In-Character Play in “Ask Again Later”

Some things that caught my attention during the gameplay session of the LARP “Ask Again Later” were the pre-game exercises we engaged in before starting and the differences in engagement with them and engaging with the actual LARP. One of these was a role-playing exercise intended for us to test out role-playing emotionally high stakes scenarios and evaluating the feelings associated with doing so. One thing I noticed, however, was that really role-playing—and feeling­ anything at all about the high stakes scenarios we were meant to be engaging with—was significantly easier during the game than during the exercises. When we were told to role-play, for instance, being fired/firing someone from a job, my group, at least, mostly didn’t feel like we were really engaging with the scenario on an emotional level—rather it felt somewhat contrived and almost silly. During the game, it was much easier to stay “in-character”, and it also felt easier to have big or dramatic reactions and throw myself into the scenes being played.

I think that a part of this difference was definitely due to the fact that the exercises occurred first so that by the time I was in the game, I’d had practice being in character and also to the way the characters in the game were at least moderately fleshed out people we’d put a lot of thought into creating and considering the possible behaviors of as opposed to scenarios we’d been presented with two minutes earlier. However, this response also reminded me a little bit about the reading on embedded design, and its description of the way people are more receptive to experiences “that are not overly explicit in their goal[s]” (Kauffman 3). While Kauffman and Flanagan were discussing the significance of this in relation to attempting to influence people’s beliefs on serious topics, the idea also feels relevant here in that doing something with an explicit purpose in mind (ie, roleplaying with the goal of practicing managing character emotions) is different from doing that same thing in the midst of play, really driving home the impact embedding within games could have.

Another thing I noticed in relation to behaving in-character vs out-of-character during the game was the different situations in which players made use of the “out-of-character” signal, a fingers-crossed gesture we were taught at the beginning that was used to indicate to other players that we were stepping outside of the world of the game and speaking or acting as ourselves. Some reasons to use it included if the player needed something from the real world (such as information as to where the bathroom was) or a break from the mental pressure of being someone else for an extended period of time. However, another use of it that I found more unexpected was for reacting to in-game experiences in out-of-character ways (like stepping out of character to laugh). My first reaction to this breaking of character was to assume it detracted from the improv aspect of the game experience as it was a return to the world outside the game. However, thinking about the purpose of “yes, and” in improv and the description of it as “aligning with another person’s energy and redirecting it instead of blocking it” and “viewing resistance as a gift” (Vickers 1), it feels like another way to look at it could be as both a way of acknowledging the energy present in a scene and sharing in that out-of-character enjoyment as a group as well as a strategy to not block the in-game energy and explicitly stepping out-of-character to avoid any cracks in the performance affecting the in-character feeling of a scene.

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