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What Is Immersive Larp?

Where does immersive theater meet larp?

Photo by Jesse Stuart. Pictured: the cast of Scapegoat

Last week, we talked about the Holy Grail of Larp Design. This isn’t a completely fair statement - there are many different styles of larp, and each design has their own unique goals. But the goal of a larp where someone could walk in and begin play - no sheets, no lecture - has very practical roots for us, as we consider ourselves an immersive theater company as well as a larp company. To reconcile this, we’ve come up with a particular design constraint we call “buy the ticket, take the ride” (BTTR).

What BTTR means is that someone should be able to walk up to a larp with this constraint and begin playing, without having to take actions that aren’t participatory. In 2019, Lara Marcin worked with us to create an example of such a larp with The Mortality Magician, a half-hour larp designed to be run at trade shows where the participants step off the convention floor and start larping immediately. Call Your Mother is a text-base larp which gives you all of the character background during play. BTTR is a hard standard, and most of our larps only partially meet the criteria (in particular, it’s really hard to have a weekend long, complex event such as Project Ascension without some sort of risk management training).

However, the intent behind BTTR is probably more important than the criteria itself. It’s really about taking all the elements of design and placing them in the context of the larp itself (people like to use the word “diegetic” for this). When we say “immersive” in this sense, it’s not really the same as having high production values or a 360-degree illusion. BTTR is immersive because it strives to place all elements of the experience in-role. If you need to learn a risk management technique, you practice it in-role. World-building… even character building… occurs through play. It’s still larp, but it’s the presentation of all elements as theatrical (as opposed to instructional) that makes it immersive.

(Note that most traditional theater plays don’t meet this mark… they still tell you to silence your cellphones before the curtain goes up).

There’s not really an accepted term for this, although a number of designers (particularly in areas heavily influenced by theater scenes, such as New York, Los Angeles and London) all seem to be working towards similar goals. Since having a term for it can help, we propose we call it “Immersive Larp.” It’s an intersection of immersive theater and larp, focused on minimizing the out-of-role experience as much as possible. And while we have no idea if the term will catch on, it definitely describes our work here at Sinking Ship Creations.

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