LARPers as Guinea Pigs

Having poured through a bunch of LARP books and articles recently (both from this year and previous years), I feel as though I haven’t really learned much about how to improve my LARPing experience- either writing or playing them. Right now I’m entertaining the idea of designing some kind of actual study… something that could potentially provide some statistical material for a Pre-Con panel. Or an article for a future LARP book.

How do questionnaire styles affect casting for GMs? For players? Or even more basic… do they?

I’ve seen GMs go through various iterations of questionnaire styles, in attempt to find one that makes casting as easy and smooth and possible, and results in the best possible matches for the players and their characters. Some GMs use essay style questions, some use numerical scales for rating character traits, some use ordinal scales, some use binary responses. And of course, most use some combination.

I imagine an experiment might involve taking a LARP, creating several different questionnaires for it, and then sending it out to a slew of participants. Then taking a bunch of LARP GMs and asking them each to cast the LARP.  The GMs would then be asked how how they rated the casting process (was it easy or difficult? Do they feel confident in their choices?) and asking players how’d they’d rate the casting they received. (“On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your resulting casting?”)

Of course, any such experiment has glaring limitations. For example, it would be very difficult to acquire enough data points to create meaningful results, since creating just one data point is an involved process. And without the resources to actually run the LARPs, players and GMs would be only guessing at how well they think the results were. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences where we thought we’d love a character and ended up hating it, or vice versa, or GMs were surprised at how much a player complained about their casting. Another example- unless this was run several times with several different LARPs, we wouldn’t necessarily know how the LARP itself affected the outcome. Perhaps some LARPs are easy to cast (very different and representing clear archetypes?) and aren’t affected by the style of the questionnaire, while others benefit from one particular style over another?

Hm. Well, that can all go in the “discussion” section of the resulting paper.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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6 Responses to LARPers as Guinea Pigs

  1. pkelleyfoo says:

    Interesting idea. A possibly bigger problem is that to do a proper job of casting a game, you have to be very familiar with the game, which could make getting enough GMs tricky.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Yeah… I briefly entertained the idea of asking for permission to use Mary Celeste,.. that would provide enough GMs I think, but players would either be spoiled or be influenced by their experience with the game. It’s a highly impractical experiment, but worth thinking about.

  2. Aaron says:

    How to improve larp experience:
    honestly, I think that’s up to you. Find out what kind of larps you enjoy playing and designing, and why. Do you like long campaigns? One shots? One shots that last a weekend, or a few hours? Convention larps? Ones that are PvP or PvE? What would you say your usual mix of gamist-narrativist-immersionist is? These are just answers to general tendency questions, and can change. But understanding what YOU like is, I think, a crucial first step. And being able to recognize the signs of that thing you like is, so you can identify it quickly. This doesn’t mean you can’t try new stuff, you always should, but have a “usual” larp that you know will almost always be enjoyable is a base to work from.

    As to questionnaires: yes, I’d ask the basic question of “are they necessary? If so, why?”
    My answer is yes, they are useful to develop a complex, detailed, or emotionally powerful larp. They are especially helpful when you have a group of players that don’t know each other. They are also useful in situations where a GM has already written most of the plot and the characters, and just has to pair the players with what has been written–as opposed to players making their characters and a GM constructing a plot with the “cards” (characters) the players have provided. When I ran Rock Band Murder Mystery at Intercon K, the questionnaire was more a way of signaling to the players what kind of larp it would be and what kind of GM I was. The characters were already written (and gender neutral), so I could have just handed them out at the door and given players a few minutes to get ready (which is what happened when I first ran it at Wyrd Con). But in the case of the Intercon run, the questionnaire was great, because the players were able to get together and set up their band, and they even practiced together before the event! (FYI: I used the video game Rock Band to represent the band playing.)

    So I see questionnaires as a “get to know the players and GM(s)” device, which is exceptionally helpful for role playing. But as to making or assigning characters based on them…maybe, but not so much.

    • Fair Escape says:

      I definitely agree that those are all great places to start when trying to improve one’s LARP experience. I’ve devised various ways for myself to do such things- for example, keeping a Master List of all the LARP events I’ve been to, rating the experiences and writing commentary on what I liked and didn’t like. But as you say, that’s just the first step.

      In most of the books and articles I was reading, the topics were things like, “what can we learn about human behavior from LARPing?” or “what are some potential practical uses of LARPs?” or “here is some LARPing history.” All very interesting, but I’d also hoped to see more articles about practical advice backed up by scientific studies about more specific aspects of LARPing. And then I thought, if that’s what I want to see more of, I should spend some time thinking about how I could possibly produce some of it myself.

      • Aaron says:

        There are many practical advice bits out there (thought I agree not enough), but as to ones backed by science? Now we’re getting into largely uncharted waters. Game studies is very new, and larp studies even more so.

        However, here are some books that I either read (the minority), have but haven’t read, and want (the majority) that you might be interested in:

        “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster

        “The Functions of Role-Playing Games” by Sarah Lynne Bowman

        “Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media” edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin

        “Pervasive Games: Theory and Design” by Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern

        “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals” by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman

        There are a bunch of free thesis papers on larp floating around the Net as well. I recommend not looking specifically for “ways to improve my larping” but more psychological studies on stress (I just read this one in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/magazine/why-can-some-kids-handle-pressure-while-others-fall-apart.html ), imagination, creativity, etc. My definition of larp is very broad, and the borders are porous, so I often take studies of near-larp stuff and try to apply or integrate it into live action role playing. For example, I just recommended a theater acting class on melodrama to my local larp groups. I took it, and I think it helped my larping, even though it was specifically for stage. Talking to the teacher afterward, it was clear that the two are very closely related, and techniques can apply to both.

        Hope this helps, good luck!

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