Thursday, 28 January 2016

When LARP Goes Right: The Catharsis of Generous Play

I’ve been musing for a while on what to write, not merely because I have so much I want to talk about, get out of my system (the vile I have for bad attitudes burns – and as we all know, it can come out in horrific ways; I want to use this blog as a way of exorcising it), praise, bemoan and rejoice at.

To be honest, I sometimes feel that no one would want to hear my thoughts in any case, as my posts and thoughts tend to be of a critical nature – I feel I must point out that this I think is just my nature; I’m an analyser. Some people don’t start or do anything for fear of failure or success. I, on the other hand, tend to do and then look back and be critical. I’m as highly critical of myself as I am of others.

So people tend to see this as a bad thing as I’m “always moaning” or “never happy” or “think that other people are stupid” – all of which are as far from the truth as possible. If anything, the biggest reason behind my social anxiety is self-criticism. It’s as much my problem as it is yours.

The thing is, I see it as a positive thing. Without feedback, without criticism, we do not improve. We don’t grow and change. If it weren’t for a dramatic change in circumstance, we would never change. I have always been, and will always be, open to criticism and debate, open to changing my mind and seeing another perspective – as someone that places an emphasis on science in life, on evidence and logic, there can be nothing grander than emulating scientific thought, constantly re-evaluating and determining a new resolution if the evidence or logic shows me as wrong.

For this reason, yes, I do point out flaws where I see them and they affect me, friends, family – even people I don’t know when I see racism, homophobia, misogyny. Without this, how will things get better?

But this month, we’re going to move away from the gloom – into the realms of what goes right.

My local LARP is Player versus Player. I get the impression most players wouldn’t want PvP (especially in the UK?) as LARP has a seriously bad reputation for back-stabbing, bitching, griefing and down-right abusiveness. There’s a reason for that – because it does happen, A LOT, and LARP as a whole tends to neglect its responsibility to eliminate these things. I mean, com’on – even Empire has decidedly moved away from at least physical PvP

Worse, I would say LARP as a community specifically enables such behaviour and to a degree encourages it. I will happily present my thoughts to people that would argue otherwise or wish to hear my reasoning. I will also happily suggest ways this situation may be changed – I might not be totally right on all my ideas, but I know none of them are wrong.

I found this post a while ago by Mirror’s Song: In defence of PvP at larp

I’m thinking it’s a bit ridiculous that PvP needs to be defended, on three grounds:
  • If you don’t like PvP, don’t play it
  • PvP can be fun – the problem is therefore decidedly NOT PvP that is the problem, but the way people approach it
  • Remember, play to have fun – no matter whether you PvP, PvE or anything else, if you focus on the fun, why would it turn nasty? If you’re not playing to have fun and bring fun to others, you don’t deserve to be playing in the first place

I can totally understand why some people get upset with In Character conflict at a LARP, and I can also get that some people feel upset when their character dies and the one person they thought would help them, won’t – or worse (shock! Horror!) is the person behind it!

The problem is that the person being upset knew they were walking into a PvP situation, and didn’t get any fun out of it. Why? Did they want to win and got upset about being wrong? Maybe they suffered a set-back they thought was unfair?

These issues need to be talked to with the referees, who need to give a clear, concise response – preferably in writing so that when questioned they can show others: “see? This is what happened”. It’s especially true for referees and game organisers – because then, if they’re wrong, you can point out to them where they went wrong and why, and they can then respond to it properly and maturely.

As you see, this also links back to my earlier paragraphs about criticism and feedback.

The biggest problem with any game, I think, is when the goals and aims of players to organisers, organisers to players and players to players don’t match (not necessarily ‘disagree’) – are you creating stories, or gunning for achievements?

I think this needs to be stated by the game organisers as a guideline: creating stories means weakening someone rather than outright destroying them as this weaves interesting drama. Gunning for achievement would require you to destroy them, so they don’t overtake you again.

I think for my local LARP the first instance is better, even preferable because there’ always a way back, if you want it. You just have to be willing to fight hard enough – that and the drama is fun! People pointed out to me on my 3rd game or so that when another player kills your character it can be quite fun because it creates a story that is emotional. Last time I talked PvP I mentioned the execution.

One player mentioned to me that’s is actually more fun when you get killed by a friend. This is brilliantly true – you walk over to them, shake their hand and say “well done, mate. Nice one. Glad it was you” and that it’s been a good game of chess between you because you wove a drama together.

Your IC should never affect your OOC – so why the hell does PvP need to be “defended?”

At the last game I saw proof of it: two characters got so angry at one another there was shouting, bloodshed and one stormed away in anger. That player later approached his rival and said “excellent, dude, loved it. Good role-play”.

The thing is, the player that was telling me it’s better to die from a friend? Yeah, he used to play at the LARP I used to run.

I remember that once, his character was possessed by a powerful spirit that made his say vile things to the other characters – verbal violence as his brief was “short of actually harming them”. I remember that a few players got really pissed at him for this – they were taking IC to OOC – even my referees were saying he was showing his “true colours” by his behaviour. I defended him, stating the IC =/= OOC principle; eventually I gave up arguing, and he was later asked not to return after numerous incidents where grew increasingly agitated at the game, me and my refs.

I totally understand his position in this, and I admit I failed him: I should have argued more on his behalf and put my voice to his, giving him a chance to speak out. To be honest, my game should have ended there – my referees were clearly corrupt enough to spoil the game for people they didn’t like. People, that, professionally speaking, they shouldn’t have opinions over.

I’ve heard before that people say that LARP can be cathartic and healing for the soul. In 12 years of gaming I cannot say that is true. But I can say I experienced it at my local game at the last day event.

Before, LARP for me was CP, once LT and a couple of others. Those LARPs are competitive, achievement-based games – PvP in these games can certainly be aggressive, harsh, and players can easily get upset with it because it can be quite cold and uncaring. My referees and other players came from such games, too – it’s easy to see why they didn’t feel comfortable with PvP in my game.

It’s also because of this that I’ve come to realise I’ve never been too comfortable at LARP; it’s always been competitive, and the back-stabbing and bitching just made it worse. Competition can be great, but it only takes a bitch to make it unfair and miserable.

I finally understood the healing at the last game. You know there’s others out to get you, you know there’s conflict and schemes – but you also know you have friends.

I realised my character has friends IC with character played by people that I don’t speak to often OOC. I realised that OOC I have friends that support by brattish ways IC (I’m sure Michael will forgive me at some point!) and I realised I have friends that I could argue with, be annoyed at, kill and betray IC and we’d still be friends afterwards OOC. This sense helped be relax a great deal: I realised I have friends – on either IC and OOC sides – specifically because we help each other to have fun through telling stories. Friends that see the drama (say it in your campest voice!) of IC, not the bitching of OOC, friends that want everyone – me, you, themselves – to have fun, and not purely out to “do one better” and “screw over the other guy” in the process.

This, then, is the catharsis.

One of the biggest problems in any RPG game played in a group is when there’s a conflict on the perception on the nature of the game, or where goals conflict. This is, sometimes, down to a certain player or group of players having different goals from others, creating conflict – mostly caused because that player is trying to “get one over” on others, to “screw the other guy over” – it’s easy to see how this bleeds from IC to OOC.

It’s partly because the group members don’t listen to one another, treat each other with respect. And don’t say “respect is earned, not given”. Bollocks. We all deserve a certain amount of respect, because we’re all people, with feelings and emotions all that jazz.

But it’s mainly because there’s a difference of opinion on sharing fun – when the goal is less or more than simply about being fun.

But isn’t that what we play games for? To have fun?

When that’s the case, catharsis begins.

Even in PvP.