I have many, many flaws. I know, it’s shocking. One of my biggest flaws is that I hate failing. There’s probably a dozen different reasons for it that someone with a psych degree would water his mouth at, but at the end of the day it is what it is. Failing makes me angry, makes me feel worthless and scared, and it kickstarts my depression into high gear. Failing, and the fear of it, is what stopped me from doing incredible things when I was younger. It doesn’t stop me any more, and I have LARP to thank for that.
The idea of playing to fail has been viewed with some controversy in the casual discussions I’ve had with LARP peers over the years. I’ve seen it viewed as an invitation for drama, as unrealistic, as an interruption for the natural flow of in-game actions and scenes. But the fact of the matter is, we come to game to explore -- about ourselves, about each other, and about who we want to be. Even an entertainment LARP can provide an experience where it’s safe to fail. Yeah, someone’s character might die, an in-game relationship might change, or you might lose a cool item but none of that affects the real world. You can take the time to learn how to fail and how to succeed in spite of that.
I first learned to fail in unconventional ways. My Alliance character became a squire -- which was a big deal back then. Squires and Knights are almost quasi-NPC roles in Alliance, because you have to disseminate information to other characters, decide what to do and who to do it with, enact punishments and recognize achievements. It was entirely possible that the success of a game would hinge on whether the plot was correctly handled by the Squire/Knight to other characters.
Things go wrong when you’re learning. My first time leading in character, we got cornered in a tremendous battle that I will never forget. It was night and the rain was falling in sheets with thunder echoing in the background. We were losing, and we were losing badly. I decided to call the retreat, but I wasn’t paying enough attention to the front lines to see that someone had fallen behind enemy lines and was dying. That character permanently died that night -- which is a big deal, and pretty rare in Alliance -- and it was entirely on my shoulders.
I wrote in game letters, apologized to my citizens, my night, and the plot team for fucking up so badly. I was scared and angry and felt awful with myself for blowing my first big chance at being given the opportunity to do something incredible.
Everyone was totally okay. It’s just a game, they reminded me, and they were right.
Over the years of playing that character, I got better. I learned how to judge situations and how to make decisions -- even in giant, terrible battles -- but I never stopped failing. Sometimes I would make a wrong decision, but the more it happened, the better I understood what to do in the face of failure. I knew how to take that failure, learn from it, and even maybe turn it into a success. By the time I was graduating college and working in the real world, it was something I could apply easily to my job too. Yes, there are things I would fail at and I would still get upset and angry, but now that anger -- that failure -- was just another tool.
Playing to fail is okay. Failing is okay. It will absolutely happen to you, in game and out of game, and this is an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and how to handle it when it occurs in the real world. LARP is a chance to explore ourselves -- the good parts, and the bad parts -- and we can use those experiences to craft better versions of ourselves in the real world too. If you do fail at game, don’t let it get the better of you; no one will think less of you for a spectacular failure. Hell, some of the best times I’ve ever had LARPing were spectacular failures because they are the moments that stick with you and change you.
Remember: a hero can’t become a hero without the moment where things go wrong and they rise above.