game before: the longest game I’ve played was probably about six and a half hours, with a “short” debrief turning into a two-hour long session in which we had to tear ourselves from the hotel conference room. (For those interested, it was Emily Care Boss’ Under My Skin played at Double Exposure‘s Dreamation 2012, and it was my first-ever Jeepform game. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked!)
I’d been looking forward to JaLL a lot. I’ve played the shorter version called I Say A Little Prayer twice, which is about six hours long and has five characters. ISALP is a pretty powerful game, so I suspected that JaLL, which is three days and roughly 50 people, would be about a hundred times more intense. (Spoiler alert: it was.) But in the weeks leading up to it, I was pretty stressed out: I had a lot going on leading up to the game. I’d been anxious about a lot of things related to the weekly dance event that I run. I didn’t have enough time to get done all of the things I wanted to get done before leaving (story of my life). I was worried about not having costumes that were “right” or “good enough.” And I’d finally admitted to myself that I have issues with anxiety and that I was in the midst of a depression that was spiraling ever downwards, and got on anti-depressants for the first time in my life. (I’ve struggled with depression before, but have never before taken meds for it – but that is another story entirely.) Plus, I kept telling myself that I would soon spend a weekend reading all of the articles and watching all of the movies that were getting posted in the JaLL US private Facebook group, and memorizing my character sheet, in order to “get ready” for the game and make sure that I could play my character “right.” That never happened, and so I was nervous that I was screw up and ruin the game for others. I knew logically that would not happen, but anxiety is not a logical animal. Luckily, my friend Avie soothed me some by telling me about her experience playing in Mad About The Boy (another long-form LARP which is based on the book “Y The Last Man”): that it’s not worth trying to “know” my character, because the workshops in the beginning are what make everything start to gel together. And she was right.
When Rachael and I arrived at the pickup site on Monday morning for the private bus that was to take us to the campsite, I was excited to see friends who live far away that I don’t often get to spend time with. But I was also anxious: there were a lot of new people, and I was feeling anxious. Rachael and I sat together on the bus, and when we got to the campsite, I stood in the shade of a tree while everyone else registered and found their cabins. 1) I saw no reason to stand on line in the sun when I knew that I was guaranteed a cabin, 2) I wasn’t in any rush, and 3) I felt super awkward, for no particular reason.
When I finally went to check in and get my cabin assignment, I was pleasantly surprised to find the cabins were much nicer than what I was expecting. My only other cabin camping experience has been at Camp Nerdly in Virginia, and… well, let’s just say that as the bus pulled up, I exclaimed, “Holy crap – those cabins have glass windows!” Yes, I’m easily impressed. (Also, thank you Brand, for allowing me a bottom bunk. My plantar fasciitis thanks you, too.)
After claiming my territory, I was finally ready to go out and start meeting people. We all met back at the main lodge for some workshopping. Each character had connections to two groups: a social circle and a core group. In real life, your “social circle” would be your acquaintances and people you hang out with, and your “core group” would be your lover(s) and/or best friends. What stands out to me here is when my core group got together and started talking about our characters and our connections to each other. Within about thirty seconds, we’d decided what the main relationships for each of us were. I loved that way we worked together, and I loved that people seemed to be enthusiastic about my contributions. I was immediately comfortable with the people in my group, both mentally and physically. That was the moment in which I thought, “Avie was right!” For the rest of Monday afternoon we did some more workshopping that helped us become more comfortable with our characters and with each other, then had dinner and free time until the next morning. There was an informal dance class where a few of us learned some basic hustle (thanks, Ashleigh!), and then I shuffled off the bed.
Tuesday morning included more workshopping, and the in-game mechanics were explained. After lunch we had about two hours of free time to rest and get in costume, and then the game would begin.