We are big supporters of pre-game workshops, therefore we were curious about how and what the Rolling-organizers might have planned for us. It would be too ambitious to examine the whole programme, so we decided to pick and discuss some examples that stuck to our minds:
1) Prejudice and hate
As the era of and around the World Wars was heavily influenced by nationalism and therefore by prejudice and hate, a whole workshop was created around these topics. After a short introduction in why Czech people did not like Slovaks back then, the players were split up into three big groups. A player who would later play a Slovak ingame was assigned to every group. He/She was blindfolded and surrounded by the other players who played the Slovak-hating mob, no matter if their characters will feel that way during the game later on. Under the instructions of the organizers the mob then had to bully the Slovak (who represented more the “Slovak idea” then a real person). Four stages of escalation from verbal attacks to meek and fierce physical attacks where trained. Stage five was presented as the lethal stage and was therefore not part of the workshop.
Although this workshop seemed extremely relevant to us, it did not quite work out for everyone. Bullying a blindfolded person for no specific reason and even without a character’s motivation behind it only did the job for some. Also the big mob-groups allowed players uncomfortable with the situation to step back, while a few others did the “dirty work”. As a result we experienced, that only those who were comfortable with improvised stand-up-violence before were acting, while those who may have been in need for some practice, didn’t (have to) develop their skills. This was also palpable later in the game. While players with personal conflicts written into their characters still experienced their conflicts throughout the game, issues of nationalism quickly vanished in face of the common enemy.
Summing it up, we think it is very important to include the topic of nationalism and hate in workshops, but we would have preferred a workshop in smaller groups, maybe couples and completely disconnected from ethnical ingame-prejudices but instead with an eye to eye experience in which a mutual empowerment and supporting by your counterpart might take place.
Friday morning started with a dividing of “trouser-role”- and “skirt-role”-characters. As crossdressing was allowed and there were ingame-female soldiers, this was a practical way of dividing these groups of players, as those two groups were introduced to different topics and mechanics important for the game. Those with trousers had to gear up and started their day with military drill, marching, wrestling and some fencing, while those in skirts sat in a circle, discussing medical issues and how to act as a woman back in the 1910s. Of course this was important, as almost every trouser-role was designed as a soldier, while all the skirt-roles were nurses and civilians with no military experiences. Nevertheless we discovered some disharmonies while playing, resulting from skirt-roles being told how to act as 1910-woman but trouser-roles not being told as how to act like 1910-men. That resulted in skirt-roles eagerly playing weak and dependent (according to general historical gender-mainstreaming) while the trouser-roles mostly acted according to contemporary standards. As we were told afterwards, there should have been a workshop focusing on this topic for trouser-roles as well but there was too little time because of a delayed beginning on thursday evening. So the workshops had to be shortend in order to start with the game itself on time.
In general we sensed that pre-game workshops, even the theoretical ones were cut out for one specific type of role: the male Czech soldier. Other ethnicities and female roles weren’t ignored or discriminated in our opinion, they just didn’t get the same focused preparation.