Tag Archive | Live Action

LARPing And The Aesthetics Of Play

It’s almost late, but I’ve posted after two weeks of inactivity, as promised!

I’d like to talk about Aesthetics Of Play, and how they relate to LARPing. Aesthetics Of Play are essentially what makes a particular game fun for the player. In a paper at Northwestern University entitled “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research,” the three authors describe eight different aesthetics of play: Sense Pleasure, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission (or Abnegation, as some prefer to call it). Every game may have elements of all of these, but only a few are considered core to a game and why those that play a particular one fun. Killer Instinct does have a story and plot, but that’s not why a lot of people play that game, so Narrative isn’t a core aesthetic of said game.

With all of that said, how can each one be used in a LARP’s design? I’m going to go through all eight of these (and throw in a ninth one, as identified by Extra Credits, as it makes a lot of sense to put in) and look at how it can be used as a core aesthetic.

  1. Sense Pleasure

Sense pleasure as an aesthetic is one where your senses are stimulated: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Games you keep going back to for a great soundtrack or stunning visuals uses this as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPs can use this by setting the physical space in the right way: decorations which reflect the intended setting and genre, music and sound effects to reflect the theme. What would be interesting to see at a LARP is trying to manufacture certain scents within a set, such as the damp, musty smell of an old decrepit cabin in the woods, or the sensation of a slight touch along the skin when a ghost walks by or through a player, but the player never sees the NPC.

This aesthetic is usually not used as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs, often due to budget constraints. But it’d be interesting to see a one-off or perhaps annual LARP game try to achieve this.

  1. Fantasy

Fantasy is the ability to step into a role you can’t step into in real life. However, in many games, this role is chosen for you. In Call of Duty, you’re a soldier. In the GTA games, you’re a psychotic criminal.

While in many LARPs, Fantasy in surely core to a game, but often goes hand in hand with Expression. However, the games mechanics often set the limits of that expression. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. It depends on the kind of LARP you’re trying to run.

  1. Narrative

Narrative is games as drama. This is what drama unfolds which the player witnesses, as opposed to the Fantasy they play through. Final Fantasy, Journey, and so on, all use Narrative as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPing is supposed to be interactive. You don’t passively watch events unfold passively. So this one is often passed over for Fantasy. Still, there are times where certain plotlines in many long-term LARP games may not interest your character, and you just want to sit back and watch the drama unfold.

  1. Challenge

This one is defined as an obstacle course of sorts. It’s a group of enemies in a module, or a puzzle. It’s a challenge where players must overcome in order to progress through the game.

In LARPs, this is often represented by groups of NPCs looking for a fight. Players have to use their skills, such as magic, or weapon skill abilities, to fight and take down the opposing NPCs. It’s pretty common. They can also be represented by logic puzzles, or even actual physical obstacle courses.

  1. Fellowship

This is working as a team to achieve a goal. Dungeons in World of Warcraft, team deathmatches in FPS games, and so forth.

This is often a vital Core Aesthetic in a LARP. Whether you’re playing a class-based or skillpoint-based game, often times you will need to rely on another character’s skill set to get you through things. Fighters need healers to keep them alive, mages need fighters to prevent others from killing them with ease, etc. If one person gets through an encounter meant for a group, you done goofed.

  1. Discovery

This is the act of discovering something new within a game. This can be discovery of a new land, or a new item that can be created, and so on.

While there is a bit of this in some LARPs, it’s not often used as a Core Aesthetic. Players who like to make things often like to find new things to make, whether it’s raiding a dungeon with big hero-types to find a new formula for a magic ritual, or discovering it on their own through experimentation. I’d like to see Discovery used more in LARPs.

  1. Expression

This is the ability for a player to express an aspect of themselves through the game. Character creation in games such as World of Warcraft or Skyrim are all forms of expression.

This is core to LARPs where the player creates their own character before they play their first game, and is used very often. I would even say that this it a defining feature of LARPs, and is a Core Aesthetic to all of them (or all of the ones I’ve played, at least).

  1. Abnegation

This is game as a pastime. This aesthetic is one where players play to just zone out and disconnect from everything. Skinner box games, or games that require grinding, are examples of Abnegation.

This one is often not intended as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs. Still, there are people who like to just role-play with their friends, and not participate in the plot. It’s just chilling out by a fire and just unwinding, which is still a valid way of enjoying a LARP.

  1. Dominance

This is the aesthetic that the Extra Credits added to their list if Aesthetics of Play. It’s the urge to show dominance over others. Call of Duty, PvP areas in World of Warcraft, even GTA Online uses it to some degree.

Naturally, all of these are examples of PvP, which I’ve already expressed my thoughts on. But despite my views on it, I still see it as a valid Aesthetic of Play that can be core to a LARP if the ones running it want it to be.

So what are the Core Aesthetics of any LARP? That’s a loaded question, as different LARPs over different things. Expression and Fantasy often go hand in hand to create role-play, however. And Fellowship often goes together with Challenge to create a group dynamic to overcome obstacles as a team. So those four are often the big ones in a LARP. If you can focus your mechanics to deliver the dynamics necessary to achieve those aesthetics, I think you’re on your way to creating a great LARPing experience for your players. But don’t forget that the other five are still valid, and experimenting with them is something that not a lot of people have really explored in a LARP.

I hope that you find this something to consider, as I’ve recently have been pondering.

See you in two weeks, max, folks!


Happy New Year and A Couple Of Interesting Links

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year! It’s been too long since I’ve posted here, and frankly, I’ve been very lax on posting things here in the first place. So I’m going to try to post at least once every two weeks with SOMETHING. For now, here are a few links to LARP-related articles that I found interesting.

First, an article about The Circle Of Jerk, a concept where only the oldest, most powerful characters get to have any fun, a situation I’m too familiar with, unfortunately.

The other is an essay regarding the lack of LARPs in Japan. A bit wordy, but interesting none the less.

I hope you like the articles, and I’ll be posting something of my own very soon.

How I Rate A LARP

What makes a good Live Action Role-Playing game? There are so many just in southern Ontario, and so many more across the world, it’s hard to say which is right for you. Some go to be with their friends for the weekend to share a common hobby, while others play at different LARPs across the world. However, as a game designer and LARPer, I like to judge a LARP based on a few fundamental factors, that I would like to share with you today!

Genre and Narrative

These traits are what will define a LARP, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, etc. Genre only explains what to expect from an individual LARP, however. Narrative, the game background and lore, is what will set it apart from the others within a genre. A bad narrative can really mess things up for any game. So if the story of the game, why things are as they are in the world where the player’s are living out their alternate lives for a weekend, is terrible, then a lot of people will be turned off by this and likely walk away for a different LARP, and never take it seriously again.

Another good point for narrative is how well a new character’s back history can fit into that narrative. I believe that a good character history is one that adds to the narrative of the game, but still maintains its overall story. This addition doesn’t, and often times shouldn’t, be huge or game changing. Just something a good Head Of Plot can work with to create a great story. Having to jump through hoops just to get it right without being a carbon copy of every unoriginal hero origin story is just bad narrative design.


Rules for any LARP are important, just like any other game. However, unlike computer games that can handle all the calculations that come with a game, a LARP has no computer governing its rules. It has to be done by human brains, on the fly. Therefore, simplicity in rules are vital for a LARP. If a rule is easy to understand and follow, it’s likely a good one. If a game has to stop every few minutes to clarify and debate rules, it clearly has massive design flaws. The first LARP I ever went to had these problems. I can’t for the life of me remember a time where an encounter was not interrupted at least once by someone debating rules, and arguing over who got who, what defenses were called, etc.

It should also be mentioned that safety rules are especially important at a LARP, as with any contact sport. There should be regulations for safe contact, safe weapons, policies for campfires and drugs and alcohol, codes of conduct, etc. These are all things a LARP should have, along with an insurance policy, which should govern everything mentioned above.

Player Base

To me, this aspect of a LARP is the most crucial, as it will dictate how often new customers will become repeat customers. As much as the owner(s) of a LARP want new players to come back to their sandbox, if the other players are being bullies or elitist about their game, not allowing them to play because they’re “not powerful” enough, or are constantly judging new players based on their costuming or the like not being up to par with others that have been playing for years, or worse, spreading rumours about new players for Out Of Game reasons to the current player base and ostracizing them out, then there’s a serious problem. Who an owner of a LARP allows in says a lot about the LARP itself. If it’s just the owner and his or her personal friends at the top, with no one else really able to get anywhere with their characters without sucking up to a more experienced player (take that as you want), then that LARP will have a lifespan of however long the “elite” feel like sticking around.

Typically, everyone is paying the same amount of money for attending a LARP for a weekend. That alone entitles a player, no matter how long they’ve been attending, to the same amount of fun as anyone else. Every person in a LARPs player base should understand that, and constantly demanding they be first in like for all the good bits and shoving the “noobs” aside is offensive to me. Owners must be aware of this behaviour, and do everything in their power to curb or stop this for the sake of their LARPs longevity.


One thing I DON’T judge a LARP by is its level of immersion. The feeling you get that you’re in a completely different place, surrounded by fantasy or sci-fi denizens. There are different levels of immersion and they differ from LARP to LARP. Some games demand a high level of immersion, while others have little to no immersion and just like to hit things with wiffle bats. Both of these levels, and every level in between, are all valid. It’s simply a matter of preference, nothing more.


Those are my criteria for rating a LARP: Narrative, Rules, and Player Base. There are other considerations, such as distance, accomidations, etc. But those are all dependant on a player’s individual needs. Some like roughing it, others like plumbing and free Wi-Fi. Regardless, I think the three categories above, and the level of immersion that suits you, are the main points to a LARP, and determining if it’s right for you.