Reading Others for Interaction

Reading Others for Interaction

When we larp, we make deductions about other characters and the types of role-play they will provide. Through speech, costuming, body language, and other signs, each player signals to others how to interact with their character. As you play, analyze what a character looks like, wears, and does with their body to learn important clues about status, affiliation, role, and personality.

Wearable Cues

Name tag: If the larp uses them, a name tag is a shortcut to critical information for play.

Costume: Clothing and accessories provide discrete details about the character. React to the most obvious explanation for a costume choice until you have reason to believe differently.

Affiliation markers: Some larps use colors or fashion guidelines so players know a character’s affiliation or status on sight.

Body Movements

How a character stands, sits, walks, and interacts with others reveals a great deal.

  • Space: Characters who take up space, such as with a wide stance, large gestures, bold strides, or manspreading are projecting authority, power and confidence. Characters who demure to others, step aside, or sit or stand on the edges are demonstrating lower status or discomfort.
  • Posture: Nobility, military, upper-class, and authority figures tend to stand straight and tall and look others in the eye. Servants and lower status characters tend to keep their heads down and eyes averted.
  • Directional stance: Face-to-face can reveal confrontation. Side-by-side can indicate alliance, and back-to-back or leaning-in can suggest covert communication.
  • Stealth: A sneaky character wants you to think they are up to something. Actions include: looking around to see if someone is watching, moving in the shadows, or ducking behind people or objects.

Facial Expressions

When portraying a character, deliberate facial expressions convey information to others.

  • Smile, light in their eyes: This character is friendly, approachable and eager. They are often looking for someone to converse with, spill secrets, or go on an adventure.
  • Scowl, dark eyes: This character wants you to know they are dangerous, villainous, or angry. Does your character dare to approach them to discover the source of their anger or their secrets?
  • Furrowed brow, wide or darting eyes: This character could be anxious, frightened, or confused. They are demonstrating discomfort and hoping someone will ask them about it. Is your character caring? This could be a good time to display it.
  • Deliberate warm eye contact, calm and inviting expression: This character is projecting safety and approachability. They likely want to help others and/or have information to share.
  • Hard eyes, set mouth: This character is projecting authority, intimidation, or disapproval. To play into this, approach with deference, look scared, or gossip about how you hope you don’t get in trouble with them. If you are playing a rebel, use disrespect to get reprimanded or put in your place.

Eye Contact

Knowing what to do with your eyes and paying attention to another character’s eyes creates play.

  • A person who makes deliberate eye contact is inviting you to interact with them.
  • In an interaction with an authority figure, avert your eyes to show respect. Either do not meet their gaze, or if you do, look away quickly or before they do.
  • As an authority figure, use eye contact to establish dominance and intimidate others. Extended eye contact can be uncomfortable.
  • Eye contact with eyebrows raised is a question. Go see what they want to ask you!
  • To show disrespect to an authority figure, refuse to look away from their eye contact. If/when you finally do, make sure it appears reluctant or sarcastic. Breaking eye contact with an eye roll will make an impact!
  • A wink is a sign of a secret, either between characters or one begging to be shared.
  • Blinking without speaking is a sign of confusion or can be coquettish if flirting. You’ll need to roleplay further to find out.

Read the Character, Not the Player

Diegetic clues are deliberate choices made by the player that belong to the character, such as those above. Don’t make the mistake of initiating roleplay or making deductions about aspects that belong to the player, but not the character.

You should disregard factors about the player such as:

  • Size: A large or tall person does not automatically mean an intimidating or powerful character. React to the roleplay and the character clues, not assumptions about the player’s physical body.
  • Age: The age of the character is not the same as the age of the player. React to the stated age of the character and do not make comments about someone’s out-of-game age.
  • Body type or fitness: The shape of a player’s body does not indicate any measure of power, stamina, or health. Use other clues, such as weaponry, costuming, and reputation of the character.
  • Skin tone: Do not make diegetic assumptions from a player’s natural skin tone.
  • Gender: The player’s gender and the character’s gender are not always the same. Use the correct pronouns and accept the character as presented. The player’s gender is not relevant.
  • Accent, speech difficulties and grammar: Do not make assumptions about accent or grammar at international larps played in English. The manner of speech often has nothing to do with the character, but is instead the player communicating in a non-native language. Do not react or remark about speech unless the player makes it clear that this is part of the character.
  • Birthmarks or physical disabilities: Ignore things a player cannot change, such as medical or accessibility devices. If you are unsure whether an attribute belongs to the player or the character, wait for the character to bring it up during roleplay. If it never comes up, use other attributes to make your deductions.

Conclusion

Learning how to read other characters to know how to interact is a skill that is honed the more you play. Misreading cues can lead to awkward roleplay or even hurting someone’s feelings, especially if you react to them as a person instead of their character. If you’re unsure what to do, go with the most obvious archetypal interpretation of a character and assume that attributes of the player are not in play until you are certain they are available for interaction. And if you make a mistake, apologize and move on. Honest mistakes happen and are part of the learning process of collaborative play.


Authors

Maury Brown
Maury Brown (b. 1969) is a US larp designer, producer, and scholar known for work in safety, calibration, and consent; pre/post-larp integration; co-founding New World Magischola; and edu-larp scenarios that combine curriculum and social-emotional skills.
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