LARP and the “Yes, and…” Technique

The “Ask Again Later” event last weekend was my first time attending a LARP, and it left me with a takeaway experience that will help to widen my comfort zone and expectations for future events. Something that I didn’t expect was the heavy emphasis placed upon the magic circle, as well as the encouragement to leave the magic circle (with certain hand gestures) if things became to overwhelming for the actual self. Playing a character in a LARP seems unexpectedly similar to regular acting; the difference is that the players were also the audience, resulting in an individual, personalized, and restricted view on the present and future happenings of the story.

A shared component in the LARP session and theater improv is the “Yes, and…” mentality, explained in the Vickers reading, that was utilized throughout the five hour event. Not knowing other player-characters in the story but still needing to have connections to these player-characters, we were given time in the beginning to introduce our characters to each other; I noticed people introducing themselves as their characters, which provided a great opportunity to use the “Yes, and…” technique to solidify the mannerisms and mindset of my own character, as well as to place my character relative to other player-characters (paying attention to location, age, occupation, etc.). This “Yes, and…” aspect made an appearance when making small talk during the initial picnic scene; when interacting with a in-game high school student, to help ease the normalcy in this interaction I created an in-game brother on the spot who was in the same grade as this high schooler character. The player continued this idea by confirming that he knew my brother, but that my sibling was bullying him; I accepted this characterization of my brother offered to me by this player, and apologized in return. This was just one example of many when I pulled relationships, family members, and events from thin air, but every time these offers were accepted and built upon, and vice versa.

As mentioned in the Spolin reading, I felt myself limited by my want and avoidance of approval and disapproval, respectively. “Our simplest move out into the environment is interrupted by our need for favorable comment or interpretation by established authority…Having this to look to others to tell us where we are, who we are, and what is happening results in a serious (almost total) loss of personal experiencing” (7). The storytellers offered players freedom of story direction (which I’m sure resulted in a lot of improvisation on the game makers’ parts). I felt, however, that I was limiting myself due to the yearning of acceptance seeping into my character; as a witch from a family of witches who owned a bakery in the town, my vision for my character was for her to be a deviant from her family (who wanted to suppress their witch culture as much as possible) by going to practice on her own in the woods and using her powers more. Instead, I found myself following a character of authority who had a very opposite stance of life and “right versus wrong” than my own character. I understand this as bleed effect, where my actual self’s feelings managed to seep into my character. I hope that next time around I could practice recognizing the motivations of my in-game actions, and whether their potential is held back by my non-game self’s need for approval by others.

The LARP session appeared as a “game” very strongly through its system of rules (skill levels, willpower amount, drawing cards for a deck). According to Spolin: “There must be group agreement on the rules of the game and group interaction moving towards the objective if the game is to be played” (5). Everyone agreed to the game mechanics, but it was difficult to understand when special abilities and skills could be evoked without alerting others around you. As a witch player, I obtained many interesting summonings that I could have potentially casted, but I didn’t want to oust myself as a supernatural being for fear of starting a witch hunt which would cause the demise of my character. The implementation of these game mechanics (having the storytellers personally handle the deck and carry out the resulting narrative) was limited in the sense that not everyone would have a person to call upon at any moment.

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