What’s up everyone! Welcome to Beyond The Panel. Coming at you today with talk about LARPing! To be more specific, how you can find yourself falling out of love with LARPing. Before I go further here, I should say that this is nothing against LARPing in general. Not here to really bash it, but when the sense of wonder fades. There are things about this game which can make it difficult seeing a long-term investment in it.
This topic came to mind with all this free time I had to myself. By this time I would have been getting myself reading to spend five days adventuring, fighting, and enjoying other manners of festivities. For the most part I had taken a break from LARPing because other priorities came up, but ever since I started this was something I had to make time for. It was five days in costume, being a character I created, and having a good many opportunities to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do in my regular day. However, because of the COVID-19 lockdown, that isn’t happening. So instead I found myself thinking back to how after taking that break it slowly became harder to get back into it. I started thinking of all the things that weren’t really worth the investment anymore. One thing after the other it started to become clearer that those things which were not worth investing in outweighed the reasons for still getting out there.
Let’s start with what led me to this falling out. The biggest thing can be simply feeling like you aren’t getting the same enjoyment you once felt before. This for me was the biggest thing. When I first started playing, I did this with my best friend. However, it didn’t take long before his short attention span wouldn’t allow him to stick with it as much as I hoped for. He wasn’t willing to put the same amount of effort into his character, getting better at fighting, or interacting with others. Another thing was the fact that the game I played involved the player base being split into countries/squads/units. While this sounds awesome on paper because the right choice will lead you to some good friends that you can even call family, this didn’t really go the way I had hoped. The group I joined was cool, but at the same time they were already pretty close-knit. So there was no connection I could build with any of them that really made me feel like I wasn’t always on the outside. When you’ve spent that many years with the same group, how do you break away and do your own thing without making things suddenly awkward? Especially when your only choice is to either make your own group or join another where you face the chances of putting yourself through the same thing again. Other than that, life came knocking with better opportunities and something had to give.
After that, it was the small things which over time became more apparent. The lack of event locations, the steady decline of attendance overall, and stories which did not do enough to make everyone feel involved.
Involvement I should say is also a big one. Well the better word to use for this should be inclusiveness. Either way, if you can’t make everyone feel involved, then what is the point in being out there? I see some games out there that try to make things more appealing to gain more players, but don’t do nearly enough to keep them around. The objective should never be to stroke the ego of veterans or give them all the spotlight. If said person stood out in this adventure/scenario, then maybe the next adventure/scenario should take someone less known to feel a part of something. You can’t expect that someone is going to come out one day and suddenly feel like they belong. No, you have to do your part to make them feel that way. Not turn them into punching bags because all you want is to hit someone with a sword. Long-term investment begins with having the mindset that everyone matters.
What can become problematic quickly is a game which lacks identity. You can be a game which centers on fighting, you can be a game which focuses on elements of roleplay, heck you can even do both. Though you also need to know how to give players a bit of each. You can’t have players take the field and do the same repetitive battles, and you can’t expect that players have to create their own roleplay to experience it. If you have an event set, then you need to put the effort into making it worth people’s time to come out. There are so many things you can do that it is hard to imagine that any one event of a month could be the same. A game that can’t keep up with that will become stale. I remember when I started and there was so much that was a fresh experience, and then as the months passed the options kept disappearing. That is the easiest way to disappoint people.
Game politics is where things get very tricky. When I say game politics, I do mean the things which involve those who run the games. This in particular I have seen do some serious damage to long-term investment. Sometimes a problem will arise that requires a real world solution because unfortunately you can’t have faith that everyone is going to be stand-up individuals who follow the rules, or respect the safety of others. How a game handles this matters a lot. In the game I played, I have seen some problems mismanaged. People who were given leniency towards their actions, people whose bans were not fully respected, board members who aren’t willing to hear all sides of a story. All things detrimental to the trust that players are supposed to have in the people running their game. Even if these were never things which hit me directly, indirectly it could be felt when people I knew were ready to walk away and distance themselves because of this.
Now a good game does evolve, yet at the same time there must always be a limit to how consistent those changes come. Much like a video game, you should take every change into consideration and then set them into motion as if it were a patch. Even then, that patch should be every so often. What can take the fun out of a game is when you have to consistently change the way you prepare yourself, get into character, and the way you fight. It can even be worse when you walk away and suddenly come back to many things that you have to adjust to before you step onto the field. I’ve seen this divide people, and push others into some nasty interactions. There’s no such thing as a perfect game. Especially if you’re trying to appease to people who all want different things. Sometimes you have to take a step back and realize that there may be more important things like worrying about players’ enjoyment in the moment.
Again this is nothing against LARP as a whole, or one specific, but these are some of the things which come to mind when you think of why someone might not stick with it too long. I’m still surprised I made it 4-5 years as someone who just woke up one day and decided he wanted to do something bold.