Live Action Role Playing (LARP) – Between Game and Art

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Live Action Role Playing (LARP) – Between Game and Art

By Magda Klimczyk | Dec 4, 2019


Let us travel back in time to childhood. The whole world seemed like a veritable fairytale land and supplied a wide range of characters, whom we imitated as the very beginning of our education. Now the magic of childhood is gone, and we adapted our role-playing skills for more professional purposes. 

Playing cops and robbers changed its form and now focuses on not annoying our bosses/spouses/children. To play so many roles in our everyday life we need a wide range of interpersonal skills (and often the art of keeping a straight face). Nevertheless, for some of us this just is not enough. The so-called live-action role-playing games (LARPs) has for more than a decade, been offering a great opportunity to experience new and exciting sensations. The increasingly popular activity is not limited to entertainment. It also conceals an extensive business potential. 

More Than Entertainment

LARPs are inspired by tabletop role-playing games and outdoor games for scouts. The boom and period of increased popularity that started in Poland a few years ago was inspired by significant events staged for more than several hundred participants and intended to deliver good quality and relatively high-level entertainment. 

The College of Extraordinary Experiences and College of Wizardry (staged in the mediaeval Czocha Castle in Dolny Śląsk [Lower Silesia]) are among the examples of cult LARPs that players from all over the world are vying to become part of. There were many attempts at characterising LARPs as activities somewhere between games and improvisational theatre. Still, because of their sheer diversity and number of variations, no single, generally accepted definition has been developed. “To put it simply, a LARP is a role-playing game resembling the childhood game of cowboys and Indians but aimed at adults. In consequence, it features a logical scenario, professional set design, costumes, special effects, and obviously, corresponding budgets. LARPs are a very broad concept, which encompasses games targeted at entertainment, education, therapy, team building, etc. 

Each of these categories can include an infinite number of scenarios”, explained Dominik Dembiński, founder of the Liveform Association. While most of us are not aware of the numerous ways in which LARPs can be applied, this is just a tip of the iceberg as regards their underestimated potential. 

Beyond The Comfort Zone

While playing particular scenes, LARP participants have an opportunity to develop their soft skills and universal competencies, such as empathy, persuasion, creative problem solving, decision-making or teamwork. 

In other words, LARPs take players into an unknown world, where they have to come out on top, using hints provided by the profile of their characters and skills – both their own and acquired during the game. “True, we know that LARP scenarios are ‘make-believe”, but the social and communication interactions are really happening. Hence the conclusion that immersive and emotional experience of a game should be later reflexively ‘worked out” in relation to real-life world”, noted Dr Michał Mochocki in “Wprowadzenie do larpów edukacyjnych” (“An Introduction to educational LARPs”). Mochocki drew attention to the phenomenon of immersion that blurs the boundary between a player and the character he or she portrays. 

Total immersion in the LARP world often constitutes the main motivation inspiring participants to become involved in events of the discussed kind. Another reason to play is to tell an exciting and convincing story to provide spectators with aesthetic experiences. In this context, generating a “wow effect” and creating a dramatic scene is more important than sticking to the profile of a given character. 

In addition, LARPs also offer a chance to take part in and create situations, which go far beyond the comfort zone. “Such experiences make LARPs an excellent tool to battle your own weaknesses successfully. This is true both for participants, who overcome themselves to assume a role, and for the represented characters, who overcome themselves to achieve their goals”,summed up Dominik Dembiński. 

Fictitious Love

One of the initial challenges that LARPorganisers had to deal with involved the way participants interacted, especially when portraying violence and love. “Today the list of standard solutions includes using safe words (red-yellow-green), which make it possible to define a certain permissible, impassable border and the players’ comfort zone without interrupting scenes”, explained Annika Olejarz, coordinator of this year’s KOLA LARP Conference. 

Some LARPs allow higher levels of physical violence, for example when playing the role of an apprentice undergoing witcher trials in The Witcher School. On the other hand, there is no reason to include scenes inspiring strong emotions in corporate events, where physical violence is punished by being excluded from a game. 

This sort of limitations does not have to be an obstacle as it opens up new possibilities for imagination and thinking outside the box. “As an example, to make a game more attractive, I introduced cards which participants used to cast spells and charms on each other. However, even this solution constituted a risk of aggressive behaviour among players”, recalled Bogdan Wąsiel, Creative Director at the JETEVENTS agency.

Corporate events based on LARPs continue to be few and far between. Just like the abovementioned Liveform, most associations specialised in staging non-profit events. A part of its team simultaneously works for the Turbolarp company, which focused on commercial work. DziobakLarp Studios and the still active 5Żywiołów event agencies were among the few Polish organisations that actually earned their living by staging LARPs. 

Fear of the Unknown

LARPs, albeit present for many years, are rarely considered an effective brand experience tool. Although event marketing won the hearts of millions of clients, LARP-type activities seemingly continue to be side-lined, neglected by corporate customers. “Afraid of the unknown, customers expect spectacular, innovative solutions that would simultaneously be straightforward and would not require any of their own input. I get the impression that some of them are discouraged by the name itself. 

It is very difficult to explain what exactly a LARP is and all longer digressions on this subject matter risk that consumers will simply reject the whole concept”, commented Bogdan Wąsiel. LARP specialists even attempted to introduce a Polish name, which literally meant “theatrical role-playing game” and was proposed by Dr Jerzy Szeja,Chairman of Games Research Association of Poland. 

However, references to drama and simulation games might only scare away potential customers rather than encourage them. Another issue involves prices, with the costs of high-budget LARP productions reaching even several dozen thousand PLN per one participant. Naturally, much more affordable events are also available. “Poland features several destinations that are very well prepared to cooperate with LARP authors – I am thinking in particular about Krobielowice Palace, CzochaCastle andMosznaCastle. 

The venues in question have already grown accustomed to us and know how to deal with special requirements concerning catering or accommodation. Mention is also due to the so-called Fantasy Village, entirely constructed by LARP fans”, said Dominik Dembiński. 

Niche up for Grabs

The abovementioned theatrical character of LARPs makes it easy to adjust them to the needs of customers. Industry experts admit that not many other event formats offer similar opportunities. “Mostly because they generate such strong emotions, I believe LARPs to be one of the most effective tools from the viewpoint of conveying content and consumer’s contact with a brand.In addition, its scenario-based theatrical formula makes it possible to create any story that is required to accomplish the goal you set out for”, acknowledgedBogdan Wąsiel. 

The list of projects for customers representing the financial sector and illustrating the potential of LARPs includes the EVO HILLS integrated campaign implemented by JETEVENTS and the Black Monday game created by Exprofesso. The subject matter of the latter dealt with retaining talent in companies and the whole event was intended to work out good practices, which were subsequently translated into business goals. “This type of undertakings confirms our belief that it is worth it to create and develop LARP projects. We continue to convince consumers that they should reach for such innovative tools, being deeply aware of their power and seeing a wide range of potential applications. 

This is our role as professionals – to notice issues affecting the market and look for effective ways of solving them. From this viewpoint, LARP projects are an unquestionably intriguing niche”, said Monika Dymacz-Kaczmarczyk, Managing Director at Exprofesso. Indeed, brands all over the world spend millions so that their products make us feel as Hollywood stars – stunningly beautiful and free of complexes. 

They seize all marketing tools and cooperate with influencers and celebrities just so we indiscriminately believe their message. LARPs, on the other hand, offer much more than temporary exaltation inspired by buying anew watch promoted by the latest actor portraying James Bond. “We go one step further and make the potential consumer actually become the person he or she always dreamt of being. The value of LARPs most of all lies in real-life experiences, which make us more willing to decide that we really need the Bond watch”, summed up Dominik Dembiński.



Magda Klimczyk
Magda Klimczyk

Journalist with THINK MICE | Freelance Event Designer | Media & PR Coordinator - MPI Poland Chapter