Larping’s reality bleeds: ‘I’m actually falling in love with a person who doesn’t exist’

for 52 hours, Davide Orazi didn’t break his character even when he retired to his bed. In this live-action role-playing game (Larp) called Knownbased on HBO’s Westworld, he was assigned the role of guest, the type who gets to flaunt their power over the amusement park’s host robots without consequence.

Finally, Orazi found a way of redemption for his man in black, but an added complication came in the form of a romance with another character in the plot – when both he and she were married to other people in real life. “Which is problematic, because your brain doesn’t know,” Orazi tells Guardian Australia. “Now my brain is full of endorphins and I’m actually falling in love with a person who doesn’t exist.”

Such ethical dilemmas are widespread in Larp; in fact, the themes are often designed to present “what-ifs”. Conscience, which differed from being someone else Stanford Prison Experiment in his psychological exploration of power dynamics, the nature of humanity has been questioned. Orazi, a veteran of Larp for 20 years (since realizing that a simple Dungeons and Dragons table couldn’t contain him) considers the experience one of his favorites.

Davide Orazi in conscience.
Davide Orazi in conscience. Photo: Picturetime

“In our day-to-day lives, we will never necessarily know whether we are terrible creatures or fantastic creatures,” he explains. “Being exposed to situations that are so radically different is pretty unsettling when you come back, and so it makes you ask yourself questions.”

Orazi is an associate professor of marketing at Monash University and co-author of a new scientific paper, There and Back Again: Bleeding from Extraordinary ExperiencesPart of its job was to embed it in various Larp games. Its co-author, Dr Tom van Laer – an associate professor of narratology at the University of Sydney – had to be firmly rooted in reality.

“The agreement was, when this is complete, then I can too,” laughs Van Laer.

Think Larping and your mind might go to enthusiasts in rubber elf ears wielding duct tape swords—something that wasn’t helped by the 2008 Paul Rudd movie. role models, in which the nerdy characters are all a bit “off”. But, as Orazi explains, Larp is just a medium, just like theatre.

Some Larps are high budget businesses, such as: Bunker 101 in Italy, which is set in the year 2057 after the global thermonuclear war and is held in a real air raid shelter, and the Monitor Celestra in Sweden, with a submarine simulator that replaced a spaceship, exploring “cultural and personal conflicts in the shadow of the destruction of the 12 colonies of humanity”. The conscience was in Tabernas, Spain – spaghetti western country.

The chase tends to attract nine-to-fives who feel unfulfilled, Van Laer says, as well as those who have high-intensity jobs but miss out on fun. Many doctors and nurses reported that the Whitby Goth Weekend role-playing was a way to process their daily dealings with death. “There are also people who are really frustrated with the way markets work; they are all over capitalist society.”

Larp Syc'kadia.
The chase tends to attract nine-to-fives who feel unfulfilled, Van Laer says, as well as those who have high-intensity jobs but miss out on fun. Photo: Matt Hudson/The Scy’kadia Team

Chris Price is a plastics processing factory supervisor, but his hidden world is that of Scy’kadia, which he created in 2015. cricket, but we affectionately call them ‘the ghosts in the field'”), and even more so at the biannual meetings at a scout camp, where you can immerse yourself for four days. He made the decision to keep Scy’kadia generic to the fantasy genre, rather than focusing on a specific book or movie, to allow for a wide range of participants.

“If you’re a big Aragorn fan, you can easily find a way to make a rustic mercenary live in the woods,” he says of the Lord of the Rings character, “and we’ve got all the D and D species that everyone knows and loves. We have a database where we keep the players and snippets of their backstory that we can feed into the plot. When we discover that the 18th Viking named Bjorn has joined, we tell them that she might be a want to think of another name so that when we go ‘Bjorn’, 18 people don’t go, ‘Yeah?’”

Price says that the more time a person spends in character, the more it begins to cover their personality — and it’s possible to draw on those qualities. Certainly the improv skills – for a confident and curious dialogue with other characters – can be useful to incorporate into the work environment.

“You also sometimes see people learning appropriate ways to deal with trauma as a result of some of the dark side of it,” he says.

But there is a tension as Larpers returns from their extraordinary lives to their ordinary lives. The person may feel only partially present, or emotional or depressed. It is known in Larp terminology as “bleeding”.

Larp Syc'kadia Faemorgaine Armor-3.
There may also be a sentimental longing for a lost world; one that seems more utopian or lofty. Photo: Eleanor Webber/The Scy’kadia Team

“Most people do get a positive transformation from it, but underestimate that to get to that stage they first have to go through this much more complex space,” says Van Laer.

The violence of a fantasy world can unexpectedly trigger something that takes time to process back into the ordinary world. There may also be a sentimental longing for a lost world; one that seems more utopian or lofty. There and Back Again exemplifies the world of gender role reversal of demetra, held in Italy, is set in “an unbalanced, unfair and sexist matriarchal society”. There the ‘frames’ of reality and fiction clashed for a male participant, a German IT manager. When he returned to his normal life, he and a woman both stopped at one door, waiting for the other to hold it open.

“Some people, after they treat the hemorrhage, change their relationships, they change jobs, they change the way they think about things and react to people,” says Van Laer. He uses the example of “Theresa”, an Austrian web developer.

“She was quite powerful in the Larp. She had a lot of freedom of choice and realized that she didn’t do that in her relationship,” says Van Laer. In her interview with the researchers, Theresa said, “The Larp and my bleeding started a series of processes that led to me stepping out of harmful and abusive structures in my real life a year later.”

Most of us recognize the difficulty of integrating back into normal life after an extraordinary experience. When I conduct these interviews, I have trouble getting back into the rhythm of work after three weeks in Bali. There and Back Again examples Burning Man, Mardi Gras, Tough Mudda, ultra-running and Harley Davidson rallies as extraordinary experiences. And then, of course, there’s the lockdown life. In 2020, Van Laer was asked to present to the inquiry into the Australian government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and spoke about the ‘bleeding effect’ in that context.

Larp Syc'kadia.
Larp Syc’kadia. Photo: Matt Hudson/The Scy’kadia Team

So how can we best adapt to reality after a deep experience? Orazi speaks from personal experience.

“In the beginning it’s a flooding river of emotions, so resistance is futile, as nerds will say. Then I try to embed myself in what my daily life is,” he says. “I focus on work. It helps me hit a speedball at the gym because the physical exertion and repetitive noise keep me coming back. And I play music, that’s my form of meditation. Usually after a week it becomes a pleasant memory again.”

Others feel the need to share their experience, either on forums or in person at smaller events; or simply by immersing yourself in a movie or book, if that’s what the Larp was based on.

I tell Orazi that this reintegration is a lot like the way seasoned psychonauts will download after an intense psychedelic experience, with someone else who has shared knowledge. He agrees.

“It’s not all that different from a trip,” he says with a sigh. “Because you see dragons in Larps too.”

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