Monday, 21 September 2015

Right in the feels!

At the start of the year I decided to branch out and look for a new LARP. I’d been away from the scene for a year and a half or so – but I’d also lost a lot of people I thought were friends.

I’m socially awkward, afraid of new situations and people, nervous about, well, just about any social interaction – I find ordering in a restaurant, shop or simply buying tickets at a booth really hard work.

Which is weird, because I role-play confident, usually rich or sycophantic, often religious or scientific – and commonly either outspoken or extremely paranoid. I guess that playing a character allows me to open up and say and do things I normally can’t – it’s like if it happens to my character, it’s not happening to me.

Many LARPers experience this kind of dissonance. As their character they’re able explore personalities, traits and social situations they wouldn’t otherwise. I think it’s one of the most wonderful and profound things about LARP – it often creates a greater kind of empathy with situations in real-life that we wouldn’t otherwise understand, and even in heavy-combat games, makes us more aware of our own reality.

I can exactly see why LARPers seem a weird bunch – or slightly insane – in this regard. We often disassociate ourselves from our characters. Though a character’s personality is often based on our own to degree – overly emphasising personality characteristics or projecting the opposite – it’s common to refer to the character in the third person. This is because what we do ‘as our character’ should not be a reflection on ourselves. We’re not our character, no matter how much we may seem like them.

I think I was quite brave at the start of the year – to approach a new game, and, after being welcomed very warmly – attend a game with no one I knew, completely alien, middle of the unknown in Kent with no way back… I was scared. Wouldn’t you be? I was nervous as hell.

Every LARP has a social aspect, to a degree. I agree, it’s probably not suited for every LARP to have a mechanic for it, but I do feel every LARP should develop the social aspect – and not just because IC brings OOC together (cool story, bro!) but because of exactly those kinds of interactions that develop that we don’t get in real life.

I have played a few LARPs and experienced a mixture of situational role-playing techniques. The greatest disappointment to me was the lack of social depth in a great many of them – from larger scale fest-sized to even small games like Alrune and Dragon Lore. Without the social comment element the game is losing out and is by its very definition, stunted. It’s a halted growth, an ever-larp-tionary dead-end. It might sound unfair – but there it is. I feel really sorry for players in these systems that never get to experience these systems.

I’m glad to say that this is the thing Camarilla Invictus gets right. It’s exactly the social aspect of the game – the open interaction and deliberation too (and, by LARPers being mature! Shock!) – that has brought the players together in very meaningful ways. They’ve got a strong bond between them – and they’re very empathic and inclusive too.

CI gets right what other LARPs I’ve played simply don’t. I’m not going to say it’s no through hard work because I know running a game is a lot harder than it appears (I’ve heard this appearance as being like a duck – calm on the surface, all kinds of motion to stay afloat underneath). But I do believe the approach CI uses – one that I was trying to get going in my LARP I was running years ago – is easily translatable to other games.

I honestly think in other games, either don’t know how to do it; are stuck in a rut; don’t want to explore those avenues because it’s ‘not what the ref team want’; due to lack of compassion for certain types of players (I know there’s a lack of compassion for non-combatants in a lot of the games I played); or simply they don’t care.

Cl does what every game should do. After monstering the mid-year combat-based Linear game for CI, I can happily vouch that CI does it right – the Linear had combat, puzzles, mental interactions, role-playing all in good measure. Why is this important? Because it means it includes everyone – every person has a part to play and the game isn’t dominated by some over others – whereas in the games I’ve played in the past, referees seem to focus on combat, thinking that “hitting stuff is plot” and usually disparaging other interactions. Even my own ref team did this – they could see the ‘puzzle’ aspect for advancing games, but definitely weren’t interested in most other forms of interaction. Non-combatants in these games are left at the borders of the game – it’s happened to me, and certainly happened to the players in my game when I stepped down from actively overseeing the game.

Combat is not plot. Monsters aren’t plot. War is not plot. Just to make the point drive home: politics is not plot. Social scale is not plot. Role-playing is not plot.
What’s plot?
The interactions between players formed of all of these things. A little of this and that, and the other – and oh! That too! That’s plot.

I’ll take you through the last game, and you can see what I mean.

The game started off in a comparatively relaxing way – swapping rumours (omg! Gossip! Brilliant mechanic!... ahem…). I’d just got round to talking business with a friend when – BANG!- a chair gets knocked over and a long-term Court member has brought claws and fangs to bear on another long-term Court member. There’s proverbial blood all over the place, people are shouting and screaming and I’m running like a bitch to the other end of the hall.

The attacker is hauled in front of the Court’s Council and we wait their verdict. We’re then called to stand witness to his trial. Perhaps he’d done some wrong things in the past, and pissed off the wrong people. But, he’d been a friend to a lot of people too.

The character was executed with everyone watching.

First, I got shivers. I remembered – “this can happen to me too”. I could feel my character shutting everything off, trying to feel no emotion. Inside I’m getting upset, and I’m realising my character is trying to stop himself being scared. Then I shivered again – the atmosphere hit a feel low, and I realise everyone else is feeling much the same thing. My character’s then getting angry – and this is where I’m going to sound mad – and I can feel the heat from it.

We took a breather – I think most of us needed it.

What happened there is called ‘bleed’ – it’s where IC emotion spills over into Real Life. It affects the player and it can cut as sharp as a knife, burn like a fire, or wound like a punch. It’s the most powerful thing any LARP can do, because it reaches inside and pushes all those little buttons you think you’ve locked away.

Partly it’s like watching an emotional film and you feel yourself crying or drawn into it. But, you have to realise you’re in the film, so another part of you is like a participant in it too.

I was a participant in that trail and execution – and it was horrifying.

Most players reacted in a similar way to those suffering grief – some cried, others went quiet; some began to get reasonable and to explain the reasons behind it happening.

Because, in a way, they did. They’d got to know the character, judge his mannerisms and moods. He was, in a very real sense, a friend – and they’d just lost him. I was reacting in a similar way.

It sounds like a bad thing – what with the crying and pain. But it’s not.

The wonderful thing about LARP is that even when this bleed happens, it’s blunted – we know it doesn’t affect us in an absolute direct way, even though it feels like it does.

This kind of thing – is exactly the winning element with any LARP – that, as a tool, LARP can be used to encourage  bonds of friendship, love and trust to grow between players; it can foster new experiences and build personality, character and personal philosophy; it allows formative development of a person’s psychology; it brings the shy like me out of their shells; it shares a common emotion between people that then share an experience together; it builds and encourages development as a person.

In the same way sports bring people together for similar reasons, LARP is a journey within – but it reaches places no sport reaches, for you’re an active part of the tale.

So, that was the game I took part in at the weekend. And leading from that, I’m still shocked that the ‘social’ parts of games are ignored or looked down upon – particularly, as I said, but the ‘combat only’ lot – I’m still shocked that CI is referred to as ‘only a social’ game, often with the attachment ‘so therefore it must be boring’.


Fuck no.