LARP Definition

This is larping

What is LARP?

LARP is an acronym for Live Action Roleplay. Thus the act of going to LARP is LARPing or Live Action Roleplaying. We just like to call it larping. Many people ask “What is larping?” and truthfully it’s tough to come up with a larp definition. At it’s simplest you could say that larping is a continuation of a table-top roleplaying game that people choose to act out by becoming a character and staging a fantasy world experience in which their character lives. But larping is more complex than that. There’s more that goes on at a larping event than simply a game. In an effort to explain this we created a series of posts titled “What is larping?”. Below is our effort to describe the phenomenon and experience that is larping. In the end it’s not a complete definition of larping. What larping is and will become is an open conversation that we’d like you to participate in.

Larping defined: What is larping?

role models larping
Is this what larping is?

What is LARPing? or Live Action Roleplaying (hereafter referred to as larp)? Search this term on the internet and you will get a pretty consistent definition of the phrase. Live action roleplaying is a form of roleplaying where the participants physically act out their character’s actions (Wikipedia). Watch a movie (such as Role Models) and you might get the impression that it is a dork filled romp through your local, public park. Both of these impressions are slightly skewed. They both answer the question as merely an onlooker and not a participant.

So, what is the insider’s definition of larping? I’d like to put forth a definition and explain the first part of that definition. My working definition of larping is a collaborative, pretending with rules.

Larping defined: Collaborative

Larping Battle
Larpers must collaborate to pull off large battles

Collaboration is a working together to complete tasks that produce a desired result. Although a lot of the front-end work of a larp is very individualistic (the beginning is very “my character” oriented), almost the entire production is for a single community based goal: to build a fantastic space for characters to partake in together. Keep in mind that this is an out of character concept. Characters in the game have no knowledge of our world. Specifically, I’m talking about the players and staff of a larp. These folks are together for the sake of relationship and community. Many larpers will say that their main take-away from an event is the relationships, not merely the cool things their character did in the game. It could be said that the only true “win” in a larp is maintaining old friendships and developing new ones. This internal  purpose is arguably the most appealing aspect  of larps. Additionally, these friendships have an external purpose; namely the development and sharing of a fantastic space known as the game world. Players and staff work together to make the game world a real place for characters to explore, do battle in, and develop relationships. Social contract permeates every inch of the game world, with every participant willing its existence into being. Larping is about the community a game builds.

Larping defined: Pretending

larping battle
Part of larping is pretending the world exists.

Pretending is one of the most ubiquitous experiences of childhood. I think we could all attest that some of our fondest memories of childhood took place in our imaginations. Larps are the natural graduation of these experiences into the adult world. In a larp, the players utilize a childhood-honed skill: seeing that which isn’t there. This sounds a little crazy to our adult minds, but it is the most natural phenomenon in the world. Larping gives us access to the invisible. It shows us what is hidden. Our characters fight monsters, siege castles, assassinate kings, discover hidden magics, and do a million other impossible things. I guess the obvious question is, “Why would anyone want to do this?”

The media seems to be pretty consistent on this point: we do it to escape and to be immersed in an experience. Many larpers can attest to this fact. Escapism seems to be the primary draw to the larper, but this feeling ultimately blossoms into something different. The common portrayal of the larper is someone who escapes from their insufferable routine into the fantastic. I think this feeling changes into a need to invade our lives with the fantastic. Instead of running away from our lives, we instead are given the ability to run into them. Pretending makes this possible. Visualization is a common practice in goal oriented task resolution. Being able to see ourselves in the imagination accomplish something of great difficulty becomes the fuel needed to accomplish such tasks in our real life. Practically speaking, larping begins as something that we go to, but it develops into something that we take back to our world. Larping is about pretending, but it doesn’t end there. The experiences we have while we pretend as we larp transfer over int our real lives.

Larping defined: Rules

larping rules
The rules of a larp make the game possible.

What game doesn’t have rules? Is it even possible to imagine chess if there were no rules to the game? All you would have is a checkered board and some carved little statues. Although difficult, chess could be played in your mind precisely because the game itself is the rule-set. All games are this way, in various degrees, and larping is no different.

Rules are the invisible barriers of a larp. They hem the game world in while keeping everything else out. They are the catalyst of collaboration toward the goal of group pretending. Rules give a framework to everyone so that pretending in the same space is viable.

Rules in many games are often viewed in the negative. This means that most of the time people interact with rules in a “can’t do” fashion. For example, in a larp we know that you can’t use out of game information in game. We rarely interact with rules in a positive way; namely what we can do. In a larp, because we are crafting a space from thin air, we get the fantastic ability to create rules that manufacture a sense of “can do”-ness. By setting limits somewhere we produce freedom within that space. For example, by saying that there are three races to choose from in this game world, we have just made one choice with three available options possible where there was no choice prior to the declaration. Nothing exists in nothing, but where something exists some things are possible.

I’ll reiterate, the rules make larping possible because the integrity of group pretending is based solely on what everyone ascents to. When a group agrees on what is possible via rules, options become available in the pretend space where there were none. If there are no rules there is no balance. Where there are rules, it makes the gaming space available to everyone.

LARP Definition: Conclusion

Collaborative pretending with rules is how we define larping. I’ve tried to show that it is from these three equally vital parts that larping itself is born.  If we are missing any one of these parts then we are dealing with something altogether not larping. Without collaboration you are looking at a play, one man dictating everything via a script. Without pretending you are looking at a job or project. Without rules you just have a bunch of people sticking their tongues out at one another screaming, “Well MY character crushes your character’s brain with just a thought!” It’s with these three parts that we can define and create any larping experience. In the end the definition of larping will be determined by the players. So, how do you define larping?