Maximizing the emotional impact of anticipation for better play.
“I see you shiver with antici-
– Rocky Horror Picture Show
The sweet moment when you close your eyes full of expectation while your lips get closer and closer to another person’s lips for the first time. So close that you can already feel their breath caressing your cheek… when you can sense the warmth of their body close to yours. This seemingly endless moment when your heart starts beating a tiny bit faster and when you do not yet know if your and the other’s lips are really going to touch.
Isn’t this moment of sweet anticipation often more intense than the kiss itself?
Or the last moments of a desperate bunch of rebels before the attack of an overpowering group of stormtroopers. Waiting to stand their ground for the last time and defend their base with their lives. The last glimpses they might exchange, someone patting a friend on the shoulder. Fear and hope in conflict with each other. Final encouraging words by a leader.
Isn’t this moment of gloomy, yet heroic anticipation much more interesting than the following fight?
Is it not those moments when events are yet to happen that spark our excitement and that send our emotions on a rollercoaster ride? No matter whether can foresee the outcome or not, these moments of anticipation hold a bewitching power.
Skillful authors use these moments to build up suspense in their novels and also to forge a stronger bond between you, the reader, and the novel’s characters. Screenwriters use them to hook you to their shows and movies while displaying their characters’ virtues and flaws.
Some of us larp folk instinctively use moments of anticipation to develop intense scenes during larps. However, not all larpers and larp designers are aware of the magic of anticipation, let alone of how to wield this magic. So let us quickly look at one or two things that you can do to start using the magic of anticipation to enhance your own experience as a player.
First – and this is the most important rule of all – don’t rush to the anticipated event!
Learn to relish moments of anticipation. Like in the first example with the kiss, you might be eager to take the next step in a chain of events. Maybe you feel like you cannot wait until the anticipated event is going to happen but learn to endure this suspense! Dive into this sweet kind of excitement in order to fully unlock its potential.
Second, use those moments to delve into your character’s unique personality!
Use the moment of anticipation to dive even deeper into your characters’ hopes and fears. In these moments the anticipated event is like Schrödinger’s cat. Every outcome is possible which allows you to portray and experience different aspects of your character’s personality. Imagine the worst possible thing to happen and let your character react to it! Or let your character dream of the best possible outcome and share it with somebody to play on hope! Maybe old memories from your background story surface or maybe something that happened earlier during the larp acquires new gravitas.
Third, let your emotions flow!
Moments of anticipation are often moments when emotional waves become massive, when feelings can’t be held back anymore. Use your whole body to feel and portray those emotions. This might be a shivering breath before you kiss or shakily grasping your best friend’s hand before you storm out into battle. It might be a long thankful smile at your mentor before you climb the stage to hold a speech.
Fourth, focus on your co-players too!
As we all know, larp is a co-creative medium and we all want to have a good experience when playing. So try to find a good balance between exploring your character during moments of anticipation and giving the floor to other players. Those moments of anticipation are a perfect opportunity to learn more about others’ characters and to develop your character’s relationship to them further. You can also use the things you learn from such moments about others’ characters later in the game to create intense personal scenes.
Now, let’s briefly take the designer’s perspective.
If your larp is a complete sandbox, you probably don’t have much influence over moments of anticipation. However, if you have at least some rough cornerstone events planned for your larp, then you should definitely add enough occasions and time for your players to savor the anticipation.
Of course, sudden surprises and unexpected turns of events have their own magical charm but don’t forget to add opportunities of anticipation. Let your players wait before a big event is finally happening and give them hints about what they can expect to spark the flame of their imagination. You can drop allusions with the help of supporting characters or in-game materials such as a newspaper. Or you can simply use transparent design where your players know off-game where the story arc is going.
The imagination of your players is a powerful tool! Just think of a horror movie as an example – usually, we are far more frightened when we haven’t seen the monster. When we know that there is something lurking, some eerie imminence, our imagination fills in the gaps and often our imagination does it far more effectively than any creature designer.
Give your players time to envision the worst or the best before you actually let it happen. If you want, you can even guide their imagination by using sound effects, music, lighting, and so on. Just read up on how to use those things when designing larps to get some inspiration. A good starting point is the article “The Fundamentals of Sound Design in Larp” by Anni Tolvanen and Irrette Melakoski (2019) published in the book Larp Design.
No matter if you look at anticipation from a player’s perspective or from a designer’s – relishing moments of anticipation can definitely create intense scenes. Let’s all be more aware of the magic that lies within anticipation and let’s use it more consciously!
Tolvanen, Anni, and Irrette Melakoski. 2019. “The Fundamentals of Sound Design for Larp.” In Larp Design: Creating Role-play Experiences, edited by Johanna Koljonen, Jaakko Stenros, Anne Serup Grove, Aina D. Skjønsfjell and Elin Nilsen. Copenhagen, Denmark: Landsforeningen Bifrost.
Cover photo: Illustration by Nina Mutik.
This article is published in the Knutpunkt 2022 magazine Distance of Touch and is published here with permission. Please cite this text as:
Fischer, Olivia. 2022. “Wielding the Magic of Anticipation.” In Distance of Touch: The Knutpunkt 2022 Magazine, edited by Juhana Pettersson, 105-107. Knutpunkt 2022 and Pohjoismaisen roolipelaamisen seura.