Not everyone plays on the same emotional level. Stuff written here is just my take, since both the co-alpha and I like to play on deeper layers – but there’s differences even between the two of us. I really wouldn’t like anyone to get the wrong impression of larping because of something I wrote – I just offer a couple of thoughts for couples that aren’t afraid of participating in emotionally more involving games.
The thing with immersion, bleed and PLD is that everyone can feel it – but with couples, the trouble is that you don’t have just your own emotions to figure out during and after a game, but your partner’s too – both individually and related to each other’s. It is probably different when you play totally separate characters (i. e. not connected ingame in any way), but when you interact ingame, or have characters tightly connected to each other (which also suggests you might spend quite some time together during the game), it’s a different story.
It might be a bit of a radical notion to make, but I really feel like there’s moments during larping when you really have to look at the experiences of the two of you and count them as one – both the good and the very, very… challenging.
PLD can be defined as “post larp depression”, postlarp blues or whatever – and that’s what happens when you come down from the ultimate high of a game. It’s when you try to rip each other’s throat out at the end of the weekend, when you come home – just because you’re both tired and sad that the adrenaline and great company has ended. I’ve written a bit more about PLD in this post – you might want to take a look if you find coming back from larps to everyday life especially hard.
Bleed is what happens when the character’s and the player’s emotions get mixed up – when one influences the other in any way. And yeah, it does go both ways – from the player to the character – making the character do “irrational” things etc., and from the character to the player – when what you experience during a game carries over into your real-life experiences. Connections with characters based on player connections – and vice versa – are sometimes cited as the easiest way to notice bleed – and this incredibly short paragraph is by no means enough to explain all it may be. (Stick around to learn more about it in the months to come – or do what all larpers hungry for knowledge do – google.)
Immersion is actually the most wanted of the three experiences listed here, at least among the people I regularly larp with – and every player seems to define it differently. It one of those things you could write a scroll of paragraphs about – and you still wouldn’t cover all of it. For me, it’s when you feel like you are the character, or you are at the Tradehouse (or wherever the pre-game info said you’d be – and it may not always be as realistic on site as on paper), or that you are, actually, talking to an Argonian – and not a person with a papier mâché lizard head. It doesn’t all have to do with make believe – sometimes it’s just joining in the fun and playing along with the members of your group or a bard or whatever. It’s when you don’t think about the game as a game anymore – but as a new experience. It’s alike to suspension of disbelief when you watch or read something – but in a tangible universe, where your emotions and actions matter, too.
Here’s just a few tips – tip of the iceberg – in hope of helping larping couples along when they’re just starting to figure it out together.
#1 Watch your partner as you would watch yourself – sometimes even closer. Once I’d mistaken basically real tears for ingame tears, and I still can’t be sorry enough.
#2 Never underestimate the power of offgame time – I’ve said it before and I will very likely say it again. Use safewords you’ve agreed upon before a game and regular meta words (break, meta and cut) when necessary, since sometimes you can’t talk straight when involved in an emotional scene. Never forget that your relationship comes first, and never put the excitement before your partner’s or your own well being. Sometimes all it takes to get back from a bad feeling in the middle of a game is to step back and think it through for a second.
#3 What you do at a larp stays at a larp – and make sure not to mistake the actions you or your partner took as a character for actions they may take as a person. When in doubt, ask and do tell. There is nothing wrong with discussing post-game what happened during play, but sometimes your ingame actions are just that – ingame actions. (I sincerely doubt any of my sneaky, assasinating co-players are actually private mercenary contractors in life, you know?) If what you did or felt ingame had its roots in your everyday relationship, there might be a real life problem you have to deal with – but make sure to understand what is an everyday problem, and what is an ingame problem.
#4 Everything = talk – and make sure to evaluate the experience and adjust your playstyle, character relationships and similar stuff if necessary. E.g., the co-alpha and I learned about the mutual need for bigger pre-game transparency levels among the two of us and other things which work better for us after an ugly misunderstanding during a particularly challenging larp. It took us weeks – of talking at different noise levels – but we managed to figure it out in the end. When the same problem occurred again, it took us less time to get back to normal interaction – and we definitely did talk about it.
#5 If you make a mistake, apologize. Then talk some more. And try to remember that ingame emotions sometimes make idiots of us all. People larp for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky, but engaging emotion and higher adrenaline levels definitely count among them. Remember when you’re in a row with your partner and you can’t talk from all the hurt and the anger and the irritation (and tears)? Try adding the hurt and the anger and the excitement (and tears) from an ongoing game to the formula and tell me what you’ve got. Step back, relax, reevaluate your own and your partner’s emotions, try to calm down, hug, and talk. You’re people first, characters later – it just might take some moments (or even longer) to remember that.
Photo by Martina Šestić (Izgon/Exile, Croatia, April 2013)