Imagine this: It’s the afterparty of a larp, and you run up to a co-player who facilitated a scene that was the highlight of your larp to rave about how cool it was, and they just shrug and say, “Well that’s great, I just wanted to make sure you all had fun.” Doesn’t that kind of suck? Wouldn’t you rather have them go, “I know, right? It was SO cool when we all pooled our powers to get that MacGuffin.” Players shouldn’t just create things solely for the sake of other players. Such an approach is for organisers; I want players to be selfish creatures who take care of their own experience first and foremost. That will lead to better play for everyone.
And yes, there are exceptions and caveats and all those things. Do I want players to steamroll each other in a sort of ego-driven cage fight? No, of course not. I still think we should be considerate, open, and generous as players, but we can be all those things while still keeping our own wants and needs in mind. I sometimes hear players proudly state that they’re mainly at a larp to create play for others, or that the plot they created was mostly for the sake of other people’s enjoyment. Honestly, I think it’s bad form for players to approach plot in that way. It’s a hollow feeling to know the people you had a wonderful time with weren’t really enjoying themselves that much. I don’t want to play with those people; I want to play with people who are enthusiastic about it and loving the experience as much as I am. If I’m a part of a player-created plot I want all players to enjoy it, including the creators.
It is of course great to be considerate of your co-players while playing or planning, but make sure to create an experience that you will enjoy yourself too. If you want to be the hero, you absolutely should get that opportunity; just make room for other people to be heroes along with you. I think the best plots are the ones everyone is excited for, and so I think we should shift our focus when creating play from “making cool things for other people” to “making cool things for myself with room for other people.” Excitement can be felt, and it rubs off on other people. The best things I have done in larps have often been things I did chiefly for my own benefit and then dragged other players into. The passion and the enthusiasm for some play you truly want to have yourself too: that’s what makes co-creation come to life; that’s where the magic happens. Taking responsibility for other people’s fun is for organisers; as players we need to take responsibility for ourselves. I want my co-players to trust that I know what I want, and I extend that same trust to them. To butcher an old cliche: Create a cool scene for a new player, they have one cool scene. Help a new player create their own cool scene, all their larps will be cool (and you can get to enjoy their work as well).
The art of saying no covers some of the same territory. I want to play with people who want to play with me. When I approach people I never think to myself, “I really hope they say yes”; I think, “I really hope they want this.” It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference, and too often we fall into the pitfall of saying yes just to be polite or inclusive. “No” is a very difficult word, but I really think we need to practice both saying and receiving nos. A no doesn’t have to be a closed door, you can still come up with compromises and alternatives. It could be, “I’m not up for romance, but I would love to be old friends” or “Saving the world isn’t really my jam, but I’ll totally be there for interrogating the bad guy” or whatever weird thing you have going on. A “no” should, in many cases, be an invitation to work out a solution together. “No, but” is just as powerful for creating play as the famous “yes, and.” We should talk more about that. It’s easy to say yes to someone just because you don’t want to hurt them, but ultimately a mismatch in engagement and enthusiasm can hurt even more.
Co-creation is such a beautiful aspect of larp. All of us are creating something together, for all of us, but that means everyone has to be creating for themselves too. It demands openness and flexibility, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own fun. I believe that the best thing you can do for other people’s fun is to have fun yourself. In most larps we’re all adults; we can take care of ourselves. Trust your coplayers to build great experiences for themselves and others, and do the same for yourself, then everyone will have great experiences!
Cover photo: Image by Kulbir on Pexels. Photo has been cropped.
This article will be published in the upcoming companion book Book of Magic and is published here with permission. Please cite this text as:
Kyhn, Mia. “In Defence of Selfishness: And the Beauty of a No.” In Book of Magic, edited by Kari Kvittingen Djukastein, Marcus Irgens, Nadja Lipsyc, and Lars Kristian Løveng Sunde. Oslo, Norway: Knutepunkt, 2021. (In press).