Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Your Inner Gamer

Dan over at Nerology made a good post about the different types of gamers. I think it's important that people understand this concept. Sure, there is some benefit in knowing this when running a LARP, but there's a lot of benefit in identifying what kind of gamer you are.

If it's not obvious from reading the blog, I would consider myself a Gamist (challenge based) first and foremost, with equal parts narrativist (role playing) and social. I recognize the benefitis of simulationist (immersion) gaming, but I've never been able to play a game that I actually feel immersed in. Invested yes, immersed no.

Maybe it's just my viewpoint, but I really do believe that simulationist gaming is probably the most difficult to run. There are literally millions of things that can happen that will immediately snap players back to reality - Stoppage of play, questions about an effect, OOG chatter, sloughing/cheating, OOG movement, etc. I am of the belief that to run an experience like that, you need a lot more planning up front and usually more bodies/props/effects to get the same points across when going for simulations, and these things can be a difficult for a game staff to pull off.

Anyways, the point is that I know the kind of game that I like to play and the kind of game that I'm good at. But knowing this gives me two options when approached with a simulationist experience.

- Step outside my comfort zone
- Let someone else take my spot

I know that everyone plays a different game, and that's fine. I'm of the thought that there is no wrong way to play the game (aside from cheating). If you come to a game for a merchant experience, that's cool for you. If you want to roleplay and tell stories all day and night, that doesn't bother me at all. If you come to a game just to hit people with foam, rock on stick jock.

But by identifying your strengths/weaknesses and likes/dislikes, you're better able to identify situations where your gaming style might be at odds with those of other players. All gaming styles are fine, until they start to affect other people's ability to enjoy their game. So if you find yourself in a game style you're unfamiliar with, you may have to work harder to keep up with those around you. After all, succeeding outside your comfort zone can be very fulfilling.

So what kind of LARPer are you?


  1. Posted on behalf of Jyn who is having some technical issues with the site. Posted in two parts as it is too long for the comments section:

    I beg forgiveness in advance for the incoming text wall.

    I'm so glad this topic has been cropping up on the LARP blogs lately- it's useful stuff!
    I really like your suggestions about knowing your preferred agenda, and how to respond when faced with something that isn't normally your cup of tea. One of the great advantages of LARPs is that they are often large enough for you to ditch an encounter that doesn't suit your tastes. The best LARPs (IMO) have lots of different stuff going on, so that you can always find something that matches your play style and interests.

    Personally, my leanings are Sim/Nar, but I enjoy a good challenge once in a while :)

    I'm going to go out on a limb and disagree with you about which creative agenda is the most difficult to cater to in LARP, with the caveat that there's certainly a difference between "objectively difficult" and "difficult given the players you have and their expectations."

    Here's my take:

    Gamism- (meet the challenge)
    I think we can agree that this is pretty easy at a basic level, though you can certainly spend a lot of effort creating elaborate challenges. Assassin games are basically a super-simple gamist LARP. Gamists can be easy to please, but when their interests come into conflict with Sim and Nar agendas, you start hearing accusations of 'powergamer.' Both "that fight was unwinnable" and "PCs always win, it's not a real challenge" are common gamist critiques.

    Simulationism- (see what it's like)
    Here's where it starts to get murky. In Dan's blog, he equated simulationism with immersion. Mickey pointed out in the comments that immersion-breaking rules to allow more 'realistic' outcomes can also come from a desire for simulationism. What gives?
    Simulationism is about seeing what it's like to be the character, in the game world. Not trying to tell an epic story per se, not trying to win, just experience and exploration. When little kids play house, they're LARPing Sim-style. So that's pretty easy, right?
    But! When what you want characters to experience and explore is really different from the real world (as in a fantasy setting), then certainly supporting Simulationism can get very energy-intensive, which I think is the sort of thing you're referring to.
    Simulationism is also viewed by some as being the 'weakest' creative agenda, in the sense that players with a strong Nar or Gam agenda can easily subvert Sim play. To the gamist or narrativist, Simulationism might look like "not really doing anything." So running a Sim game might not be inherently hard, but if you have players with conflicting agendas, it might not be enough to keep them interested.
    However! I think that a LOT of what we do at LARPs is motivated by a Sim agenda. Trying to use props and limit OOC chatter to make the atmosphere feel as real as possible? That's Sim (though it can be there to support Nar tension, as well). Trying to have the game world function on internal logic? That's Sim. Valuing character/world consistency over drama? That's Sim all over. All of that "I'm just along for the ride," participationist stuff? That's Sim, too.
    I think it's the hardest agenda to see sometimes, because it's everywhere in some LARPs.

  2. Narrativism- (tell the story)
    This is the one I think is really hard to do well, especially in big boffer LARPs. Narrativism is about creating a coherent story that is about the PCs, in which the players get to make meaningful thematic choices that impact the direction of the story. So it's role play, but it's not just any role play.
    The best way I've seen this done from the staff side of things is to create specific opportunities for PCs to make meaningful choices that touch on character motivations and the theme of the storyline. Ideally, embedding thematic questions in plots encourages PCs to address those questions in their roleplay with each other as well. Nar play tends to emphasize moments of drama and tension that lead to character development, where Sim play is more about staying true to a preconceived concept.
    But the big stumbling block to successful Nar play is the sheer number of players in a lot of LARPs. With 100 PCs on site, how can each of them feel like a protagonist, with meaningful choices to make? You can easily end up with a situation where a handful of the PCs get to make all the meaningful choices that affect the story, and everyone else is just an 'extra.' You can try to engineer events so that everyone gets their time in the spotlight, and important choices to make at various times, but it takes a LOT of work to pull off.
    What if you have an awesome story, where the PCs are the main characters, but they don't have meaningful decisions to make (or their decisions just don't matter)? That's a kind of Simulationism called Illusionism. If players are cool with it, it can be fun. If they aren't, and they figure out what you're doing, it's called railroading :P


  3. Personally, I find Simulationism to be the least important to my personal enjoyment of a Larp event, mostly because it is so incredibly hard to pull off that I've utterly given up all hope of ever experiencing it. There are extremely rare, isolated moments when the game "feels real," but generally everything from the plain-color-tabard-monsters to the Gatorade bottles rips me out of the game world. As long as the Gamist aspects are both challenging and fair and there's some modicum of a consistent story, I consider it a good event.

    I think a big failing of most Simulationist-focused games are that they simply aim way too high. The best examples of this I can think of are the "city" events that several Nero chapters have attempted over the last few years. You can't fake a city - you just can't. Can't be done. A single cafeteria hall and two bunk houses are not, will never and can never be a medieval-fantasy city. If you work REALLY hard, you might be able to pull off a secluded woodland village, but that would require a cast of dedicated "villager" roles that are persistent and more-or-less constantly visible. The set pieces are a challenge as well, but recruiting and maintaining that persistent cast is probably the toughest part. If you put as much effort into your set pieces and villagers as an entire Renn Faire, then you might be able to pull off a town roughly the size of Bree, but you will never, ever be able to pull off Minas Tirith/Gondor (or even Edoras/Rohan.)

    The same thing goes for effects like invisibility and flight. Generally, the only aspect that you can satisfy with these effects is Narration. The rules mechanics that Gamists thrive on just never work out satisfactorily for these effects because they will always feel clunky and awkward. I suppose it's possible to sell these effects with larp game mechanics, but I personally have never seen it done. Obviously these effects are a no-no from a Simulationist perspective as well, unless you have some kind of awesome wire rig for flying. Having an NPC or Marshal/Referee tell you, "You see a gryphon soaring high in the sky," is just as disappointing/infuriating to a Simulationist as hearing, "You see the vaulted spires of a bustling, fantastical city before you," when all you're looking at is a shack with "Welcome to Camp Anawana" written on it.

    So what do you do if you want the narrative aspect of your event to incorporate flying monsters or a giant city? You figure out clever ways to write AROUND these obstacles, rather than just writing THROUGH them and expecting the players to accept it all through suspension of disbelief.

    For a long time at Nero Argo, I ran events based on the largest trade center in the area, the city of Stormsport. Continuing the tradition set down by the plot teams who ran there before me, I established that there is indeed a giant port city just up over the next hill, but it is so important to the welfare of the duchy that all adventurers are banned from the city limits during their always-dangerous gatherings. Even nobles, including the Lord of the city itself, were barred from entering the city during gatherings unless they arranged for an official escort with the Captain of the Guard. The event itself mostly took place in the "Adventurers' Quarter," which in-game was essentially the caravan parking lot with a few buildings thrown up to house travelers (the 'Burbs/sprawl outside the walls.) This allowed us to run encounters with a limited and focused scope that spotlighted one small district of the city at a time. Excursions into "Stormsport Proper" were noteworthy events and players were always excited to get to see another corner of the city, but they understood that the part of the setting that the PCs occupied 99% of the time was NOT that. From a narrative perspective, the story took place just outside of Stormsport, but I never had to build or even narrate the entire city all at once.

  4. These are interesting points that bring up another point on this topic - region and upbringing.

    I know both Jyn and Mickey have talked for a long time about the importance of limiting OOG mechanics, as they rip you out of immersion. These techniques are common to them and the games they play.

    And I'll be honest - I never really even thought about how much OOG immersion breaking goes on at games until talking with Mickey and reading Dan's blog. That's mostly due to where I cut my LARP teeth.

    Here in the midwest, the mentality is different. Most chapters around here are focused on NAR games and would much rather have an OOG marshal following the group, giving people bits for various craftsman skills and trying to make them feel special. There simply is little to no care for people to hide OOG effects, especially if hiding them gets in the way of the story.

    And it's a vicious cycle. The players who come to the game either embrace the NAR style game, or leave for greener pastures. Those who stay get promoted to run games, pushing the style that they grew up on.

  5. Sim focused games are an oddity here in the USA. We like our games very crunchy. This is not the case in the German and Nordic LARP tradition. Maybe it's because those guys grew up with castles and fairy-tale forests in their backyards, and it's not uncommon to own some historical garb. In Nordic circles you sometimes hear that if you didn't make your own shoes, you're not really in-character. The pinnacle of these games may be Dragonsbane: http://www.dragonbane.org/en/ - which sounds really cool, and they have a ton of cool ideas, but I don't think American gamers are into this style of game.

    The drive for simulation doesn't necessarily have to involve creating a visually realistic world - you just have to do your best. For a lot of American sim players, it's enough if the world works like a world should. Like, if I gain influence with the barbarian tribe, and the relevant staff member quits, I should still have that resource even if there's a new NPC to talk to. If I'm a noble who commands an army of well trained soldiers, and our city is surrounded by thousands of goblins which the adventurers have to fend off, I want at least a hand wave and a few bits of explanation as to why my soldiers can't help. It doesn't need to be a GOOD explanation, but I don't want to be given an entirely OOG rationale which I cannot explain in-game.

    The post talks about how to deal with being approached by a sim experience if you're not a sim gamer. I want to note that one of the dangers of the threefold model is that it makes people think that these elements are distinct. A good game blends all three types of experience to create a rich environment which can be enjoyed no matter your agenda. It's rare that somebody runs a scene for purely immersive reasons, they're always almost tied to a game or narrative agenda.

    The ultimate sim breaking experience happened for me at a LARP in New Jersey a few years back. Our party had found a magic wand necessary to cast a certain ritual at the next event. We were having an interesting in-game discussion about who take carry this wand and hold onto it between events. The marshal, in white head band, said "eh it doesn't really matter who holds it, so I'll just take it so it doesn't get lost." WTF dude!

  6. FWIW, I spent the first 7 years of my larping career playing in the Southeast, which is pretty different in a lot of ways. Heck, even in the Northeast, there are people you can't sell on immersion, who couldn't conceive of running a game without OOG narration.

    Various regions, and even games in a region have vastly different ideas about how much OOG-ness is acceptable or desired. And while I've come to prefer less, I don't think LARPs with more OOG content are inherently bad. Like you said, there's no inherently wrong way to play. They strike me personally as more tabletop-y, but they can still be valuable and enjoyable.

    Totally right about the vicious cycle, though. Most LARPers seem to only play one or two games, and have almost no idea that things could maybe be done differently.

    One other point that I wanted to make in my textwall, but don't know if I did:
    I think that it's sometimes helpful to separate techniques from creative agenda in looking at this stuff. In my mind, all the immersionist no-OOG stuff is a technique, as is narration, or boffer combat, or whatever. It can be tempting to think simulationism=immersion, narrativism=narration, gamism=combat, but any of these techniques can support any of the 3 (or 4) agendas. Agenda is the reason why you do things, but it doesn't (necessarily) dictate how.

  7. Oh, that's me above, forgot to sign it :x


  8. It seems to me that Simulationism is not only the approach most easily subverted, it's also the one that varies most between LARPing cultures. I've often found that what game X regards as immersive wrecks my IG-ness, and the things about game Y that keep me in-character are disruptive to people who play at X. To me, SIM is the most fickle of the three.

    While it's not necessarily easy to achieve, I think that immersion is much easier when a game and its players set out specifically with that in mind. The Accelerant games I've experienced have been fantastic in this regard. Most NERO, though, isn't focused on this aspect of the game, and attempts to increase immersiveness often fail due to the lack of systemic support for it. Soda cans may hurt immersiveness, but it's not the lack of soda cans that creates it - it's the culture of meaningful character interaction, the conflicts that are more than just context for mods, and the sensitivity of the staff and NPCs to the players' experiences that creates immersion.

    Of course, in my dream LARP the PCs would only fight PC-race or PC-race-shaped things, like zombies.

  9. "Of course, in my dream LARP the PCs would only fight PC-race or PC-race-shaped things, like zombies. "

    Just as a note on this, I agree wholeheartedly. People look like people. They do not look like deer, wolverines, or any other animal, for example. They do not look like 12 foot tall giants. They do not look like beholders. When you step out of the human sized and shaped realm of monsters you have to either a) reimagine them or b) do heavy prop/costume work. But tellng me I'm being attacked by a swarm of bees represented by a guy in glasses, sweats, and yellow tabard is not going to cut it for immersive play.

  10. Noah said- "You figure out clever ways to write AROUND these obstacles, rather than just writing THROUGH them"

    If there were a handbook for how to write for LARP, this should be on the cover, right underneath 'DON'T PANIC.' I think this is one of the hardest things for staffers to overcomes, *especially* ones who are used to running tabletop RPGs.

    Dan said- "I want to note that one of the dangers of the threefold model is that it makes people think that these elements are distinct. "

    This is a good point, and particularly true for LARP. Even for tabletop games, which are what this model was made to describe, a GNS category isn't supposed to describe everything that happens in the game. Specifically, it's supposed to help prevent conflict at the table by deciding that "when these agendas come into conflict, X agenda has priority." It doesn't mean that you pick Gamism and systematically weed about anything that might suggest a realistic world or a cohesive story.
    And it's been suggested that it's a bit silly, if not impossible, to try to make a whole 100-person LARP follow a single agenda. So for us, it's most useful to look at them as: A) Ways to make LARP encounters fun in multiple dimensions (like Dan outlines), or B) Ways to examine and deal with conflicting agendas when they do crop up.

    Tom said- "While it's not necessarily easy to achieve, I think that immersion is much easier when a game and its players set out specifically with that in mind. "

    I think this is basically B in action. It's the writer/staff saying "No Gam or Nar goal is to valuable as to be worth disrupting people's Sim, which comes in the form of immersion." So people can pursue Gamist and Narrativist goals to their heart's content, but what they can't do is break character in the middle of an encounter to argue a fairness/rules point or a story point. They have to address those concerns in PELs or conversations outside of the game space. Different games could set different priorities, and ultimately, things go a bit more smoothly when everyone is on the same page about what the priority is.

  11. Having finally read the blog thing:

    I place myself in the Narrativism category.

    Although I'm pretty sure I'm offended by the comment "you can plug them into just about anything."