Fear on the Starting Line

Fear on the Starting Line

At the start of runtime, I’m completely overcome with feelings of fear and anxiety. I do not feel comfortable in my own skin. I believe that I am not capable of embodying the character to satisfaction. I believe that I will let down others who will be depending on me to support their experiences.

The first step is the hardest. The first choice to speak to another participant in play is not a proud moment. I don’t project my voice when I am nervous, and many times the unlucky participant has had to ask me to repeat what I just said. My body is defaulting to the nervous version of me. I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Sometimes I am still working my way up to making that first step, and a participant initiates conversation. I am not ready. When I speak to this person, my words are safe and non-committal. It would not surprise me if they feel that I’m either rudely disengaging with them, ineptly playing, or just merely being too boring.

This feeling of fear has followed me throughout my larp experience over the last 25 years.

These thoughts and feelings are entirely normal. They are difficult but manageable. We can overcome them. It’s going to be okay.

Fail Quickly and Forget It Happened

I am aware that my fear and anxiety is out of proportion. I am aware that once I begin play during runtime, these negative feelings will recede. I liken this to a stumbling start, but at least one that has some forward motion, enough to build personal momentum towards a desired level of confidence. After all, the start is always just a little awkward for everyone. If I screw up, it’s very likely no one will remember, and if they do remember, no one will likely care. This rush to start can use the fear in a helpful way too by transition from afraid-to-start to afraid-to-stop.

Make Choices that are Comfortable and Safe

If I have agency over my role, I can put the play within my comfort zone. What’s good is that this is a very acceptable way to share a larp experience with strangers, or a new-to-me style, or a different culture. The play in a larp that’s safe is not satisfying though and always going for safe play is boring for both me and for others who are looking for exciting play. Safe play is steady ground to which we can take the next step though. We can use it to challenge ourselves, a solid launch toward play with bigger risks.

Liquid Courage

While intoxication does not lead to mindful play, a single alcoholic beverage serving helps in multiple aspects. On the science and biology end, when the alcohol hits my forebrain, colloquially referred to as the worry wart, the brain activity related to my nerves and anxiety is anaesthetized, specifically my ability to inhibit my own behavior. The voice inside us that’s telling us that we can’t succeed becomes a little quieter. The visual cue of a drink in hand invites other players to have one with me.

Late Start to Let Others Take the Lead

Since others also struggle with the less-than-perfect play at the start of runtime, either plan to come late or engage in a distinctly solitary activity if early. When other players have left the initial awkward stage, join play with them. By doing this we are letting their play draw us in, which helps us get past the awkward stage quickly, and it also affirms their choices by showing support.

Interrogate the Fear

The fear and anxiety I feel is the outcome of the thoughts that I am thinking. By means of internal conversation, examining these thoughts significantly allows me to get that fear down to manageable levels. So what am I afraid of?

  • I am afraid that no one will like me.
  • I am afraid that I will harm someone’s experience and no one will want to play with me.
  • I am afraid that I am not interesting/
    attractive/strong/trustworthy enough for the players I engage with and they will want to have their experience with someone else.

Upon examination, is there actually a danger of appearing uncool enough that people will dislike us? A very small possibility at most. Uncool is temporary until we do something cool.

While it’s important to steer with care for the experience of others in mind, is there really a risk that we’ll accidentally ruin someone’s experience? Under a good design, that risk is quite small. If the design is weak in this regard, the best we can do is the best we can do. Worrying doesn’t help so just move forward with things that we can do. Being mindful of others does lead to more good experiences for us.

The fear that we’re not good enough in the various categories is not easily dismissed. It is true that we cannot be everyone’s first pick for every interaction, but we don’t have to be to merely start. Even among strangers, a single conversation can lead to beautiful play. Let things go, allow for possibilities. We can be good choices for others, and don’t have to worry about being a first choice.

Fear is normal. While we cannot eliminate it, we can help each other overcome it. We can become practiced at using those tools that help us get through that awkward stage to where we can engage in play with confidence.

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Benjamin A. Morrow (b. 1976) is a US based larp designer who co-created New World Magischola with Maury Brown in 2016, which had a significant impact on US larp culture regarding inclusion and consent.