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:

A New Beginning

I started this blog quite some time ago in the hope of using it to facilitate writing. I struggle with getting my thoughts down on a page, to the extent that I will do just about anything with them rather than write them down. I thought that with a blog, an audience, this might make a difference. However, the internet is a big place, with few landmarks or signposts. So I am starting anew, with a particular focus. For some time I have been performing, doing, organising and coordinating as well as writing about, LARP. It even made its way into my PhD Thesis. I am convinced that it is both fundamentally interesting as a hobby and as a social phenomenon. It is also amenable to photography, although it is usually impossible to an outsider to “guess what it is yet”. I will therefore use this blog to write about LARP, for a non-LARPing audience, as well as for those who may wish to reflect on the hobby.

Before I take on the task of writing my own extensive wanderings on the subject, it is worth making a short list of other sources on the subject. I am enormously indebted to the publications of the Knutepunkt/Solmukohta/Knudepunkt conferences which I have sadly never been able to attend but have read from afar with great interest. The website does tend to move around but with the help of Google you can find most publications online (I recently found most through here: ).

In traditional format, I will also be discussing the book “leaving Mundania” written by Lizzie Stark which focuses on the hobby in the US, with input from the Nordic scene. She lists her top sources here:

As a community source, I am not always a regular attendee on this particular forum, but the Rule 7 forums are a longstanding location of discussion and debate for roleplayers and can be found here:

The popular German magazine on the hobby “LARPzeit” is also now published online in English:

Finally, in the past the journal of interactive drama has featured articles on LARP, although it has had something of a turbulent history. Archived material can be found here:

Aside from other writing on LARP, there has also been material on roleplaying games generally, and an often overlooked source is Gary Alan Fine’s “Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as social worlds”.