What Happened in Lanzarote

This was what I got up to on Monday evening, after The Curse. It’s a very different sort of game – a short larp with a farcical tone. A group of neighbours have been on holiday together in Lanzarote. The game takes place as they meet up subsequently, and the players together invent and recreate the scandalous and debauched events that occurred on the holiday. It’s from the Larps from the Factory book, a collection of scripts for 23 Norwegian larps that was published recently. Here’s the relevant page on their site.

Now if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, some of the above description might be starting to sound hauntingly familiar. Around a year ago I was involved in writing What Happened in Blackpool, a farcical short larp in which members of a wedding party invent and recreate the scandalous and debauched events that occurred on their joint hen/stag weekend. (I wrote about it here.) It seems like this is pure coincidence – neither creative group was aware of the other’s existence at the times of writing. Our game was named in reference to the saying “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”… I don’t know if that was also the Norwegian team’s inspiration.

Similar but different

Anyway, so naturally as you’d imagine I was quite interested to compare the two games. The similarities are obvious from the descriptions above, but the approaches are quite distinct.

  • Blackpool has a very strong character- and relationship-building workshop before the start of the larp proper, using techniques inspired by tabletop story-games: such that players start playing with a well-developed web of plot and character material already mutually worked-up. In Lanzarote players are given a (very brief) character sheet by the GM, and then after some warmup go pretty much straight into play.
  • In Blackpool, all the characters’ personal details are decided by the players themselves – inclduing gender, sexuality and so on. In Lanzarote, they are prewritten and cast by the GMs. The writers suggest an ‘auction’ where the GM asks “Who wants to play a middle-aged character?” and so on, which is what we used.
  • The other most important difference is that in Blackpool we centred the game around the engaged couple, and it culminated in resolving the question of whether they would still get married or not: Lanzarote doesn’t have this sort of focus, it’s a more traditional ‘everyone is their own hero and makes their own story’ larp structure, and the game finishes to a timetable.
  • Lanzarote is opened and closed with a performance of the Chicken Dance, aka the Birdie Song

Which approach works better for you will be down to personal preference, of course: they’re both fun.


… But. I did have a couple of problems with some of the prewritten material. It openly bases its characters upon rather reductive cultural stereotypes. Working-class and middle-class Norwegians, Spaniards and Swedes, Pakistani immigrants and homosexuals might all have reason to feel they’ve been portrayed rather unkindly. It’s not clear to me that the farce form provides a sufficient alibi for these depictions.

There was an awkward moment when the character of Ali, a Norwegian teenager of Pakistani descent, was offered in the casting auction. I got the impression that most of the players felt that it would be difficult to play this character without reductive stereotyping. The designers are keen to stress that he is not a drug dealer, as many Norwegians apparently believe Pakistani youth to be: but he is morally repressed by his religious-minded parents, and desperate to indulge in alcohol and women. As I’m of South Asian descent myself, I volunteered to take him on, but I still felt pretty uneasy about it.

More problematic still though was the character of Børre (Barry in the British version) who is homosexual but closeted, covering it up by using homophobic language and boasting about conquests of women. I thought this character was really pretty offensive. The problem (and it’s the same with Ali) is not that closeted homosexual characters shouldn’t be portrayed in such a larp – of course they should. I’m sure the designers’ intentions were positive and worthy. But rushed portrayals can do more harm than good. It doesn’t feel, to me anyway, that the designers have tried to understand what their characters’ lives are like.

You might feel that that’s not important in a farcical game, where people are accustomed to seeing broad stereotypes. I agree to an extent, but I think the duty to not be involuntarily supporting racism and homophobic prejudice is a pretty high one. And it wouldn’t have taken much more work to have avoided that risk.

Anyway, although I’ve banged on about this at length, it’s a very minor flaw in the game, and could easily be fixed with a little thoughtful rewriting. Don’t let it hold you back from trying it out!

(Another minor criticism: we were using the British versions of the characters. There are also Norwegian and American versions – all are in English, but they’re localized to fit that country’s culture better. For the British ones, this has been done pretty hastily, or so it appears. They’re in severe need of a good edit.)

So, anyway

I enjoyed playing What Happened in Lanzarote, but I think I’d want to do some rewriting before running it myself. And I would probably run What Happened in Blackpool again first.

For you, though, it might be just the thing. What do you think?

2 replies on “What Happened in Lanzarote”

Have to say, the stereotypes made me really uncomfortable; it was one of the reasons I didn’t feel I could play my first character and asked to swap to someone I felt was malleable enough to fit. I’ve not had the experience of living on a council estate myself, but plenty of people at my (mixed northern state) school, including my first boyfriend, have, and the exaggerated portrayal really bothered me. While I also think the players didn’t make it too bad, I’d really rather some of it had been written differently.
I’d be curious to play the Blackpool one I think; I found it really difficult to play without enough of a starting plot to push off from. I’d like to see if the workshop would be helpful for me.

Mm, having read the characters now, it looks to me like the players in our game did generally to some extent downplay the stereotypes as written, to make the portrayals less unkind.

Blackpool does also depend on having a decent bunch of players around you, to generate good starting plot in the sense that you mention: but because you’re all building the structure together by mutual agreement in the first place, there’s less chance of introducing character or plot elements that people aren’t comfortable with, and you’ve automatically got some reasons to talk to people about specific things. I think you’d enjoy it!

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