This blog post is not going to be all that up-beat. It might make a few people sad but I definitely am not trying to make anyone angry. What I do want to do is give the handful of people who have been invested in Systems Malfunction for years–and anyone who might be reading this who might not even be familiar with Systems Malfunction–a succinct explanation of its current status, exactly how we got there, and what we might be able to do about it. And for that to work I need to speak candidly.
If you have any interest in Live Action Roleplaying, and in what it actually takes to run a LARP for a decade, you should definitely read this. Even though it is long. But with that said…I should say up front that this is not a comprehensive history of the Systems Malfunction LARP. Not even remotely close. That would take hundreds of thousands more words to write out. I also say, this is not remotely a “ra ra” advertising or promo for why Systems is awesome (TV Tropes Link). Systems is awesome. But this blog post is not about why Systems is awesome. It is about why Systems is dying…and about me wracking my brains for any conceivable way to save it.
To begin with the most basic facts, Systems Malfunction is a costume-optional science fiction boffer-combat Live Action Roleplaying Game (LARP). Being an unapologetically science-fiction focused LARP that also has a strong focus on boffer-combat already makes Systems Malfunction so unique in the world of LARP that it is basically a unicorn (I can’t think of five more ongoing sci-fi Boffer LARPs off of the top of my head, and I can’t think of even three more that run in the US). Add in the wildly experimental ideas of costumes being optional, rather than mandatory, and we’re talking a cyborg wizard unicorn level of uniqueness. For even more reasons that I will get to a little bit later, Systems Malfunction really is nothing like (the vast majority of) other LARPs: the differences outnumber the similarities, to the point that Systems Malfunction is almost completely one of a kind.
I am having a very difficult time not coming to the conclusion that everything unique about Systems Malfunction has helped lead to its ultimate lack of success from a marketing perspective. And that is a very sad conclusion to make.
I started running the first “season” and first edition of Systems Malfunction ten years ago, in 2005. (The game is now on its Fifth Edition, but because the first three editions of the rules iterated and evolved so quickly, over just three years, it might be more appropriate to think of the current edition as the game’s third real edition.) Since then, we have played Systems Malfunction during both scholastic semesters of 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, and during the Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. In 2012 we got a late start because I had to undergo fairly major surgery in March of that year. Not since 2012 have we not at least made plans to play our first game of Systems Malfunction by this late in the calendar year. Never before in the game’s ten year history have I considered so seriously not running Systems Malfunction. As a matter of fact, to be perfectly honest, one of the only factors I can think of in favor of trying to run Systems Malfunction or ANY LARP this year is that the weather is getting nice and I need to get regular exercise, and I’d much rather run around the wilderness swinging a boffer sword than try to go to the gym.
The average live boffer combat LARP has weekend events during which about a hundred players attend a camp ground for a weekend. Some of those players pay to PC, while others can pay less (or nothing) and volunteer to NPC. Smaller, less popular LARPs might make do with half this number of players. Larger, more popular LARPs might have twice as many attend an event. LARPs in certain parts of Europe, where LARPing is almost like a national sport, can have five times this many players or more.
For about five years now, Systems Malfunction has struggled desperately, mightily, and ultimately failingly to maintain an average attendance of even ten players per game. The basic problem we’re up against is a fairly classic Catch-22 situation. Without a decent-sized player base with good attendance, it is not economical to rent a camp site. Without a camp site, it seems impossible to attract a decent-sized player base. But of course, the issue is more complicated than that–the better part of a decade is a long time to try, and fail, to build a following–and it might be good to start at the beginning.
Part I: The College Era (Fall 2005 – Spring 2008)
From Fall of 2005 through Spring of 2009, Systems Malfunction was a Campus LARP run almost exclusively at the campus of SUNY Purchase. From Fall of 2005 through Spring of 2008 I’d actually call Systems Malfunction a very successful campus LARP, albeit not at as wildly successful as the LARPs that came before it on the campus of SUNY Purchase. I’d heard tell that Tales of the Dreaming, by NERO showrunner Dan Comstock, where I got my very first taste of LARPing, once had sixty-person wave battles throughout the campus’s fields and academic buildings. Awesome even to imagine. But by the time I got to SUNY Purchase even as a freshman, the school had already begun its transformation from a haven for nerds, weirdos, and artsy types into more of a mainstream party school. Over the years I was in college, the stigma against LARPers and LARPing only grew and grew.
But in spite of that stigma and in spite of frequent harassment by the jack-booted thugs of the campus police, I count the SUNY Purchase phase of Systems Malfunction, while certainly not entirely without drama and disappointment, as a big success. With a weekly or bi-weekly attendance of anywhere from as little as half a dozen to as many as two dozen players per game, and averaging maybe a dozen players or so, we got a TON of LARPing done and we had a ton of fun doing so. In many ways, it is not an exaggeration to say that these were the best days of my life. It is absolutely accurate to say that it was the Golden Age of Systems Malfunction.
The major reasons for this success during the college phase, as far as I can identify them, are as follows:
1) The LARP was geographically centralized. Nearly all of the students, except a few exceptionally loyal “commuters”, lived on campus within walking distance of where the game was played. Getting to the game was a total non-issue. This enabled us to play twice a week, typically something like Tuesday and Thursday nights at 10PM after classes were over, fitting a HUGE amount of story and roleplaying into just one semester.
2) In spite of the protestations of Campus Police, several buildings on campus were open all night and as students we had every right to be there doing whatever we wanted, including LARPing. The campus grounds and buildings provided an awesome LARPing venue that we all had free and easy access to.
3) School work and classes, in general, were much easier to blow off for College Students than actual paying work would be for us all later in life, as broke-ass 20-something College Graduates in desperate need of money. So yes, we skipped the occasional class and ignored the occasional homework assignment and sometimes that was because we were out until 3AM or 4AM LARPing once or twice a week. I can’t speak for everyone, but I managed to graduate on time in spite of giving more of my time to Systems than anyone, and being less than a pefect student as a result.
4) Finally, the LARP had enormous “social gravity”. It reached a threshold were people were really sucked in, and enthusiasm for the next game and the next and the next became almost feverishly contagious. Everyone saw all of their friends at the LARP. So going to the LARP was what you did when you wanted to see your friends which of course you did. And because everyone who played the LARP were friends and saw each other around campus and were hanging out together all of the time, the LARP was virtually all they talked about, even when they weren’t LARPing.
In the late Spring of 2008–can it really be SEVEN YEARS AGO now?–I graduated from SUNY Purchase and naturally moved off campus. Because most of our players had not graduated yet, I tried to keep the LARP going, commuting nearly an hour at least once a week during the school year to sneak on campus and keep the game going. But this was not a system that could work, attendance problems and other drama quickly piled up, and by Spring of 2009, it was clear to me that Systems Malfunction as a SUNY Purchase based phenomenon could not continue. Which was a shame, because a lasting legacy on campus for the LARP was in many ways the only legacy I had wanted. I had never planned, starting out, for LARPing to be not just a collegiate phenomenon but a lifelong pastime. However, for my closest friends and I, our commitment to the LARP remained strong, and in August of 2009, Systems Malfunction moved into a new era and a new model, now in its Fourth Edition and undergoing not its first major transformation, nor its last.
Part II: Failed Recruitment Drive and The Croatoan Campaign (2009-2012)
At ICON 2008 I played my first ever “parlor style” or “theater style” LARP event, an alternate history L.A. noir offshoot of Gordon Dean’s stellar and impressive Threads of Damocles (now defunct, apparently, which is sad). You know the kind, driven not by external “plot hooks” but by intricately interconnected and conflicting PC goals, and resolved not by direct action but by dialogue, politicking, and scheming. In other words, a true *roleplaying* game where your character’s objectives were “won” or “lost” solely on the strength of your roleplaying. I was pretty enamored of the idea. Playing this kind of game made me realize something about my own three-years-in-the-running LARP.
The first three years of Systems Malfunction were really the very epitome of a “plot-driven” campaign. This meant that external NPC actors (often captivating and charismatic) and situations continuously forced the players to react by struggling to survive, making hard decisions, and taking sides, often against each other (carefully encouraged PvP gameplay has always been a strong component of Systems Malfunction, more on that later). This made for awesome gameplay, but it was insanely exhausting to the staff to continuously create and craft increasingly elaborate NPC-driven plot arcs and adventures. Also, it had resulted in players that were almost completely reactive, and I wanted players who were proactive.
What I wanted and misguidedly tried to implement was a campaign-style live combat boffer LARP that would operate essentially the same as a single “theater style” LARP event: PCs would have their starting goals, those alone would drive the story, and naturally and organically, conflict and drama would thus ensue. As I learned, it is incredibly difficult, and possibly outright impossible, to work with players to create PC goals that will a) drive inter-player conflict, action, scheming, and drama, b) be possible to advance every game session and c) not be possible to actually complete within a handful of game sessions or less.
The Fourth Edition of Systems Malfunction–the most cohesive and coherent edition of the game yet, albeit excessively complex mechanically for a LARP–first launched in Fall of 2008: I had graduated in the spring of the same year. I was still struggling to translate from “plot based” to “goal based” narrative techniques in 2009 when Systems finally made its leap away from the SUNY Purchase Campus, as the passing months and years lead to more and more players graduating and moving away, and lead me to feel more and more acutely my status as not a student, but an alumni randomly lurking and lingering on campus to stay close to LARPing. At this point, I had become influenced by “theater style” LARP and had done a bit of research on how “real” live-combat LARPs operated, out of campsites for weekend long events. My original instinct in 2009 was not entirely dissimilar from what we eventually wound up doing in 2013 with the launch of the game’s 5th Edition. I wanted to play at the public Croton Gorge Park, an impressive LARP venue to me, lying in the shadow of the imposing New Croton Dam. The in-game location to correspond to this venue–since the drama of the Systems Malfunction universe played out across many of the hundreds of planets and space stations in the galaxy–would be Castle Clinton, a Camp David like diplomatic resort on the capital planet of AA-001 “Avalon”. Because it was not possible to “rent” Croton Gorge, I decided we would play there “guerilla style”. After all, it was a public park, and for the entire history of Systems Malfunction, it had been played in spaces where we arguably weren’t supposed to be, but couldn’t reasonably be kicked out of. Because we couldn’t sleep at Croton Gorge over night like we would with a “real” LARP campsight, we rented rooms at a cheap motel nearby for the overnight stay between Saturday and Sunday’s game days. The first game was actually an exhilarating experience, as we arrived at the park, roleplayed all day in character, went out to dinner in character, and then went to the motel to sleep, scheme, and attempt arrests and assassinations in character (the motel definitely did not feel like an area that LARPing was supposed to happen, so it was a bit anxious, but we got away with it). It was kludgy compared to having an actual campsite, but I thought it might work.
But before the very first game using the new off-campus model was planned and executed, I was already thinking about adding a second setting, because while Castle Clinton was great for scheming and politicking among the diplomatic elite of various factions, I also wanted the plot to tackle high intensity Great House warfare on the toxic jungle planet of Arcadia. For that, we added a second venue, another public park, this one in Connecticut, with a nearby hotel. For the year of 2009 (SEASON 5 of Systems Malfunction by my reckoning), we alternated between “just” the two locations, although we soon abandoned the idea of staying at hotels overnight between Saturday and Sunday as too expensive and too complicated. Most players lived nearby, so we began just going home overnight and then showing up Sunday morning. This provided none of the sense of “sleepover continuity” of a monthly camp site based LARP event, but one weekend a month, even without the overnight stay, seemed like an acceptable compromise. At this point and for the next few years, as I struggled to create a “goal based” narrative model, something I had initially wanted to take pressure off of plot staff, ironically the workload for the plot staff grew to huge proportions. We needed to create, for each game, a short precis describing the situation at that game, a schedule of the game’s events, individual goals for every single character that attended (most of which had multiple factions assigning different goals), stats and roleplaying notes for all NPCs that attended, both enemy “mobs” and named characters, and also create any handouts or props needed. It was an insane amount of work. Nonetheless, we managed to sustain this model for several years.
Starting 2010 completely dissatisfied with my LARP’s level of attendance since I graduated college (and to be honest, since even before then), we began an extremely intensive recruitment campaign. We set out to visit all of the local cons in our area to advertise Systems Malfunction by running a demo game. This recruitment campaign, which lasted throughout the next few years, was an almost unmitigated catastrophic failure. One of the problems, of course, was that at the conventions we went to, insurance made running a boffer LARP impossible. This left us to “advertise” a ongoing, campaign-based boffer LARP where you create your own character by running a one-off theater-style LARP where you are cast as a pregenerated character. But there was an even more fundamental problem than this, of course. The cons that we attended, that we brought Systems on the road to, were conventions like Genericon at RPI in Troy, NY ICON at SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island, and Dexcon/Dreamation in Morristown, New Jersey. These were the largest cons remotely within commuting distance of our area: we did not find time to visit Lunacon, right in our backyard, until 2013 when we had virtually given up on recruiting for Systems Malfunction, but that would have been a smarter choice (even though Lunacon draws an older crowd and is definitely not very LARPing focused).
The reason, of course, that we had failed from the start is that RPI at Troy, NY has a vibrant, active local LARP scene. Long Island has a vibrant, active local LARP scene. The vicinity of Morristown, New Jersey has an outright BUSTLING local LARP scene. There is no sane reason for anyone who lives near any of these places and who wants to start LARPing to commute two hours to Westchester to play Systems Malfunction. Most likely, anyone at any of those places who was remotely LARP inclined was already playing one of their local LARPs. We did somehow gain two players from our recruitment drive, two exceptionally loyal players who helped keep the game going against the attrition we suffered in our later years. But the recruitment drive cost us thousands and thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of work and travel and stress. And of course I did not realize at the time the simple geographic facts that made our advertising and demoing game at cons a futile endeavor. At the time, I simply blamed myself and grew resentful.
If there are people in or anywhere near Westchester County, NY who would want to join our LARP, I do not know where to find them. At least certainly not enough of them to make a difference. Anyway…
Over the next three seasons and by 2012, the game’s story had expanded to include no less than SIX MORE recurring in-game settings, as well as THREE additional “one-off” in-game settings, for a total of no less than eleven in-game settings, EACH OF WHICH corresponded to a different real-life game venue, each of which was a different public park or trail location. Meanwhile, for every game, precis, schedule, individual PC goals, NPCs, props, handouts, and anything else needed were carefully constructed by the staff, a staff that was almost never more than two or three people. This geographic and narrative scale were completely out of proportion to the game’s continuously dwindling attendance. The staff team would often complain that there were more in-game factions than players to represent those factions, and this was literally true. It was clear at this point that while the current model was producing extremely engaging and fun gameplay, the initial objective of shifting to a goal-based system to make the staff’s workload lighter had completely backfired. Staff was working harder than ever before. The only difference is now it was entirely “prep work” being done before a game, rather than an even mix of that with heavy and free-flowing improvisation during the game, as I’d done in college (one of my major skills as a GM is that I am a good improviser).
Anyone who has had any part in running a “real” boffer LARP, the kind with monthly events at a fixed camp site with dozens of people, with a couple dozen plot staff, tech staff, and cast to keep things running smoothly, should be in a good position to understand how utterly insane what I’m describing is: a game with only three permanent staff members, with only twelve players (INCLUDING those staff members), operating “guerilla style” at eight different in-game settings/venues with tons and tons of NPCs, an intricate network of competing in-game factions, and personalized goals for every player, at every game. Total lunacy! It makes me feel exhausted just to think about it. Simply getting players to RSVP prior to game so we would know which characters would be present and plan around that was an ongoing nightmare, an unwinnable uphill battle. Stress levels could get very, very high. But still, with that said… when I think of the Croatoan Campaign, which the years 2009-2012 of Systems Malfunction comprised, I feel a great deal of pride and satisfaction. Again, as we had during our college days, we all worked together to tell an incredible, epic story, one that resonated and lasted with all of us. Somehow, I managed to find exponentially more time to actually PC during the Croatoan Campaign era, and it was lovely to be able to actually play my own game for a change. The Croatoan Campaign contained many of the best roleplaying experiences I’ve ever had, was one of the greatest stories I have ever witnessed, let alone taken part in, and was an enormous amount of fun with the best of friends.
Since then, I’ve gotten a lot smarter, more reasonable, and more realistic in what I expected from the LARP. I’ve grounded us at only one game venue and only one in-game setting. I’ve simplified the rules to the best, most accessible form they’ve ever been in, with only a quarter of the complexity of the old fourth edition rules. I’ve written ongoing and persistent faction goals instead of personalized PC goals to be re-upped every game: they do the same thing with less work, and leave me more room to improvise and run the game in a casual and off-the-cuff way.
In spite of all of this, I can’t deny that the game is now actively dying.
Part III: The Era of Attrition – Difference Equals Death (2013-2015)
By this point, it is clear that Systems Malfunction is a LARP with a lot of problems. For starters, we have been hemorrhaging players for years and years and years now. Of course new players join, in dribs and drabs, consistently enough. But they almost never stay around for good, or show up in the numbers needed to replace the old players who are leaving.
As Jimmy Darmody of “Boardwalk Empire” would oft toast: “To the lost.” Let’s name some names, and restricting myself only to the most loyal core of our player base, I can easily think of more than ten that we’ve lost to the sands of time and the forces of attrition that govern the universe.
Sara moved back up-state shortly after I graduated and has effectively disappeared. I haven’t spoken with her in at least five years.
One of our 2008-2009 era GMs, Rob vanished from the scene before he graduated Purchase. Moved back to Massachusetts, I think.
Ethan, former staff member and GM and technically the game’s co-creator, had a major falling out with the game some time during the Croatoan Campaign and we haven’t spoken since. So now that’s definitely a social loss as well, as is often the case.
Marisa I can scarcely blame for leaving, since she’s the only person who ever actually broke a leg playing the game. Of course, I don’t think that’s why her attendance wound up dropping off in the end.
Stefan made his last appearance some time in 2013 or maybe 2014, but has been mostly gone since before 2012. Don’t blame him, of course. Life happens.
Evan moved to Texas a couple years ago now, but seemed too busy working to do much LARPing even before then.
Brendan was a player godsend for almost exactly one year, then he vanished to Florida or someplace.
Matt moved to Maine and came back in the last couple years, and still can’t find much time to play.
Emily, another former staff member and GM, has moved to Brooklyn, which might as well be New Zealand for how many games she can make it to.
Rachid, another former staff member and GM, player since day one, lives in Brooklyn too now. And his attendance is even shakier, being busy with Grad School.
And in the most recent blow to the game’s survival, Josh, a player since 2006, just moved to California, presumably for good.
Over time, everything falls apart. Things fall apart, you dig? The center cannot hold. Entropy is the most powerful force in the universe.
I think we might have lost more regular, core players than we ever had at any one time. We’ve certainly lost more regular, core players over the years than we have players now. Again players come, they don’t just go, but the gains don’t make up for the losses, let alone outweigh them. For a game and a community as tiny and self-contained as Systems Malfunction, a game mightily struggling to have an average attendance of ten people per game, the loss of ten regular, core players seems almost impossible to survive.
I’ll be honest: it’s not just how few players we have left that is the problem. I’ll be brutally honest: when people are so self-absorbed and inconsiderate that they can’t be bothered to tell is if they’re going to show up to game or not a few games in advance, it pisses me off. When people actually say they’ll attend and then no-show on the morning of the game–I don’t mean because of a medical emergency or a broken down car, I mean because they had a late night the last time and couldn’t be bothered to show up on time or at all–that makes me furious…and very very sad. Particularly because of course we have asked these people time and time again to show a little bit of consideration and respect for our time. Last-minute drop-outs mean that the GMs have wasted their time and energy planning content for a game that won’t even have enough players in attendance to happen (a very low bar for us). I’ll be clear, pretty much all of the players we’ve had over the years, including nearly all of the players we have right now, are my friends. And this kind of bullshit doesn’t just damage the game, it damages that friendship too. And I’ll be clear about this, too: there are good players too, who are consistently conscientious and considerate. Who represent the game and who evangelize it. And you know who you are, and I won’t forget the loyalty you’ve shown for years.
Real talk one: it is pretty impossible to understate the importance of Systems Malfunction to my life. Systems Malfunction, in a very real way, has been my life for the last decade. Probably most of all, if not for Systems Malfunction, I never would have met Mikaela. Technically, it is correct to call “Mikaela” my girlfriend, but that term is woefully inadequate to describe the nine years we’ve been together. If the entire idea of marriage and adulthood in general didn’t fill me with the utmost paralytic terror, we’d probably be married by now. Without Systems Malfunction, and without Mik, there would never have been any End Transmission Games. And there certainly would have been no Psionics Kickstarter. In a very real way, I owe every good thing I have in my life to Systems Malfunction, to the dark world of intrigue and adventure that some friends and I built together in college, for fun.
So yes, I do not want Systems to die.
Real talk two: since 2012, and maybe earlier, the stress of running Systems Malfunction has very literally been ruining Mikaela and I’s lives. I’m not talking about the creative work of statting NPCs and planning out game plots: that is very manageable with the current model. What I’m talking about is the stress of constantly trying to wrangle an increasingly tiny handful of uncommunicative and rude players into confirming attendance, or at least into giving some kind of reasonable, advanced warning of non-attendance, not a bullshit plan-ruining day-of no-show, well…the phrase “herding cats” adequately conveys the futility, but not the pain.
Again, some players were part of the solution, not part of the problem. And we love them for that. But they were not enough.
This constant stress of pressuring people into attending games, of haranguing people over and over to get a straight answer about whether they would show up or not, it has caused screaming, and crying, and worse. It is intolerable. It was clear by the inauspicious end of the 2013 season that Systems Malfunction could not go on like this. The process of trying to handle basic monthly attendance was making Mikaela and I hate each other, our friends, and the game.
Real talk three: based on the above two points, I desperately want Systems Malfunction to survive, but I have no idea how that is possible. I do understand the challenges facing us, and I can enumerate them. But I don’t know how they can be overcome.
I don’t expect all of our problem players to change over night into considerate and polite people. If that was going to happen, it would have already. Even if they did, we really just don’t have enough warm bodies at this point to support any kind of LARP. Even a micro-LARP, which is what Systems Malfunction has intentionally become.
I have no idea where or how to recruit new players for Systems Malfunction at this stage. I’ll enumerate the reasons why now. We’ll start with very pragmatic stuff, and then get into some more lofty stuff, built on guesswork:
- The basic Catch 22. To attract a large number of LARPers it seems like you need a camp site. To afford a camp site, you need a huge number of LARPers.
- There are tons of LARPers in Long Island, New Jersey, and up-state in Troy near Albany. All of these LARPers have extremely robust LARP communities they’re already a part of. In spite of how awesome Systems Malfunction is, I have no idea how to convince any of them to commute two hours to Westchester to play a LARP they’ve never heard of/to save our dying LARP. The same goes of course for people even further away.
- If there are people in the Westchester area who want to LARP, I don’t know how to find them in any great number.
- The experience that people who play live-combat boffer LARPs want seems to differ from the experience that Systems Malfunction is offering. For starters, these LARPs are very popular for offering an experience that can essentially be boiled down to “live action World of Warcraft”. PCs group up into little bands, are approached by NPCs with plot hooks, and go on little quests to solve puzzles and slay monsters: self-contained adventures that are largely fungible. This is very unlike the basic gameplay of Systems Malfunction, a nuanced kind of encouraged-PVP where PCs are constantly forming alliances, scheming, and backstabbing amongst themselves in a way that dynamically shapes the game world itself.
- Additionally, your average boffer LARP player seems to have the understanding that compared to a PC that has existed for five or ten years, a new PC is basically irrelevant. Without months and months of accumulating experience points, a new PC can’t hope to have a meaningful impact on the story or beat an older, established PC in a fight. Systems Malfunction honestly doesn’t truck with this kind of “seniority” even a little bit. A straight-out-of-chargen starting PC can absolutely beat the oldest and most powerful characters in the game if they have the right in-game abilities and use the correct strategy.
- Of course, the main selling point of nearly every boffer LARP I’ve ever seen seems to be the production values. The quality of the costumes, props, even makeup and lighting. It is photos that look like something out of the Lord of the Rings movies all over their websites that seems to help them very successfully draw in new players. Systems Malfunction simply isn’t about production values. We are more than happy to use our imaginations first and foremost, and that is a somewhat alien mindset in the “mainstream” world of LARP. I have gotten some seriously weird looks for even suggesting it. “Costume optional” has been a basic tenet of Systems since our earliest days as a college game, attempting to “keep it casual”. Besides that, when we do costume (and most of us do), the clothes of the future aren’t as immediately visually arresting as the clothes of the medieval fantasy that never was. Short of going to the painstaking effort of full makeup and prosthetics for our Xel aliens and the like (which seems like a huge pain in the ass), it’s hard to imagine taking photos that would convey as much of a sense of “look at us, we are LARPing”. But even if you discount all of these things, it’s another Catch 22. If these kinds of production values are necessary to attract players, how can we afford them without many more player donations in the first place?
- To synthesize three of the above points, historically, Systems Malfunction is a LARP that has appealed almost entirely to non-LARPers. For nearly every player we have had over the years, Systems Malfunction has been their first and only LARP. Our players don’t look like LARPers, in or out of costume. Most or all of them could easily pass for non-gamers, even for non-geeks. It seems like people who do self-identify as LARPers don’t want Systems. Self-identifying LARPers already have their own LARPs, maybe. Or maybe they’re looking for something different from Systems, something more focused on production values and combat modules and not on intricate factional conflict and plot in an envolving world. I’m sorry if this all comes off as “everybody hates us cause we’re so great”, I don’t mean it that way at all. Just that different people want different things from LARP. But here’s the thing…if Systems is a LARP that has always appealed primarily to non-LARPers, it has suffered from that, because LARPers are nothing if not loyal to a fault. We’ve seen too little of that unstoppable staying power in our player base.
- Finally, over the years I have observed that parlor-style/theater-style LARPers, who the in-depth roleplaying and factional intrigues of Systems Malfunction would certainly appeal to, seldom have any desire to truck with either boffer combat or ongoing story campaigns. Let alone both.
- To synthesize all of the above points, Systems Malfunction is drastically different from every other LARP. And it is in part as a result of this that it is dying.
Conclusions And A Cry For Help
So where does that leave us? Well, to review, Systems Malfunction the LARP started at SUNY Purchase in September/October of 2005.
It should be turning ten years old this year. Some time around this September/October should be its glorious Ten Year Anniversary. Instead, the game is dying. It is dying because we are losing too many players too fast, because too many of the very few players we have left make our jobs suck too much of the time, and because I have no idea how to recruit new players, either pragmatically speaking or from a marketing perspective.
I don’t want Systems to die but I am a loss for how to save it. Therefore, at this time (April 29th, 2015) there are no concrete plans for a 2015 Season of Systems Malfunction.
We’ve had a great run, and everything has to end eventually, but I don’t want it to end like this.
If you are an old former or current player and you have any ideas at all about how the game can be saved, please contact me when you can. At this point, Mik and I are both willing to try some fairly crazy shit to save our baby.
And if by chance you are looking for a new LARP in the Westchester area–especially if you have like a dozen friends who are also down to LARP–please contact me.
A Little Bit Of Good News For A Change
I’d like to remind everyone that the enormous, epic Systems Malfunction Campaign Setting for The Singularity System by End Transmission Games was published just last year. This means that whatever happens to the LARP, in at least some small way, Systems Malfunction should be able to live on forever on your tabletops and in your hearts– and in ours.
– DTO (Ossining, NY, 4/29/2015)