I’m going to skip a lot over the basics of what Larping is, perhaps I’ll return to that in a later post. If you’re confused at what a larp is check out the wiki. Right now I want to focus on one important question that is subtly but noticeably changing the methods through which modern larp games are created, played, and viewed. How do we verify the results of a game interaction?
game – ɡām/ – noun
- 1.a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.
The important thing related to this question is the definition of a “game”. Note that it says “according to the rules”. That’s exactly what we’re thinking about when we ask the above question. Typically the people playing the game would employ a referee. However as anyone who’s been to a sports game, doesn’t always work out and the rulings can be questionable. For a long time, the referee’s word was the final say in the matter, only occasionally being altered by a small committee of other referees. That was, until instant replay. Suddenly the public and the officials could see immediately a replay of the live-action event that just occurred and get a better idea of what actually happened. We’re talking about larp games though, right? Larping isn’t a sport. Isn’t it?
Well, no. At least, not yet. The main difference between sports games and larp games is the method of verification and the skill used in the competition (if there is any). Sports that are very popular today often are sports that have clear methods of verification. Baseball was and still is immensely popular, requires a high degree of personal skill per player, and had very distinct tactics that relied on a team of highly skilled people. It truly is a very unique and difficult game mastered only by a select few atheletes. Why then, has it been less popular than American Football for the last 30 years? Technology. Baseball is easily verifiable by humans. It does not require very precise measurements, save for the strike zone. The period in which baseball was very popular in American history didn’t have all the distractions we have today. Many people refer to it as boring or even as being a bit silly.
The truth is, football was very difficult to officiate when baseball was popular. Without the advanced techniques and technology available today, football probably wouldn’t be as popular as it is. Everyone loves a “fair game”, but what is a fair game really? How do we make sure that the players are not only playing by the rules, but that the rules are enforced and identified when they are broken? Well, usually we try not to let that get in the way and just have a “good game”. This is especially in role-playing games where the objective isn’t necessarily to win, but rather tell a story. Can larp games tell a story and also be considered a sport? Maybe, but not until the individual methods of verification are taken care of. The main difference between early larp games and modern larp games is the rule systems. Some larps aren’t even games and focus solely on playing a specified role in a specified manner such as reenactments. Let’s focus specifically on larp games and why they differ from sports.
Generally, larp games aren’t spectated. The point of a larp game is to feel immersed in a world where you can determine the outcome of your own fate and interact with other players. The concept of there being an audience doesn’t really make much sense. Until you add technology. Perhaps in the future there could be ways to see through the eyes of players of a larp and follow along with their story. Video concepts, story arcs, and competition among spectators could make watching larp something that could eventually be interesting. Football was mostly an un-watched event until the invention of the television, which made it immensely more popular. That’s not to say football wasn’t watched or that people didn’t spectate in large crowds before television, but the sheer statistic that more people were able to watch the sport, made it many times more accessible to the average person. Larping may be the same way with newly developing technologies like people actively walking around and pointing their cameras at things. In 100 years we could be sitting at home crossing our fingers hoping our favorite larp character makes it to his goal.
Larp games generally have hard to verify, or easy to circumvent rules. Any larp designer out there can tell you about the endless headaches that arise from unclear, inconsistent, or hard-to-verify rules. Usually it is left up to a ruling on the field, much like early sports. This is starting to change however. Augmented reality displays and mechanics allow players to interact with one another via a digitally verified record. The main problem with integrating this into larp, especially medieval and fantasy larps, is that the technology is digital in nature which detracts from the “live-action” portion of larp games. Recently a scientific journal called Advanced Functional Materials has published a paper called “Double-Twisted Conductive Smart Threads Comprising a Homogeneously and a Gradient-Coated Thread for Multidimensional Flexible Pressure-Sensing Devices” which seems way more complicated than it is. Utilizing special materials like these in the future, we could make a “sword strike” against a person wearing this material and be able to record it digitally, without having to use video-based verification methods. Sidelines could be coated in the substance to automatically notify officials that a player has gone out of bounds. The applications for this material are numerous.
Larp games don’t act well as a medium for advertising and profit. If you want your game to be solely based upon player interaction and experience, then you can’t charge for additional character power in-game. Most people who larp are more interested in playing the game and the few spectators and participants seals its fate as an advertising medium. Profit for sports generally result from sponsorship and advertising revenue, and if larp games are ever to be considered a “sport”, then it’ll need to be an entertaining experience for spectators and players that other businesses can capitalize on. The total amount of profit from any larp game today is usually directly from the player base. This demographic is too small for a major sporting industry to arise similar to the NFL or MLB. Larp games certainly are a big industry, but only when you take into account the supply side. Larp runners usually spend their money on playing the game, and making sure the game gets played. The demand for larp games has given larp creators a motive for profit, but the community as a whole has yet to really develop a method for profit.
There is a lot of promise out there for larp games. Their creators and players represent a generation of screenagers who grew up knowing that entertainment wasn’t something you watched it was something you did. That doesn’t mean that watching will go away. We all love to be whisked away after a hard day’s work relaxing in front of the old light-box every now and again. Media giants are feeling the pressure to allow more viewer and user interaction as people begin to compete with alternative media sources. That’s why we see what the latest presidential candidate tweeted, or viewer responses featured so prominently in our media today.
Larp games and larping seem to be around to stay, as they are much more engaging than traditional types of games and offer unique benefits to people of different skillsets. A player’s style will influence every aspect of their experience. A single larp game produces a unique experience and perception different to every player and playstyle. This combined with the technology making it ever easier to administrate and officiate these games makes the future of larp something that could be very, very mainstream much sooner than we might expect. The innovative leap in technology that benefited football could mirror the future of current technology. Better cameras, hit detection clothing, ar displays, advertising and new technologies could make larp games mainstream, and may even be considered a new type of sport.