Larp as a Player, Larp as a Character

Larp as a Player, Larp as a Character

Engaging with the larp as a character and as a player.

We are all in an abusive relationship, and we all love this so much. It’s the core of almost every larp, and it’s an asymmetrical relationship between a human being – the player – and a pseudo human: the character. The two interfaces theory is a way to reflect about identity and agency from a new perspective, drawing from posthuman and object-oriented ontology studies.

When we larp we use two interfaces:

  1. The character, which is our way to engage with other participants. Through the mask of an alter ego we interact with the others, put ourselves in the fictional world and follow the in-game narrative. Sometimes characters can be “guided” by different people during the same larp (by the plot, other players, supporting characters, designers, and so on).
  2. The player, the “real” person who is living the experience that affects us more individually, usually through the body. We are more aware of this interface while alone (walking in the location, going off-game, doing solitary tasks). 

Sometimes we mix up those two interfaces. We slide from one to another without always being aware of it. But this theory also implies a certain degree of merging between the two interfaces. Can we say that a character is just a set of indications on a document? Or are they rather living creatures that we need to deal with? And are players sometimes just larp tools, instruments fulfilling the design?

Each one of the two interfaces have their own needs, drives, and goals, which sometimes collide. In a larp we can limit the agency of our character, and vice versa. Since the character is a pseudo-human, they can fail and be hurt in all kinds of ways: they just don’t feel anything. Characters won’t pay the consequences for their actions. Players will. This is why this relationship can be seen as abusive.

We like to think that we are always in control of the two interfaces. But objects have a will, and offer resistance. Characters are the first “person” we have to negotiate with. In a larp with pre-written characters, they are a negotiation between us and the designer. When we write our own, then it’s a negotiation between ourselves and what we think the larp will be.  

And there is where the big conflict lies: characters need danger, players need to be safe. For now we use safety and steering to mediate between reality and fiction, between characters and players, what we want and what we need. In larp there is much more than just us. Let’s listen and incorporate.

Cover photo: Alessandro Giovannucci in the larp Brightfield. Photo by Luca Tenaglia.

This article is published in the Knutpunkt 2022 magazine Distance of Touch and is published here with permission. Please cite this text as:

Giovannucci, Alessandro. 2022. “Larp as a Player, Larp as a Character.” In Distance of Touch: The Knutpunkt 2022 Magazine, edited by Juhana Pettersson, 51-54. Knutpunkt 2022 and Pohjoismaisen roolipelaamisen seura.

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Alessandro Giovannucci is an award-winning Italian larp designer and larp theorist. He co-founded the larp collective Chaos League and wrote the Southern Way Manifesto. His well-known international larps include Sahara Expedition, The Secrets We Keep and Miskatonic University. He is regularly invited to hold talks and workshops about larp and immersive experiences. His chamber larp has been translated into several languages. Curious, friendly, and proudly antifa