LARP – Cultural differences

Today’s post is bright to you partly in response to Lizzie Stark’s commentary on the differences between Nordic LARP and US LARP. Since UK LARP has as long a provenance as either of these two countries (according to Lizzie’s book anyway), I thought it would be worth highlighting the differences through focussing on a key distinction in UK LARP: the IC/OOC divide.

IC is the abbreviation for In Character, playing the game, while OOC is the abbreviation for Out of Character, or not playing the game (temporarily or otherwise). People say “I’m just going OC for a moment” or “I’m just going to get into costume and nip to the bathroom and then I’ll be IC”. The ability to maintain and manage the process of being IC or OOC is an important part of being considered a ‘good’ roleplayer.

In the UK, many games commonly have geographical zones which correspond with being onstage or offstage, IC or OOC. Bathrooms for example are often OOC and at ‘fest’ events there is usually an OOC camping area as well as an IC camping area. Players will often ‘go’ OOC during a part of the day and chat with other players who IC they have little interaction with. So why is this important?

Like the Nordic LARPs, UK LARP often aims for a level of immersion which allows for both personal (internal) plot development in terms of character growth, as well as external (world) plot which requires puzzle-solving and skill use (determined mostly by the rules). A significant part of playing the game lies in maintaining immersion while engaging with the rules. As a case in point, in a previous game scenario I suggested some magician types who were working with my character refer to a spell as lasting for “600 heartbeats”, which was well received since the rules stated a 10 minute period. Attempts to conceal the IC /OOC boundary in this way are common in UK LARP, in order to promote an immersive experience.

Metagaming, the activity of using knowledge gained outside the state of play to advantage oneself in the game, is disapproved of as potentially undermining the opportunity to engage in externally designed plot (much the same as in US LARP). It also has repercussions for personal development, and many systems have strict restrictions against playing characters with similar histories consecutively. However, an awareness of the meta-level aspects of the game, once again, is often seen as the mark of a seasoned player. Combat moving into uneven territory will often be declared “holy ground” or even referred to as a dangerous cliff face on the initiative of one player in order to mark it off to other players as an area to stay away from. Further, in order to advance character development, players may speak to one another OOC beforehand so as to plan scenarios for IC interaction, such as the meeting of long-lost family, or even hated enemies.

Going OOC is sometimes an activity with unclear etiquette in UK LARP. Which geographical zones are definitely OOC can change according to the game organisers, and smaller scale LARPs are more likely to demand that players remain IC at all times during the game (including while asleep!). Fest LARPs, by contrast often have clear zones for catering and toilet facilities which are specifically OOC. Transitions between these areas are considered a matter of etiquette, and putting one hand in the air is a near-universal sign in UK LARPs that you are not present IC. It is also tiring after a while, which encourages you not to go about it for too long!  However, each system has its own accepted behaviour, and the use of ‘safewords’ is nowhere near as common or as frequent as appears to be the case in Nordic LARP.

If anyone has any further reflections on the distinctions between UK LARP and the European/US models, please feel free to comment below.


Lizzie’s post:

Cantwell’s (2009) comparison between UK and French LARP:

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