Helping Each Participant Over the Wall

Let’s face it. Live roleplaying and improvisation is risky business. You’re inhabiting a fictional world, pretending to be someone else, making things up on the fly, talking, plotting, scheming, calculating, and having the physical and emotional feelings of your character. That’s also what makes it so exhilarating, profound, and even life-changing. You really do get to get inside someone else’s skin, and to be the main character in a story you create with other people. But that combination of skills isn’t easy, especially when coupled with the stigma that larp often carries. It takes a great deal of confidence and self-esteem to costume, and to speak up, and to throw caution to the wind and accept the plot hooks being thrown your way. There’s a great deal of trust required to live roleplay: trust in the other players, in the organizers and designers, and the community.

A lot of designers make games and live roleplay experiences. The general attitude is: this is my game, like it or leave it. There is generally resistance to making changes to a fiction or a game to make it more accessible or inclusive. Players who have difficulty accessing the experience are told to find another one. In addition, the biggest concern among players and organizers is quite often the integrity of the game itself, and decisions are made for the good of the fiction. I’d like to propose reversing that decision-tree, and putting the participant at the center of the design. Live roleplay events aren’t about the game, they are about the people — you know, the ones you need to make your game design come to life.

When Learn Larp designs your experience, we put the participants first. We meet them where they are and encourage them to go where they need to go in order to grow and transform.

Every participant is unique: their own combination of experience, confidence, abilities, fears, pet peeves, desires, levels of energy and knowledge. We can’t design our games and live experiences for the mythical ideal participant; we must design them for every participant. We have models for doing this: differentiation of instruction from education, and the design theory of affordances and constraints. In this 2016 talk given at the Nordic Larp Talks prior to the worldwide larp design conference Solmukohta, I give an overview of a differentiation concept I call “Larp Bouldering.”