The Upside of Memes

Every now and then, a LARP-centric meme goes around Facebook. Sometimes they happen in clumps. Most recently, there was a meme where LARPers would start a thread with the instructions:

“Post your character name here and I’ll tell you what my PC in that game thinks of them.” For games where the original poster and the people responding didn’t both PC, people used NPC characters.

I posted names of my characters whenever the person offering it had PCed or NPCed in one of the campaigns I was significantly involved with — mostly Quill, Cricket, and once, my Lost Eidolons PC, Taz. I often feel a little self-conscious engaging with such memes; it feels so self-indulgent to ask people to talk to me about my own characters, even though they’re offering and everyone else is enjoying participating without feeling self-conscious. But I’m also very curious about people’s impressions of my characters, so I couldn’t resist.

I found out some surprising things. I assumed the Lost Eidolons NPC wouldn’t remember Taz, or at least not enough to be specific, but he did, down to details about how she reacted to his death just as the Battle for Tomorrow began. And I’ve been finding Cricket difficult to portray the way I imagine her in my mind; I like to think she has hidden layers, but it’s hard to portray subtlety in LARP — too overt, and it’s all on the surface, too subtle and no one picks up on it. I am sure many LARPers feel this way, feeling as though their character is nuanced and complex, but doubt anyone else will ever think so. The responses to this meme taught me that other characters are, in fact, picking up on the layers to Cricket, and have multi-faceted responses to them. She has also provoked some unexpected reactions from some PCs, which reveals some interesting insight into how people interpret in-game cultures. Quill also provoked some unexpected reactions; others were expected but deeply heart-warming to read. It is really something to know your favorite character is loved by someone who understands the character.

I also read a lot of responses to other people in various threads, even when I wasn’t familiar with the relevant characters or the LARPs they were from. They were often long, thoughtful posts, reflecting complicated, deep relationships. It was really cool and really fascinating to see the varied ways characters related to one another, how they affected one another, how they impacted one another’s perceptions, how they influenced each other to change and grow. People described characters giving one another hope, how they relied one another, inspired one another. They described what the characters taught one another, how they worried about each other, loved one another, hated one another, lusted after one another, scared one another, respected one another, enabled the best and worst in each other, made one another feel inadequate or guilty, had many conflicted feelings about one another,   They compared first impressions with later developments, about missing and mourning the characters who had died. The descriptions often reflected something deep and complex and meaningful and beautiful.

And here it’s worth noting that the posts I saw were mostly from boffer/live combat campaign LARPs in the US.

I read a lot of LARP related content online — news pieces, blog posts, discussions, etc., and I have from time to time run across this attitude that boffer campaigns, especially fantasy ones, especially American ones, are shallow, are all about leveling up in power or collecting loot or strictly about combat and players are just looking to hit things, that roleplay is an afterthought or boffer LARPers are “afraid” to bleed, that it can’t lead to introspection or self-improvement or self-discovery, or reflect serious issues. Surely, not as well as some other forms of LARP, right?

I know I slipped into this once or twice while on panels about Theater LARPing Meeting Boffer LARPing, and I regret that.

I often get the impression it’s well-intentioned. Maybe people have limited (or even non-existent) experiences with this format, but somehow developed these impressions, and just want all forms of LARP to learn from one another, to show the boffer LARPers what else is out there.

It’s not always well-intentioned. Sometimes it’s intentionally judgemental and condescending and derisive and dismissive. Luckily, that’s not too often.

But it is all completely untrue. I’ve always known it, but this meme very much reflected what I already knew. Boffer LARPing, even in the US, is capable of amazing depth and I wish people who find themselves thinking otherwise would read the threads I read.

To everyone who participated in that meme: thank you for sharing. I hope I’m able to create characters in the future that inspire the kind of responses I saw.

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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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4 Responses to The Upside of Memes

  1. Boffer LARPing, even in the US, is capable of amazing depth and I wish people who find themselves thinking otherwise would read the threads I read.

    Amen to that. Would you be interested in being involved in a panel to that effect at Intercon? I think it could make a really interesting topic of discussion.

    (Yes, I was just working in Kristen’s panel brainstorming doc and this came to mind 😉 )

  2. Absolutely. The reason to avoid campaign larps (boffer or no) is that they’re a lot of work, with time spent over the long haul in establishing character, building up relationships, etc. And by the same token, that’s a lot of the advantage they have over one-shots; that your character persists over time, and thus will end up being deeper and richer thereby, with relationships that were build over time rather than merely established in a background document and roleplayed (well or poorly) on the fly.

    I think people are not wrong then saying that adventure-style gaming (and there I’m not hitting only boffer style gaming with mook NPCs, but also D&D, parlor larp that has adventure mechanics, etc; any game where a large portion of the gaming involves PVE play) spends a bunch of playtime on stuff that isn’t in-depth character interaction. But this discounts, I think, the fact that most adventure-style play tends to be over longer periods of time than other play–and so even if relatively speaking you’re spending a lot of your interaction time “having one anothers’ backs” or whatnot, 1. That’s still play and still deepens relationships, and 2. That still leaves a lot of time for other character play, because it can be a lot of time.

    • Fair Escape says:

      Definitely to all this. Although while I do think PvE combat can be very light on roleplay, and it can easily be light filler, can and often does provide opportunities for deep roleplay — struggling to reach people who fall behind enemy lines, self-sacrifice, death, people taking on leadership roles and then others questioning them… The rush of adrenaline doesn’t hurt when it comes to making this stuff feel more visceral, too. Theater campaigns can provide similar benefits when it comes to longer periods of relationship development, it’s still not quite the same as fighting side by side in live combat.

      • Absolutely. I didn’t touch on the live combat/simulated combat distinction because I haven’t put in the work, but the campaign vs one shot distinction has some comonality regardless of the mechanics (or playstyle) of the campaign.

        Even in tabletop, PVE combat can be light filler, or can be platform for greater roleplay. Either way, it takes time and effort on something that isn’t the character/roleplay (combat mechanics and optimization in tabletop; live combat skills and tactics in a larp), but in some ways, you can get more foundational roleplay when it’s layered onto something with that kind of simulated reality, because it’s not as much in a vacuum (but it does take more work).

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