Thoughts on my participation in The Beholder Controller by Adam James and Common or Garden by Jamie Harper.

 

To be effective, larps need their players to agree on the characteristics and rules of world they will play in, also called the magic circle. As established previously, collaboration is a major corner stone of Nordic Larp practice. As a designer, I am inspired by the methodology used to warm up creative thinking in their participants during workshops. Our imaginations work differently and participating in games brings to light interesting processes to slowly engage players in character and world creation.

Larps have the distinct advantage of being designed by and for creative participants already familiar with improvisation. But how could one adapt these techniques to a broader audience?

I was impressed by Adam James ability to engage V&A audiences in his performance.  He is accustomed to hosting larps in museums and confidently says “It is always an uphill battle,” The added difficulty being that these performances take place in public and fewer people are willing to let their hair down while being scrutinized by exterior audiences. I myself felt very conflicted when I engaged in an activity that is very out of character for me, join in a performance in a very public space. I had to push pretty hard past embarrassment, fear, doubt and uncertainty.

He started by very basic warm ups, like running around in circles. After doing so I felt more at ease, conscious that having done that nothing much worse could happen. Then he took us through small and easy games to get us to use our bodies to mime objects. As the game went along I felt less isolated and considered the other participants and myself as one collective trying to achieve its goal. Indeed, when he finally introduced the game we were going to play we all naturally engaged in a very inclusive atmosphere making sure our participation benefited the group.

The two games I participated in used different techniques to help us build our characters and worlds. In Common or Garden, Jamie Harper engaged us in conversations about ourselves around the questions, ‘Who am I today?’ and ‘What makes me an adult?’ Each time we were asked to focus on the response of a designated person from the group. We were invited to create our character and its world based on these answers and after gathering objects we thought our character might use from around the room. Following each conversation, we had to write down on pieces of paper what were the similarities and differences between our stories. Jamie then used these papers in game to suggest a course of action. In the gamer controller, Adam had us choose an object from the V&A and form groups with people based off these choices. Our collective findings served as foundation to create a common object we were asked to mime as a group, in our case a wedding dress. As the game advanced, the dress progressively became a monster and us its limbs. The subsequent debriefing served as a moment to improvise a backstory the monster we had created. Furthermore, in my conversation with Adam he also talked about letting players choose from photographs of random objects, plants or animals to inspire character traits.

All these methods have in common the use of visual or audio cues to stimulate imagination and having players feed off each other’s contributions. Gamemasters make a point of staying in the background, giving players the choice and breaking down character and world creation in a series of bite sized steps.

Nordic Larp emphasises that game design is accessible to anyone. Adam James pointed me to a book called Larps from the factory which is essentially a selection of 2 to 4 hour readymade larps to try your hand at being a gamemaster and serves as an introduction to larp design. In addition, a larper from Reddit directed me to a community blog called the workshop handbook that collects and shares methodology for character development, world building and hosting workshops.

 

Image from Jamie Harper’s Common or garden after the debrief.