“Social bid”-method of playing oppression in larp

Several years ago I read this article on what factors seems to influence a happy marriage or partnership:

Masters of Love by Emily Esfahani Smith

The article introduced me to the koncept of social bids as a part of human interaction.

“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.”

This the researcher that Emily is writing about called a “bid” or a “social bid”. The partner could now choose to turn away from the partner, rejecting the bid or to turn towards them and connecting over the bid.

So I started using the method of social bids both when I was playing oppressors or when I was playing the oppressed. I saw the dynamic role play of power-differences as a kind of relationship-based play. But at most larps there was more than one partner at larps to make these social bids to, or pick up on social bids with. I’m going to move in to examples further down.

The method has flaws, if your co-player or you yourself find it difficult to pick up on subtle clues it can be very difficult to pick up on social bids. It can be made easier if you workshop it before the game and do many repeats in the workshop, or if the game agrees on some standard “social bids” that either all the oppressed characters can make or social bids all the oppressors can make.

The social bids are originally meant to be made to one specific player, I am sure you can make a social bid at a whole group but it makes it even more difficult to notice as a group that an individual is making a social bid and it can be hard to react all at the same time. Social bids are in most larps made in person but at some games they can happen by phone or by internet.

Examples of social bids:

A thrall at a viking larp has been away doing personal play with their thrall allies. Now the player want to have some oppression play from their owner. In the fiction they often serve at the owners table and a feast is going on in the main hall. The thrall player simply gets a drink for the owner and make their way all the way to them, presenting the drink.
The offering of the drink, as if it had been sent for or as if it was a part of a daily routine is a social bid. It can be a clearer social bid if it comes with words spoken:

“Mistress, your horn, I brought your favorite.”

Also touch can make the social bid stronger. Slightly touching the owner on the arm.

The oppressor/owner could now either decline/miss the social bid by ignoring/not reacting or minimizing the interaction and just taking the horn, letting the thrall go away again. This will lead to the thrall player often feeling lost and very small out of game. Not a very good feeling.

Accepting the social bid could both be by a in game positive reaction:

“Ah! My thrall! *grabs both horn and thrall, pulls thrall into lap, chugs drink* They then proceed to showing their most precious object to all at the table and talking about all their talents.

It could also be an in game negative reaction:

The mistress looks at the thrall with a mean gleam in their eye, keeping eye contact they taste the content of the horn, then spits it out.
“what is this HORSEPISS!?” and throws the rest of the content on the thrall, and then grabs them by the hair.
“Exscuse me” to the table “I have to go take care of this”

Now the intensity of the social bids will depend a lot on what you as players have talked about before, and the general tone and safety rules at the larp.

Have you used some kind of similar method? What would your social bids be at an upcoming larp?

Modern larp:

A toxic relationship sending more and more explicit and abusive text messages to each other. Each time the other actually answers and engages with the story it will be an social bid/acceptance. No answer or minimized answer is the absence of a social bid.

Making a social bid workshop

Divide the players in small groups, 2,4 or 6. Each group should have members who will be oppressors and members that will play oppressed at some point of the larp. Ideally it will be the same pairs or groups who will play together at the larp.

Choose an everyday interaction in the fiction of the larp, that will also happen at the larp. Give them written suggestions and the props they might need. For example:

  • Servants filling up drinks
  • Prisoners getting their beds searched
  • Immigrants being interwieved
  • Prisoners of war being stripped of weapons
  • romantic partner being verbally abused

Now play through the scenes, and have the oppressed being the initiator to the beginning of the scene. Bringing the drink, standing up next to you bed with hands on head, coming to the desk of the administrator, organizing a line with hands on their heads, finding their partner and asking if they like their haircut.

Do the scene shortly. Cut. Now ask the players to do it again with a change. Maybe the oppressor is in a good mood? How do you play on that and still make it into active, engaging opression where they feel the social bids get reacted upon?
Another change can be if the oppressed is feeling filled with anger and just, have, had, enough but we still decide the scene will end with the oppressor winning?

Take the last 10 minutes to discuss if the method worked, and if anything can be tweaked for the larp.



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