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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
A while back I wrote about How To Win A LARP, and one of the first steps is to Be A Colossal Jerk. While people trying to win a LARP are almost always colossal jerks, there are other people there that simply want to push people around. I’ve identified three different types of LARP Bullies and described them below, though I’m sure there are plenty of other categories we can point out.
The Immersion Snob
Before I start in on this one, I will say that I do like a high level of immersion in my LARPs, but I also believe that immersion goes beyond costuming and props. I can also maintain my own sense of immersion while others are talking OOG, or eating a bag of chips in the open in a fantasy LARP. The Immersion Snob is the opposite. They put a lot of work into their costuming, make-up and props (which is to their credit), but they also demand the same from everyone else. If your costume or props are not up to their level, prepare for a lot of vitriol coming from them. Eat a granola bar, get ready to hear how you can’t eat that because they didn’t exist back in the Middle Ages. They expect you to bend over backwards, with no return on your investments or time and effort, so that they can have a good time.
While they want immersion, they often don’t add to the immersion beyond a superficial level. Sure their costumes are great, but they simply act like themselves instead of portraying a character. A player who acts out a character far beyond their own personality, but doesn’t have an outstanding costume adds way more to an immersive game environment than someone who has a great costume but acts as themselves the whole time.
The problem with the Immersion Snob is that it can be intimidating getting into a LARP for the first time. Rules can be daunting, everyone around you has great costuming, and so forth. That’s hard enough to get used to without someone coming up to you and telling them that what you’re doing is all wrong and that it’s ruining their time. It’s a very self-serving point of view that doesn’t help anyone, and can chase new players away.
The solution I’ve found is to point out that LARPing is indeed a game, and that not everything comes down to the accuracy of the setting. After all, most combat LARPs use weapons made from plumbing supplies and duct tape, and magic is often represented by bean bags. Camp sites often have at least some electricity, and therefore have power cables running along roads. Many cabins have plumbing and flush toilets on a septic system. There are plenty of things to point out, so maybe not having your nerf gun painted isn’t such a bad thing when all of these modern comforts are surrounding you. When you point this out, they’ll leave in a huff, often because they don’t want to admit that they’re behaviour only leaves to hurt feelings and new LARPers leaving.
This person is simply terrifying. They play heavy combat characters, and really REALLY want to pick a fight with anyone they can. Largely because they want to do it in real life, but there are laws about that sort of thing, and prison is filled with people that are bigger, stronger, and tougher than they are. So they do the next best thing: do it through a pretendy fun-time game. They want to intimidate and physically bully everyone else around them in order to make themselves feel superior. It’s the classic depiction of the school-yard bully, but while pretending to be a Viking or an orc or whatever.
I shouldn’t have to point out the problems with these cretins, but let’s go over them anyway. Just like I stated above, LARPing can be intimidating for new players. Having a Brute try to push them around, especially early into a first event, can send new players packing. There’s also very serious behavioural problems that the Brute obviously has. Rageaholic isn’t the technical term, but it is a real thing, and it could be that the Brute has it or any number of underlying psychological problems that cause him to take it out on others. Add in the fact that most simply do not fight safely in combat LARPs, and you have a big, lumbering can of newbie repellant.
LARP operators have to be on the look for people like this. A LARP should be a welcoming place for new players, and having a Brute is detrimental to said environment. Personally, if I could, I’d ask the Brute to either take an anger management class or not come back. Barring that, I’d just ask them not to return at all.
Far more dangerous than the Brute, the Sociopath doesn’t try to push you around physically. Instead, the Sociopath tries to elevate themselves through the coercion and manipulation of other players. They have no regard for the feelings of others, but will feign empathy if they know it will advance their goals. They treat others as objects, things to be manipulated rather than people. They will ruin an event or a LARP as a whole or another player for personal gain, with no regard for anyone else. They do not take responsibility for any of their actions, making fake excuses or throwing others under the bus, most often the victim of the Sociopath’s behaviour.
I don’t have to tell you that this person is bad for a LARP, or anyone playing it regardless of experience, or, frankly, anyone at all. This is a person that is definitely trying to win a LARP, and will do anything to do it. Cheating, targeting, lying to directors, backstabbing, the sky is the limit. This person gets their jollies from making others suffer, and it needs to be stopped before it starts, if possible.
The solution? The Ban Hammer. Get rid if this person immediately. Just like in any organization, this toxic individual can only do long-term harm to a LARP. Luckily, these people are few and far between, but as they say, one bad apple spoils the bunch.
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