Actual Plays of Live-Action Online Games (LAOGs)

Actual Plays of Live-Action Online Games (LAOGs)


This article introduces the reasoning for making recordings of larps played online. We present our core concepts and provide a categorisation of motivations, followed by an overview of the historical development of LAOG Actual Plays (APs). We also discuss some theoretical concepts and design goals around AP-informed play, and point to some further avenues of exploration.

What are Live Action Online Games (LAOGs) and LAOG Actual Plays (APs)?

Live-Action Online Game – LAOG

One of the truisms of larp design is that “everything is a designable surface” (Koljonen 2019, 27). It is not surprising, therefore, that different communities have used the specific characteristics of the online medium to design games that can be considered a larp. The term LAOG stands next to similarly used terms like online larp, digital larp, VORP (virtual online role-playing) and others. We suggest that something should be considered a LAOG if it corresponds to the components of the abbreviation: it is to be played as live-action, with a sense of a full-body experience; it is designed specifically for an online context; and it is a game (however one wants to define that term). LAOG as a term was first established in A Manifesto for Laogs in 2018 by one of the authors of this essay (see Reininghaus 2019).

Actual Play – AP

An Actual Play is a representation of game play – either live or recorded – that is prepared and made available for an audience. Actual Plays of digital and analog games have become a significant aspect of today’s popular culture. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube provide space for creators to host their own APs, some of them live, others pre-recorded. Actual Plays can present board games, video games, Tabletop role-playing games (TTRPG) – or larps.

The history of and some current community perspectives on LAOG APs

The history of AP recordings is connected to the development of technologies that make live-action online games and their recording possible. For some time, Skype was the most popular software that offered possibilities for online play, but this required paid accounts and had some technical drawbacks, like limited screen-sharing possibilities. TeamSpeak, as an audio-only platform popular for massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), offered possibilities to play online but to our knowledge was only used for TTRPG online sessions.

The introduction of Google Hangouts provided a video chat platform which can be considered a game changer. Google Hangouts was a service offered by Google from 2013 to 2022 without any financial cost to users. It brought playing TTRPGs online to a wider audience, and allowed players from all over the world to connect and play together. Recording and hence making APs was easy, as the direct connection to the YouTube platform allowed users to stream or record and later publish their games with a few clicks after doing an initial setup. For example, Google Hangouts enabled the growth of The Gauntlet (now known as Open Hearth Gaming), an Indie TTRPG online community, where for many years it was used as the main medium of play. The resulting large library of APs is still available on YouTube.

Already before the rise of Google Hangouts, in 2012, Orion Canning and Robert Bruce designed and played The House online. It does not fall within our narrower definition of LAOGs as it is not played synchronously, but players are invited to upload videos recorded in-character as inhabitants of a Big Brother-like reality TV show to a YouTube channel offered by the creators. Other players then react to these videos, again by recording their reactions and uploading them. The game is entirely based on the “confession video” format popularized by reality TV shows, in which participants of the show are talking to the camera by themselves, without the other participants present, about their motivations and strategies. As an AP, it is difficult for the audience to follow the exact stream of events, which possibly replicates the feeling of the source material quite closely.

ViewScream by Rafael Chandler came out in 2013 and became the cornerstone for LAOG APs for the next six years. The game referred to itself as “Varp”, or “video-augmented role-playing”. In ViewScream players play people on a spaceship doomed to destruction. The mechanics guarantee that not all characters can get out alive. The video call setting is an in-game element: not only the players but also the characters are all in a video call together, calling in from different areas of the spaceship. The run time is approximately one hour. The game provided virtual backgrounds, several scenarios as variations of the game’s story, and included a captain role with some typical game master functions in the sense that this player was specifically asked to help create a dramatic story. All these ingredients and the novelty of the format helped to create a small ViewScream community and the creation of at least 30 APs.

Interestingly, ViewScream did not emerge out of a larp community but was developed in the context of a TTRPG community, mostly active and connected on the platform Google Plus, which at the time was important for Indie TTRPG creators.

In 2017, Gerrit Reininghaus started creating APs for LAOGs on his YouTube channel “betafunktion”, with Jason Morningstar’s Winterhorn (2017) as the first AP. Soon after, in 2018, Reininghaus published A Manifesto for Laogs and established the genre. Today, betafunktion contains the largest collection of LAOG APs, presenting more than 20 games by different creators (see Reininghaus 2020). The YouTube channel has become a reference point for LAOG creators, with the recordings with the largest view count making it to more than 1.6K views (of So Mom I Made This Sex Tape, 2016) at the time of writing.

The pandemic brought increased attention to online larp. Many creators have since then entered the design field and shared design ideas (see e.g., D.& Schiffer 2020; Marsh & Dixon 2021). However, few APs have been created during the pandemic. The LAOG The Space Between Us (2020) became an underground hit and its APs and fan productions went viral in interested circles. Why LAOG APs did not become even more popular during this time of elevated attention for online play is a question that cannot be fully answered here. One suggestion the authors can offer is that larpers have a) a more rigid understanding of the social contract in larp, specifically that a larp shall not have an audience, b) that familiarity with the technology required to make APs was not immediately available, and c) that one platform which became a home for many designs during the pandemic was Discord, which – unlike Google Hangouts – does not allow for simple recordings. However, Zoom, which also became popular during the pandemic, does (see Otting 2022).

Over time, the larp scene has recognised the existence of LAOG APs. For example, the German association of larpers (Deutscher Liverollenspiel-Verband, DLRV) awarded the FRED award in 2020 for advocating larp to a larger audience to the aforementioned YouTube channel betafunktion.

Why should we make APs of LAOGs?

There are many reasons to produce Actual Plays of Live-Action Online Games. We provide a structured overview here that hopefully reflects most motivations. In any concrete project, there often will exist a combination of different reasonings for producing AP recordings.

APs as entertainment

Currently, the most prominent form of role-playing APs are productions to entertain an audience. Actual Play video shows like Critical Role or podcasts like The Adventure Zone have become part of the entertainment industry. But even shows without large profit ambitions have created their own style and offer high production values. Nameless Domain is a producer of such APs, now award winning for GUDIYA, a Bluebeard’s Bride (2017) one-shot. The Magpies, a Blades in the Dark AP-podcast by Clever Corvids Productions is another example. Some of these APs can be both watched live and in recorded forms, with the recordings usually edited and enhanced for a better audience experience. Live shows make use of the entertainment format and excitement present in something like live sports – with the unexpected luring behind every corner. The actual game play is just one contributing factor in APs for entertainment, while participants’ performances, the production values, and pre-written story arcs often play a similarly important role for the end product.

While TTRPG-APs have today become part of a growing entertainment industry, as far as we are aware not many LAOG APs have so far been (professionally) produced purely for reasons of audience entertainment. However, some of the larger commercial TTRPG shows like KOllOK have recently included live-action elements with success (when measured in terms of public appraisal and audience size).

AP production can also be part of a LAOG’s design concept. The recording can be a diegetic feature of the game as in a reality show larp. Or, if watching or listening to a recording of (parts of) the game is itself considered an element of gameplay by the designer and hence it can be a source of entertainment for the players. In The House (2012), for example, directly interacting with the camera in-character is a central design element.

APs for demonstration purposes

APs can also be produced to demonstrate how to play. The teaching of games through play itself has always been an important part of play cultures, and assumes that people best learn about a game when they see how the rules work in practice. This is especially true for role-playing games and larps, which have a large body of implicit rules of engagement not laid down in scripts or rulebooks.

In a certain sense, recording LAOGs for demonstration purposes allows non-larpers access to a first-person perspective of a larp. The audience sees exactly what the player themself has seen during play. Such APs also provide insights to the designers about how their game works “out in the wild”. Designers can benefit from seeing specific mechanics and techniques in play, for example to analyse player engagement and dynamics, and their effects on pacing.

Play cultures in larp differ significantly: another proper reason to produce APs is to showcase your own playstyle, although this is often a side effect rather than the intended production reason. One exception might be if larp production companies want to showcase their specific playstyle, making it easier for potential players to identify if a larp is right for them.

APs as a community contribution

We do not larp alone. As larp communities, we share our joy, we like to engage in discussions of games, and of our play experience. We like to see people we have played with in other games, and we watch out for each other.

Recording a game for the community can happen to establish facts about how the community is playing (safety, inclusivity). This is not the same motivation as demonstrating game play or showcasing play culture as previously described. APs from and for a community are revealing community norms in less intentional ways.

Producing an AP from and for the community is sending a signal on what is played, who is playing, who is visible, and consequently who is relevant. It is a way to emphasise community structures and relationships.

APs for posterity

Making an AP can be an artistic expression. In this case, the game itself might be designed around the AP concept or the production might be focused on turning the game into an artistic expression.

APs can make contemporary play culture visible, and that might also be a goal: to help future generations understand how live-action games were played online, who was playing, and what unwritten or undocumented elements were relevant to players at the time. Archivists and researchers will be grateful for live recordings of games from past decades.

When participating in a LAOG, recording it can also be motivated by the idea of creating a personal memory. Just like taking photos at events, an AP is a form of conserving an experience in some form, to be able to return to it later in life.

Audience in online game design and LAOG facilitation

Making an AP of a LAOG is in most cases different from documenting a larp played in physical space. The recording button is not as intrusive as it is to have a person with a camera circling around the players in-character. Even when the camera is an in-game element, recording has a more direct effect in physical larps.

It remains an open question if recording, both live-streamed or published later, is a violation of a central aspect of the sort of social contract (also called the “role-play agreement”, Stenros & Montola 2019, 17) often seen as a unique and required ingredient of larp: the fact that play is not performed with an audience in mind. Some players have reported that they cannot enjoy being in a recorded play session, as they start playing performatively. Other players explain that playing in a recorded session does feel different to them during an initial short period of time, often just minutes, in which they get used to the situation. This is similar to the inhibition expressed by players towards non-diegetic LAOGs (see Reininghaus 2021). Non-diegetic in this context means that the characters of the game are not speaking through a video call to each other but in the shared imaginative space might be physically close together. Some players report that they cannot enjoy the dissonance between the players’ distance and their characters’ potential closeness.

From a safety perspective, recording online play requires a couple of specific considerations. The following procedure can be considered good practice:

  1. Announce in the sign-up process for the game that a recording is planned.
  2. Remind players at the beginning of the game that the session is going to be recorded and offer an Open Door, i.e. the option to drop out at any time for this reason (or any other, without having to offer any justification).
  3. Break debrief into two parts: a recorded and an unrecorded part.
  4. Do not stream the game live, instead offer a 48-hour hold-off period before publishing the video. Inform players that they can express a veto after play, meaning that the recording is not going to be published as an AP.

From a game design perspective, APs offer an interesting additional creative dimension. A game designed to be recorded for AP purposes has specific requirements. If the video call’s chat is used as a communication dimension in the game, for example, a typical recording will not capture this and hence the AP will present only an incomplete version of the session.

Games which assume that players move between different virtual video rooms require choosing the recording perspective. The audience will either follow one player through their experience of the game session in multiple rooms, or experience everything that happened in only the one virtual room that was being recorded. If more than one player is recording their play, the audience can shift between views and create their own experience of the game. The APs of End Game (2016) allow for such an experience, as players are shuffled between the two in-game rooms exactly every ten minutes, allowing the audience to choose whose story to follow next.

Gerrit Reininghaus designed the game Last Words (2019) with an “audience first” approach in mind. Some players play the game muted, some without a camera or sound, due to the asymmetrically-designed communication setup. While during the game no player therefore fully experiences what is happening, an audience can have access to this experience – in a single recording.


Both for players of larps and for future researchers, an archive of APs of contemporary larp play styles online could turn out to be invaluable. This alone should encourage more community members to consider recording their games.

We also see plenty of potential avenues for further theoretical and practical explorations around APs of LAOGs. For example, we do not know much yet about the concrete effects that being recorded has on online play. We equally should consider the possible ethical implications of recording and distributing records of LAOG play, like a near-future use of public video libraries for training generative AI models. On the positive side, APs could positively contribute to making minorities in the larp and LAOG communities more visible.

Regarding future potential design avenues, we are excited – as facilitators, designers, players, and audiences – to further explore how LAOGs can be designed to make AP production easier, how the recording and re-watching of APs can be a tool for iterative game design, and what APs as a designable surface can contribute to larp. We are looking forward to seeing these questions explored in the future.


Quinn D. and Eva Schiffer (2020): Writing Live Action Online Games.

Critical Role (2012–) [Multi-Platform AP-productions].

F.R.E.D. – Preis für Fortschrittliche Rollenspiel Entwicklung in Deutschland (in German)

Jaakko Stenros & Markus Montola (2019): Basic Concepts In Larp Design. In Larp Design: Creating Role-Play Experiences, edited by Johanna Koljonen & al. Kopenhagen: Landsforeningen Bifrost (Knudepunkt 2019), p. 16–21.

Johanna Koljonen (2019): An Introduction to Bespoke Larp Design. In Larp Design: Creating Role-Play Experiences, edited by Johanna Koljonen & al. Kopenhagen: Landsforeningen Bifrost (Knudepunkt 2019), p. 25–29.

KOllOK – a Live Interactive Series

Erin Marsh and Hazel Dixon (2021): Accessibility in Online Larp.

Nameless Domain – an award winning AP show cooperative

Open Hearth Gaming Community – over 5.000 APs of LAOG and TTRPG sessions

Ylva Otting (2022): The Online Larp Road Trip.

Gerrit Reininghaus (2019): A Manifesto for Laogs – Live Action Online Games. (first published in 2018 at

Gerrit Reininghaus (2020): An Overview of Existing LAOGs.

Gerrit Reininghaus (2021): Three Forms of LAOGs.

The Adventure Zone (2014–) [AP-podcast].

The Magpies Podcast – A Blades in the Dark Actual Play Podcast (2018–2021).

Evan Torner (2021): The Golden Cobra’s Online Pivot. Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies.


Blades in the Dark (2017) by John Harper. Evil Hat.
Available at:

Bluebeard’s Bride (2017) by Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson. Magpie Games.
Available at:

End Game (2016) by David Hertz. Glass-Free* Games.
Available at:

Last Words (2019) by Gerrit Reininghaus. Gauntlet Publishing.
Available at:–Melancholy-Jul-2019

So Mom, I Made This Sex Tape (2016) by Susanne Vejdemo. #Feminism Anthology. Pelgrane Press. Available at:

The House (2012) by Orion Canning and Robert Bruce.
Available at:

The Space Between Us (2020) by Wibora Wildfeuer.
Available at:

ViewScream, 1st Ed. (2013), 2nd Ed. (2016) by Rafael Chandler. Neoplastic Press
Available at:
AP playlist:

Winterhorn (2017) by Jason Morningstar. Bully Pulpit Games.
Available at: Game:

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Reininghaus, Gerrit, and Adrian Hermann. 2024. “Actual Plays of Live-Action Online Games (LAOGs).” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larp, edited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

Cover photo: Screenshot by Simon Rogers from online larp The Space Between Us, written by Wibora Wildfeuer, run by Sydney Mikosch

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Gerrit Reininghaus is a live-action designer from Bonn, Germany. His works tackle opportunities and challenges of live-action online games (LAOG). He is also writing Indie RPGs to organize his thoughts and experiences: from tuk tuk racing to the joy of putting on makeup together. Gerrit has won two Golden Cobras for his LAOG designs, and a FRED award for promotion of the German larp scene to a wider audience. His website is
Adrian Hermann is a culture and religion studies scholar at the University of Bonn, Germany, who also increasingly works in analog game studies. He is interested in all forms of imaginative play.