I decided to speak about an issue known to game-masters: the player's rejection of the assigned character.
This talk's content is a blend of psychology, inquiry method (advaita vedanta), LARP theory and my own theorems.
A big thank you to Erlend Eidsem for guiding me in preparations and for co-hosting the talk.
Here is the faithful transcript:
Rejection, a clash of personalities
When a player in your LARP rejects the assigned character (either by saying so out loud or by freezing out/becoming passive during play), we can call it Rejection. This talk aims to find ways of dealing with rejection, instead of avoiding it.
Preparing the players for 'difficult' roles might lead to a higher reward of play, as opposed to just letting players stick to their usual comfort-zone characters. Especially with edu-LARP.
Let's talk about rejection. Let's talk about it, explore its reasons for happening. And perhaps - let's stop avoiding it.
What happens is one of the following:
a) player says nothing but just free-rides through larp, not investing himself
b) player rejects the character aloud by saying: "This is just so not me."
(and demands substitution)
c) player decides to play but freezes in the first 'chapters' of larping (this is arguably unwanted or subconscious rejection), being unable to act as the character
d) player is jumping in&out of character by means of insufficient immersion, therefore unwantingly partially rejecting the role
e) player simply can't make himself to play, because he doesn't see the meaning in the role-playing activity (Krzysztof Chmielewski's advice: "Simulationism is the backdoor to immersion for mentally over-active, practical-technical people.")
f) Player recognizes the character to be ‚too much like me‘ and feels vulnerable at revealing himself
g) Player accepts the character but doesn't follow character's sheet and changes the character to his/hers own liking
What the nordic larp routine suggests is that rejection should be avoided at all costs, pulling out different ethical issues and questions of rudeness by waving a flag 'no one should be forced to play something they don't want'. Agreed. No forcing. „Whoever must play, cannot play.“ (John P. Carse)
Why would you wanna go to the trouble of dealing with this thing, anyway?
In EDU-larp context this might not be appreciated, though. If the act of assigning a character is framed as a challenge, not a must, players might be encouraged to take on a challenging role. Only a challenging role potentially offers great rewards of play.
A larpmaster has tools at hand to DEAL with the possibility of Rejection INSTEAD of doing everything to AVOID it or to neutralize it when it does happen.
Now let's journey into understanding the reasons for Rejection.
Thesis 1: Rejection happens because the idea of who we are clashes with a new idea (character).
What is it, actually – the idea of who I am?
Simply put - it's personality.
Mooji, a teacher of the inquiry method (advaita vedanta), postulates that personality is not original to a man and therefore can not be the true self. The reason personality is not original is that its construction and its ever-changing essence is always observed from a point that never changes.
Let's say the sun is rising and light slowly fills your room. Gradually you gain awareness, a simple knowing that you are here and you exist. The knowing occurs even without a though. Into this awareness, your personal data is being uploaded in the familiar process of waking up.
You remember your name, what you did yesterday, you look to your side, there's a woman there, your remember her name and the fact that she is your wife, then you remember what you had decided yesterday to do today, various thoughts fill the space of awareness, you become aware of your emotions,...
This argument sees you as the pure awareness that has always been here to observe the thoughts, assumptions, conclusions and other building blocks of what has created your personality. But all in all, a personality is just a complex idea of who you are, spiced up by your identification with it.
This world only finds your personality relevant. You can get by by only answering personality-related questions like: »Where were you born, What's your family name, Where did you go to school, What degree you earned,...«
Personality as a mosaic
What the idea of 'who I am' is made of
We, as humans, believe we are:
- Our body, to begin with
- Our history
- Our likes
- Our dislikes
- what our significant others say about us, but censorsed
- An ever slightly changing idea that we genuinely have about ourselves through our most intimate self-discovery
- Our past romantic relations
- Our loving relations
- The stuff we put into our CVs
- Our thoughts (THE voice in our head who talks to us all the time)
This pulsating, humming mosaic structure of above mentioned beliefs, forms our total idea of who we are and it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy, thriving on beliefs and subconscious behavioral reaction patterns.
But the above list lacks one key idea: the idea of who we really are!
This is constantly provoked by psychology methods and the new age movement in general, basically saying that who we really are, we haven't discovered yet. At least not fully. If we really knew who we are, then this knowing would be far beyond any shade of doubt.
And there is some truth in argument; people do have a fear that who they really are might be somebody worse than who they currently are. And this fear is supposedly keeping us from making the final, complete discovery.
So the »know thyself« industry had a lot of people convinced that we are not yet who we really are and that we need to discover something crucial and integrate it into our personality.
The key idea of this industry is: »Discover the missing bit and finish the work of designing your personality.«
Here comes the best part: however we design the 'who we are', whether or not we tend to dance to the groove of the self-improvement, the product is (called) personality. It seems to be unavoidable for both rational skeptic and dreamy new ager.
And finally, here is the ultimate best part: regardless of the kind of personality that we have, we've grown attached to it beyond refusal. Furthermore: we identify with it. And this identification is the strongest glue, the most resilient cohesive known on planet Earth.
The role of personality in larping
People who walk into a larp accepts on some level to challenge their personality. Or better yet, they challenge the identification. Some call this challenging acting. Acting has been around for ages, so what harm could come of it? Seems just as safe as safe sex.
Theses no.2: I play a LARP to challenge the idea of who I am.
I'm interested in those players who actually love to become somebody else for the time being. They are kin to take off their personality and get dressed in a new one. Although it's probably more honest to claim, that the character's personality is just worn over the player's existing one, kind of like a vest is worn over a sweater. Sadly, we're all English when it comes to this.
- The vest and the sweater are likely to merge (into a role)
- If the vest takes over, we have complete immersion (actually a psychosis, as Erlend Eidsem put it).
- If the sweater wins, we get rejection.
This talk is interested in those players who find their new vest uncomfortable to wear, even if it represents a non-threatening and generally pretty harmless character to play.
The rejection of the role is usually acompanied by the player saying: »It's just (so) not like me.«
Besides wondering why anybody would want to join a larp to play themselves (have they not have enough play time already?), I am reminded by what Brezhinowsky said: »if you can not play any role, how can you play yourself?«
Thesis no. 3: the Rejectors are people who have an unusually strong identification with their personality.
One could argue that they might merely be just people who are not suitable to be larp players. Yet I have seen cases of people eager to play, but fail to wear the vest for a couple of hours AND enjoy it. Also I have seen total acting/impro beginners doing one hell of a job at larping.
Thesis no. 4: larpers (the non-rejectors) are people who enjoy ditching their personality.
Now why would anyone want to temporarily toss away who they are, if not for the fact, that who they believe they are is not who they really are? And since knowing who one really is seems to be more or less a guessing, a trial&error game, one might just as well try on as many vests as possible. Especially in a safe environment of larping.
Thesis no. 5: no vest can make clear who one really is.
The changing of clothes however does help to loosen our identification with our default personality, by making the player realize in surprise: »But I'm also like that!«
So that maybe some day we might finally find out that we were never out to get the real personality, but to dispose of it, possibly altogether. This is the secret pleasure of immersive larpers. Glimpses of being free from the itching fabric of our sweaters.
Here's a one man attempt at a (new age) definition of larping:
»(Immersive, arthaus) larping is playing with the idea of who you really are.«
What this inspiring item, this talk is about, is to inspire you to share your knowledge and technology (routines, exercises, games) in how to make pre-game workshops as timely efficient as possible, all with the aim to prevent rejection by softening (unfixing) one's idea of himself. How to get a little crazy. How to be open to, for the time being, be anybody.
Why I believe this (dealing with rejection, instead of avoiding it) is beneficial:
- Practical explanation: I want my in-company larping to transform people to accept new mindsets and point of views
- Philosophical explanation: I believe that becoming anyone for often and long enough, leads to becoming no-one; only NoOne can wear his personality only like a t-shirt.
Where personality retreats, divine sinks in. This is the heart of larping.
Talk delivered at
Knudepunkt 2015, Ringe, Denmark on February 13th.