Sunday, May 27, 2012

Emotional Resonance and Innovation

by Albert

I have had the pleasure of working with Albert at Endgame, and I have been continually impressed by his ability to weave interesting and innovative plot. Now, as I join plot staffs for two games, I'm taking my experience working with Albert with me-- he has certainly helped me learn how to craft experimental modules that are open to improvement and further innovation. I approached Albert with the subject of plot writing, and he provided me with the following thoughts. 


I was given a question:

"How do you write good, emotional plot that is also innovative (i.e., not just an opportunity for players to come in, sob about their character histories, and leave)?"

Creating emotional resonance is all about getting hooks into a player's character. What do they care about? Are there people, PCs or possible NPCs, that are part of their sphere? What does that character struggle with? 

Looking back, the biggest key to this recipe is to let things steep. Allow NPCs time to form organic connections. Throw out possible hooks and see what catches... then reel them in slowly. Going for quick emotional punches can be effective, but are hard to sustain. Why? I think most players emotionally adapt. Players will lapse into humor, distraction, or 'oh this again' mentality to deal with intense situations.

If you them to care, truly care, beforehand, you got them hooked.

For myself at LARPs, Innovation is an approach to writing and running. It requires the capacity to be fearless in trying new things. To take a step back and see outside the standard LARP formats (field fights and modules) we lock our minds into. You need to not take it personally when things go horribly awry. Or worse, when players hate your module. 

An important note: Innovation does not mean Incomprehensible! If players don't understand or can't see the meaning behind what you are doing, you just created a crappy piece of modern art. Never forget the payoff: the friction between innovation and emotional resonance.

So how does one create emotional resonance in creative ways? For myself, I tend to incorporate the following via bullet-points:

* Surprise Them: Scenarios that players don't expect tends to elicit spur of the moment reactions and emotions. This can help sneak that emotional resonance in. Bait-and-switch, bluffing in the pre-hook, etc. all fall into this. But be careful of overuse! Messing with players expectations in bad ways, IG or OOG, can lead to grumpy players. Know what your players are capable of rolling with.

* Make Sure It's Not All About Me/You/Him: If the module is designed to have only one 'active' participant, then everyone else is a trapped audience. Double-check that EVERYONE (PCs and NPCs) have ways to interact with any scene. This can be reasons to actively RP or doodads to be interacted with. Give them a way to leave if it's not their cup of tea. If it can't be helped, make sure the players have some expectation that they are in for a cutscene.

Also, think about the personal plot you are directing. Is this focused on that player as the primary? Or are things happening to that person for their friends to resolve? Can you co-opt them as an actor in a module and open the field to others? Trust in people's capacity to be awesome and wanting to spread the love to their friends. And if they aren't, be firm the PC/Staff delineation. If they want to write plot about themselves, there are other avenues.

* Feedback: Player choice is invaluable. If the player feels that he has the power to alter the world or impact the flow of events, they can open up. If things are railroaded, they will feel extraneous. The latter is a killer of emotional resonance. If ever possible, never chisel the outcome in stone. Let the player's actions (and NPCs!) have power. I cannot stress this point enough.

* Do your research: Each player has unique themes, perspectives, and goals. It's vitally important to know what will work for them and what won't. If you need to ask the player for information, drop them a staff-validated e-mail. Ask them what they want post-game. People/issues they are connected to. Any aspects of their character they are looking to fiddle with or address. 

Doing a module/plot only to have it flop because you don't know the guy is something everyone will run into. Don't take it personally on yourself or the player. Clarifying what you are both looking for will save time and frustration on all sides. This goes doubly true for non-standard plots! Do you like all aspects of LARPing? Every module you've been in? Obviously not. People aren't on the same wavelength, but you can at least tune in to double-check.

* Floon: For long-term games, make sure you are innovating, writing, and running around the threshold where you enjoy it. If you aren't having fun, it will trickle into everything else. Be honest about what your capable of. A module or two per session? Do you just enjoy RP roles in town? Can you juggle five criss-crossing plots at once? Are you a Plot Lich who knows no rest or sense of self-preservation? If you are honest with yourself in that arena, writing isn't a chore. It's an enormously fun way to channel your inner creativity.

So these are the things I look for in writing innovative personal plot. What do you think works for you?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cottington Woods: Searching for Inspiration

Many New England larpers are incredibly excited about Cottington Woods: the new dark fairytale game premiering this coming November. I am one of those people-- Cottington Woods, with its horror/fantasy theme, is, in many ways, everything I'm looking for in a larp. I already sent in my character concept, and I had a very good time designing the character. More interestingly, I had  fun searching for inspiration around which to design character.

My PC concept, named Corvus Corax Amanita, is a dark and eccentric woman from an established and morbid family. Since my character is not approved yet, I don't want to give away too much. However, I did want to share some of the things that helped me write and brainstorm Corvus. It just goes to show that inspiration comes in unexpected places:

1) The bird skull collection site
2) In the Company of Crows and Ravens
3) Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms
4) National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms
5) The kusozu-emaki (no pictures, but, caution, graphic)

Where do you go for inspiration? What unusual things have you come across?

Stay tuned for next week: there will be ample features on Invictus and a spot on Kyranthia from the creators (they're having their first event this weekend).

of Costumes and Blogs

Firstly, as a follow-up to yesterday's conversations about costuming-- I'd like to spotlight 2 people in the costume community and their respective websites: Lydushka's Completely Custom Creations and Xeph-ink. I've had the pleasure of viewing these makers' costumes in person, and they are absolutely gorgeous. If you, like me, are not particularly gifted in the construction process, please check these out.

As a closing thought, please go check out the following blogs-- FairEscape and LarpcastLarpcast has a new episode featuring the co-creator of Wyrdcon. FairEscape is not a new blog, but a blog I started reading recently-- her writing is great,  and her costuming is stunning. Please do go check out this blog for more reading material!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Theory Thursday: Costume Guides

So, this is a day late, and I apologize for the lack of updates. I'm encountering some keyboard issues that are forcing me to use a less than stellar dictation program-- this makes posting a little difficult.

So, in the spirit of new games, I want to talk about the procuring costumes for new characters. What sort of things do you make sure your character always has? Where do you shop for costume items? Or are your costumes made by hand? Where do you go for costuming inspiration? How do you help new players find costumes?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spotlight on New Games

In the New England community, there are a variety of new games debuting in the next year or so. Forums are a-twitter with possible character concepts, costume ideas, and prop construction. Over the next week or so, I’ll be looking at newer larps in the New England area. Please check out the websites below, and, if so inclined, share your character concepts and plans.

Are you involved with any of these games? Also-- am I missing any?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Theory Thursday: What do you look for in game websites?

A new feature on the blog: Theory Thursday. On Thursdays, I will publish one or more completely open-ended questions about larping. Please answer, debate, and pose new questions in response!

Many games are releasing increasingly advanced websites. What do you look for in a larp website? What information is useful to you? Aesthetically, what sort of layout is the easiest to manage? What other things do you like to have available online?

Examples of LARP Websites:
Invictus (main site)
Invictus (forums)
Endgame (main site)
Nordic Larp Wiki (game wiki)
The Exiles: Western LARP Ohio (main site)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Growing a World: Providing Background Information

by Zoe

In a previous post about briefing NPCs, a commenter brought up the following thing as a key part of successful NPC briefing:

"Background info - Most NPcs are better at their roles the more they know. Keep background info available in monster camp for them to read when curious. Have maps, have writeups, have ways for them to grow their world knowledge that enables them to better handle the unexpected."

I feel like this is a really good point. It's an awkward experience when your merchant NPC who, allegedly, "has been living here for her entire life," doesn't know the political climate of the capital, the state of the roads through the eastern forest, or the activity of a mercenary band in the north. Although, as Berta the Merchant, you may quite well understand your mission, your stats, and the items your carrying, it's uncomfortable to be unable to answer PC questions like, "So what do you think of the civil war in the west?" Cool PCs, realizing a new NPC might not have the background knowledge that they do, will generally try to help you with gentle hints-- but it shatters game immersion for everybody. Especially in a game that has been running for multiple years, this is a tricky situation. Moreover, even if you brief NPCs well and provide them with all the pertinent information for an event, newer ones (and even more experienced ones) can't get everything from a write-up or a conversation with a staff person.

Considering all this, I am a huge fan of "background information." That stuff available in Monster Camp that involves histories, timelines, current events, maps, pictures, lists of key NPCs-- anything. Many games, such as Aralis, Lost Eidolons, Endgame, and the upcoming Invictus, also have websites available providing world info that both new PCs and NPCs can access.

With all of that being said, different games have different ways of providing background information. I wrote this post mainly to source ideas from readers. How does your game provide background information to PCs and/or NPCs (if at all)? What are the benefits and risks of a providing background info to NPCs? As a PC, what sort of background information would you like prior to starting a game? As an NPC, what information do you appreciate having available?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Briefing NPCs

by Zoe

An inquiry into the best and worst tactics for briefing NPCs, especially concerning complicated plot.

The scene: in the middle of an event, when you're dehydrated, fatigued, and overworked, you set off to lead a combat mod, hook an encounter group, or get involved in some intense RP. You know your stats. You've received a quick briefing from a harried staff member. You're sporting costume and make-up. You have your props and weapons. You hit the field, mod building, or tavern.

Everything's going just fine. Then... the unexpected happens. A PC asks you a question you can't answer (but probably should be able to). Or the players, rather than cutting down your crunchy corpse, decide to RP the stats right out of you. Players take you hostage for questioning. Or you're handed an item, which you should understand, that leaves you baffled.

We've all been there.

Despite our best intentions and the dedication of staff members, in every LARP, there eventually comes a time when the NPC, especially the non-staff NPC, is just not prepared for an encounter. In games that have been going on for years and years, this is especially true: PCs often know the world like the backs of their hands, while casual NPCs may have never read anything other than the core rules. Especially for those interested in RP, this can be problematic. It feels terrible to go out as an NPC, only to realize you don't have the information needed to fully interact with the PCs. And PCs can sense it: if an NPC goes out poorly prepared one time (I can think of a particularly unfortunate incident when an NPC hook didn't have name), they're going to have a hard time gaining player trust in later events.

Irregardless of the quality of the NPC in question, most of the burden of prepping the NPC happens in the pre-module briefing. A well-briefed NPC, even if they're new to larping of the system, is going to be infinitely better than even the most experienced, yet poorly briefed, NPC.

As a compulsive NPC, who likes heavy RP and combat roles, I've seen some of the best and worst ways to brief an NPC. I offer my advice on how to successfully brief people, and encourage other players, especially staff members, to join in the conversation.

Leaving Mundania: Thoughts on Chapters 2 and 3

by Zoe

A continuation of my rambling thoughts on Lizzie Stark's new book Leaving Mundania. Go check it out! You can buy it at a bookstore, order it online, or get an online e-copy.

Chapter Two

1) The Gaming Family
This chapter covers a family of gamers: 2 sons, a father, and an adoptive son (friend of the family). All in all, it's a nice character portrait of how gaming functions in a family. (With that being said, I'm not sure how well it fits into the theme of the overall book-- it feels a little random.) With that being said, I do think this covers an aspect of LARPing that is frequently under-appreciated, and I'm glad Stark calls attention to it. This is, of course, the family dynamic of LARPing. A lot of people who started LARPing 10 or 20 years ago now have children (of a variety of ages), and, in some cases, these kids are getting involved in games. In one instance, the child of a well-respected LARPer is writing and executing plot for a game (with, I'm told, excellent results). In at least two games, I've seen seen adult players bring their mothers or fathers into a game, either as PCs or NPCs. I LARP with my husband, and I know a lot of people LARP with their partners-- for Chris and I, it's an important part of our relationship. There are also well-known LARPer families where siblings, parents, and aunts or uncles all LARP together. I think the family aspect of gaming is an important one, and also something that bears more consideration. For many of us, our LARPing groups are our chosen familes; for some of us, LARPs are extensions of our biological families. Both instances attest to the community component of LARPing.

2) Defining "LARP"
One of the strengths and weaknesses of Stark's book is her wide definition of LARPing: as I alluded to in an earlier post, she includes many, many, many things that she includes under the category "LARP." Here's my problem with this: even for someone "indoctrinated," it gets confusing. By nature, I'm a categorizing individual, it's true; that admitted, it would have been much more useful to me, as a reader, if she had chosen to organize different live-action experiences into smaller subcategories. She does, in fairness, explain the mechanics of different LARPs as she introduces them: however, it is often a little haphazard, and lacks any straightforward organization. As I read, I was often trying to figure out, "Ok, is this a boffer larp? A theater larp? What does the "XYZ" system mean?" LARPing is complicated pursuit, and I would have preferred some clarification. If you're talking about theater, for instance, it's useful to group it into distinct categories. An example: if I say, "I went to a play this weekend, and I really hated that style of theater," it's beneficial for me to talk about what type of theater I specifically hated (e.g., absurdist or musical). While Stark does report the different mechanics of LARPing, including the use of puzzles, dice, stat cards, and boffers, I don't feel she really does justice to how differently these games actually work. Accordingly, in the text, I get confused about the context in which she's writing. A theater LARP and a boffer LARP are two entirely different beasts, with markedly different communities and gameplay elements: it's useful to provide operative definitions of each one.

Chapter 3

1) The Historical Approach
I think this chapter, which covers historical developments in LARPing, is one of Stark's best. Looking at the trajectory and prevalence of roleplaying, historically, is a really fascinating way to approach the activity. I would really like to examine the history of roleplaying more broadly, and look at non-European activities as well. Stark looks, particularly, at 16th century Europe, and her argument is quite strong. I also like the separation Stark implies between "fancy dress" or costuming and actual roleplaying (32). I think it's an important differentiation, especially when you start looking at people's emotional investment in a LARP. I also now have a nifty summer research topic.

2) Myth in LARP
One of the interesting things that Stark narrates is the use of myth in LARP encounters. Stark talks about Queen Elizabeth the First's larp exploits, many of which involve interactions with mythic figures. I think this is an interesting parallel between modern and historical larping: the use of myth is powerful and pervasive.

3) Emotion in LARP
One of the quotes that caught my attention was the following:

"The yearning to experience personal emotion is one of the hallmarks of life today. Many larpers want to experience emotions-- the lost of a friend, the thrill of battle, the pain of betrayal-- that they would never have occasion to feel in every day life." (38)

I don't disagree with this statement, but I think it's a superficial understanding of LARPs. Firstly, yes, I do agree that some LARPers play because they want to experience emotions that they wouldn't otherwise encounter (as Stark describes). However, I think just as many, if not more, LARPers play to interact with emotions they have most certainly experienced multiple times. LARP is, if nothing else, an arena in which one can safely work through intense emotions. These emotions can include love, hatred, disdain, respect, fear, rage and loss. LARP provides us with a closed space that is an experimental tank for fundamental human emotions. I'm going to give a couple examples, as I think this an important aspect of LARPing:

a) I just got back from NPCing an Endgame event; as always, I was really impressed by the emotional investment of all players in the game. Endgame is an Accelerant post-apocalyptic LARP, and, of all the games I've played, I find it to be one of the most emotionally taxing events for PCs and NPCs alike. I'm not going to go into detail, to preserve player anonymity, but players broadcast a wide range of intense emotions that flair up throughout the game. (Endgame has a "Shaken" trait mechanic that can bring out people's inner messes. In other words, the PCs are "triggered.") I think Endgame offers, to players, a stage on which they can enact real life emotions: fear, sadness, love, loss, confusion, obsession, pride etc. I'm pretty sure most players, on some level, have experienced these feelings. However, Endgame provides everyone with the stimulus to explore them more fully.

b) My longest-running PC, of only about 3 years, is Esme of Madrigal. Esme is a bleeding-heart who really wants to help as many people (well, non-humans) as possible. However, she puts herself in dangerous and stigmatizing situations to do so-- talking at length with vampires, joining the Maladicted Web, and questioning "species-cleansing" options of combat. This was an exploration of my own personal inclinations in real life. To wax obnoxiously self-reflective for a minute, I'm an animal studies scholar interested in pursuing the relations of humans and non-humans. On multiple occasions, I've presented my work to an audiences of peers who laughed away the sentience and capabilities of non-humans. It's been an uphill struggle to legitimate the importance of multispecies approaches in academia. Esme has been, accordingly, an opportunity to explore my real-life interests-- the social agency of non-humans-- in a fantasy setting. When considering ethics, in real life, I often ask myself, "What would happen if non-humans, including plants and animals, could talk, and, more troublingly, fight back?" Well, in a fantasy setting, the non-humans can talk and fight back. This dynamic, however fantastical, allows me to explore things that emotionally important to me, in the real world, on a larger and experimental scale.

I really encourage everyone to pick up this book. In many ways, I disagree with much of Stark's research. However, I think it is really pushing me to consider how I think about LARP. This intellectual stimulus is, I think, one of the benefits of having an outside person write seriously on LARPing.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Leaving Mundania: Initial Impressions

by Zoe

Introduction and Chapter One

Loathe as I am to review a book in sections, Stark's book Leaving Mudania, brings up so many interesting points that I'm going to post about it in chunks. I invite everybody to comment on specific issues as they see fit. When I've finished the book it's entirety, I'll post a final commentary on it. (I'm at an event this weekend, so check back today and tomorrow for automated updates.)

My initial impressions from Chapter One and the introduction... I'm posting specific quotes that I found observant, insightful, and, in many cases, problematic. Thoughts after the jump...

Leaving Mundania Review

So I started reading Lizzie Stark's new book, Leaving Mundania, and, so far, she has some really interesting points. Some of them are really observant, and some of them are problematic. Over the course of the next few days, I'm going to be posting quotes from specific chapters, including my thoughts on them. I'll post a chapter a day, and I encourage everyone to add their feedback (especially if they've read the book, or are in the process of reading the book). Leaving Mundania is available as an ebook for $9.99; you can also pick it up on amazon or at a local bookstore.

Lizzie Stark is actively in conversation with LARPers, and her book is one of the first to really address LARPing, as a hobby and phenomenon, thoughtfully. I think it would be good, for the entire community, to provide her with some constructive and engaged feedback. My thoughts on the first chapter will go up later today.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Getting into Character: Writing Exercises

by Zoe

Perhaps its the end of semester giddiness, but I find myself, after 200 pages of required writing, very happy to dip my pen into the font of non-academic writing. Not only does that include blogs, but a few in-game projects as well. I'm currently helping Chris (Mushir) on an in-game proposal for a school of psionics (Mirror, Mirror), Tev's Guide to Fae and Other Unlikely Creatures (she's compiling a book), work for Invictus (which you'll just have to come play if you're interested), and a book of illustrated fables from Madrigal (primarily having to do with the foxtail happenings). I write, and teach writing, professionally-- I have found, in my LARP life or otherwise, that writing really helps me work through the kinks in my ideas, characterizations, and goals. With that general idea, I thought some writing exercises for LARP characterizations might be in order...

Karin, of larpohio, wrote a good article on getting back in character after a seasonal break. She has some great tips and ideas (like refreshing yourself on rules), and I'd like to continue with one of her tips: reconnecting with your character. On this topic, Karin notes:

1.) Re-connect with your character - Over a break, it's easy to lose the momentum you built with your character last season.  Once you're back into the swing of playing, you may realize you're not as connected with your character.  Review your character's history to refresh your roleplay. Remember what your character's about - maybe watch the movie that inspired them, or pick out a theme song to get into their mood. Then take some time to remember what you were up to last year, and figure out what you want to get into this year.  If you don't have character goals, make some up! :)  Decide what you want to do as a character in-game, and what kind of cool skills you'd like to work up to out-of-game.  This can help you decide what you want to pursue at events, or between games, if you're looking for direction.

 This is a really excellent point, and I wanted to expand on it through writing exercises. Characterization drills, the type that many fiction writers use, may be a great way to work on fleshing out a tired, forgotten, or uninteresting character. Moreover, in the larger scheme of things, it gives you something tangible, out of game, that you can keep or share with others (and submit to me). Finally, if you're writing plot for a LARP, this can be really useful too-- it creates a richer world populated with not just one, but dozens of well constructed characters. So, here are some classic exercises to get you started:

1. Explore character arcs.
After a year or more of LARPing, your character has probably been involved in more than a few plot arcs. Your valorous warrior has probably experienced everything from werewolf hunting to infiltration missions to greater demons hitting the field. On a rainy day, look at Post Event Letters or game notes you've made. What plot arcs have you completed? What did your character gain or learn from them? How did your character feel about the arcs? Plot is what makes a game run, and if your character has complicated emotions about these arcs, it makes for a better game. It also helps you learn where you're going with character development. Also, it puts things in bigger picture perspective, which can be helpful with the multiple plots that inevitably run.

2. Write miniature bios for everyone in your character's history.
Sure. We all have the long-lost friend, the estranged family member, or the nemesis that is important to our characters' histories. However, how many of these supporting characters are really fleshed out? If someone were to waltz up to you as Erde the Barbarian, and ask her, "So did your brother get along with his son?" would you/Erde be able to answer? Better yet, would you/Erde be able to, at length, talk about the squabbles the two of them used to have. Some LARPers are good at both a) improv and b) continuity, so having a backstory for your background characters isn't a problem. However, many of us would simply offer a more dynamic game if we could respond to questions like this without stammering out an off-the-cuff guess. Detail, briefly, the things that make your secondary characters tick. Start with basic like age, appearance, family, location, occupation, religion, and that sort of thing. Work into more complicated thoughts as you get familiar with the character.

3. Put your character in a situation, and problematize.
Imagine a situation, either simple or complex (and, ideally, something from your gameworld), and write it down. For instance, something along the lines of "your character's mentor is actually working for the other side" or "your character is given a leadership position of significant responsibility." How would your character respond? This can be a good way to explore the motivations that you've given to your character.

4. Play the "why?" game.
Little kids of a certain age seem to punctuate every conversation with the word, "why?" This isn't because their intent on exposing our adult inadequacies, it's because they're curious. Asking "why?" is a good way to explore a situation. List 5-10 significant actions your character has taken or wants to take. At the end of each action, jot down, "why?" Now try to answer that question. Especially if you've taken actions that are ambiguous or unclear to you, this can be a good exercise to hash things out. (For example, "I went on that module and killed those merfolk, even though they were relatively harmless." "Why?" "My good friend really wanted the treasure they had, and I thought that was a good way to express loyalty; now I (my character) am having some serious doubts about the morality of my team." Et voila! A seemingly inconsequential module turns into a cesspool of personal angst and character drama!)

5. Soliloquize. 
If your character could, in the middle of a heated battle or political intrigue, step aside and deliver an internal monologue to a watching audience, what would it sound like? Pretend your character is an actor, delivering a soliloquy. Write your character's most internal thoughts, and present them dramatically. Try to get across not only your character's motivations, but that person's particular style and manner of speaking.

Anyways, go have fun. And if any of these were useful, let me know!

Monday, May 7, 2012

LARP and Stigma: Fact or Fiction?

by Zoe

Dan Comstock, of nerology, posted a really interesting response to my post on LARP and journalism. In the interest of keeping the conversation between bloggers going, I wanted to discuss it. He brought up a thought-provoking point to which I wanted to respond:

"Moreover, I have to speak up against the characterization of LARPers are a “stigmatized culture”. I think that’s a tad melodramatic. It’s not like we’re trans-gendered or handicapped or systematically oppressed. We have an unusual hobby, which we do in private. Some people laugh at pictures of it on the net, but so what? People on the net laugh at everything. I certainly don’t feel stigmatized."

I disagree with this, but I wanted to open it up for discussion. Mostly because, personally, I've taken the stigma of LARPing somewhat for granted (that is, assuming it exists). I wanted to get other people's opinions.

Firstly, do I think LARPers are as stigmatized as those who are trans-gendered, handicapped, or systematically oppressed? No. Not at all. However, I do absolutely think they are stigmatized, and here are the different reasons why:

1) Anonymity within the LARP Community
Obviously, I'm fairly open about my LARPing hobby. However, there are many within the community who are not. Online, in their business lives, and among non-LARP community friends, they don't speak about their LARP hobby, and, in many cases, keep it a secret. I've asked the question "why?" to quite a few people, all of whom expressed a fear of one or more of the following: a) losing their job, b) losing the respect of clients, students, and/or colleagues, and c) social ridicule. It seems to me that, whether or not these fears are sensical and confirmed, they are the result of a larger social stigma.

2) A feeling of shame within the LARP community.
This is a more troubling issue to me. At some LARP events, I've noticed a particular embarrassment associated with the activity itself. This happens when, inevitably, over the course of a weekend, a truck pulls through a field fight, some joggers or bikers traverse through a module, or, as was the case at a recent event, a tour group wanders through the camp for a few hours. I've witnessed, that, during these occasions, LARPers turn away their faces, move out of spots of visibility, and break game to appear "normal" (though I've since tried to stop, I've done all of these things on different occasions). Where does this feeling come from? Why do we feel embarrassment because of our hobby? I can't help but think that it comes from a shame which originated in stigmatization of the larger community.

To me, the stigma surrounding LARPing absolutely exists; however, the stigma may or may not be felt by all players, or may be felt to different degrees. The question to me, however, is where does it come from? And to this, I have Dan's post to thank-- I had long assumed an outward-to-inward stigmatization of LARPers, starting in a normative, non-LARPing community. However, I think just as much of the stigma comes from the actual LARP community itself: there is a feeling of embarrassment, and even shame, within many of the LARP circles that I have encountered. Where is that coming from? How does it affect our community? What is the source, outward or inward? (To that end, Bill Tobin of LARPohio has some really interesting ideas and projects in the works on how to positively represent LARPing to a larger audience.)

So, those are some starting thoughts on LARP and stigma. I invite people to share their own experiences. Here are my two big guiding questions:
1) Is LARP a stigmatized hobby-- why/why not?
2) If it is stigmatized, where does that come from?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

LARP and Journalism

by Zoe

Lizzie Stark of has made the foray into LARPing; her new book, Leaving Mundania was just released. I haven't had the chance to read it yet, but my copy is ordered, and hopefully shipping soon. I just discovered Stark's blog, and I'm interested. All this being said, my anthropologist alarm is beeping. My concerns are below, but I encourage everyone else to voice their reactions as well. (Also, please forgive the plunge into anthropological method and theory. I work with what I've got.)

Lizzie Stark, and please correct me if I'm wrong, has LARPed for 18 months. In that time period, she has conducted some fantastic journalism, interviewed intelligent people, and participated in really interesting events. However, 18 months seems like a really short turn around for LARP. Having LARPed now for about 3 years (in Accelerant), I still, as an academic and a player, wouldn't feel comfortable writing an article on it. Why? I'm only just now starting to get a grasp on what makes LARP tick. That's taken three years of PCing, NPCing, staffing, blogging, and researching LARP. Stark is maybe just a different academic than I am, but I can't help but wonder if she's gone for breadth rather than depth. (In fairness, she spent 3 years on the book. That's standardish fieldwork time, I spose.)

My second issue... Stark seems to advocate expanding the definition of LARP to a broader range of activities. She puts "larp" in historical perspective, and categorizes a wide array of activities under the umbrella category of "larp." (I'm all for putting LARP in historical perspective, though I don't know that I'd categorize those activities as directly comparable to modern day LARPing. We run into the same problem with archaeology and comparative ethnography-- historical comparisons can trivialize the individuality of the extant community.) I'm undecided on whether or not this is a good idea. LARPers are part of a stigmatized community. While expanding the definition of LARP to a wider range of activities may make LARPing more palatable to a popular audience, it also risks sacrificing the integrity and nuances of individual LARP games. For instance, Accelerant and NERO, while both LARPs, are wildly different from one another in system, character motivation, and experience. How different then is an Accelerant LARP from some of the examples that Stark presents? Does it do justice to the individual games and players to lump them into an umbrella category? Again, I haven't read her book, so I don't know just how large her definition is. This is mostly gleaned from her blog and interviews. But I'm interested. And really curious about Nordic larps.

My third issue... and Chris Wilkins helped me articulate this: LARP is about LARPers. One of my biggest problems with writing about LARP academically is that it is a fully immersive experience that, in many ways, is meta-cultural. It is best represented by the people who LARP themselves (hence this blog). I get that journalism is all about representing others, but I'm a collaborative anthropologist. Not a journalist. I just have this feeling that she is an outsider looking in. I'm reading over her blog now, I feel like she has some really interesting questions and points, but is still kind of just scratching on the surface of LARP.

This is a cursory look at Stark's work, and I'm interested in learning more about her methods. As an anthropologist, I'm immediately concerned that she hasn't spent enough time in game. I also explained my larger concerns about extending the word "LARP" to a broader definition. Once I read the book, which I'm excited to do, I'll have a better feel, but these are my, admittedly, knee-jerk reactions. I do, however, need to wholeheartedly commend Stark on being respectful of LARPing as a whole-- she's definitely doing her part, from what I can do, to challenge many of the preconceptions about LARPing. And for that I really congratulate and thank her. I don't think Stark intends for her book to be comprehensive nor definitive. I have some concerns, but, if nothing else, it's a good starting point for future writers.

I hope to get the LARPcast fellows and a few other people involved in a roundtable discussion of the book. If you're interested, please let me know.