Remember the Star Wars larp I went to last weekend? As it turns out, I was right to have my doubts – but for totally different reasons. The thing is – people are passionate beings (hurray!). And familiar settings are a thing of passion. Which, in the end, means the same for fandoms as for any larp – the experience is highly individual. Here’s just a couple of lessons I took out of it, both as a player and a GM – and a general lover of geek culture.
Note: I claim no connection or ownership on anything you recognise – nor did the organizers of the larp. For fun and fangirling purposes only!
#1 Settings attract people
Sure, it was a given – but with fandoms as huge as the Star Wars one, it’s even more so. The players’ age ranged from cca 13 to mid forties, and their attention to detail – both in terms of costuming and fandom tropes – varied. Though I didn’t talk to everyone to see how how passionate – if at all – they felt about the setting before the game, I can only assume the answers would be different, the same as their reasons for joining the event.
Since it is, you know, Star Wars – it was really fun to see a father and son Jawa-mercenary team play together. At least I think the father was a merc. The Jawa was quite obvious – and no, it’s not just the height.
#2 Everyone’s got their own reason to be a part of a fandom
This is, actually, a huge bonus – one I was slow to see at first. When you have a really expansive setting, there’s no way to tell why the person sitting right next to you likes it. For some, it’s a way to continue participating in something that is (or used to be) relevant in their lives. For some, it’s the epic lightsaber battles. For some, it’s the incredible artistry and crafstmanship of Trisha Biggar and Ian McCaig (guilty as charged – although it’s just a tiny part of the “why” between Star Wars and I). For some, it’s the freedom and bad boy (and bad karma…) vibe of the Fett family. For some, it’s imperial destroyers specs. I mean… literally, it can be anything. You can’t really grasp how big a setting is until you see what different personalities take away from it – and not everything revolves around numbers (of movies, tie-in books, merchandise stats etc.).
#3 Costuming is relative. I mean it – relative.
And some people just understand costumes for a setting. The simplest outfits sported on the event were just a couple of things thrown together in a sci-fi manner (or an attempt of it), and the most elaborate ones were retired opera costumes (real opera, not the space one) – not at all uncommon nowadays in Croatian genre larp.
Still, when it comes to the “Star Warsy” feel, things that worked best – at least to my costuming eye – were oriental inspired multi layer costumes (one of them worn by one of the GMs), giant hoods (one of the many overlaps between space opera and fantasy) and great – although sometimes minimal – setting-inspired facepaint. Lots of the costumes were adapted from pieces the players had laying around at home – or they looked the like – but it did work, at least at a surface level. On the other hand, a friend sported an awesome, albeit simple hairdo as a Senator – only to reveal later that it was a part of her runway styling for a show she participated in before the game! Gotta love larpers.
#4 Larps need to have a clear ending
I’ve said it before, I’ve heard it said tons of time – even as feedback to the larp my co-alpha and I run, if I’m not mistaken – but I guess it’s never enough. Endings where the GM is like “sure, you can go offgame now, we’re about to wrap it up anyway” make me feel like the larp was an episode of a really confused show (Teen Wolf anyone?). I’m sure there’s people who find it perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, neither the co-alpha nor I count among those. What happened at the end of the meeting? Did a bomb explode? Did the characters go home? Did the bartender stay in the cantina to clean up the mess the freelance bankers left behind? The storyteller in me craves to know…
#5 It sure ain’t easy being a handmaiden + you have to want to think like a politican to play one
Lessons learned, eh? It was really, really funny watching my co-alpha adapt to her handmaiden role – almost the complete opposite to her personality. Sure, she was an “unusual” handmaiden – hey, it’s space opera, everyone’s got their own secrets – but still, why the hell would a handmaiden communicate with her royal’s conversation partners? It was most unpleasant. Still, there’s royals and royals… and it was a big thing, for me, to feel more immersed in the setting. (And it really was fun!)
On the other hand, I was probably the worst politician I’ve ever seen in a larp. Any larp. I just couldn’t get a grip on the character’s mindset. A politics major friend who played a senator (not the one with the runway hairdo, the one in a suit) had the time of his life, by the looks of it. Sometimes it feels we’re invincible – but sometimes we should actually take care as to what character types we find harder to portray as players.
Oh, but the white nail polish worked perfectly, thank you very much.
#6 Familiar settings are tricky.
You never know how deep into a setting’s trivia you can go with a player, and you never know what someone else might accidentally dig up in an ingame conversation to make you feel like a complete ignorant. Nothing of sorts happened to me this time, luckily. But remember the “Alderaan glitch” from the title? Alderaan is a name that has been quite dear to me ever since I was ten and went to see that random movie in the cinema with my mom, the one she had seen in her twenties. It has been years – years spent collecting stickers, making costume replicas and re-watching current favourites from the big six. I still sometimes shed a tear or two at Bail Organa’s We’ve always wanted a baby girl.
So, when a player I was having a wonderful scheming conversation with mentioned ingame that he was from Alderaan, I had to restrain myself from reacting in a way my freakin’ character wouldn’t have reacted in a million years. It instantly kicked me out of any immersion I felt as a player at the moment – and reduced me to a kid fan all over again. (Ever seen a fully facepaint-covered Naboo lady burst into tears like a ten year old? Didn’t think so.)
The conclusion, basically, revolves around this – to me it was hard to play a character in a setting I’m passionate about as a person, harder than accepting others roleplaying in the same universe. It’s a nice contrast – one I didn’t think I would encounter at this larp. In the end it was me who thought of the larp as a sci-fi one, rather than a Star Wars one. It was hard to connect my previous experience with the setting to the way I designed my character. I ended up not playing the character, but not myself either – I have no idea what it was. But it was not nearly as deep as I like to play and not at all as fun as I intended it to be.
The next time I’m set to larp in an already existing setting – the notorious world of The Elder Scrolls – the experience is probably going to be as different as it can possibly be. I’ve never played a second in any of the video games, nor can I define CHIN or whatever the mysterious word in the application form was. Sure, I did prepare – went as far as reading a short, player written tourist guide to Cyrodiil and composing a song called The Lady of Sentinel – but I still have no previous connection – passion, if you like – regarding the setting. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
And for the next time I visit this topic – somewhere around the first day of spring this year, after the Elder Scrolls larp – let’s count how many times I can write the word setting in a post before I get a headache…