The Out-Of-Character LARP

(No one in this picture is an asshole. At least, that I know of.)

One of the more popular sections of my presentation on LARP playstyles “Your Game Sucks” is my slide on assholes. Some of the reason, I suspect, is because it’s funny to use profanity in a serious presentation. But some of it is because….

Can we be honest here? I mean, just between you and me? Live-action organizations… they can get a little dramatic. And I think there’s a reason why. It’s because of the Out-Of-Character LARP.

You see, I have a hypothesis that arguing OOC is indicative of a “corrupt” version of a LARP playstyle. Specifically, there are people who find the OOC infrastructure as or more fascinating than the in-game one.  Perhaps it’s because the stakes are higher: not actually life-altering, because the “players” could (theoretically) leave at any time. However, they get a level of “real” intensity they don’t get inside the game. This could be why some of these players seem like they play OOC organization politics better than in-game politics.

Edit: Since I posted this, it seems I was a little unclear on this point (as I mention at the end, this was a bit of a kludge of random thoughts), so let me clarify here: I position “arguing” here in it’s destructive, non-cooperative form. The people who spend time, energy, passion, and money to run our games are amazing. Some people aren’t amazing and make things worse. These are the people I’m largely talking about here.

I call this “corrupt” because, because this level of OOC politics is ultimately a destructive playstyle, not a constructive one. At its core, it’s not one that lends itself to collaboration, and it’s part of the sweeping area of destructive playstyles I labelled in my presentation under the heading of “asshole.”

If we take the idea that some players are playing the “OOC game” as a working hypothesis, some interesting conclusions result.

  • If some players are actively playing this OOC game, other players aren’t. In fact,  not everyone is even aware of this game.
  • Those players who aren’t are therefore losing, and possibly couldn’t engage in it if they wanted to.
  • The OOC game naturally impacts the IC game, so even players who don’t know or play in the OOC gamer are impacted by the consequences.
  • Ergo, you either have to engage the OOC game, or you burn out because you’re trying to fix something in the wrong arena.

When I discussed an early version of this hypothesis with some friends, it was pointed out that only officers and other authority figures can play. However, I disagree — even untitled “trolls” are playing the game. The most vocal asshole makes a noteworthy impact on the game, and changes it due to his toxic presence.

It’s easy to see this at a local game (as people slowly stop showing up due to that guy), but I think it can extend beyond the local. As you introduce communication systems to communicate between games, those forums can (and often do) project those toxic elements. At some point, it becomes common wisdom to avoid certain email lists or Facebook groups. Communication between games breaks down as these avenues are made unattractive or unavailable, and the games all suffer, even in a small part.

I originally entitled this post “assholes are ruining your LARP,” but I decided against it because that’s not helpful. Rather, it’s good to understand that when you have an organization devoted to putting together a game, sometimes there is bleed between the two. Some people can find it hard to keep the two separate. Some may end up “gamifying” the infrastructure. And, just with the game itself, there are a few who will be assholes about it. Being aware of the potential for bleed, and being aware of toxic elements within that, can do a lot to keep each side of politics where it needs to be.

Just some random thoughts I’ve been kicking around for a while now.

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