A WARNING: This might be a bit more casual than the other essays in this book. From start to finish, my whole journey of success, I have been in way over my head. I have been surrounded by intelligent, capable people that know exactly what they are doing. If you would like to hear from them, check out literally any of the other pages. If you would like to hear my rambling about how I accidentally became a pseudo YouTube celebrity, keep reading and enjoy the ride.
My dungeons and dragons group made fun of me for going larping. I remember being so excited and talking to them all about the character I was making, and the game I had found, and how much fun I was going to have, and they went to YouTube. I began larping in an age when larp on YouTube was videos of lighting bolt packet throwers and fake looking fight scenes. They went on a marathon to show me how stupid I was going to look, and then we continued to roll dice and describe fighting magic orcs.
My name is Mo Mo O’Brien, and if there’s one thing you need to know about me it’s that I don’t care what people think, so despite the mockery from my tabletop group, I went larping anyway. It was everything I knew it would be, and so much more. I instantly knew this was going to take over my entire life. I went to more events, and uploaded more pictures to my social media, and more people started asking me questions.
I had recently started a YouTube channel, and I thought I’d answer all the questions in a video. I called the video “The Basics of larp” and it covered everything from the definition of larp, to the different genres, to what you needed to start playing. That was the video that began it all. My channel now has over 70,000 subscribers, that video now has almost 400,000 views, the comments are flooded with requests for more larp videos, and I can no longer go to any larp without at least one person coming up to me and telling me they were there because of me. My YouTube channel has even taken me to places like panelling at San Diego comic con and being in a popular candy commercial. Since then, larping YouTube channels have been exponentially growing, and are still growing. So, I thought I’d give people some tips for larp YouTube Channels!
1. Speak to Non-larpers
You don’t have to tell larpers why larp is awesome. They already know. If you see someone with a t-shirt for a band you like, you don’t walk over to them and try and convince them why that band is awesome. They’re already wearing the shirt. If a larper sees ANYTHING larp related, good chance is they’re probably going to like it regardless of content. Don’t limit your audience. Any video where I talk about larp, I always explain what it is as fast and as simply as I can within the first 20 seconds. How I describe it is “an adult game of make believe.” That seems to cover any genre of larp, no matter how experimental, and everyone can picture it since everyone knows what “make believe” is. Then I proceed to talk about it as if i’m explaining it to a group of veteran larpers, and noobies.Slang on newbies, for beginners or people without any pre existing knowledge and experience. People are all secretly narcissistic and love seeing themselves in things. So, try to make videos that non-larpers could see themselves in. In every video I never assume the viewer knows what larp is, and then explain it in a way that could appeal to everyone. Larp is so broad and so many things, there is always something someone will like about it; costume designing, prop designing, writing, acting, combat. There are styles of larp that incorporate more sport, more tears, more competition, more costume showcasing, more set dressing. There’s a aspect and style of larp for everyone, so make sure everyone knows that. Which means….
2. Learn How to Tell a Larp Story
My friend Jamie who runs my main larp campaign once gave me a very long, slightly drunk, speech on how to tell a larp story to non-larpers. First of all: non-larpers do not care about mechanics, skills, or rules. Not at first anyway. When people ask “what was the last book you read?,” their first question will usually always be “What was it about?”, not whether it fit into the three act structure or took a more experimental approach. Do not tell non-larpers that you have a level four fire spell that allows you to hit a monster with 30 health for 10 flame damage. Say “I hit a monster with a fireball.” One of those stories sounds WAY more exciting than the other. Sell your larp adventures for the adventures you had, not the numbers it gave your character sheet. When you’re larping, the emotions are real, so tell the story as if you were ACTUALLY THERE because that’s what larp feels like. Not everyone likes numbers or behind the scenes information, but everyone loves a good story.
3. Sell Yourself
This is not as skeezy as it sounds. What i mean by this is just find all the best parts about yourself, and showcase them. YouTubers compared to a lot of other “celebrities” is that we are a far more personal art medium. We do “question and answers” where viewers can learn all about us, vlogsVideo blogs. where they can spend the day with us, and it’s a lot less “glitz and glamour” than other beings of well known status. People watch a video for the content, but they stick around and subscribe for the YouTuber. This doesn’t mean invent a new personality. This means find the parts of your personality people like, and electrify them. That goes for your characters as well.
To expand on this idea, you should check out another YouTuber that’s NOT a larper, but pretty close: Miranda Sings. Miranda is a fictional character with a YouTube channel, created by comedian and singer Colleen Ballinger. In 2008 Colleen started uploading purposefully bad song covers to YouTube as a joke, and Miranda has gained over 7 million subscribers since. As she developed the character of “Miranda” she says she just read her YouTube comments, took note of what viewers found weird or obnoxious, and started to do it even more. Take note of what aspects of your characters and yourself your viewers like, and do it more.
4. Make It Look Nice
Sit in front of a lit window or bright light source. Make sure any fans, or air conditioners, or any other machinery making noise is turned off. Make sure your camera isn’t making you look too orange or too blue (you can change this by adjusting your lighting. Natural light gives off a blue tint, unnatural gives off an orange.) Make sure your background looks tidy and nice.
For a while, I thought none of this really mattered…until I went back and watched my old videos. All these technical things are like the bass line of a song. You don’t notice when it’s there, but OH BOY do you notice when it’s not. So make sure you’re well lit, your sound is good, and your shot is set up nice. Which also means, pay attention to your background. If you want people to pay attention to nothing but your words, consider a blank wall behind you. Talking about costuming? Maybe display some of your pieces behind you. Want people to have a glimpse of your personality? Show your whole bedroom. Let your background tell a story.
5. Get That Larp Footage
Just talking to a camera is fine, but when you cut to something else, it makes sure the audience is paying attention, because it gives them some new to look at. Also it saves you the time and effort of trying to do your awesome larp justice. You can just show your audience so they don’t have to imagine it.
One of the biggest rules in visual storytelling: show, don’t tell.
Hide your camera, stay out of game for a while, ask for filming privileges in exchange for some pictures of the event, ask the organiser if they can make the camera cannon in the game.
Even if it’s just pictures someone else took, ask them if you may use the pictures.
6. Be Picky
Larp is really hard to translate to video because, a lot of the times it’s not a spectator sport. Its meant to be experienced, not watched for entertainment. So, try and pick the footage that portrays what larp FEELS like, not looks like. Add some music or sound effects to fight scenes, so it doesn’t just sound like latex hitting latex matched with grunting. Pick those intense scenes with dramatic lighting. Remember to market to non-larpers. People don’t want to see a larp, they want to feel it. Choose the footage, and edit it accordingly, that portrays how that moment felt when you were in it.
When you larp, a lot of the emotions and adrenaline is real, but this is a little harder to translate to film. When you watch a movie, a scene could have a completely different feel or intensity based on the cinematography, the editing, the music, the lighting. Picture a shot of a few kids splashing in the water. Now picture it with happy, upbeat, ukulele music. It’s a fun day at the beach! Viewers are content, and calm, and are reminded of carefree summer days. Now, picture the exact same shot, but with the jaws theme song underneath. Not a carefree beach day anymore is it? Footage provides what the larp looks like, but what you do with it determines how your viewers feel about it.
I tried to put together all of these things into one of my videos which I called “Lock Stock & Barrel: a five minute larp.” I was dared by another YouTube channel to create a larp that would last 5 minutes, and film it. So I created a simple life or death scenario; 6 people locked in a post apocalyptic shelter that was running out of air, and the maximum inhabitant capacity would drop by 1 every 1 minute. Meaning, in order to survive, one person had to be eliminated or evacuated every minute. They were given items like: booze, poison, water, a gun, bullets, cookies, and other items designed to kill each other. There was an also an exit to the shelter with a 30% chance of survival in the wasteland. This was apparently fun for the players, and they wished it was a little longer. For the sake of a youtube video though, it was the perfect length. Because it was such a short amount of time, it was high energy, panicked, and 5 minutes of intensity. There was no time for spaced out improvised beautiful dialogue. It worked better, because it was messy and all over the place, like the real situation would have been if it was filmed for an audience. I also held it in my own home so I set up my filming lights, I got to set the scene the way I wanted, all with filming this in mind. Like it was an improvised movie.
But the biggest tip I can give, not just to larp YouTubers, but all YouTubers in general: Just do it! Don’t worry about messing up, or having the right equipment, or not being ready. We all had to start somewhere. Watch the videos you make, figure out what you liked, and what you didn’t, and adjust accordingly. Just figure it out as you go along. Fall into your place. So get going!
As an addendum to this piece, Simon Brind conducted a brief interview with Mo Mo O’Brien; edited highlights are included here:
Simon Brind: Would you tell us a little more about the design for the five minute larp? Do the people have characters? Did you pre-write them or did the players do it? Was there a set?
Mo Mo O’Brien: It was very light rules, basically if they wanted to do anything physically, they just asked out loud and I told them if it went ok. They had characters they decided on themselves. Formed their own relationships and backstories. All the knowledge they were given was they had been in this bunker for almost a year. We made up the characters on the spot in a workshop before the game. The set, was my living room, with a spotlight in the middle. You can watch the whole thing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgQFuLhe-ks
SB: Are there ways that larp could become a spectator sport? or a spectator event? Would it still be larp?
O’B: If larp was a spectator sport, it would be called improv theatre. If all the mechanics and techniques were designed to entertain an audience and not the player, it would be an episode of whose line is it anyway. Even if there was an audience to an actual larp event, by my definition, it would become improv theatre. Though I’m sure there’s 40 essays out there by people much smarter than me with different theories about it.
SB: How else could YouTube be used in larp? Could one be played out using YouTube videos and responses do you think? Or as a part of a game?
O’B: What I would love to see is YouTube being used as a tool in larp. We have all this new technology that I feel could be utilised better. I recently did a game called As we know it that took place entirely, on my own, sitting in a closet, and all the interactions were over text. It was a game about isolation and through technology, perfect isolation was able to be achieved. There’s so much people can do with video, I think it could be used in larp a lot more.
SB: Can you tell the story of a larp in video? Could the 5 minute experiment scale up to 30 minutes, 3 hours or even 3 days?
O’B: Could I tell the story of a 3 day larp in a 10 minute video? Absolutely. Especially when it comes to internet media, it is typically more likely to hold someone’s attention. It’s important to find the right balance between rambling, and cutting it short. Say what you NEED to say. Sometimes you need to cut what you WANT to say, which is the most heartbreaking thing about good editing. Take notes before you film. It helps you formulate your thoughts, keeps you from forgetting anything, and will help eliminate nonsense and rambling.
SB: Nordic larps have done a great job of documenting their games and they are producing some great promotional videosPromotional videos for Fairweather Manor, Black Friday and the like. too. But what else would you like to see from game organisers? How could they improve?
O’B: Blockbuster nordic larps are EASILY the simplest kind of larp to film, because it is so close to improvised theatre. They usually have the best costumes, props, sets, and scenes since it’s more about characters, than character sheets. Since it’s typically more aesthetically pleasing than a lot of boffer larps, it’s easier to share, and easier to relate to, because you have to worry less about portraying how the experience feels, because it looks so nice from the outside. So I think what the western larp media needs, is to focus on what the western larp community HAS. Focus more on the competitive and self improving nature of western sport style larps, and learn how to translate that feeling of adrenaline and action to film.
This article was initially published in Once Upon a Nordic Larp… Twenty Years of Playing Stories published as a journal for Knutepunkt 2017 and edited by Martine Svanevik, Linn Carin Andreassen, Simon Brind, Elin Nilsen, and Grethe Sofie Bulterud Strand.
Cover photo: The author during a video shoot. (Photo: Carol O’Brien). Other photos by Mo Mo O’brien.