Ask Again Later: Improvisation Methodology and Limiting Bleed

I will be writing my Gameplay Participation Response about my experience in the live-action role-playing (LARP) game Ask Again Later which was held at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. I want to note that I had no expectations going into this LARP because I had only read about them through this course material and only experienced improvisation through two murder mystery parties that I took part in. What was strikingly different from my previous murder mystery parties and this LARP game was that with the murder mystery party, my character had already been constructed, having been given 8 pages single spaced of their background, intentions, and abilities. With Ask Again Later, I noticed very quickly that I constantly found myself questioning my characters abilities, and my intentions kept transforming and altering as I experienced more and more of the game. I felt like I was actively participating in growing and developing my character in real time, constantly evolving. Overall this was a unique experience that allowed me to practice improvisation methodology highlighted in our course material from Keith Sawyer’s article Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity. I also got a feel for how bleed plays a role in such alternate reality games as highlighted in Sarah Bowman’s Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character.

I will discuss some of the characteristics of improvisation that Sawyer highlights in his article. One is to focus more on the creative process over the product. Creative process is the process of actively participating in and experiencing an art medium rather than the focusing on the final product. (Sawyer, 152). Another of the characteristics is the power of collaboration with other characters. These were both key aspects in Ask Again Later, because we as the LARPers, had no clear direction of how the game would play out at all and branched off into different narratives through performing with each other. Our lack of direction to the final product made the game more intriguing and promoted a great deal of active engagement. Creative process applied greatly to my feeling of constantly evolving my character’s motives and identity. I was focused more on the creative process of fitting myself into this alternate reality world and understanding my place in it. There were a few game makers who would be assisting all the LARPers with questions and carrying out narratives when events would be carried out. The game makers were also responsible for moving the narrative further in some instances. The first was when they revealed a flooded room with what seemed to be a dead nuclear family, consisting of a mother, father, sister, and brother. Here is when I first got exposed to the powers of creative process in improvisation. Since my character was secretly a 200-year-old warlock, I had previously chosen some abilities prior to the game that would pair well with this character. This led me to the first major event in the game which ended up creating a cascade of events and collaborative group dynamics that played out for the rest of the LARP game. No one seemed to be moving the narrative further beyond understanding there was a bunch of dead townspeople in this room of the factory. I realized I had the ability to reanimate the dead, so that’s just what I did! This led to a few of my fellow witch and warlock secret circle getting discovered. Without getting too much into the details of my constant trickery and scheming, I ended up as arguably the main villain of the entire game. My character was leading a satanic religious group and recruited several of the LARPers. After the failed murder attempt on the town’s mayor, my satanic group was defeated by the Christian religious group and my character was killed in the last scene. The amount of collaboration that was necessary for our group dynamics to form such strong ties and to end up fighting other groups, shows the true power of improvisation.

Bleed as it applies to role-playing games is when a person’s real-life feelings and thoughts spill into their character they are playing as and vice versa. (Bowman, Online Article). Bowman emphasizes that this is neither a good nor bad thing, it is just a phenomenon that players are exposed to if they do not create mental boundaries from themselves and their characters. I was very curious to see how the game makers would inform us of this phenomenon, knowing that most of us had never LARPed before. We began the day with exercises of interpersonal conflict scenarios where we could gain some exposure to acting and improvising with other players. I was in a group with one of my friends and we chose to improvise a break up scenario. At one point, my friend cursed at me and I remember thinking and saying aloud, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe you said that!” I knew we were only playing, and that I had no problem with curse words in general, but that was my first taste of bleed. I let my character’s behavior and the scene be attributed to myself when I knew that we were just playing out a breakup scene. The game makers had a few tricks that we could implement throughout the LARP to designate that we were either, ‘okay’, ‘somewhat okay’, or ‘not okay’ with the scene we were playing out. This great communication methodology limited any sort of bleed that the players could potentially experience. Overall, participating in this LARP was a unique role-playing game that supplemented our course readings very well.

Works Cited
Bowman, L, Sarah. “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character.”
Sawyer, R. Keith. “Improvisation and the Creative Process: Dewey, Collingwood, and the Aesthetics of Spontaneity.”

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