Which Games are LARP?

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I’ve been learning more about Nordic LARP over the last year and over all it’s been very informative. One thing that’s irritated me is the insistence that a big swath of Nordic games are not LARP and that people on this side of the pond shouldn’t call them LARP.

I should preface this by saying I’m not trying to prescribe what the Nordic community should call their own games. That’s none of my business. What’s bothering me is when people take part in the Nordic LARPing scene, come to another community, and get upset that community doesn’t use words and concepts the same way. Words are not absolute. They only have meaning as far as that meaning is agreed upon by the community using them. While it’s good to know how the Nordic community is using them, that doesn’t define how everyone else uses them, nor should it.

In the community I take part in (the greater Chicago LARP community, which crosses over a lot with the Boston community) LARP means pretty much anything where you’re roleplaying a character and physically acting out your character’s actions. That’s not the same definition the Nordic community uses and it classifies some of their games differently than they do. While we should know and be sensitive to their definition while talking about their games, I don’t think we have an obligation to change our definition. In our community those games are LARP; how we see them is unlikely to change because we have a different view of what LARP means. It’s not productive or respectful to tell us that we need to change our definition to match that of another community.

The corollary to that is authors don’t get full control over how people classify and interpret their games. That’s just as true for things I write as it is for things written by the Nordic community. There are real cultural differences here that cause us to see games through different eyes. We should try to understand our differences so we can communicate effectively, but assimilation isn’t the “solution” to their existence.

4 thoughts on “Which Games are LARP?

  1. Aaron

    I agree with you. I think the question isn’t really “Which games are LARPs?” but rather “Which LARPs are games?” Does the LARP have any sort of resource management or decisions to be made that affect the outcome? If not, it’s probably not a game, but that doesn’t stop it from being a LARP.

    There is a similar question in the Game Design class: Which games are actually games? The lesson defines six attributes that all games share, and if an activity is lacking in one or more of those categories, it’s not a game per se. Candy Land, for example, isn’t a game, because while it has some attributes of a game, it lacks any kind of resource management or decision making. It’s still play, just not a game.

    1. Eva Schiffer Post author

      Sadly I’m going to have to disagree with you. I understand how you’re using the word game, but that’s not what that word means in US LARPing. From an academic point of view if you need to define the word that way to make certain arguments or have certain kind of discussions I don’t have a problem with it, but I don’t think you can fiat tell people they’re using the word wrong in their community. :/

    2. Alan

      There is value from a game design theory standpoint to identifying what does and does not fall into its purview, and thus to what extent a given activity can potentially benefit from game design theory. (Of course, you’ll also need to establish where the boundaries of Game/Not Game are; a challenge worthy of several doctorates by itself.)

      But, there is a social danger to attempting to push one community’s definitions upon another. If LARPers generally define LARPs as games, telling them that some are and some aren’t isn’t going to be productive. Instead be perceived as an interloper (since you don’t speak like a member of the community) and instead of moving on to productive discussions you’ll spend your time arguing about definitions. And it’s not an argument anyone can win, since no one’s definition is wrong, they’re just different. For example, the Forge wasn’t even actively trying to push their definitions, but nonetheless well over a decade later people still argue over their definitions and much bitterness toward them remains.

  2. Alan

    I’m reminded of True Dungeons perverse insistence that they are not a LARP. They’re just a “d20 variant” (which is to say, a role-playing game) in which you engage in live action, doing what your character does, interacting with objects like your character would, or talking with NPCs as your character would. Oh, and “instead” of doing the sorts of things you do in LARPs, it “focuses on problem solving, teamwork and tactics while providing exciting sets and interactive props.” Except, of course, those are all things LARPs can and frequently do have. Sorry, it walks like a LARP and quacks like a LARP; a lot of us are going to label it a LARP and whinging about it doesn’t change the fact.


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