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In case you are unfamiliar with the larping medium and larp code, the first three posts are intended to provide a quick orientation. Skip to the 4th post to view the code sample. Thanks for any and all attention to this snippet!
WHAT IS LARP?
Live-action role play (larp) presents itself as a form of interactive analog media with no fourth wall: it is not possible to distinguish between those creating the story and its audience. Larp participants co-create narrative diegeses (Montola 2003) while simultaneously watching these narratives unfold as spectators (Mackay 2001). The term “diegesis” refers to the respective “story world” of specific pieces of narrative media (Genette 1980, Richardou 1967).
This concept of diegesis is useful to those who engage in collaborative forms of storytelling in which control over different parts of a narrative have been distributed to members of a team, such as in the creation of films and video games. When creating a film, for example, it is vital that many members of your storytelling team—the director, actors, DP, sound designer, editors, and others—are all on the same page about whether the music in a scene they are co-creating is diegetic (it is part of the story world and the characters can hear it) or if it is extradiegetic (only the audience can hear it). Since the term is perhaps overly technical, you don’t usually hear the word “diegesis” thrown around on film sets, but the concept is, in the form of questions like, “Can her character hear that?” and “What’s going to be put where that green screen is?”
Rapid communication about what is happening in a diegesis is likewise important to larp participants, perhaps even more so, because of the dual role larpers play of simultaneously experiencing a story as audience members and co-creators. This phenomenon, sometimes called "first person audience" (Sandberg 2004), is a feature of both the larp and tabletop RPG mediums, the premiere forms of analog role-playing game (RPG). Larp distinguishes itself from tabletop RPG through the use of live-action theatrics and props to create narrative content. Because of this live-action component, larp participants also experience inter-immersion (Pohjola 2004), or "the positive feedback loop of inhabiting the game world and the character" (Stenros 2015). A common question larpers ask each other to refer to the diegesis they are co-creating is “What do I see?” which is the equivalent of asking "What does my character see?"
So, to play this trifecta role of being a narrative's co-creator, spectator, and diegetic inhabitant, a larp participant must be larp literate, which is to say: a larp participant must be able to extract meaning from the signifiers through which the diegetic content of the larp is being conveyed. Different larps do this differently.
The most familiar form of larp to non-larpers is the classic Tolkienesque campaign-style boffer larp. In this variety of larp, participants play creatures from the Lord of the Rings universe, like elves, dwarves, and orcs, simulate combat with foam-padded “boffer” weapons, and co-create stories that unfold episodically in months- or years-long arcs called “campaigns” that take place in a story world that runs continuously in which characters come and go (Mizer 2016), creating a narrative pacing akin to that of a long-running soap opera or a serial comic book. This variety of larp has arisen around the world, emerging even in Russia in the year 1990, within months of the Soviet Union’s pending collapse, as Russian sci-fi enthusiasts, hippies, and holistic education instructors descended upon a campground near Krasnoyarsk and created the Russia’s first “Hobbit Games,” which are treated as the origin point of Russian larp (Prudkovskaya 2015, Semonov 2010).
Following the coalescence of the larp medium in the form of the emergence of the Tolkienesque games of the late 1970s (or the early 90s for those larping in Russia), the medium of larp has expanded into many genres and taken on many forms. There are sci-fi larps, horror larps, mysteries, post-apocalyptic zombie romps, and over the last two decades we have seen the steady upgrowth of literary larps that defy genre classification and explore themes like isolation, illness, vicissitudes of oppression, and the neoliberal workplace.
Moreover, not all larps feature boffer weapons, and many larpmakers have not bothered to render combat playable as part of their system, as their targeted playerbase is not interested that sort of thing. Also, as for game duration, a number of larps don’t have a continuous story world, but rather are one-shot larps that last only a few hours or days from beginning to end, a constraint which forces the narrative into a tight, cinematic tempo, as all things of the diegesis must be meaningfully resolved before the larp’s conclusion.
Likewise, some larps have pre-written characters, for which players are often cast by the larpwright, whereas other larps allow players to design their own characters. The benefit of the former is that characters can be written with tightly interlocking pasts and motivations, from which the story of the game seems to naturally emerge as gameplay occurs, whereas in the case of the latter, players, in creating characters themselves, are able to use the larp as an occasion to express parts of themselves for which they can't find any other social space, allowing larp to lend life unexpected performativites, an embodied process which, as psychology professor Ryan Blackstock has noted, may produce a number of positive side effects for its users mental health (2016).
While boffer larps often occur in parks, campgrounds, and areas with ample outdoor space to allow combat, parlor larps often occur in dining rooms, banquet halls and conference rooms, as a major feature of this style of larp is cocktail-party-style mingling and intimate conversation. Moreover, if one is playing a larp of the Nordic schools, it could occur in any number of locations—an office building, a decommissioned military ship, or a 12th century castle—and the activity will be punctuated by an array of improvisational theatre games, and may also include types of consent-mediated power play.
These are just some of many varieties of larps that have developed over the last four decades demonstrating the larp medium as facilitating a wide range of expression and experience.