Improvisations in LARP

When the organizers of AAL narrated the rules, there was one that stood out to me—the one that prompted us to stay in character when interacting and solving problems. As I reflect on my experience playing as Liz Shelton, I started to really understand what the rule demands, and saw its resonance with the “Yes and” attitude and Spolin’s narrative on the transformations that happen in improvised acting.

I conceived Liz Shelton as a highly mobile character—sneaking into different locations with her stealth and dexterity, obtaining information from other characters via her high “lies” stats and engaging in secretive missions through her small frame and ability to conceal whatever she was carrying. In hindsight I see how this vision became a hindrance to Liz’s mobility as I kept returning to it during play: I considered, according to the plan, what Liz would do in each situation and questioned whether my actions fitted her personality whenever I acted. The result, beside an increasing awareness between the difference between Liz and I, was also a limitation in my actions—I balanced myself between the church and the devil, and failed to be involved in the plot of both the way I had hoped to; I kept rejecting the offers and opinions of other character on the grounds that “Liz probably will not agree to them”. Liz Shelton had, instead of granting me the mobility I expected when creating her, become a set of boundaries that hindered me from doing things I wanted to do.

Reflecting on the rule, I realized that I am thinking out of character when considering whether my actions fit Liz’s personality—I had inadvertently conceived me and her as separate people, while Liz would never know that she needs to follow certain rules in order to be herself. I was reminded of the improv prior to the game, where instead of considering what the character would have done, I placed myself in the scenario and presented honest, unrehearsed, not performative responses. The LARP experience inspired me to perceive the “Yes and” attitude as not only a way to interact with the cues of others, but also towards the impulses of myself—perceiving situations and my own thoughts in their totality without filtering factors through a pre-planned paradigm. I also realized that I might have been approving and disapproving my own actions according to how they demonstrate Liz’s personality, that I have constructed an imaginary audience and performed to them—even when there is no such audience approving or disapproving.

Liz started as a 12-year-old “trained observer” and ended as one—perhaps with more story to tell, but her thoughts and reactions to things are unchanged. As I begin to recall the many cues I had wanted to take up and the story lines I wished to pursue, I realized how Liz’s potential transformations are hindered as a result of out-of-character thinking. I also see how the true in-character attitude does not rely on self-restraint, but on experience as well as perceptiveness—what one sees is not drastically different from what one’s character may see (perhaps without environmental details), while one’s natural, most honest response from these experiences would be the response of the character.

2 thoughts on “Improvisations in LARP

  1. Interesting take on LARPing! The distinction between in-character and out-of-character thinking is definitely one that is important, and I think the latter does restrict the possibility for that “Yes And” improvisation action you were describing. This is because there is that barrier between yourself and the character, where there is an internal dialogue occurring with you consciously approving or rejecting potential actions for your acted personality, requiring that mental faculties be used up in the process and (potentially) discouraging creative potential. In-character thinking allows for more adaptation due to a lack of conscious mediation and simply acting on a different set of instincts – as one would in everyday life. The improvisation potential here is certainly greater (and also allows for the potential of character development throughout the course of play), but it does also require practice and thinking deeply about how that character would interact in different situations until the player has a functional heuristic of what that would look like.


  2. I also found it difficult/limiting in some ways during the LARP to separate the way I wanted to act with the ways I thought my character would act, and I think your ideas on what makes this in-character thinking feel so restrictive as well as how to fix that problem really interesting. I think that inhabiting a character enough to not feel a constant external evaluation of whether you’re doing things “right” or not would help with the “yes and” aspect of improve, but I think there’s still a difference between inhabiting a character and inhabiting yourself (albeit in the imagined situations of a game), and, in my mind, that makes up one of the main differences in feeling of it between playing a LARP and playing an ARG, in which the character is you.


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