Friday, November 30, 2012

Strange Tales on the Road to Virginia: NekoCon 2012 (Part 2)

When we last left our hero, he was falling asleep on the floor of a hotel room with an ominous noise clicking through the dark...

      The next morning, my eyelids slammed open about ten seconds before my alarm went off. I turned over a little and lay there closed while my body slowly came back online, phone clutched in my grip to spare my roommates the terrible and disturbing noise of a "vibrate" setting on hard wood. After defusing my phone, I slipped out of my sleeping bag, got dressed, and headed for the shower. I had a vague outline of things I wanted to do, after all, and while they started in "don't wake anyone up" and ended in "LARP", the general order was a little out of whack. I was able to put together a few thoughts once the warm water hit1, and sketched out a general plan that looked like this:

- Finish shower
- Cram gaping maw with whatever they had at the breakfast buffet
- Make contact with other friends
- Pay entry fee
- ???
- Roleplaying!2

         The first part was easy, and pretty much involved just turning off the water, getting dressed, and grabbing one of the tickets for the buffet. The second part meant I had to spin and pivot a little going out the door, as there was a sixth occupant of our room, Gerry, that I hadn't quite remembered the previous night. Gerry had also taken a sleeping bag on the floor. But once outside, I flipped open my phone and texted a little back and forth with my friend Abby so I could meet up with her. 

          While I met Abby at the first LARP I ever did, we didn't really start plotting evilly much. But the next year, I wound up including her in my evil plans, and she added to those evil plans, and despite intentionally only being tangentially involved in the main plot, somehow the two of us managed to get a lot done. Without actually doing very much at all, even. And thus we started a sort of thing where we'd basically drag each other into the other's plots. Also, she tends to drag me into a lot of stuff anyway. I don't completely mind. 

        The smell of food and the constant buzz of people once I got out of the elevator door shifted me back into the present. As it was around eight AM and still the first day, I made eye contact but didn't seek anyone out. Instead, I headed to the buffet, loaded up my plate with a quite literal mound of bacon, a single biscuit, and a helping of gravy; and then sat down and enjoyed my heart attack on a plate while I people-watched. The few people I did accidentally look at, I gave a half-hearted wave, but didn't really wanna engage more than that. I was less hyper, but still a little anxious about things. I think it was the new venue, the late night...hell, maybe it was a lot of things all at once, but I was still a little jumpy. 

        After breakfast, I went for a quick check of the time before I headed over to the main con floor, then shrugged into my coat and Hawaiian shirt, and went to go stand in the line.

      The line isn't something I've talked about much in the three events I've covered on this blog, mainly because I haven't ever really had much of one3. I usually get through quick, grab my pass, and then it's on to whatever the heck I'm doing next...even when I was in a line at the first ANEXT, it was a pretty short line. This...was not the case at NekoCon. The line got so long they had to structure it around doorways-- an interesting move that, while perfectly warranted, meant everyone in the line had to tell people, "No, the back of the line's over there. Behind those people." Still, once in the line, it moved at a decent pace. I'd woken up enough now to look at the people in costume moving back and forth. It's always really cool to be at a con and see a whole ton of people in costume, or people just dressed kind of helps sell the shift for me. "This is outside of mundane space, this is someplace kind of different and sort of cool", but in visual tones. 

     And this had only just started to get boring when the guy in the big Deadmau5 mask and his portable speaker system popped up to play music at the line. I don't dig the majority of electronic music, but it was nice to have some early-morning entertainment and shake off the rest of the haze. He was accompanied by a guy in a skeleton costume who liked to get up close and dance against people in line, just close enough for the no touching rule to still be in effect. Thankfully, he didn't come up to me and do that...I kinda have this thing about dancing5. The line moved at a decent clip, though, and eventually I was at the front. After filling in the kind of confusing electronic form and marveling that the badge cost me about ten bucks less than I budgeted for, I texted Abby again on the way out, warning her of my impending presence. Because everyone should be forewarned. 

      Shortly after knocking on Abby's door, there was a blur of movement, and suddenly I found myself inside the room, and being hugged. This is Abby's way of saying "hello" to people she hasn't seen face-to-face in a while, apparently. I'd say I minded, but it is a very good hug. Once we disengaged, I said my hellos to the rest of the room: Matt, one of the GMs for ANext and another member of the New York group, who is guilty of encouraging me to do all kinds of insane and occasionally terrible things in games6; Phil, a guy who until recently has refused to play villains until his "karma" recharges; Joe, a seasoned roleplayer and one of the GMs for the longest-running LARP on the con circuit; and in the back room watching Sherlock, Jantra and Del7, two fellow players and friends who I don't often get a chance to interact with directly, but whom I respect and talk with outside of play. 

         I'd walked in on Abby and Matt doing canon review for the series they'd picked characters from, the same series I'd picked my character from, so we all sat down to watch a few episodes so we could get the character's voice down before we got into playing. I was a little nervous about mine, mainly because I kinda tend to overthink everything, and also because I was a little tense. For some reason, I couldn't quite relax, couldn't get into things. Might have been the new environment, might have been a lot of things, but that was just the way it worked out. Still, having people around and talking seemed to calm me down, so I chatted for a bit with them. By that point, we decided it was time to head over to the convention center.

         The LARP wasn't for a while-- it started much later in the day than the ones I'd been to, so I decided to randomly follow people, as I do. This led me to a viewing room where the animated film Hetalia: Paint It White happened to be playing. Now, I would just like to make one thing clear. I have no idea what Hetalia is. I watched it and I still have barely any idea what it is. But having sat through part of the barely-coherent movie that it has spawned, I have to say this: I am okay with not knowing. Sometimes not knowing makes things a little better. I say this as someone who's enjoyed Amazon Women of the Moon more than once. And after a little more waiting, the LARP finally opened for pickup.

        Once we'd filed through and got our folders and badges for the LARP, we sat for the traditional intro meeting. While it was similar in tone to the first LARP briefing I'd ever been to (warning, green text on black background because I need to update my archives), the dynamic was a little different. The feel wasn't the same. Now, this is good, because if the same experience happens in two different places, then it becomes comfortable, loses its edge. I just have an odd time adjusting to dynamics, and the fact that I was a little unable to relax for lord only knows what reason kinda added to that. Still, once the briefing was over and we were free to mingle, I approached the situation gamely.

      The LARP was a little different from what I was used to. The one out in Virginia is one big room instead of the four smaller ones, with the GMs sitting at a table at the head of the room, and occasionally walking throughout. The various tables and chairs serve the purpose of the rooms, tables, and chairs in the NJ roleplay, and the room has a more open, less confined feel. It's a lot less tight and cramped feeling, I will admit, although sometimes the noise did get too loud and we wound up going into the hallway to run smaller scenes. This led to a sort of different dynamic, one that involved more movement. It took a little adjusting, but I came to enjoy it, and it was nice not to be overheating all the time.

    And once I got into it, I started to enjoy myself more.  However, I came to believe I'd shot myself in the foot in a few small but significant ways: 

         First, I was over-thinking things. I normally do this (and every article on this site backs me up), but the character I was playing is a lot simpler than all my over-thinking makes him out to be, and this kinda faltered me. Second, I'd kind of painted myself into a corner a little. The character I chose tends to show up in scenes, beat everyone up, and leave. He is a barely-controlled avatar of constant rage, to use the show's terms for him. I am...not. Well, I am, but not to the point that I have "randomly-appearing berserker" down. And finally, due to just everything going on in my head at the time, I just wasn't feeling the drop just yet.

         "The drop" is my name for when a character really clicks in roleplaying. That point where you reach a certain understanding and you can relax, let go, and let the character do the driving instead of moving things around yourself. You "drop" into their headspace a little bit, and while you're still perfectly capable of interacting as a regular person, you have enough of the character's thoughts and rhythms to roleplay them well. Now, I'd been having problems with the drop for a while, ever since a fiasco back in about March or so that I won't completely get into, but I figured the kinks would work out eventually. But between the storm and the mess in my head, there was a little bit of a barrier. 

         Still, I managed to slip through the barrier enough that I did get some good moments in-- Shizuo, my character, did actually get some good berserk moments in, and I did have fun when I finally stopped overthinking everything a little. Hell, I even got myself involved in the plot, but I just couldn't relax, and it was sorta screwing with me. However, by the end of the evening, I'd got my head into an at least decent space, and once Shizuo started taking jobs as a bodyguard and general all-around muscle, things started to click even better. I got involved with a few investigative storylines throughout the LARP's plot, and attended a few events. I was even less awkward, though I did lose myself at one point and wound up yelling a particular in-character repeated line like "DammitdammitDAMMIT!" out loud8

 The highlight of the evening, though, was a titanic battle against a huge monster on a beach. I didn't take part in the beach showdown-- the group I was a part of were getting our hindparts handed to us during a fight on a golf course of all places (my one regret? My fictional self never got to wield a five iron in a fight like my actual self)-- but when we got there, the blitz was in full swing, an epic struggle between a monstrous sea creature on one end and most of the LARP on the other. 

           By the point I walked in, at least two people had unleashed their powers to catastrophic effect, and in the midst of all of this, a Power Rangers-style transformation sequence started to take shape. Now, I'm not completely sure how it happened, and it's not quite my place to speculate (mine is to write accounts of events as well as I can remember them and rant about the poor literary state of the country), but my god, was it one of the most epic moments I've seen9. After a brief huddle, the group members went through the entire transformation, announcing first their colors (complete with I think "Burnt Sienna" and "Macaroni and Cheese"), and then forming a giant fighting robot made out of individual parts, with people forming "The Spleen!" and "The Lungs!" along with traditional robot parts such as "The Head!" and "Left Arm!"10 It was amazing not just because they were really, really funny, but because they managed to coordinate such a large group of people, and they were committed

        It's hard to be committed to absurdity11. At some point, your brain realizes "hey, this is absurd" and kinda throttles the rest of you, resulting in kind of a "pull out" effect. Which ruins it. If you don't sell the absurdity, be it epic and amazing absurdity (like this) or comedic absurdity or any other kind, then it falls flat. If you're committed, you can pull it off, because if you're selling it, then the audience can feed off of that conviction and the bit works. And these guys? They sold it. It was so earnest that even if it weren't all the things I just described it as, it wouldn't matter. You could tell they were having fun, and it translated. All entertainment is an exchange of energy, and if the energy is there, it works.

       So once the bit was over, the applause died down, and the "rangers" finished their fight, the LARP ended for the day. A fairly large-sized group of us went to the hotel bar in the "courtyard" section for a drink and talk before bed. The conversation was lively, switching topics almost as quickly as it could. For a little while it was the game, and then other brilliant moments from LARPs, and then a whole bunch of nothing-in-particulars. But then an event took place that I want to highlight here, because it does two things:

- It illustrates what utter toads the staff members decided to be, and 
- It can be filed under "Ellis, Mr.; God damn saint". 

      A member of the group had gone up to the bar to ask for a glass of water. This is something that can be considered normal bar behavior, hell, I've done it before when I've wanted to hang out with people and not drink12. The bartender apparently took one look at the guy in skull makeup in front of her and decided not only not to serve him, but to make catty remarks about how he could use the water fountain, and wipe off his face while he was at it. The moment the guy sits down, Mr. Ellis goes up and buys himself a drink and a glass of water, then comes back and hands over the glass of water. Apparently she was willing to serve someone who looked more base-line and was ordering booze, but decided to take exception otherwise.

      Now, I may be the most contrarian, derisive bastard on the face of this planet13, but if you're getting paid to do something, you don't let personal shit like that get in the way. I've counter-jockeyed, waited tables, hell, even wound up serving drinks once upon a time, and I've had to deal with all kinds. But I did what was required of me and served the freaking customers. 

    But in the end, things slowly started to break off, and we all went back to our respective rooms to sleep for a few hours before we got up early the next morning. I changed my clothes in the closet, settled into my sleeping bag, set the alarm, and then rolled over and went to sleep, exhausted but feeling like something had finally settled in me, and ready to see what the next morning threw my way.

What I learned:
- Study the teasers given out before the LARP a little to try and figure out (if you don't know what character) what type of character to play
- Try to get a decent amount of sleep each night, as you'll get up very early
- If you don't quite know what to do, just try things out until something clicks, then relax and let things take their course. 

- Not-zombies!
- Arguments about how to kill a person correctly!
- Hopefully less footnotes!

1 This was, as I remember it, the first actually hot shower I'd had in four days. Not shower, but hot shower.  
2 It may have had more exclamation points. I can neither confirm nor deny this.
3 This is one of the things I really liked about NYCC, all other stuff nonwithstanding4
4 Dicks.
5Ever since the Homecoming dance where I learned I can't, really. That I do it during karaoke is more to do with how into everything I am when I'm singing a song slightly off-key for an audience while slightly-to-severely drunk. And then it's mostly headbanging. 
6 Matt and I, on top of evil plotting together and even against each other, also sorta have this weird thing. We basically wind up in a long chain of apologies to each other for perceived dickishness, until we realize no one's really at fault. Or until we agree to who's actually to blame. 
7Del is responsible for getting me to write this article. And getting me thinking seriously about the lit thesis that's eating up occasional pieces of my free time. So Del, thank you for that. Hopefully pop-culture overthinking will make it into the regular rotation of features here, now that I seem to be expanding from book reviews.
8The character I played is a very loud, angry person. Being loud and angry in a public space is kind of a safety hazard, but hey! I was getting into things!
9Epic in the proper sense, too. All gods and monsters and ting. We run a classy establishment here.

10Sadly, no one formed the Isles of Langerhans. This is because no one loves the Isles of Langerhans. They are the most unappreciated body part.  
11Committed To Absurdity is a great name for a comedy album, though "Committed to..." as an album title just reminds me of Committed to a Bright Future.
12 Which is occasionally. I know! I'm surprised, too!
13 I'm not. Neither is Denis Leary, though I think he wants to be. 

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