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Creative agency in larp: how to share it between designer and players? What different types or areas of agency are there, and to what extent can players be endowed with them? What about constraints in some areas that allow creativity to flourish in others?

Present: Alison, Angus, Bez, Christi, Graham, Hanbury, Mo, Rei, Richard, Russell, Steven, Sti.

We started off by brainstorming types of agency and related thoughts.

(pre-)Design

Character design is a common axis of variation, as discussed in Mo’s recent blog post: http://blog.ukg.co.uk/character-creation-responsibility/ – different balances in agency between designer and players are well explored. World design (including genre) is much more likely to be retained by the designer.

Things that can be designed into the character include:

  • Purpose – why am I doing this?
  • Interpretation – what does it mean to you?
  • Emotional experience – may not really be controllable by the designer. Can you / should you tell people how their character feels about something?

Players may have design input into each other’s characters, as well as / instead of their own. This may be negotiated with the recipient, or not.

Tone will in practice always be collectively determined by players, even if designers have sought to control it. It should be moderated by mutual respect, ie. one player should not be able to hijack the tone in a different direction to everyone else.

Design may be asymmetric, offering more (or different) agency to some players than others.

Designers may spare players from the terror of the blank page, by providing the necessary framework for their creativity to work within.

Richard briefly mentioned his ‘nested’ model of agency, in which overlapping layers of activity may be seen as onion-like layers. Here’s a diagrammatic representation of it:

Nested agency model

Nested agency model

Action

Agency of action within the larp – including creative action – turned out to be a big topic.

Within the larp, characters generally have a domain of responsibility over which they have agency. There may be a mismatch between perceived and actual agency – deliberately, or through lack of explanation/understanding.

Fictional prompts can readily prime a great deal of cultural baggage (eg. ‘this is a Western setting’ tells players a great deal about what they can or can’t create within it).

Does an action require a reaction from the world (a consequence) to be worth having? Or an interaction with another player? Creating actions in an unresponsive vacuum is not necessarily meaningful.

Players are often seeking hyper-agency – powers beyond what they have in real life.

Safety techniques, and the like, confer a form of meta-agency – a way to control the levels and directions of agency usable by oneself and others.

Players may be working from different hypothetical ‘social contracts’ about what is or isn’t permissible in the larp. Designers can seek to make this explicit rather than relying on implicit mutual understanding.

Discussion needs to consider where players are ‘playing from’ – what do they want out of the experience? This should dictate the agency that is made available to them.

Larps on Demand

Angus then demonstrated his Larps on Demand – a framework that allows a group of players (with facilitation) to quickly generate a playable larp. We slung together a scenario in an SF cantina setting, with illegal trade in bio-engineering implants, a religious inquisition, family rivalry and various other fun ingredients.

This demonstration brought to the fore the consensual and negotiated aspect of player creativity. With no external designer input at all (other than structural), players have to assign tone and scope communally. Familiar tropes provide convenient channels.

The current draft of Larps on Demand is here! https://docs.google.com/document/d/16I_bPklVEWK9-mb2toOa_LpMG_oVhNh-hEgv_ymBwRs/edit – it’s still in the process of mutation.

Constraints

This fed into a general discussion of constraints. The circle of experimentation is limited (the larp is defined as being of a certain structure) but players are somewhat free within that – still also moderated by social constraints though.

Constraints include traditional givens of larp and also more ‘progressive’ ones, such as: you can’t leave the space; there is no magic; combat isn’t allowed; play will be in real-time; characters do not know each other; some material is Lined or Veiled or otherwise excluded; behaviour should be historically authentic; you can’t lie about material facts; and so on. Some of these will helpfully channel creativity, others less so. There might be room for a full discussion on the more interesting areas of constraint in future.

Prejudice

In the context of constraints of historical accuracy, there was a brief discussion of the difficulty of getting players to portray prejudice (about eg. race, gender, sexuality).

[The planned playing of Before and After Silence and of Montsegur 1244 did not take place, for assorted administrative reasons.]

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