Live Action Role Playing Games — Object of Study

Live-Action Role-Playing Games (LARPs) are a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props. LARP is distinguished from cosplay, where individuals demonstrate affinity and allegiance to a particular character within a fandom through authenticity in dress and manner; historical re-enactment, in which costumed participants embody and bring to life historical figures and events; and creative anachronism, where participants create their own characters based on history, genre or a particular time period. The distinction arises primarily because LARPing involves elements of a game – plot, goals, conflict, “points”, and stakes for the character – which are regulated through various structures created by game designers, writers, and game masters (GMs). LARP is a live improvisational performance without an audience; everyone present is an active participant and has a stake in the outcome of the game.

Boffer-style LARPs, which use homemade weaponry made of PVC pipe covered in foam and duct tape to enact combat scenes, are more about weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, battle strategy and adrenaline than theater-style or freeform LARP, which focuses more on character-building, and storytelling. Often called Interactive Storytelling or Interactive Literature, theatre-style LARP uses a system of game rules adapted from table-top role-playing games in order to determine position within the game, advance plot points, create more authentic characters and settle conflicts.  These are known as “mechanics.”

Mechanics both limit and augment a person’s natural tendencies, and are used as a means of controlling the large groups of people assembled in a closed space, as well as to create the game world through enhanced verisimilitude and what are intended to be clearly enacted boundaries. Yet these mechanics become objects of negotiation between the GMs and the players, each pursuing their own goals and agendas while maintaining their identity and autonomy within the Ludic System.

Mechanics fashion a common reference point across groups, standardize the methods of conflict resolution and plot points in the game, and provide a model and/or map of the shared game space. They do so to allow knowledge transfer without enforcing a particular shared meaning – which is essential to game autonomy and enjoyment. The mechanics are mediating artifacts that encode etiquette to create a controlled game reality that mitigates aggression, harassment, and other problems that may be brought in from real life and allows for the identity exploration essential to role-playing games.

I see the information movement before, during and after the LARP and the co-creation of the live game by sharing the roles as author, narrator, and character as functioning as a kind of distributed network.

I will study a particular LARP that I will play between February 28 and March 2. I will play three games during that time span; I am currently leaning toward the Jeep Form LARP, which is less structured and more dynamically co-created in the four-hour session via improv and lots of character autonomy and agency. Alternatively, another game is very structured. The Game Master is the “software” of a live-action game, so I am interested in the protocols (rules/mechanics) used to govern the game, which has as its core interactive problem-solving. The game is neither playable nor solvable alone; thus a system or network is needed to experience the reality that is LARP.

4 Responses to Live Action Role Playing Games — Object of Study

  1. LARPs FTW! I think there is a lot to look at here. It might be also interesting (thinking here of our work on genre) to look at the circulation of documentation and communication that enables the LARP. There are genre sets and speech acts here that permit the forward action of the play. And it will be slippery. And motivation within a LARP is interesting to measure because it is so carefully constructed as part of the person’s understanding of their character (and thus is articulated in ways that we don’t usually articulation motivation.) Looking forward to this.

    • Hi, Julia. The slipperiness and simultaneous “careful construction” is what interests me! The documentation and information (character sheets, rule-sets, mechanics) enable a game, but the fact that the ensuing game itself is a somewhat unpredictable irruption that rests on the interpretation of those artifacts, as well as of archetypes, costumes, and other people’s interpretations. Character motivation and player motivation sometimes conflate, and that is often derisively termed meta-gaming if it becomes too obvious and breaks a game. There’s also the networked exchange of information Before the game, During the game, After the game, and BGA (Between-Game-Action) if the larp is a campaign-style larp. The resolution of the irruptions during the game has to be made post-game, to integrate what happened in game to the game canon. The rule in game is “if you say it, it is true”, so then the other players (and the storytellers, GMs) have to figure out HOW and WHY it is true.

  2. I think it will be interesting to think about how the mechanics function as/within the network (maybe even start making connections to the hard/software readings). I’m also interested in the fuzzy lines between people in and out of play and how that will “play out” in your mapping of the networks of the game (time before and after, etc.). I can’t wait to see what you tease out.

    • Interesting to think about a player as being “shut off” or “bypassed” on the network when s/he is out of play. And the confluence of information that may reside in a single character on whom the plot hinges.

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