Last week, we kind of trashed an entire style of role-play.
Actually, what we did was challenge designers. To be clear: if catharsis is your idea of fun, rock on. Your style of play is valid, and to be transparent… we love it too, particularly as participants. But to designers, there’s more to larp than tears. It’s all about making sure your participants have “fun.”
The “types” of fun (as summarized here by Ericka Skirpan) mislead designers, and in larp design, place an emphasis on tragedy and catharsis. Any emphasis on tragedy at all suggests a binary, with comedy on one side and tragedy on the other (see also: Aristotle). But fuck Aristotle, and his theatrical binary.
Fun is something you enjoy, and there are many ways to get there. Further, they’re not exclusive: an individual can have many different types of fun in a larp, often at the same time. Fun - as defined as a positive experience a participant enjoyed - has many forms, and identifying a few can help us understand our designs. So here’s an incomplete list of types of fun:
Type C: Fun as Community - Honestly? Sometimes we just go to a larp to see our friends.
Type E: Fun as Engagement - We almost called this “fun as genre” but there’s a lot of other ways to do it. This is the fun that comes from cosplay, or immersion, or anything that engages with a particular aesthetic. This might be the most common type of fun in larp: think of all the wizard larps, or the Disney Star Wars experiences. People take pleasure from engaging with that world; people probably don’t cry much at Galaxy’s Edge, but love it just the same.
Type F: Fun as Fear - When we talk about Type 2 fun, we usually talk about the cathartic, but give the horror genre its due. Instilling fear in an imaginary situation is hard, but the relief it offers afterward can be just as rewarding.
Type G: Fun as Growth - Did you learn something in a larp? Did you explore something new about yourself? Explore the world? You don’t have to have a heavy emotional experience for such a thing. Betsy Isaacson’s Escape From Marseilles was larp about helping people escape the Nazis, which we ran a dozen times, including in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum… and no one ever cried. But people enjoyed it, because they could access and learn about what happened through the larp.
Type L: Fun as Laughter - Comedy is the other half of tragedy, and considered much harder: telling a joke is actually a difficult thing. However, there’s an element of the ridiculous in almost every larp, and the ability to harness the inherent humor in larp leads to this kind of fun.
Type P: Fun as Play - We play games in larp! Almost every larp I’ve ever played had some sort of game system. Beyond that, there’s the ability to just go to a larp as recreation, and enjoy your time there. There’s something to be said for a larp as toy… something that’s fun to play with.
Type S: Fun as Stimulation - Sex and violence - these are two things that can get your body responding in a realistic way. While sexy larps are relatively rare in the United States, arguably, this is the appeal of combat sport larps: there’s a rush to being “in combat.” There’s a tremendous design space here beyond these two, however. Larping during any stimulating activity can provoke this type of fun (anyone else ever do a foot race or an obstacle course in character?)
Type T: Fun as Tears - The tears aren’t the fun part… it’s the fact you cried. That heightened emotion brings a relief when it’s over, and is often referred to as Type 2 fun.
So, let’s apply a little theory. Some of these types - definitely Fear & Tears, but also maybe Growth and Stimulation, can be Type 2. Most of these are Type 1. But there’s much more detail to the Type 1 styles of fun in this list than there is in the Type 2. So why should there be a focus on horror and tragedy?
But the most important thing about this list? It’s incomplete. We don’t know all the ways larp can work and our philosophy is “have a goal.” How do you want the participants at the end of the larp? Crying and purged of negative emotions? Retelling the funny moments? Talking about what they learned? That’s what these types of fun are: design goals, places you want to take your players. So pick one, or make your own, and go for it.