Learn to larp!

We need to talk about playing. We need to stop assuming and, to quote Lizzie Stark, write a damn rulebook.

We spend an enormous amount of time, word and effort on game design, story creation, effect, logistics and studying which philosopher best describes what we do in our pasttime. We spend more time navelgazing over our offgame feelings than on the root of the matter.

We dance around the hot potato of playing roles. What the fuck are we doing? And I don’t mean philosophically or sociologically, but actual, practical discussions of the act of playing a role.

We might have a ton of tools and techniques. Jeepform and Playing With Intent have long lists of them. But all that builds on a slippery foundation of assumptions and what seems like common sense. It’s all second order tricks resting on a morass of pretending.

 

When I started larping, that common sense was that good larping came from either raw talent or years of experience from playing many, many games.

It was only much later, after meeting a ton of different playing styles, trying weird game formats and reading up on improv theater, that I was able to look on larping as a skillset where I could willfully improve myself.

I may have been slow to discover this, but noone ever expressed it to me and I still don’t hear anyone really working on it.

 

We still start out from “everyone plays pretend as kids, this is just the same.” Despite all our advances in form and content material, we’re still stuck figuring it out on our own as players.

I’d even go so far as to say it’s gotten worse. The Jeep and similar agendas of bleed, close to home imperatives and paper-thin characters is doing away with the art of playing a character and leaving us poorer for it.

It may be emotionally filling, but it leaves me creatively and expressively empty.

 

To me, roleplaying means being able to perform a wide variety of roles in any sort of context. It means being able to use your imagination and suspend disbelief. It means keeping the other participants in mind and knowing how to structure our personal stories. And a lot more.

If we don’t start taking larping as that sort of skillset seriously, we’ll end up as a poor hobby of emotion junkies typecasting each other to play ourselves in dramatized everyday events. Or are we already there?

We won’t have the same chances to change our perspectives and grow as larpers. We’ll stay unsatisfied with our fellow players and worst of all, we’ll lose the chances to bring in new players and teach them to play on our level.

 

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6 thoughts on “Learn to larp!

  1. Thank you — this one of the things that I really realized playing JaLL — that there was all this stuff that wasn’t mentioned in the literature, that there was an art to the performance that one needed to pick up on the ground. I have a fair bit of it already, from tabletop and improv and the like, but still, it was a bit of a surprise. I’d love to see people talking about the finer skills there.

  2. I’m not sure I follow – Jeepform or high-bleed larp are just some of the options available to us. There’s brilliant, interesting, expansive live-action gaming happening, with varying degrees of system involvement, all around me that have nothing to do with Jeepform.

    I think “oh, man! everybody’s playing around with jeepform and spoiling the hobby” is a little reactionary. we’re dabbling in something new because it just showed up in our toybox.

    On the other hand, while pondering how to integrate workshopping into how my community interacts with games, I’ve been considering the fact that I start by meeting a character’s voice. I hear her vocal quirks, I learn her pacing – does she slow down and speak more carefully? Does she trip along at breakneck speed through sentences that only loosely connect from one to the next? Then I let her walk. Literally, I figure out what shoes she is most likely to wear and I walk. I stomp, I slither, I clomp, I stride, I mince, I let her borrow my hips and slink across the kitchen until I have sorted out her walk. There has to be a way to integrate that sort of process into workshopping – if I don’t have a character’s walk before I step into game, I struggle. Is it maybe a conversation that needs to be built into workshopping?

  3. Eleanor, I had much the same experience at JaLL, the metatechniques added a wonderful layer to the game that I had to scramble to keep up with. Luckily I’ve gotten a master coach in later games and now I wish to share it forward.

    Avonelle, a bit of context is in order here: In hipster-denmark and the Knudepunkt crowd, much of the innovation in larp for several years has been towards less character, more bleed. Though it’s turning around now, with dramatic abstract larping picking up more interest. But the main thing is that we still hardly ever talk about what we do to play roles, what skills and techniques are there on the most basic level?

    And thank you for sharing the road into a character, it’s things like that I’d love to hear more of. For me, the body language and costuming usually come together first. A character begins as a stance and a way of dressing, my physical presence. Then I begin moving and finding the walk and talk. I usually need three things to be in order for the character to work: One or more thought-mantras that encapsulate the character’s thoughts on the issue of the game, a gesture I can do to centre myself in the character and a physical token or prop that is natural to him or her.

  4. Gotcha!

    That’s really interesting – I can’t imagine finding larp very satisfying without the character through which to explore a situation. Part of the joy for me is bending my brain to look at the gameworld differently than I would.

    When building campaign or longer-play characters, I have a tendency to build monochromatic characters. So much so that my longest-running NPC (she’s 15 this year. yow!) is known in the game-world as Green, or Girl in Green. There’s something about settling into her verdant wardrobe that really makes the transition to the character easy, and makes it easier for me to leave her behind. She would never be caught in a pair of jeans, so at the end of a weekend, I change into jeans and a sweater and she’s off like a prom dress.

    I love rich, intricate, strongly motivated characters. And I love writing them for other people to play. I hope you manage to swing your community towards the sort of experiences you’re looking for.

  5. Thank you for writing this- it’s hard to say how skewed my perspective is, but it feels as though Jeep style LARPing and an emphasis on bleed as a goal has become a very hot topic in my LARPing community (Northeastern region of the US).

    While I think it’s worthwhile to try new and different things in LARPing, I also think it’s important to recognize that this emphasis on bleed and the various techniques we’re picking up aren’t inherently superior, or deeper, or more meaningful. It’s just different, and that can be better for some but not everyone. People seem to have granted it this identity of being deep and artsy, which in turn implies something shallow about LARPs that aren’t designed to purposefully evoke as much bleed as possible, which leaves me somewhat resentful.

    As you put it extremely well, “It may be emotionally filling, but it leaves me creatively and expressively empty.” The storytelling itself is a valuable art.

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