Many people blame organizers, designers, or co-players when they have a bad larp experience, and sometimes, you just have bad luck with unfavourable conditions. However, larp is a co-creative medium — participants have a say in what happens at a larp and in their own experiences. Constructive Alignment is a didactic theory developed by John Biggs that focuses on intended learning outcomes when designing a learning programme. It was developed in 2011 for tertiary education, to facilitate sustainable learning and to refine control over learning processes. It’s also applicable to larp.
Let’s look at how you can use constructive alignment theory to improve your experience:
1. Identify Intended Experience Outcomes
Biggs’ theory focuses on the intended learning outcome. In larp, then, the first step is to identify one’s Intended Experience Outcomes (IEOs). What is it that you’re looking for in this particular larp? Is it a specific story? Experiencing specific emotions? Larping specific character relations? Portraying specific characteristics and experiencing the reactions? Having a specific function in the fiction of the larp?
2. Reflect on and Analyse Previous Larps
Once you have identified your IEOs, reflect. Have you had a particular IEO at a larp before? What made it possible? What prevented it from happening on other occasions? What part did you play in making it happen or not? What role did your co-players play in that? What other circumstances had an influence? What could facilitate this IEO, when it comes to your own actions or your co-players’ actions? Could the organizers help you with it, in particular in casting you in a specific role? You may find it helpful to talk to a friend about it and get some input. Take notes about your findings.
3. Communicate Your IEOs With the Organizers
If you yourself create the character for the larp, take everything you have found out into account when doing so. Try to communicate as clearly as possible what you’re looking for when you send it to the organizers.
If it’s a larp with pre-written characters, also communicate your IEOs to the organizers, within reason. Don’t do it face-to-face, as no one can remember every detail that came up in a conversation. Agree on a medium — casting form, email, or letter — through which to mention your IEOs and what you need to achieve them. You should also state what you do not intend with this specific experience.
A word of caution: don’t fixate on a specific character or event. Organizers will try to help you achieve a good experience, but sometimes wishes just don’t fit into a design. For example, no wizard school needs a hundred headmasters and headmistresses, and no spaceship needs fifty captains. More often than not, you will not get the exact character you wanted to play, but this won’t necessarily hurt your experience, either.
4. Adapt and Plan Measurements that don’t Interfere With the Larp Design!
Once your character and their relations are determined, re-visit your IEOs and your findings from previous larps. Have another look at the design document and the website, and then analyse the character and its relations. If the character is not what you were hoping for but you are happy anyway — cool! If you aren’t happy with what you got, it’s not the end of the world.
Try to abstract your IEOs and try to adapt them to the given conditions. For example, if you wanted to experience the responsibility of a leader and being looked up to by playing the headmistress of the wizard school but got cast as a student, then is there a way to experience something similar in this role? You could, for example, play the head of a student group or mentor another student. Based on this character, who or what could help you to achieve your IEOs? In particular, are there co-players that could help you achieve them? For example, were you hoping to be the center of every social interaction, but instead were cast as the shy introvert? Maybe somebody can play your friend who wants you to socialize and who drags you to every party.
Keep in mind as you do this not to interfere with the overall design of the larp or to plan things that might hurt your co-players’ experiences. You may want to re-ignite your discussion on IEOs with your friend from step 2.
5. Communicate Your IEOs With Your Co-Players
You hopefully now have some new ideas and it’s time to communicate, negotiate, and calibrate them with your co-participants. Contact them before the larp, if possible, and talk to them on location before the larp starts. Be clear about what you need from them and accept a no, if it doesn’t fit in their plans. More often than not, people will do their best to help you to reach your IEOs.
If you feel that only changing a part of your character might help, you can try to talk to the organizers, but please don’t do this if there are only a few weeks left until the larp — they are probably drowning in work.
6. Ensure There Are Safety Nets
Ideally, you’ve gathered a few ways to make your IEOs happen. Don’t just focus on one strategy. If you were cast as the shy introvert, for example, you would not only ask one of your co-participants to drag you into social plots and events, but also go more relations with co-players. If possible, you might also try to identify some opportunities for actions you can take during the larp.
7. Think About Pacing
Pacing is key to a cool experience. Good books and movies have well-conceived dramatic composition. It’s likely that your character will go through some kind of change during the larp, and that this is connected to your IEOs. Of course, it’s often hard to anticipate what is going to happen, but it’s good to gather some key ideas about your character’s development and how it can flow through the larp. E.g., if you want to play a person who loses their sanity, start slow and don’t lose your cool right away, as this will exhaust you. If you want to play an emerging romance, don’t declare your love on the first evening — instead, start with shy gestures or intense eye contact.
Think your pacing through and gather some turning points for your dramatic composition, but keep an open mind and be ready to have everything change — larp, after all, is co-creative and your co-players and the overall design will probably leave no stone unturned.
8. Reassess Your Experience During the Larp
Sometimes you’re fully prepared and still feel unhappy with your experience at a larp. You don’t have to endure this until the larp is over. Take some time for yourself and try to figure out if anything can be changed that could help you without interfering with the ongoing larp too much. If there is a safety team, talk to them and ask them if they see a way for you to achieve your IEOs. Try to talk to co-players who could help you. Again, most people will be happy to help. And don’t forget — once the larp is over, there will be no chance to change your experience, so be brave and change things while you’re still there!
John Biggs (1996): Enhancing teaching through Constructive Alignment. Higher Education Vol.32, pp 347–364. Kluwer Academic Publishers