Quick and Dirty: Lessons on LARPs and What I learned at Wyrcon this year

by April Arrglington on August 15th, 2011

*This post is a bit overdue but wanted to post it anyway to have it as a reference for later posts.

In the grand context of platforms that encompass the Transmedia umbrella, LARPs are often left at the end of the list, somewhere way past ARGs. However, I was happily surprised that there are a few things that one can learn from this medium to help the Transmedia strategy of your developing property. In summary, here are some points to have in mind:

Be Aware of the Definition Conflict:

Who would have thunk it! LARPing sustains the same definition conflict that Transmedia does. Some describe it as Interactive Improvisational Theater. Others as Renaissance Fair meets Murder Mystery. Before going into too much detail, just remember the basics. There are two branches of LARP play:

  • The Theater Kind, which is more character based.
  • The Combat Kind, which is more action based.

For a successful LARP one needs to find the balance between both these elements, or the LARP will be one dimensional. This is the same sort of lesson one would learn from the gaming medium on how to balance participation in a multiplayer game vs. a single player game.

LARPs vs ARGs:

Can a LARP be Transmedia and vice versa? The short answer to that would be yes, because both need a world building process, and audience participation for exploration and discovery. An excellent example of this is the Fear of Solace property, which launched as a LARP that went to the web, developed a comic, video, blog entries and twitter participation.

However, it was interesting to learn that a LARP can be an ARG but not vice versa. Reason for this is that ARGs develop conflict play only (when puppet masters control the set pieces). LARPs, however, can not only develop conflict play but also clockwork play (in which the participants play by themselves with a time restriction by the play masters to motivate characters reach a specific goal). Hybrid examples worth mentioning that illustrate this include: The Collective, Osiris Sanction, Momentum, and the popular award winning Conspiracy of Good.

On Game Mechanics:

It is fascinating to learn how LARPing design teaches you about manipulative storytelling, and how to sustain alternative reality on the fly. It not only helps you develop an ongoing character, but it prompts you how to build great flow in your play design. How to respond to unpredictability is an invaluable lesson to game designers of all kinds.

Furthermore, Rob McDiarmid goes onto analyze in Branches of Play the importance of player motives in LARP design that can help reduce unpredictability. I find that it’s very helpful to have this insight, especially when looking into things like monetizing, advertising, and promotions from different audience perspectives. Bellow is the illuminating Player Motives quick list:

1. As Audience: To experience a satisfying narrative.
2. Catharsis: To experience emotions through the character.
3. Comprehension: To figure things out. Solve problems and puzzles.
4. Competition: To win at something, or at least enjoy the act of competing.
5. Crafting: To create non ephemeral things (costumes, props, documents, etc.).
6. Education: To take away new knowledge or understanding as a player.
7. Embodiment: To make decisions based on character.
8. Exercise: To enjoy physical activity and movement.
9. Exploration: To experience the fictional setting.
10. Exhibition: To show off (costumes, props, acting chops, mad skillz, etc.) and get kudos.
11. Fellowship: To enjoy time with friends (also includes flirting and such).
12. Flow: To enjoy losing oneself in the moment.
13. Leadership: To be important to the player community.
14. Protagonist: To be important to the story and impact the game world.
15. Spectacle: To experience the awesome stuff (pretty costumes, elaborate sets, funny NPCs, etc.)
16. Versatility: To collect important things (spells, lore, favors, etc.) and have the right thing at the right time.

On Incentives:

Once you have figure out your gamers motives, it is important to keep in mind game incentives to keep momentum. A few helpful practices to have in mind include:

  • Door prizes and ongoing idol or totem (Survivor model like) challenges also keeps game momentum and audience participation lively.
  • One way to motivate players to stay in the game for longer periods of time is to gather information that will be helpful for them in the long term, vs. letting them have only short-lived victories. This is also a common trait in ARGs.
  • Technology convergence allows for integration of an online social component and user generator content mostly developed before in fan fiction and table play.

On Monetizing:

The age old question, how to monetize when you have a community of committed LARP fans already at your disposal? Some new solutions by LARP game designers include:

  • Keep a census-like tracking database of players in an area. Per Mark Mensch over at Arro Inc., there are up to 200 committed players in the Bay area alone. Having an ability to reach out to this audience and provide services for their play is a valuable asset. For example, Mensch is looking into creating a LARP park/camp in the Bay area able to accommodate all type of LARP models including martial arts, fantasy, Sci-Fi and Midwest buildings. Maybe even consider airsoft and paintball play on off seasons.
  • Further integrate technology. Mark is also interested in technology that could further the realms of conflict and game mechanics in LARPs, like mobile apps for example.
  • Last but not least, there is costume and prop merchandise to consider. This is the most obvious way of monetizing LARP culture at the moment.

In conclusion, pervasive gaming is not for everybody. It all boils down to how observant vs. contributing an audience is. For certain audiences LARPs are very valuable because becoming a hero is by far a more interesting experience than reading, hearing or watch about it. And let’s not forget that where there is value… then, most likely, there is money.

*Recommended reading: Pervasive Gaming by Montola, Stenros & Waern


Posted in LARP, ARG    Tagged with LARP, ARG, Wyrcon, Fear of Solace, The Collective, Osiris Sanction, Momentum, Conspiracy of Good, Rob McDiarmid, Mark Mensch, Arro Inc, Pervasive Gaming


2 Comments

Amber E. - August 22nd, 2011 at 12:05 PM
I wanted to comment on the following "However, it was interesting to learn that a LARP can be an ARG but not vice versa." Those of us in the LARP sphere who produce LARPs that carry ARG characteristics create pervasive LARPs. ;)
April Arrglington - August 22nd, 2011 at 12:22 PM
This is great news! I was argued otherwise. I knew there had to be a loop whole somewhere! :D Thanks for reading!

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