Badass Larp Talk #1: Playing to Fail
Play to fail.
Gamers are a wonderful group of people, but there’s no denying that there is a strong core of competitiveness in what our hobby as well. These are *games*, after all, not pancake socials, and even though we all know that there aren’t “winners” in larp in any traditional sense, some play habits die hard. There’s a real temptation to look at larp like tabletop or console RPGs, where min-maxing your skills and equipment is essential to playing the game and where players are encouraged to work their hardest to avoid weaknesses and failures whenever possible. And to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with playing a character who’s awesome at something, or many things. You want to be a badass gunfighter? Go for it! World’s greatest doctor? Amazing, we could use someone like you. Political mastermind? Dive right in, there’s always plenty to do.
Just don’t forget to build in weaknesses too.
Would you want to read a book or watch a movie about a character who was awesome at everything they did, who never made any mistakes, who never lost at anything, who never once found themselves at a loss – for words, for bullets, for love? No, you wouldn’t, and you know why? Because that character is BORING. No losses, no failures and no mistakes makes for one dull protagonist, and in larp, guess what – that’s you. So what do you do to avoid falling prey to the dreaded Mary/Gary Sue problem? You build weaknesses into your character, pressure points that the staff and the other players and occasionally even you yourself can use to knock your character on their ass and force them to deal with things they can’t handle so well. And then you play them no matter where they take you, even if – especially if! – that means they’re going to land your character in serious trouble at times. Make them NEED, and find out just how far they’ll go to get it.
What can you do to encourage this sort of character? Build characters who hate things. Or love them, no matter what. Make your character afraid of something, or utterly unafraid of something that should terrify them. Give them a history, not just full of enemies out to get them, but of loved ones that the world might take away at any moment. (Enemies are easy to figure; family’s damn near impossible.) Give them money troubles, addictions, obsessions, self-deceptions. Give them codes of honor, noble promises, lofty ideals and pure intentions. (Pound for pound, few things screw up your life worse than pure intentions.) Put them in charge of a group or a project that you *know* will end up breaking their heart, or at the bottom of a ladder that will take an awful lot of blood to climb. Give them a dream they’ll do anything to realize, even if it means sacrificing everything they have now to do it.
I’m not saying that your character should suck at everything, or that they must make suicidally foolish decisions just because, or that they must be some sort of whining emo mess in order to be “real.” It’s a balance – too few problems and a character is dull, too many and they quickly become an unplayable caricature. So don’t be afraid of being good at things, or making the right decision when called for. That’s part of characters too. I’m also not saying that you should deliberately screw up your character’s life on a regular basis – well, OK, I kind of am, really. Staff will do their level best to make your life difficult and complicated, but just as it’s difficult for them to scare you if you the player refuse to feel fear, it’s difficult to really challenge your character if you the player refuse to embrace the idea that not only can you fail from time to time, but that failure can actually be a much better story than success.
If you don’t believe me, well, let me pose a scenario for all you Bond movie fans. (Well, it works for all kinds of different movies, but I like Bond and so we’ll go with that.) You know how the villain always gets one over on Bond and the rest of the good guys in the early stages of the film – captures him, kills someone vital, gets away clean to continue their nefarious schemes? Now imagine what the story would be like if Bond just captured them right off and defeated their scheme, with no problems and no complications. Be pretty damn dull, right? Yeah. It’s like that. When everything goes wrong on every conceivable level, it’s rough on the protagonists – and it can be the finest, most brutal, most amazing stories you ever experienced. That is the heart of playing to fail – realizing that some of best stories come from our very darkest hours.
So try it out, ladies and gentlemen. Find a weakness and play to fail, just to see where it takes you.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Badass LARP Talk is a semi-regular advice series for gamers who enjoy being other people as a hobby. Like what you read? Click on the BLT or Badass LARP Talk tag on this entry to find others in the series, follow me on Twitter @WriterPete, or subscribe to the blog for future updates!