Keep It To Ten Minutes
A friend of mine, someone I regularly collaborate with on various projects, posted this on his Facebook page. With his permission, I am re-posting it here because it makes a lot of sense.
WARNING! INCOMING RANT! If you don’t wanna read it, then don’t. And I’m not going to reply to anyone who can’t put logic first.
So, here’s the thing about abilities at LARPs that take a long time to use.
Crafting skills and “medical” healing (and a few other more game-specific abilities) classically take a very long time in LARPs to take effect. The reasons for this that I’ve heard are things like “It’s more realistic” and “It creates roleplay opportunity”.
Firstly, if you want realistic, a sword wound or gun shot can take MONTHS to heal fully with modern medical technology, let alone whatever medieval doctoring equipment is available in most LARPs. If someone in a game spends 6 hours going from 0 HP to full, or returning a broken limb to full usefulness, that is just as unrealistic as spending ten minutes to do the same.
Secondly, these things don’t “create” role-play opportunity. The role-play opportunity is there regardless of how many hours people spend banging foam hammers on a fake anvil or stitching someone up. The people are there, and they are role-players; if they want to role-play, they will do so regardless of whether or not they’re being forced into a mind-numbing chore to replenish in-game resources.
Those first two points serve to address the obvious flaws in the argument for such abilities to take a large amount of time, but don’t serve to promote the argument of why such abilities should take a short amount of time. That’s this next part.
See, when players have limits to their in-game resources, they will seek to replenish those resources whenever possible. As a result, players will always spend the time necessary to replenish those resources, whether or not they’re enjoying themselves in the process.
Now you might say, “Well, most people don’t enjoy the act of forging metal or stitching someone up,” which is largely true and not a small part of why most people don’t do it in real life. But this isn’t real life, it’s a game. And when people are playing a game, especially when they are PAYING MONEY to play a game, they want to enjoy themselves. They are paying their money in exchange for entertainment (World Of Warcraft not-withstanding).
So whenever you have a game mechanic that would cause most people to get bored and stop enjoying themselves, what you have is a bad game mechanic. It will make people not want to take part in that aspect of the game, which is especially problematic if they wanted to make or have made a character for the purpose of being in that aspect of the game.
You know what happens when LARPers get bored? They stop talking about stuff that’s going on in-game and start talking about stuff that’s going on in real life, which breaks immersion for everyone around and causes even more problems. You might say, “Well, if they’re LARPing, they should stay in character even if they’re bored,” to which I reply, “Then YOU should have a system that doesn’t encourage them to break character.”
If players get bored and break character because the plot isn’t engaging, that’s not something that can be fixed with the rules. But if they get bored and break character because your rules are forcing them to effectively remove themselves from actually playing the game in order to be allowed to keep playing later, you’ve got a problem with your rules that can be quickly and easily fixed.
This isn’t just a problem with resource restoration, though. LARPs also often have game effects such as spells or abilities that render another person unable to continue interacting with the game for large amounts of time, often an hour or more. Why bother making someone stand around for that long? Whether they’re frozen or imprisoned or whatever, what purpose does it serve to make the player (or even cast member) stand around and do nothing for a whole hour? All you’re doing is taking away someone else’s ability to enjoy the game.
After a certain point, such abilities stop “creating tension” and start taking away from the enjoyment of the poor saps forced to endure them. It’s one thing if you’re stuck in place for ten minutes; you can spend that time wondering if they’ll get you, maybe trying to plan an escape. Any longer, though, and all they’ll be thinking is “Man, I really just want to get back to playing. Or maybe go home.” An ability that takes someone else out of the game for half-an-hour or more may seem “powerful”, but it’s really just dickery.
Short answer? Don’t make any game mechanics that force someone out of play for more than ten minutes at a time. Even ten minutes can be pushing it for some people, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that most people of the role-play mindset can mime an action or stand around for ten minutes without losing focus.
Any “role-play opportunities” that can occur within an hour can also start within ten minutes, and can be continued for as long as the people role-playing wish to continue. Instead of feeling forced, it’ll feel natural and immersive.
Any “realism” you feel you might be losing wasn’t really there to begin with. Ten minutes to heal someone up with stitches or forge a sword that never needs to be sharpened is just as unrealistic as an hour or two.
Removing a person from the game for more than ten minutes is likely to get them bored, and they are paying money to have fun. If you have rules that take people out of the game for more than ten minutes, you are being paid for a service that you are not rendering.
Healing. Crafting. Resource restoration. Removal effects. Ten minutes, tops. Otherwise, all you’re doing is wasting time.
Inclusivity Is Awesome
I was originally going to post about what I’ve learned about game design through LARPing and how it can be applied to video games, but given the current discussions about Gamer Culture, I’ve decided that instead I’m going to focus on one particular portion of that.
Where in recent weeks the discussions about inclusivity of Game Culture has seemed to have been taken over by the loudest and most toxic individuals, LARPs do inclusivity right, and they’re better for it. Almost all of the LARPs I’ve attended have a fairly large female population. The LARP I primarily go to, EPOCH Toronto, has an almost even ratio of men to women. In addition, there’s usually at least one woman on the executive board at any given time, and not long ago, the board was entirely composed of women fielding those positions.
This isn’t limited to just the sex of a person. Gender, race, nationality, religion, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome at a LARP event. In addition, there’s nothing stopping you from playing any kind of character you want. Are you male, but want to play a female character. Totally doable! Want to play a very religious person, but are not particularly religious yourself? Not a problem! Want to play a character whose gender is completely different from your own? Go for it!
As for the more toxic individuals that try to attend? They’re usually given the cold shoulder by the rest of the player base, and often wander off to another LARP, or just stop altogether. If the individual is particularly disruptive, they’ll be asked to leave. There will always be inter-personal conflicts in any social group, and conflicts are resolved rationally by the owners or executives of the LARP, often getting both sides of the story before taking action.
From a business standpoint, however, inclusivity gets you more customers. If a LARP is a safe environment, and provides a great game atmosphere, those that attend will tell their friends, and bring them to the next event. Then those new players tell their other friends, and bring them along, and for forth. Often times the best advertisers of a LARP are the ones that play it rather than run it. And the more inclusive a LARP is, the more varied, and therefore larger, the potential audience becomes.
Marketing teams across all game companies should take a good look at this, as sales will be more constant as more and more people buy the game, play and love it, then tell their friends, who will then buy it and do the same, as opposed to making things look shiny and having to rely on pre-orders to make their money.
Aside from the business portion of the equation, inclusivity also creates a positive culture that can actually be respected by those viewing it from the outside. There’s a reason why many people regard “Gamers” as mouth-breathing, socially-inept neckbeards, or a bunch of juvenile 12-year-old boys. They’re the ones that are the loudest, and the ones most people think of when they think of what a “Gamer” is.
By having a more inclusive culture, those in the media, and people in general, can consider games as the art-form it can be instead of a juvenile past-time. LARPing might be in the same boat when it comes to public viewpoints, but that’s just on the surface of LARPing. A LARP can bring people out of their shells, players can experience things that they may never experience in their normal lives, social issues can and often are explored, and so much more. On the surface, yeah, we’re in silly costumes swinging plumbing supplies at each other. But that’s far more benign than what Gamer Culture is on the surface: A culturally backward, toxic place where threats of rape and murder are commonplace.
If you want a better culture surrounding games, or just better games in general, allow more than just the social-inept dictate their direction. Bringing women, LGTBQ folk, those of different races, nationalities, etc. into the development-side of gaming. Have them included in creative decisions, not just in artwork or animation where a majority of women have positions inside the games industry, but in design and programming as well. From there, games being made with these groups in mind will come, and in turn, people that identify with them will come to play.
Communities will come together to create a great, positive spaces for everyone to enjoy. Those that try to bring them down will find themselves quickly silenced.
It’s already happening, folks. Just let it happen. You’ll be a better person for it. Don’t believe me? Give LARPing a shot and see what you’re missing out on.