I have known about the Nordic “Live Action Role Playing” (LARP) movement since my friend Olle, one of its practictioners, first told me about it when we met all those years ago.
For someone like me with no connection to LARP, it has always been a hard practice to understand, taking place in an unfamiliar nexus of theatre, improvisation, make-believe and board game playing. Over the years I’ve been able to eke out a basic understanding from Olle, and from his partner Luisa, who’s also an adherent, but I’ve always felt it was an incomplete one: there are only so many detailed questions you can ask your friends about something that’s so familiar to them.
And so when the opportunity to attend some sessions at Alibis for Interaction that, together, formed a sort of “LARP 101,” I jumped at the chance.
The first was Why We Play – Larp As A Tool For Learning by LARP evangelist Miriam Lundqvist; her company, LajvVerkstaden – The Larp Workshop – uses LARP as an educational tool, and she gave a good summary of how, in her words, “narrative games on all platforms are increasingly also designed on serious topics.”
She was followed by Jaakko Stenros, who delivered on the dauntingly-title talk Living The Story, Free to Choose – Participant Agency in Co-Created Worlds. He provided a detailed look into the world of LARP, both in theory and practice, and in the transcript of his talk you can tease out a lot about what’s essential to LARPing in the Nordic countries, including this characterization of what it is like to LARP:
Let us consider the form of larp. Larp is embodied participatory drama. As a participant, you are experiencing the events as a character, but also shape the drama as it unfolds as a player. You have a sort of dual consciousness as you consider the playing both as real – within the fiction – and as not real, as playing.
You are both a player and a character, which creates interesting frictions since you inhabit the same body.
There is no external audience in larps. However, there is an audience, the audience of the participators. The performer and the spectator are also brought together in one body. In larp, we talk about the first person audience; in order to see and witness these works, you must participate.
I now feel well-grounded in the basics of what LARP is, how it is practiced, and for what ends.
I remain, however, completely mystified by it.
Not because I don’t understand what it’s about, nor because I don’t see its value. Indeed, it seems like something amazing.
But I’m someone who, at least as I conceive of myself, is incapable of taking on a persona: I feel skittish giving an assumed name at the Starbucks counter, so seeing myself as a butter forger seems beyond my capabilities.
I remain curious, however, and so perhaps given the right situation I will through caution to the wind and adopt the persona of someone who can imagine himself playing a LARP. At least now I know more about what I’d be getting myself into.