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!
I recently went to Elegy for their second season finale event. I came to it knowing that I would either love it, or hate it. I had my reservations about going, mainly because I’ve had my ear to the ground regarding Elegy and on the surface it has both welcoming and unwelcoming voices. But I couldn’t be more wrong about the unwelcoming ones.
But lets get down to it. This is my review of Elegy: A Doompunk LARP!
(What the hell is Doompunk? Damned if I know.)
Genre and Narrative
Elegy is a Post-Apocalyptic LARP, which is a nice change of pace from the many of the other combat LARPs which are all Fantasy. This also allows an easy justification of NERF guns in the LARP, something very highly demanded by many LARPers.
The game takes place in a ruined Southern Ontario 200 years from today, called the Golden South. In this area, blocked off from the rest of the world by Rifts, giant fissures in the earth which spew forth radiation called simply “Rift Energy.” The survivors of the apocalypse have formed their own cultures which share the Golden south: The Imagos, religious farmers, Kinfolk, open and accepting of others out of both necessity and kindness, the Penitents, science-minded individuals bent on saving the world from the Rifts, Scraplanders, corporate-minded peoples of the world living in the last remaining city in the Golden South, Vanguard, no-nonsense survival of the fittest types, and the Wilder, who are not a true civilization perse, but individuals or groups who choose to live in the wildest areas of the land.
The game itself takes place primarily in a place called Bartertown, a shanty town where all the cultures meet primarily to trade with one another. Surprisingly all of the cultures consider it neutral ground and will fight shoulder to shoulder when Bartertown comes under attack. There’s PvP of course, but much of it is either negotiated OOG between the players involved, or doesn’t come to combat.
For a combat LARP, Elegy is very rules-lite. They are designed to intrude on immersion and role-play as little as possible. As a game designer, I’m a little jealous of them. Combat, for example, doesn’t have regular damage calls unless you’re using a special ability. Every hit does X amount of damage, (two damage for bullets, and one damage for everything else). This allows role-play while in combat.
Character progression is mind-numbingly slow, but the character creation process allows you to be at the top of your field right off the bat. So if you wanted to be a master surgeon or engineer, you can do that right away, but improving anything beyond what you start with will take many events. This is a great thing for those running the plot of the game, as they don’t have to write encounters for characters with specific levels of experience, or at least for now.
Mind you, there are some things I can point out that I didn’t like. The Grapple rules are a little muttled and it’s not clear what it can and cannot do, it’s limitations, etc. I don’t like the fact that when Resources expire, they are still in game and can be traded.
There’s also a list of Thoughtbender abilities (psychic powers) that need to be memorized by everyone, and though that list is much shorter than many other games, it can still be a bit daunting to have to remember all of it. As a result, you end up having to ask what things do, and for how long, which breaks both the flow of combat and the immersion.
I’ll be honest here. I’ve had my ear to the ground with Elegy for a while and I’ve had mixed feelings about the people that play Elegy. Some seemed nice, while others seemed to post a lot of macho posturing bullshit and sarcastic, snarky things that made me want to avoid Elegy. The title of this review might have been “Elegy: It’s Underworld with Nerf Guns.”
However, this was not the case. Many of their players were very welcoming. Even in the pouring rain at night, as I arrived late to the game on Friday night, there were people that helped me with setting up my tent very quickly, and I’m very grateful for that. Even the people that I thought would be problematic to me turned out to be very nice, at least out of game.
Elegy is more than just another LARP. They’ve gone out of their way to make sure that people are not there just to be jerks to everyone else and try to win. There’s a community here that has respect for one another and expect everyone to behave like adults. In addition, they are very welcoming to new players, making sure that everyone, no matter how long they’ve played, can have fun and feel like they belong.
I did find a few problems, but they are pretty common ones at any LARP. There are some people that swing WAY too hard with their weapons. Another problem I found was that Killing Blows, which require a 5-count (a five second description of the killing strike, or at least a 5 second count) being counted way too fast. These things can be corrected though, and are not as bad as some other LARPs I’ve played in the past.
Elegy places a great amount of emphasis on immersion and role-play, which is reflected in their rules, but also in their attitudes towards what happens in their game. Not every encounter or NPC is a combat one, though there are many of those still. Even though on the surface it looks like almost everyone is playing a stereotype of their cultures, every character does feel like a unique individual that goes beyond just being a Vanguard murder-hobo or Kinfolk nymphomaniac, which adds depth to the immersion and role-play.
The game itself is played on the Mythwood Campground in Grey County, Ontario. It’s a beautiful site, complete with a lake that is available for swimming (weather permitting). It is clothing optional, however, so keep that in mind.
The facilities do have showers on site, but mostly relies on outhouses for bathrooms. There is a heated cabin for many people, but space is limited and priority goes to those that need to be there for medical reasons. It’s also far away from Bartertown proper.
Elegy does have a food tent where warm food can be purchased, but they often run out of food to cook, so it would be best not to rely completely on it. Bring at least some of your own food just in case.
Overall, Elegy is a fantastic game, and offers a great post-apocalyptic experience and a thriving, welcoming community. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself when the next season starts next spring.
Links to both Elegy and Mythwood Campground can be found below:
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