Predicting the Future of American LARPing

predictive-analytics-crystal-ball  

The landscape of LARP is changing. I say this partially out of experience, but also with an understanding of the past; the audience, and the number of people in that audience, have gradually shifted over its existence. Perhaps moreso than before, you can see an attention to detail with those changes -- we, as LARPers, have a lot more focus put on us than we used to, both internally from our peers and from outsider sources as the American media begins to recognize what LARP is beyond the butt of a joke.

You hear a lot about Nordic LARP, or Brazillian LARP, and that comes with a clearer image of what to expect within that name, but American LARPing has never really had the benefit of a national identity. We're starting to see it more often as terms like "American Freeform" become more common terminology in the LARP world, but I suspect it's going to go beyond that. In the next five years, I think we're going to see a revolution in what American LARPing is and what that identity means to us. And to be honest with you, I only have some middling guesses about what its going to look like on the other side. But I'd like to share some of those guesses with you today.

 

A Stronger Connection to Technology

 

This one I can already see in the making. For campaign LARPs, digital tracking and robust systems have become a necessary component to tracking the details of a game and the developments I've seen on that front are honestly a game runner's dream that I wish had been thought of years ago. Mobile rulebook apps, comprehensive databases, and integrated LARP apps have begun to appear as early as five or six years ago and the progression keeps moving forward. This is, I suspect, a tool most often used and created by networked and franchised games, but the more it becomes common practice, the more I think you'll see software and app developers creating low maintenance apps for game runners to implement and modify for their smaller games.

And then there's in-game technology. ARGs have already been a small obsession for years now and there's a very small degree of separation from that and LARPing. ARGs can very easily become the gateway drug to LARP and be the hook that keeps the fish on the line. It's a way to constantly engage your consumer and, frankly, it's the thing that makes me most excited as a LARPer. The older I get, the harder it is to attend every game because of my adult responsibilities, but it's easy to keep connected with a campaign game when it's right there on my cellphone or email inbox. I love the idea of integrated ARGs overlaid with modern campaigns, and while we already have a few LARPs on the horizon that are courting that golden god, I think we can expect to see it as a common, defining factor of American LARPing.

 

The Death of Six Degrees

 

There was a time in which attending a LARP event meant that somehow you always knew someone there. Didn't matter if it was a Vampire parlour LARP game, a campaign-style medieval fantasy game, or some wacky sci-fi futuristic thing no one had ever heard of before. If you didn't know someone at the game itself, at the very least you know someone who knows someone that you know. The Kevin Bacon game was a reality of American LARPing for a long time.

Six Degrees of Separation in LARPing tells us two things: one, that our community was very insular to the point of being incestuous, and two, that we weren't growing that community consistently across multiple types and styles of LARP. That meant that when those LARPers stopped playing, there were no people filling that space. No one new playing means a dead LARP.

And you're slowly -- slowly -- starting to see that go away. LARPs cannot sustain themselves on their own community, and American LARPing has started to begrudgingly accept that media attention and expanding beyond their small community to advertise is the way of the future. And the more you do that, the more you'll see new changes, new ideas, and new methods flourish. This is one of those cases where change is a good, good thing. This brings another point --

 

Physicality vs Immersion

 

If we're going to take a visit back to memory lane, American LARPers basically started in to different camps during the 80's and 90's: the people who played boffer LARPs, like Dagohir and NERO International, and the people who played parlour LARPs like Vampire. And those are two very distinct worlds -- one is completely cerebral with little to no physical combat, and the others mark their success in how fast you can swing your PVC pipe. That's not to say there's some overlarp -- there have been boffer games that mark high scores on roleplay and immersion -- but for many years, that was the dividing line of American LARPing. You either played  White Wolf style LARPs, or you played a medieval fantasy boffer LARP. The two groups very rarely intermingled.

This is something I am pleased beyond words to see changing. You're starting to see more boffer LARPs with an eye for high roleplay while trying their best to maintain an element of combat and physicality. It's a challenging bridge to create between two worlds, but it's easy to see the benefit: if you can truly immerse yourself -- mentally and physically -- into a character, you're creating a fully encompassed experience that really all of us have been looking for. I want a game where I can truly become my character for three days, and I want to be able to do all the things my character does. The balance between finding those mechanics is no small feat to accomplish.

But I know I'm not the only one who has crossed both sides of the LARP divide, and you can see those individuals focusing a keen on on their mechanics, their goals, and their prospective audiences when they create new LARP systems. I admit I'm (very very very) bias, but I'm personally excited for games like Utopia Descending, which blends a high roleplay concept, low barrier of entry, and still maintains a quick mechanic system for fast-paced combat. It makes the East Coast boffer LARPer and the longtime roleplayer screech in equal, excited harmony.

And I truly believe games like UD are only the beginning of a definition to what American LARPing will form into. It's hard for me to not be excited. I feel like we're on the edge of a real LARP revolution, and damned if I'm going to take a back seat for it. Now is the time to test your boundaries, try new games, and experiment with what your ideals and identities are as a LARPer because there is a bright future of American LARPing headed our way.