Building a Comfort Zone

Building a Comfort Zone

Think for a second what words you use to describe yourself. For me, it’s words like shy, withdrawn, unlikable, angry, and very awkward. There’s nothing wrong with this — I love how I am. However, there’s something special about being able to step out of my usual self and be someone completely different.

I’ve played many roles during the years and I loved them dearly. They helped me grow and gave me lovely memories that I share with many larp friends.

The first roles I played were servant girls who were shy and easy to play. Growing into larping, however, I found I wanted to challenge myself more. I started to go outside of my comfort zone by playing military roles. This let me be more confident — I could command characters, shout orders, and make people listen. My first step toward becoming comfortable in the new roles was to actively analyze and plan how to portray certain characteristics:

  • To play confident, I imagined I was alone instead of in front of twenty people. This made my voice steady.
  • To play rude and cocky, I changed how I used my body. I leaned into a more forward stance and walked with longer steps. When standing, I kept my arms at my sides and cocked my head to the side. When speaking, I lowered my voice.
  • Learning how to portray characters that other players would read as intimidating was hard, as I’m often perceived as non-threatening and as intimidating as an angry kitten. I settled on always looking people straight in the eyes and stepping into their personal space.
  • To help other players trust my portrayal and our play together, I checked in with my co-players before larps and made sure they knew they never needed to be afraid to come to me with off-game things and most importantly, I made it clear that I in no way had any military background and that I know nothing about strategy and battle techniques. Most importantly, I stressed that I’ll always have their best interests at heart during the larp. This created trust and made both their larps and mine awesome.

Those dominant and commanding roles helped me grow and find my place as a larper, and they also made me dig out the confidence that always was in me. They gave me the tools to speak my mind freely and at the same time be caring. By playing every larp by thinking of other people’s needs, I made sure that I had control while also taking care of my co-players.

My greatest challenge came just over a year ago. I was given a character who was described as a bubbly, happy, romantic girl with no other ambition than to get married. A girl that was perfectly fine with having her life laid out for her by others. She was also much younger than me, a teenager, while I was in my thirties. For the first time, I was so outside of my comfort zone that I felt no connection to the character. None of my usual tools worked this time. My character was the opposite of my usual roles. I realised I could make this work if I let go of my control and left my character’s fate in the hands of others. This was a new context, and finding my comfort zone in it required a new set of tools.

I broke my previous patterns and made her as an image of the girls I was so jealous of in high school. I adopted their positive and annoying traits in a way I never was able to do when I was younger or in my everyday life today.

  • I always moved my hands when I walked. I talked in a much higher voice and also laughed in a higher pitch.
  • I sat strictly and properly and I made sure to touch my face with my hands all the time when I talked to boys, just as if I was blushing.
  • I smiled until my cheeks hurt and I widened my eyes when spoken to as if everything I heard was the most interesting thing on earth.
  • Finally, I imagined that I was a Disney princess with my own soundtrack. That really helped me trust my own portrayal.

Two hours into the larp, I was that teenager. I blushed when the boys gave me flowers and I did not have a clue about anything other than landing a good marriage. I could play a romantic teenager and when I was proposed to by a handsome man, it felt like I’d struck gold.

When I look back now, I see I’ve been playing two extremes. I have played the most masculine roles and adapted a body language similar to my dearest male friends. I have played the flimsy girl from my high school dreams, so feminine and fragile. Between those extremes, I found a balance I can bring into both my future larp roles and also my real life. Today, I know that I can play characters close to the parts of myself that I don’t usually show, and also ones that are so far away from who I am.

I might be shy, withdrawn, unlikable, angry, and very awkward.

But I can be so much more.

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Anna Erlandsson (b.1986) is a Swedish larper and journalist. She has organized many lectures, panel talks, and events on the area on inclusion, feminism, and the importance of gaming culture in the society. Photo by David Lagerlöf.