Stepping outside your comfort zone to try out something new at a larp can be scary. Whether that new thing is performing, being a leader, or playing a very touchy-feely character, it is easy to fear failure and have the whole larp ruined as a consequence.
But playing with the same safe characters and themes can get boring. And at its best, venturing outside your comfort zone can not only be empowering and fun, it can be outright transformative (Bowman & Hugaas 2019).
These tips aim to help you feel more secure and in control when trying out new things. They work best for where players have some control over the content of their characters and at least a few weeks to prepare before the game.
1. Limit the amount of scary new things to one or two per larp
Larping is often exhausting. There are so many things to remember, from character backgrounds to safety rules, that some anxiety is only to be expected — even without the addition of scary new things. If on top of this mental load you add too much at once, you run the risk of feeling completely overwhelmed even before the larp has started. Inversely, knowing you only have one or two new things to tackle helps you feel more in control.
For example, when playing a fighter for the very first time, try to have the fighting be the only completely new thing you need to do. Don’t take on a character who also needs to hold a war council, make a public speech, and be evil, if all of these things are new to you as well.
2. Have a safety net of familiar things to fall back on
Doing new things at larps means having to learn how to do them, and learning happens best in the zone that just borders our comfort zone (Algayres 2019). Your comfort zone in larps is in familiar things: the characters you find easy to play and the skills you excel at. Use these as your safety net. This way you won’t have to be out of your comfort zone all the time. You can try out that scary new thing, and when you start to feel overwhelmed, you can fall back on your safety net. Even if, at the end of the larp, the scary new thing still feels scary and new, you can gain a sense of accomplishment from the things you are good at.
For example, if being touchy-feely is outside your comfort zone, but engaging in witty banter feels very comfortable, combine the two traits in your character. That way you can fall back on being witty when touching others feels hard, and you can still feel you are playing your character well.
3. Rehearse the scary new things before the larp
Our characters are often experts at something we are not. Very few people are immediately good at something they have never done before and, as a consequence, doing that thing for the very first time at the larp can feel very intimidating
— the opposite of what the character should be feeling. Rehearsing the new things beforehand can help make them feel a little more familiar. Some things can be rehearsed for real — e.g. public speaking or holding a weapon —
but even when that is not possible, many things can be rehearsed mentally. Imagining your character doing their thing helps trick your brain into believing it is not the first time when you finally do that thing for real in the larp.
For example, public speaking is something that is easy to rehearse before the larp, for real or through your imagination. Enlist a few friends to be your supportive and enthusiastic audience, or give a speech in-character to an imaginary audience, immersing yourself in their confidence.
4. Ask others to support you
We all have different things we are good at, things we find scary, and things we are trying out for the first time. Much of the competence of our characters comes from the support and lift we as players give each other. Asking for that support can feel as scary as doing the scary new thing itself because it exposes our lack of expertise. But it also takes away the pressure to be instantly perfect. Telling other people — the gamemasters, people playing your closest contacts, or friends coming to the same larp — that you are trying something new and scary makes it possible for them to support you.
For example, when playing a character who is in charge and has to make important decisions, letting the gamemasters and other players support you takes away the pressure of having to succeed everything on your own. Find ways for the others to help you make those decisions in a way that does not undermine your character’s authority or your own sense of competence.
There is no way around it — doing scary new things at larps is scary. The trick to doing them anyway is finding ways to maintain a sense of security and control when taking the plunge.
Muriel Algayres (2019): The Impact of Social Capital on Larp Safety. Nordic Larp. https://nordiclarp.org/2019/10/29/the-impact-of-social-capital-on-larp-safety/, ref. Jan 21st, 2020.
Sarah Lynne Bowman & Kjell Hugaas Hedgard (2019): The Butterfly Effect Manifesto. Nordic Larp. https://nordiclarp.org/2019/08/20/the-butterfly-effect-manifesto/, ref. Jan 21st, 2020.