The Mixing Desk of Larp
The Mixing Desk of Larp is a framework for organizing your thoughts about larp design. Look at it as a pedagogical tool more than a theory of larp design – it is an aid in visualizing the most important design choices a larpwright makes.
When you design a larp, there are plenty of parameters you can adjust. These parameters will obviously have impact on the larp you're designing. The main idea of the Mixing Desk of Larp is that being a larpwright or larp organizer is like being a technician controlling the lights or the sound of a concert or theatre performance. At his disposal, the technician has an array of faders, increasing or decreasing the amount of lights of different colors, the volume of specific sound frequencies or similar. All these faders can be adjusted up or down, adjusting the amount of whatever they're controlling and affecting the performance.
In the same way, a larp designer can adjust the faders of the Mixing Desk of Larp, changing the larp they’re designing. You can increase the level of transparency, add a pinch of metatechniques, change the responsibility for the character creation process or introduce abstract elements to enhance a special atmosphere in the larp. All these adjustments will have effects on the game you’re organizing, and adjusting these faders can help you reach your design goal for the larp.
The goal of the Mixing Desk of Larp is to provide a framework for organizing thought about how the changes in these parameters will affect a larp, and what position of the faders are suitable for what larp. An important goal is also to recognize that there are “default positions” for these faders that will influence your larp, even if you don’t make any specific choices about them. These default positions can differ depending on larp group, community or traditions. Being aware of ones own default positions is an important goal of the Mixing Desk framework.
The first iteration of The Mixing Desk of Larp was created for The Larpwriter Summer School 2012. It was made by a crew of the summer school with many coming from Fantasiforbundet, Education center POST and LajvVerkstaden.
Of course, there are endless numbers of faders that could possibly have been adjusted on the Mixing Desk of Larp. Here are some of the most important parameters that can be adjusted when making a larp. The ambition is that other larpwriters will add their own faders and remove the ones they don’t find fruitful when using this framework.
Transparency vs. secrecy
Is information about the game – such as character descriptions or events that are going to happen – secret for the players or can anyone read it? Is it actively facilitated that you share secrets before the game start? Transparency can make it easier for players to help each other play and create a stronger drama, but it will ruin any surprises for the players. There are also intermediate possibilities where there are secrets for some of the players, but not all, or where the players themselves choose what to reveal.
360-degree illusion vs. minimalism
How does your larp look? Do you aim for a 360º, where everything the players see around them is part of the larp? Or do you use a minimalist approach, where you only pay attention to the
Character creation responsibility
Organizer vs. player
Who creates the characters? Do the organizers write them? Do the players? Or maybe they are created together during a pre-game workshop? Combinations of these are also possible; for example, where the organizers create the characters, but the players develop them during a workshop before the larp. Player-created characters might make the players more attached to the characters and relieves the organizers of some of the work. On the other hand, organizer-created characters might make it easier to create a setting and fiction coherent with your vision.
Runtime game mastering
Active vs. passive
Some organizers consider their job done when the larp has started; then, they leave everything in the hands of the players. Others influence the game in different ways as it goes along. Are you an active or a passive game master when the game has started, during runtime? Game mastering might also be of different sorts: the discrete ones, like sending instructed players into the game, or the extremely intrusive ones, like stopping the game and instructing the players to do a scene again differently.
Collaborativity vs. competivity
What motivates the players in your game? Having something to win or a goal to obtain, be it individually or collectively, can be an easy way to motivate players, especially for beginners. This is the competition approach. On the other hand, you often get more interesting stories and stronger player experiences when the players collaborate – for example, by deliberately getting their characters into trouble, i.e. playing to lose.
Loyalty to setting
Playability vs. plausibility
Larpwrights often have to consider the tradeoff between playability and plausibility. When making a historical game, for example, having a female factory owner might be highly implausible. However, it might be very playable – creating lots of interesting drama and intrigues for the players to use in the larp. In most games, you leave out the characters that have nothing to contribute to the drama, even though it would be plausible to have them there. Sometimes, you make unlikely twists to make the outcome of a story unpredictable. How true will you be to your setting? A plausible story might be a requirement for players to believe and immerse into the fiction. But, the players also need drama and often the least plausible setups create the most drama.
Close to home vs. differentiation
Do you use elements from the players’ real lives in the game (close to home), or do you deliberately try to create a barrier or distance (differentiation) between the character and player? Using the players’ own experiences or background might create a stronger emotional experience, but also has its downsides: making the game less larp and more reality. It can divert focus from the story and the emotions the story creates to the emotions the players bring with them into the game. Taken to the extreme, you might have the players play themselves, just in an alternative setting. Are you willing to lessen the player-character divide?
Physical vs. verbal
What kind of communication style does your larp encourage? Is the natural way to interact in the game through talking, or through physical action and body language? Communication style can be adjusted through the characters, through workshops, through scenography design, or through simply telling the players what you want. A physical communication style might be more thrilling, letting the players immerse more through using all of their senses, but a more verbal game might be easier to involve new players in, as well as being more realistic in many settings.
Representation of theme
Abstraction vs. simulation
How does your larp represent the reality of the setting? Is realism your goal? Or do you use abstract or even surrealistic elements to focus on the feeling and atmosphere of the setting or to highlight a particular aspect of the game? If the goal of the game is to create the atmosphere of a prison camp, you might do this in two ways: by trying to simulate an actual prison camp or by using abstract or surreal elements to create the feeling of one.
Intrusive vs. discrete
Metatechniques are techniques for giving information to the players, but not the characters, during the game. Examples can be “inner” monologues that are played out during the larp. The players can hear these, the characters cannot, but nonetheless, they can be an aid for creating stronger drama. If metatechniques are used in a game, they might be intrusive or discrete. Examples of intrusive metatechniques are techniques that force all other players to stop while it happens, while a more discrete technique might be, for example, having access to a special room where players can go to act out scenes from the past or the future. This fader illustrates the combination of the amount of meta-techniques used and their degree of intrusiveness.
Hardcore vs. pretense
There are some things in larp that are difficult to play out. Hunger, violence, sleep deprivation, drinking, sex and drug use might be examples. If you want to include these elements in your game, how do you do it? Do you put the pressure on the players as well as the characters by using with hardcore methods such as real alcohol, real food deprivation, and waking people at night? Do you shelter the players from the pressure on the characters by using replacements like boffer swords, fake alcohol, and telling the players to pretend to be hungry or sleep deprived? Hungry players will, of course, feel what it is like to be hungry, but their ability to role-play and enjoy other aspects of the game might be hampered.
The Mixing Desk of Larp is a work in progress. It’s a pedagogical tool aimed for presenting and structuring some of the most important design choices of larp in a convenient form. There are plenty of other faders that could be part of the Mixing Desk, and the framework is open to extensions.
Some possible faders that have been discussed, for example in the Knutepunkt 2013 book article is
- Representation of time (Chronology)
- Player freedom (Sand box vs. railroading)
- Random elements
- Degree of pervasiveness