The moderators of Ask Again Later clearly stated that all territory outside of the Gray Center constituted “another LARP.” This comment evokes a notion of games as mirrors. The Ask Again Later LARP, is as Huizinga describes of play, “a ritual activity that takes place under rules that are separate from everyday reality.” In AAL there was a distinct narrative setting in which characters had clearly defined capacities, tendencies, and characteristics that they deployed within loose but demarcated constraints. Within the overarching narrative of course, smaller narrative proliferated, creating something of “a world.” Isn’t it true that the “real” world is in fact just another LARP under a different name? The “real” world is defined through its difference from the LARP, and the LARP is defined by its difference from the real world; they each reinforce a notion of what the other is and isn’t but only by refracting qualities of themselves.
Where do games begin and end? Montola writes that in a pervasive game, the “game no longer takes place in certain times or certain places and the participants are no longer certain” (12). Montola poses this question to refer to the boundaries of specific games; he suggests that a pervasive game will destabilize the player’s notion of where and when it begins and ends, reinforcing the dichotomy of game/no game as a standard model for life. Isn’t it the case, however, that games such as LARPs, insofar as they are modeled off of “real” life, obscure not the boundary between game and real life but rather between one game and another? The LARP made clear that it is often entirely difficult to distinguish between one’s self and the self that one is playing; one has to essentially, “play a different self”–a concept that insinuates that there were always multiple selves at play.
All social interactions can be conceived of as having, much in the way of magic circles, certain spatial, temporal, and/or social guidelines that define whether or not a given situation is “in play.” It is often the case however not that many different individuals ascribe to the same game or type of play, but merely that they intersect in some aspects as they live out divergent games. Such was certainly the case in AAL where one character was busy pecking another character’s eyes out while another group was busy digging a grave. Though they all seemed to be at different types of play, their actions were united into a sort of “meta-game” through engagement with a specific common set of rules that were not all-encompassing, but rather discrete. It was their discreteness in fact that allowed for creativity that manifested through the proliferation of what could arguably be acknowledged as multiple games.
What unites LARPs and everyday reality as “games” is the notion that one engages in “playing out” certain situations; one “plays” by donning a certain set of characteristics that enables one to tune into–or be recognized as tuning into–one scenario or another. The common underlying factor is the “true,” underlying self–an unconditioned self–that always plays but which we never see “at play.” It seems the nature of both “everyday” life and LARPs that participants are “no longer certain.” The lack of certainty isn’t however, about whether one is entirely in a game or not–for one always is–but rather what is beneath the play and the character–or who the self is when it is not at play. It seems inevitable that “bleed” will occur between the “self as is” and the “self at play.” Perhaps playing a game well means distinguishing ever more clearly between the two; it is not about identifying moments when one is or isn’t playing the game, but rather about identifying which aspects of the self are engaged in game as a method of arriving at the self that is not.