LARPs and Improv

Last week, I played a LARP called “Ask Again Later.” Having never participated in a LARP before, there were a few things that stood out to me as interesting and as valuable parts of the play experience.  

One thing that I thought of was the “yes, and” principle of improvisation. Vickers describes the “yes, and” practice as “accepting and building on a partner’s offer, as “aligning with another person’s energy and redirecting it” (1). During play, it felt as this principle was an extremely essential part of the roles of both the STs and the players. As players, we were offered a world and some situation in that world. Though the STs built the world and the situation in which we were playing, in order to bring the world to life through building a scene within it, it was necessary that both players and STs accept what was offered to them by others and add to it in some meaningful way. Players were first required to accept the situation they were placed in and then to add to it in the form of taking some element of it and interacting with it in some meaningful way. The STs then had to accept and build on the player responses to their situations, even if the response was nothing like anything they had anticipated or built the narrative around. It was this constant back-and-forth that created meaningful and spontaneous scenes that went in directions that neither the STs nor the players could have taken them alone.

An example of this that I experienced during the game play was when I and some others were placed in a situation in which we discovered my town contained witches and devil worshippers. We decided to respond to the situation by conducting a ritual prayer to rid the town of the devil and its influence. The ST that we were with accepted this response and built on it by appearing as a ghost and informing us that our prayer had called forth the ghosts of our loved ones beyond the grave. This sparked a back-and-forth between the players and the ST in which each person built on the ideas of the others to create the most vivid and intense scene that I experienced throughout the evening in which conversed with dead loved ones and following which we decided to exorcise the town of all ghosts. Without this “yes, and” framework, I think the LARP experience would have been completely static, as it is what allowed for the creation of such intense and meaningful scenes.

Furthermore, as Spolin says, “freedom to experience” is required to “bring about spontaneity” (4) and I felt that the LARP and the “yes, and” principle that was its framework created that freedom. The “yes, and” principle made it a truly collaborative experience rather than a competitive one and the knowledge that your scene partner was going to accept your offer, no matter what it was, and build on it, lessened the “fear of disapproval” and judgement that Spolin argues hinders spontaneity. As a first time player of a LARP, I was a little apprehensive about participating, but I soon found that the environment created by the LARP was one that made me feel comfortable with offering my ideas and participate fully, making it a freeing and enjoyable experience.

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