(From the 1985 fantasy-themed arcade game Gauntlet by Atari Games, a warning that one of the players’ characters was running out of energy and would soon die)
Many different types of energy come into play during a larp. This short article surveys some of the terms larpers have used to describe the types of energy they bring to a larp. It also considers why understanding this may be important for our ability to larp effectively and safely. This is not intended to be a prescriptive taxonomy, but rather a starting point for discussion. The survey consisted of a single open question posed to larpers from a selection of different nationalities and larp traditions: The majority of respondents were European from the Nordic tradition.
Larping can be hard work. In many cases it can be very physical; we spend many hours moving around, often outdoors, and our sleep is not as good or as long as it may be at home. But what types of energy do we use? I’m looking to collect words that describe our collective fuel for interactions. What types of energy do you expend on larping?
Where necessary I asked additional questions to ask those who did respond to qualify or unpack their responses prior to classifying them by type.
Larping can be very physical: we spend many hours standing and moving around. We may be outdoors, in the cold, or the dark. We get dehydrated, we tend to eat at irregular times, and our sleep is not as good or as long as it may be at home. But beyond these more obvious forms of exertion, players report some larp-specific bodily activities that used up energy.
We may use our bodies in different ways, either by standing or moving in an unfamiliar manner leading to sore muscles and stiffness after the larp. Some players have suggested they don’t speak as much in their daily life as they do at larps, others sing at larps but never out of it. In these cases, they have suggested that they have lost their voices during or immediately after the larp.
Even for larps that are not particularly physical or directly combative, the twin pillars of conflict and stress can lead to the release of adrenaline. Sometimes this is akin to stage fright, sometimes it comes from the physicality of the event, and sometimes it derives from the simulated conflict of the larp. While this can be an intensely pleasurable experience for the player, leading to sensations of fear or excitement and a sense of drive focusWhen endogenous adrenaline is released due to stressful events (or simulated stressful events in the case of larp) it seems to focus the moment in order to modulate memory of the event. We need memory to be proportional to the importance of the event. There is evidence that suggests adrenaline does have a role in long-term stress adaptation and emotional memory encoding specifically. (Dornelles A, de Lima MN, Grazziotin M, Presti-Torres J, Garcia VA, Scalco FS, Roesler R, Schröder N (July 2007). “Adrenergic enhancement of consolidation of object recognition memory”. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 88 (1): 137–42. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2007.01.005. PMID 17368053. ) , it is very hard to sustain this and, although the fight-or-flight response is useful when it comes to role-playing a moment of conflict or escaping from an antagonist, it can lead to anxiety and the release of other hormones, such as cortisol (the stress hormone). This can lead to an inability to sleep as players focus on conflict that has happened that day or worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Introvert / Extravert Energy
We have Carl Jung to thank for the concepts of introversion and extraversion, he suggests that we possess both traits, but one is usually dominant, although most non-Jungian theories suggest that it is a linear scale. In simple terms, extroverts derive energy from interaction with others, and introverts from an opportunity to reflectLaurie Helgoe (2008). Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc If this is the case then there is an energy exchange going on between players. Finding the balance between interaction and reflection is important,and it will be different depending on the player and their needs at the time.
Respondents talked about the cost of interaction, reflecting that being around people all of the time when larping was exhausting. One explained that although they need alone time they consciously neglect this need for fear of missing out. Introverts talked about the energy required to focus one’s attention on engagement with others, with close listening and attempts at influencing, but without a pause.
Interestingly enough, the role of the antagonist is challenging for both ends of the scale. For the introvert it is hard work to enter or escalate conflict, to take up space and to deal with being judged; for the extrovert, fighting against the beige entropy of ‘larp democracy’ — where players seem to play towards an inert and inclusive outcome rather than a dramatic one — and also dealing with the isolation that comes with being the antagonist. Having interactions shut down — because you are playing a hated or distrusted character for example — drains the extrovert in much the same way as playing direct conflict does the introvert.
While most respondents who self-identified as introverts considered social interaction to be emotional energy, others made a clear differentiation between the energy cost of social interaction versus the effect of intense ingame emotional responses.
In a larp we are called upon to
care about things faster and more intensely than in real life, and this idea of experiencing things intensely in a short period of time, takes effort to be receptive to the experience. We must regulate the intensity of experience and our own reaction to it, both ingame and offgame.
Players also talk about compassionate energy, the expenditure of effort in terms of giving emotional energy ingame and being aware of other player’s offgame needs and wants during a story.
We know that high level chess players can burn 600 calories sitting at the chessboard so it should come as no doubt that we expend energy on larping. If emotional energy handles feelings, mental energy handles facts and thoughts. There is always a background level of concentration required to larp but we have broken down the mental effort further as follows:
This refers to the work of remembering information that is relevant to the larp. Of retaining character names, and plot, and safety mechanics and meta-techniques and putting names to faces.
This is the energy we use in-game for steering and pacing and managing character arcs. It is what it costs to make use of the facts we have recalled. It includes the constant mapping of the larp, the assimilation of information, our steering of the character. It also includes cognitive decisions pertaining to the storymaking process. From deciding what our character should do next, deciding what to say, or composing a speech on the fly. In some cases, players are doing this in a second or third language.
This is the effort of being someone who you are not, the literal cost of role-playing. One respondent suggested that this is the same sort of energy that one spends on lying. Another suggested that they derive energy from anything that happens in character — including negative emotions — but that anything that happens out of character is draining. Another suggested that anything that breaks immersion has a cost in terms of re-engagement.
The Fun Tax
There are some types of energy that only certain players need to expend.
Some respondents who self-identified as non-neurotypical argued that activities others described as requiring social energy, were more a cognitive function for them. One such respondent suggested they spend a significant amount of energy on “Processing” the noise, different smells, bright/shifting lights, foreign languages, unfamiliar or itchy clothes.
Similarly, some players identified a combined mental and emotional cost of Spatial energy, described as
processing a new physical space. This could be an uncertainty of
where are the bathrooms, not remembering the way to a particular room, remembering which stairs creek, or struggling to find something in their luggage. For players with other marginalised identities, there is the concept of Othered Energy which Jonaya Kemper describes thus,
Othered folks have to still wear their identities, which means they must expend extra energy and time navigating the play space, people, and their characters in addition to the non-diegetic environment and players.Personal correspondence.
Some respondents talked about the energy they expended because they did not feel safe, suggesting they needed to be constantly on their toes, ready to be intimidating as a survival tactic. Others agreed that threat awareness and the need to keep track of where specific people were, combined with low-level anticipatory anxiety, cost significant energy out of the player of all types.
How to Renew and Replenish your Energy
Different players use different amounts of energy for different activities. Some will be recharged by conflict, others by physical proximity. However, if we examine our preferred playstyle and understand where we spend and where we recharge our energy, it is possible to mitigate the point we run out of hit points. Some players can recharge their social energy by engaging with others, but some of those engagements have an activation energy cost higher than others, and some of them will overall deplete the amount of social energy available to you for other things later, while others will not. Reflecting on this and understanding your own needs is similar to understanding when we are hungry, tired, or thirsty. It is not as sexy as steering, but it is about keeping fuel and oil in the engine to keep it running.
For example, to help deal with adrenal energy, you’ll need to engage your parasympathetic nervous system. The rest-and-digest response it is responsible for is the opposite of the adrenal fight-or-flight response. Slowing your breathing, meditating, or talking about stressful moments can help. If you think you need to do it, but find you are unable to do these in character then take an off-game break and do it out of character. Because if you don’t practice self care then you might run out of energy, and then — like in the classic coin-op — the game will be over.
|↑1||When endogenous adrenaline is released due to stressful events (or simulated stressful events in the case of larp) it seems to focus the moment in order to modulate memory of the event. We need memory to be proportional to the importance of the event. There is evidence that suggests adrenaline does have a role in long-term stress adaptation and emotional memory encoding specifically. (Dornelles A, de Lima MN, Grazziotin M, Presti-Torres J, Garcia VA, Scalco FS, Roesler R, Schröder N (July 2007). “Adrenergic enhancement of consolidation of object recognition memory”. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 88 (1): 137–42. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2007.01.005. PMID 17368053. )|
|↑2||Laurie Helgoe (2008). Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc|