LARP: Identity and Believability

I was reading Katrina’s post about her own experience with the LARP when it got me thinking of how the medium of a game effects player immersion into their character and, as a result, the believability (and possibly even the fun) of a game.

Before I get too theoretical, I’ll describe my experience playing mayoral candidate Richard Johnson. As I mentioned in class, part of my struggle with the character was that he was the exact opposite of me – an extroverted white male who values tradition and stoicism. While I do tend to try challenging myself to embody characters that are my polar opposite, I very much did not expect the level of strain that this character would give me.

Thinking back, when I have played a character that was my opposite in the past, it was in a small DnD game with friends. My extroverted, 6′ 11″ idiot half-orc war veteran was not as hard to act out because I don’t feel like I’m expending a lot of social energy when I’m with my close friends. However, in the face of interacting with a lot of new people while also embodying a character that was in a social butterfly, I was torn between my actual self’s desire to take a break from the game versus my character’s desire to constantly be in action and doing something for the citizens of Oshtigwanegon. Before I was in the consistent narrative involving the current Mayor (as played by an ST), I was constantly floating around group to group, feeling the strong pull between identities that prevented my immersion in the game. Furthermore, like Katrina I felt a lack of legitimacy to the actions that I was a part of when there was not an ST around. It was a kind of psychological thing where I had at some point made up in my mind that if there wasn’t the guidance of the storytellers around then what we were doing didn’t “matter” and, if my reading of Katarina’s post is correct, the structure of the game caused that to be felt by many others as well.

So, this experience got me thinking as to how I understand “believability” and “identification” in online versus live-action games.

I think we all know how “hiding behind a screen” can allow a kind of freedom to become another character (or as in the case of online bullying, to be the meanest version of ourselves). The medium allows for an often visual separation of self and character – I am me sitting in front of the computer while Gordash Karth, legendary half-orc warrior, is the character onscreen. This separation also allows for the freedom to not only react as oneself, but also as the character and thus we do not have to stifle or feel guilty over our own natural responses to things – be it laughter or shock, etc. There is also safety in rules and constraints – there are only so many actions that you may perform in a video game and you often know them all beforehand while in the LARP, you may do anything and even risk the possibility of being “wrong” (such as someone who told me they were approached by the ST’s and asked to change their course of action as they “couldn’t just kill everybody”) or simply being out of character.

I think that is why my team’s group project is largely technology based and less live-action based. While certain bleeds into the real world can create a sense of reality, the extent of technology’s ability to allow deep character immersion seems stronger than immersion in live-action roleplay while also having the added benefits that technology allows for you to feel safe as yourself behind the screen. By creating this stronger, constant sense of immersion, technology also has the ability to slowly trick the player into thinking that the ARG is more than just a game.

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