25 March, 2016

The Meta-LARP LARP

At it's heart, LARP is a social phenomenon. In certain varieties of LARP, people may beat each other up with padded sticks, in other forms of LARP they may dress up in elaborate costume, in some they may wear plain clothes and explore internalised concepts, but in almost every case the players interact with other players through words, body language, and all the social cues that occur in regular life.

Live roleplaying is probably one of the things that really taught me to understand social interaction in a group of people. Sure, I understood that there were rules that governed etiquette in different circles, and those rules varied from group to group, I tried to play with those rules as I has perceived them, sometimes to successful ends and sometimes not so much (which confused the people around me as they simply couldn't make sense of me). In daily life, I was playing the character of myself, and in some cases people noticed. In a LARP, I could play the character of someone else, and people wouldn't notice so much because they were also playing characters other than themselves. If I did well, people thought that I was a "good roleplayer", "able to get into character", and "immersive"... if I did badly, it would only impact the next couple of hours at most, and often before that point everyone would have degenerated in war stories about previous games, or even further into Monty Python quotes.

I came to realise that I could pull my understanding of the rules of social interaction into these games, and through them experiment with different combinations and different degrees of emphasis to portray a variety of character types that I had seen in the world around me. It was all performance, and through that I came to a realisation that everyone in the world engages their social life as a matter of performance. It was a pretty post-modern thought. In part, we define our identities through the portrayals we show to the world, others come to see us through the actions we engage, they pigeon-hole us through those actions and identify us according to the patterns they've seen in the portrayals of other people they've encountered through their lives.

"There have been a few people whose actions I haven't liked who dressed in that way... he's dressing in that way so I'll assume he's going to do some actions I won't like. I'll avoid him just to be safe."

"She has a few of the mannerisms of that girl I knew a few years ago. That girl had some of the same interests as me, so maybe this girl shares those interests as well...maybe I'll talk to her and bring up those topics."

"That manager is all smiles, but I can instinctively sense that there is something behind it that feels predatory. I can't put my finger on it, but there are underlying mannerisms that I'm picking up on in an instinctive manner and I won't trust him as far as I can throw him."

Everything is relationships. Relationships to people, relationships to places, things, concepts... which in turn have relationships to new things.

So it strikes me as interesting that other people have seen similar things to my experiences in their LARP experiences. I don't find it surprising, just interesting. The articles on self promotion by LARP Cynic (Part 1 and Part 2) really struck me in this way. I've seen all these things happen, I've encountered the "Big Name Gamers" who were considered the major players and centres of gaming social networks, I've spent time flittering between groups as the social butterfly glue that held disparate groups together as a welcomed edge-dweller, I've become one of the insiders in one group (only to find that as soon as I did this I ended up as an unwelcomed outsider among many groups I previously had maintained regular contact with)... I've seen the light side and the dark side, I've walked away from the badness, only to miss the good.
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