Why are we so afraid to bleed?

I want my larp experiences to make me bleed.
bloody larp

Bleeding, bleeding all over.

‘Bleed’ is a term used in Nordic larp. It is the idea of dissolving the boundaries between player and character, so the things that effect the character in-game, have an emotional impact on the player out-of-game and the issues dealt with by the characters in-game speak to the biases or emotions of the player. It is about nurturing that connection, exploring the interplay between character and player and allowing for crossover between in-game and out-of-game ideas and feelings. To bring out-of-game emotions into game is referred to as ‘bleeding in’ and to bring in-game emotions out-of-game is ‘bleeding out’. In Nordic larp they use this phenomena to their advantage, using techniques to maximize bleed, thereby enhancing the emotional experience created by the game. In games with specific emotional goals it seems it is not uncommon that there will be a workshop before hand, to develop trust and build characters and a debrief after the game to discuss concepts and emotions explored, so that everyone (ideally) walks away feeling as though they learned something significant about themselves through the game. Not everyone makes use of the technique in Nordic larping as far as I can tell, but the fact that it is defined and sometimes integrated into the experiences is, in my opinion, a huge advantage to the style of play that the larpers there are involved in.

Thanks to the concept of bleed used in Nordic larp, players in more emotional or concept driven games are encouraged to consider larger social issues and their own feelings. By using the games as a metaphor and not being afraid of the out-of-game emotional repercussions these games become a space to explore powerful issues such as discrimination, poverty, relationships, social hierarchy and love (to name a few). From what I gather, these games can be meaningful and educational experiences, challenging players and even allowing for life altering emotional revelations.

In North America things are done a bit differently. Instead of challenging ourselves and taking emotional risks, we tip toe. We are a culture obsessed with politeness (especially in Canada), political correctness and not offending anyone. When we larp (at least at all the games I have been to or heard of here in Ontario) we are careful to try and leave our in-game emotions in game and our out-of-game emotions at the door.

In North America the games tend to be about fantasy. Stepping away from your life and becoming an ideal version of yourself, or trying out personalities you have always wanted to try but would never dream of doing in the real world. Larping in North America is about achieving goals you set out for your characters, it is about doing exactly what you want and wearing a cool costume while doing it. It is about politics and drama and all the things that make up our every day lives, only with swords and magic. It is about small victories, being heroes and telling stories.

It is not about ripping open your soul and bearing it to the world. It is not about exposing your weaknesses and exploring your darkest depths. It is not about asking the bigger questions and trusting that everyone around you wants to find the answers too. It is not about making a space to explore reality through the realm of fantasy, it is more about making fantasy into a more embellished (yet still somehow mundane) reality.

This is not to say that people playing North American larps don’t feel emotions and express them. Many people would claim that they have cried and been scared and felt pain during the course of a game. But the fact is I feel the same kinds of emotions from a well made movie or play. Without the actual intention of philosophically exploring the emotions and metaphors and the real world revelations they can provide, I find it difficult to differentiate larp from other forms of entertainment that evoke emotional responses (other then the structural differences like the fact that you are a part of the story as opposed to merely observing it).

So why are we so afraid to bleed in North America?

Maybe it is because, from a social/psychological perspective, we view things as so individual, instead of universal. We seem to have a hard time disconnecting the individual action from the concept of the action and taking a wider view. Perhaps this stems from our society. We are, after all, an individualistic culture, taught to be self sufficient, that we must succeed or fail on our own merits, we must not rely on others. This leaves us with a distinct inability to trust others and come together to explore the tough issues in a constructive way. We seem to have a hard time really questioning our actions in a philosophical sort of way and our games tend to reflect that. Stories in North American larp tend to unfold without question, they just happen and when all is said and done the discussions around the stories aren’t involved with feelings, revelations or philosophy, they are generally about singular actions and petty drama.

Perhaps our over-sensitivity is also to blame. When you spend most of your life trying to accommodate everyone and make everyone comfortable, it leaves little time to move beyond the realm of watered down drama and into the thick of it. Just suggesting the possibility of games exploring child abuse, gender roles, sexuality or oppression can be enough to make some larpers shy away because the impetus to explore these challenging and sometimes contentious issues is just not there.

Will it ever change?

I’m not sure. My husband and I have been working on some ideas for some Nordic-style art larps and the more we distill what it is we want to accomplish (creating experiences to explore specific concepts, issues and emotions) the more we wonder if any gamers will actually want to play our games. So far we have had more interest from non-gamers who tend to be of a more artistic leaning than from anyone in the larp world (of course there are always exceptions). There is something (somehow) accessible to non-gamers about the concepts we are putting forward and it looks like, for the most part, larpers will not be our target market when running these games.

So until (if ever) we are able to create a community of serious/art larpers here in Ontario we will likely never get to bleed the way I would like to (by specifically focussing on the exploration of real world concepts, emotions and the interplay between in-game and out-of-game feelings). Unless, of course, we can make it out to Scandinavia for Knutepunkt (the Nordic role playing conference).

*Please note the above only represents my experience with gaming and my reading on gaming in North America which is limited to the confines of Ontario (for personal experience) and the internet/books (for reading). I would love to hear about any art-style larps happening in North America of which I am not aware!сео продвижение сайтараскруткасайтакниги по хакерству онлайнчехол для iphone 5 книжкакредитные карты банков в москвеcasino online job vacancydubai visiting escortsbedava gazino slot oynaSkyvagasтур в турцию май 2015степ марьино

9 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Echo December 19, 2012 Subscriber

    A wonderful post and good questions to raise.
    Some additional thoughts/questions…

    Could it also be a matter of difficulty to organize and run a full lovely-bleeding through and through larp story-arch in those wonderful repulsive and heart tugging manners if someone’s never seen, run or been part of such an activity before?

    Many N.American larps want to be family friendly or all inclusive, thus many topics become strictly off limits.

    But my personal theory is: Because people can see you.
    While a small part may not consider being put into a truly heart rending, adrenalin pumping “I don’t know!” panic to be ‘fun’. I think the true face behind this ‘why not?’-mask is in revealing our own.

    For instance all those scenarios you listed above I’ve played through on several occasions with people I’ve never met, or will ever meet. Online. PbPs, MUDs hell even some MMO RP-only servers. All N.American based. So certainly the need, the WANT to examine and play though these thoughts and feelings are out there. So what’s caging them into the online only box?

    For me it’s always been the limitations of the medium, online I could be a 14-year girl with mommy issues, or a 65-year alcoholic teacher plucking at his last thread of sanity. Or a narcoleptic, fairy dragon, paladin that only communicates through colorful wordy puffs of smoke.
    Online any of those things are possible as long as you’re able to loose yourself in the words, emotions and thoughts of the character… but mostly because no one can see your face.
    I don’t think it’s an issue of embarrassment, rather because your fellow players and even your GM can only see those characters becoming more real through text alone. In person, my options are much more limiting and in a gritty ‘adult’ oriented scenarios, I could only realistically play one of those above persons without completely breaking the ‘realism’ for myself and other players.

  2. starspider December 20, 2012 Contributor


    Thanks for the response!

    I definitely think it could be difficult for people to run a repulsively heart tugging game, if they had never seen it in action. However that being said, it had to come from somewhere. I worry that here in North America (and I have since learned it is not everywhere, as lots of people are starting to embrace different styles of play especially in the US), for various reasons, we are not allowing our games to evolve in such a way as to become more intense, in fact it seems, they are leading more towards the video game route! Obviously this is a generalization, but I find a lot of people in this society have a very difficult time with emotional honesty, as it is just not really a part of our cultural landscape!

    I agree that some larps want to remain family friendly, however, many larps I have seen have an 18+ age limit, so that would allow, in my opinion, them to delve into some more touchy subjects.

    I can definitely see what you are saying here, in terms of the online providing a sort of a mask for players to express themselves freely. But I will definitely say that is the point of the character. When we make a character for ourselves in a game we are effectively putting on a mask (sometimes even really wearing a mask or face paint). This allows for the player to distance themselves from taking responsibility for their actions while in character, because their character is a different person from them. Where it gets tricky though, is when it comes to bleed and you are facing the fact that some of the choices you make in the game are your own and questioning why you made those choices.

    For me, it’s fun to question those things, to find the crossover and explore how my character is like me. But for some people that’s not entirely fun. For some people they like to game as an escape, where as I am more into gaming as an exploration of self. Certainly different strokes for different folks, but I suspect that the reasons for this are more cultural than anything else. Because of the way we operate in North America we are not really taught or encouraged to go spelunking in the depths of our psyches or swimming in the seas of philosophy.

    My hope is, that once people are exposed to a different style of gaming, that some can find some benefit in it, because your initial point makes sense…how can they play that way, if they don’t even know?



  3. Echo December 20, 2012 Subscriber

    So where are the tick boxes so I can just check “nodding in fervent agreement” on all these expand points/paragraphs?

    That said, I would be very interested in reading a future post of your thoughts on how to make this want a prominent reality. Especially if you’re planing on starting/drawing in a larp group from scratch.

  4. starspider December 20, 2012 Contributor



    Well, we are actually planning to make this a reality! We are currently working on some more serious games now which we hope to launch in spring! We are also trying to test more freeform style play in a campaign larp we are playing. Are you in Toronto, Canada?

    You can find more of our posts about larping at our blog: http://www.happycreations.ca – we will be keeping people informed there about progress and for quick updates you can follow us on twitter: @happycreators!

    Also, if you are interested in learning more about Nordic larp there is this site:


    And for a good group on FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/larpexchange/?fref=ts

    There is lots happening and we are really excited to get some of our games up and running, you can contact us in many different ways if you are in Toronto or the GTA and interested in participating when we get things going! 🙂


  5. Adontis February 26, 2013 Subscriber

    I actually created this account just to respond to this post :).

    First I’d like to say that I’ve never looked at Bleed in a positive light, and you’ve given me some things to think about.

    In the games that I go to or run (and yes I’m NA) bleed is discouraged as it is emotions that you are bringing OOG into your IG. At times in game I’ve been frustrated with a character or mad at a character OOG, but I try my best to never let that affect how I feel about a person OOG. I feel that if you ’embrace bleed’ so to speak then you would start feeling that anger at a person OOG, not just their IC character.

    IC my character has been mad, furious, broke down, elated, and all everything in between. When my character permanently died it affected me outside of the game, it almost felt like losing a close friend. I’ve had these same OOG attachments to other players characters as well. I don’t know if that’s what you consider Bleed or not, if so I’m 100% behind you on bleed.

    However where I’ve attached a negative stigma to it (and maybe unjustly) is when someone OOG has OOG issues with someone and brings it IG. I feel that embracing Bleed as an idea for your larp this would arise more often. I also feel like someone letting their IG feelings of resentment bleed into OOG is unfair those players who play evil characters. Hate them IG all you want, but remember that its a character stealing/murdering/betraying, not the person. I’m good friends with many ‘evil’ larp characters, I feel like LARPs would be much less interesting without them, but if you alienate them OOG based on their IG actions I feel that wouldn’t be fair to those people.

    Sorry if this is comment feels a bit disconnected, I wrote it in spurts while doing other things.

  6. starspider February 27, 2013 Contributor

    Hey Adontis!

    Not disconnected at all, it all makes sense to me! 🙂

    First, let’s address your into game bleed and then your out of game bleed comments!

    Feeling the loss of a character, feeling emotions through the character and allowing yourself to explore those issues outside of the game is definitely what I mean. I would love to see it happen even more and in some cases in more structured ways. I would love to see people getting together out of game not just to hang out, but with the express purpose of discussing their emotional responses to the game, how they felt when they experienced certain things in character etc… I think there can be a lot learned from the experiences we have in game which can be seen as metaphor for every day life. So I think we are definitely on the same page here. I would just like to see it explored more in depth!

    As for the reverse (sort of) where feelings for the person bleed into the game, or out of the game that is a complicated issue. First and foremost it happens. No one can deny it and I think the fact that people try to force it to ‘not happen’ or pretend that it doesn’t happen is unhealthy. That is pretty vulcan to me, repress emotional responses and there can be trouble. For example in a relationship situation if someone feels jealous that their OOG mate is an IG mate with someone else. To try and brush that off can cause greater problems than exploring it!

    Let’s get back to your example though, of ‘evil characters’ who you are friends with OOG. First of all, if they do something in game to upset you and it carries on OOG that is perfectly reasonable. My main point is not to ignore it and try and pretend like it doesn’t happen, or reason yourself out of the feelings (by saying it’s just silly to feel that way). Denying feelings is dangerous. But do I think it’s silly? That’s an interesting question.

    Plato said ‘you learn more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation’ and I happen to believe that is true. So that being said, when someone plays an ‘evil character’ in the game it is an interesting thing to explore and questions arise. I am not saying they are evil and should be written off by any means, but it would be interesting to look more in depth at why they have chosen to play this character. Are they exploring repressed aspects of themselves? Does it feel like catharsis? Are they the kind of people who like to play something different each time to challenge themselves?

    There are also interesting questions that might arise in a relationship or friendship with that person. How does it make you feel when they back stab you in game? Are you able to communicate these feelings effectively to maintain a relationship?

    All I am saying here is that bleed allows us an opportunity to explore our relationships and the people around us in more depth and that is something we shouldn’t be afraid of!

    I hope this clarifies my thoughts on the matter! 🙂

    • Mikael November 24, 2013 Subscriber

      Great post, Starspider!

      It echoes my experiences from Edmonton very closely. We’re now building the Edmonton Larp Factory precisely to find like-minded players. Look us up on Facebook! Here’s hoping things are progressing in Ontario – I’m really curious about the “alternative” larp scene in Canada – surely, there must be one?

  7. Jamie November 25, 2013 Subscriber

    Interesting post. I hadn’t heard the term “bleed” before in this context, so reading the title my first thought was: “Pain, blood-borne pathogens and the risk of infection… also stained costumes.” I just started larping this spring, so all this is pretty new to me.

    I’ve been to two different larps, both in North America (North / South Carolina, to be exact). At my first one especially they emphasized keeping “in play” and “out of play” separate, and I think that’s a good policy to a degree. They don’t want Dina the Warrior trying to sabotage Selena the Faerie’s in-play life because Selena’s player Emily flirted with Dina’s player Jenna’s crush during English Lit class while the whole situation has no logic in play. At the same time they don’t want Danny getting mad at Bill because Bill’s character Zagros the Rouge robbed his character Hans when Bill was just doing what his character would do. However, if Hans retaliated against Zagros in-play, that would be perfectly fine. It sort of protects the players by giving us the freedom to play characters different from ourselves without worrying too much about our friends getting mad at us in real-life because we all understand that it isn’t personal.

    I disagree with the analysis of individualism, though it might not matter much longer. We have a multitude of forces working to scrub it out and shove collectivism down our throats. I like individualism though. It’s one of my favorite things about our culture. ^_^

    Also, a possible reason for trying to keep in play and out of play separate is that a stereotype we have to deal with is of the geek who lets the game consume their lives to the point that they become obsessed and delusional, unable to separate fantasy from reality. Not sure if that’s a stereotype they have in other countries, but the effort of avoiding to appear “that guy / girl” is likely a factor that encourages people to err on the coolheaded side out of play.

    There are limits of course. My boyfriend and I go to larps together and our characters used to be romantically involved at one of them but aren’t anymore, and mine has his friend-zoned at the other, which has been extremely fun to play. But we have agreed we won’t be with anyone else in-play, because you can see how that could get weird fast.

    There have been some times that my character’s feelings have affected my own. A small group of us tracked a fiend to a cabin and attacked, but it turned out it was just an old farmer inside. Our main healer brought him back to life, but he was freaked out and angry and I felt like dirt, in and out of play. Then that evening the farmer’s daughter came storming into our tavern with a crew of backup and demanded someone be held responsible, which lead to a half hour debate / shouting match. When things had calmed down and they were about to leave my character apologized to the farmer’s daughter and I had tears in my eyes for real. I felt stupid and disillusioned. Apparently I’d put too much trust in the people my character considered heroes. Which I guess is the same way my character would have felt, plus embarrassed on top of that.

    One of the plot team checked with me a little later out of play to make sure I was okay and understood that it was in play and I said yes, and that I actually enjoy the story and rp aspects more than the combat, which was true. And even though I felt shaken it was one of the most interesting and memorable larping experiences. I would actually like having more with that level of emotional involvement.

    I suppose the nice bubbly feeling I get after a successful mission or positive interaction could be considered “bleed” too.

    As far as mature content goes, I actually appreciate that the ones I’ve attended try to keep it family-friendly, since we do occasionally have younger players. Even though I’m not a child or even a teen, if things got very explicit it would be a bit off-putting for the same reasons I don’t care for most R-rated movies, whether they’re comedies or dramas. They tend to leave my heart feeling dirty and I don’t like feeling that way.

    Honestly, I larp for the same reason my sister and I used to act out the stories we made up as we went along when we were kids; just for the joy of it, laughing when things took a turn for the silly and fellowshiping with our characters. The thought of using it to bare my soul never really occurred to me.There has been conflict based on philosophy. “Do the ends justify the means?” for example. But those flow from the story rather than being the point of them. I’ve been careful not to make my characters idealized versions of myself. They both have their own fears and flaws to deal with, but mostly it is about having fun for me, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  8. Suso P August 11, 2020 Subscriber

    Hello starspider. I appreciate your posts very much – I am in the process of researching for a new Nordic style larp and I share in your curiosity about the way N. American culture impacts the playership (for lack of a better word) for such a thing. I wonder if you would be willing to talk about the process of building community in North America around this kind of work. I live in Philadelphia and I want to try to find other people who were interested in character bleed and in exploring personal territory through larping. I am not sure if its possible to send a DM on here but I could post my email? Susopomorphizer@gmail.com

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