I wasn't introduced to the word "bleed" until I was well into my LARP career, about seven years in when I started playing Dystopia Rising. Dystopia Rising is a heavy roleplay LARP, which is what originally drew me to it; I'd spent years playing high combat, low roleplay games which were fun and I dearly loved combat, but I grew up roleplaying and writing first and I still missed that. I was in the first or second generation of kids that grew up roleplaying on the internet in MUDs and IIRC or AOL chat rooms. There were people I met on there who I count amongst my closest friends as an adult (and my fiance, who I met on World of Warcraft), but they were the gems in the middle of what was often a pile of crazy.
A lot of the people who were in my roleplay groups would take IC actions to heart. When my character did something to another character, it was as if I mortally wounded the player too. I didn't have a term for it then -- I think we just inferred it as some sort of metagaming -- but it made the choices in who I seriously roleplayed with much more insular.
I had to break down a lot of my pre-conceived social boundaries when I started playing DR. I started playing it by myself, not with a group of people who I knew OOC, so I was forced to interact with humans who I had never met before and try to build connections organically. As someone who struggled with the idea that any roleplayer at any time could go crazy on you, it was a challenge to open up without fear of OOC repercussions. One of my character's first friends was played by a guy named Ryan. Eventually, having now sort-of-known each other in game, I started talking to Ryan out of game after I picked him up from an airport in Seattle when we were doing a long distance DR trip.
Ryan was the person who gave a term to the thing I already knew: bleed. When something in game becomes so intense and so real to you, that out of game, it began to effect you. The idea of it left a sour, awful taste in my mouth.
I think many people from my generation of RP and LARP deem bleed as a universally unwanted thing. There are rigid lines born of protection, both for yourself, the other player, and the sacredity of the game: IC is IC, OOC is OOC. No matter what happens, you keep strong barriers between them. It gives you, as a character, the freedom to do what your character would without fear of OOC repercussions.
But there's a part of that dialogue that always felt a little unrealistic to me, for as much as I would tout it as law to everyone I played with. When we make characters, we pull a little piece of ourselves and plant it into them like a seed. For most of us, that's how you make a character that feels real to you and everyone else around you. So to try and keep a wall between IC and OOC seemed difficult at best and unrealistic at worse.
I did it anyway. I did it for years for the sake of "pure roleplay" and the fear of people who would negatively bleed over -- who would be mad at me, whose good time I would ruin, because they were too close to their characters.
I didn't realize that when I started playing DR, I was engaging in bleed. I didn't realize it because it was a really, really good bleed.
When Bleed Works
Ryan and I had an hour car ride from the Seattle airport to where our game was, and in that ride, I could see the shift in our demeanor from Ryan and Kelsey, who sort of knew each other, to the amiable and curse-word companionship of Brock and Bastion. Having the IC connection made everything that much easier when taking a long drive with someone who, up until this point, was sort of a stranger to me out of game.
But he suggested to me that we weren't strangers at all. We had exposed intimate and vulnerable pieces of ourselves through our characters, and in doing so, we had formed a bond as people too. We would have never become friends were it not for our characters being friends too. For a younger generation of LARPers, the lightbulb moment I had right then probably sounds more like a "no shit, sherlock."
The idea of bleed creating something positive -- a friendship, a network of people who willingly expose some raw piece of themselves with strangers doing the same -- it was completely foreign to me and also true. All of my closest friends are people who I have, at some point or another, roleplayed with. All of the people who are standing beside me and my future husband at our wedding are friends who have seen the worst and best of us through the lens of an imaginary world.
And I realized, as we pulled up to an event that would end up leading me to some of my closest friends and business partners in real life, that LARPers are likely some of the bravest and most honest people I know. That's why we're not a game -- we're a community. We're a pack. I've seen relationships, marriages, even children who have been born from a community of intimacy. For all the bad bleed in the world, that's definitely worth exposing a little bit of yourself to make a genuine connection with someone who is more likely to be a good human.
So thanks for bleeding with me this year, fellow LARPers and roleplayers. May 2016 lead us to further connections that we will never forget.