You experience bleed when your character shares your emotional state or vice versa.
Bleed is a LARP term defining emotional crossover between a player and their character. It’s not a bad thing. The rush of excitement on finding an important gadget and the satisfaction of an in-game job well done are also bleed. Bleed can also occur when our experiences affect our character’s behaviour such as when a player’s exhaustion leads to their typically free-wheeling character becoming quiet and withdrawn.
Other emotions such as fear, guilt and sorrow can also be entertaining experiences in a LARP that help us feel immersed. There are plenty of players who will specifically attend a LARP that is designed to invoke an emotion that we may typically avoid in real life. How many people attend horror LARPs for the possibility of feeling, just for a moment, a whiff of actual fear?
The problem arises when these emotions overwhelm us or when they persist over time. It is one thing to feel sad during a character’s funeral and it’s another thing altogether to be crying over a fictional death a few weeks later. Yet just as events in a television show can affect us long after we have stopped watching, so can a LARP continue to affect our emotions well after the scene ends.
In fact, LARPs have a greater ability to emotionally affect us because we are literally there, moving as our characters, and because our decisions often play a role in creating the outcome that affects us. Thus our characters, and therefore ourselves, could be somewhat responsible (or feel that way) for the death of a fictional friend. Bleed can even be addictive as our general day-to-day lives often lack the highs and lows of a character’s life. After all we move toward comfort in our daily lives, not hair-raising adventure.
The following information will give you an idea of things that can increase the chance of bleed, things we can do to contain the bleed to the session and things we can do to actively decrease bleed as it happens. Bleed can add zest and interest in a game and should be embraced within healthy limits. If bleed is affecting your out-of-game relationships or your day-to-day life than it’s very important that you find some way to reduce the bleed — perhaps by taking a break from the game for awhile.
So what are some game design elements that can increase bleed:
- Permanent character death introduces themes of grief and loss.
- Inclusion of romantic entanglements and the possibility of in-game breakups and infidelity.
- Political settings that encourage competitive play through humiliating or discrediting characters.
- Horror settings that encourage emotions of fear and anxiety.
- Tragic settings where your character will inevitably fail or suffer some misfortune.
- Lengthy sessions and weekend games.
- Frequency of events (i.e. weekly games rather than monthly).
- Opportunities for downtime betrayal (increases anxiety between sessions that something terrible will happen to your character that can only be prevented through between-game vigilance).
- In-game forum use where you post as your character.
- Frequency has a big impact here. Daily posting affects you more than weekly posting.
- Political or otherwise emotive discussions on forums can create persistent anxiety as you wait for people to post and prevents the use of tone and body language to mitigate upset.
- Forum use can also create a persistent in-play environment which prevents a player from having adequate breaks to emotionally re-settle after the game.
What are some game design elements and player choices that can help contain bleed:
- Clear, defined procedures for stopping and starting a session.
- Pre-game discussion occurs in a separate room and then people enter in-character.
- Playing a particular theme song before a game.
- Ringing a bell or some other auditory cue for Session Over.
- Players encouraged to discuss emotions raised during gameplay in safe spaces or with key staff.
- Key staff available during game for such discussions.
- Some degree of cooperative play allows characters to resolve some emotional scenarios through discussion with other characters before the session ends which allows the player closure.
- Individual player rituals that mark the start and end of each game
- Listening to suitable music on the way in, unsuitable music on the way out (that doesn’t fit the character).
- Putting costume and makeup on and then taking it off, perhaps with a long shower.
- Standing around in a circle and discussing your favourite part of the game which provides a chance to air your experiences and remind yourself of what is within the game and outside of the game.
- Time after the game to debrief about what happened during it and unwind.
Naturally this photograph was taken of in-game misery and not one where the player actually felt miserable.
Bleed is a LARP term defining emotional crossover between a player and their character. Whenever you (as a player) feel an emotion due to the in-game reality or your character is impacted by your real world feelings, you are experiencing bleed.
Bleed includes the rush of excitement on finding an important gadget, the satisfaction of a job well-down and the sorrow of seeing a character die. It also includes when your character refuses to go out on a mission because you (the player) are tired and need a nap. In other words, it’s a natural part of the game and refers to the highs and lows that often inspire people to come along and get involved. After all, you can feel sad when you see a character die on a movie or a play, why not in a LARP?
Though most instances of bleed really add to the game and a player’s experience, it is important to have healthy and effective strategies for managing those emotions so that they don’t spill over into our day-to-day lives. Here are a few tips on how to help manage bleed within desirable limits:
- Accept that anyone can experience intense bleed. Even if you never have in the past, you may in the future. This helps you look at healthy strategies of managing those emotions by accepting them as a natural outgrowth of the in-game experience rather than looking for out-of-game causes and blaming volunteers and other players.
- Always refer to the characters by their names when discussing a situation out-of-game. This differentiates between a player’s feelings / actions and a character’s feelings / actions. This is especially important when you are talking about things you don’t like about the character as it can genuinely hurt a player’s feelings when they’re not sure if you find them annoying … or just their character.
- It’s a great idea to approach other players after an emotional scene and thanking them for their involvement. Reassuring them that you enjoyed their roleplay ensures they know, definitively, that you weren’t actually angry with them as a player. You can always do this after the session if you don’t feel that it would be appropriate (due to the style of game or the timing) to approach them briefly during the session.
- Since it can be difficult to tell when visible distress is due to in-game acting or out-of-game feelings, we have a set of gestures which allow people to quickly check in with you during the game without having to drop out-of-game to ask. We call it the “Okay” check-in method where you flash an OK hand gesture at them (typically held over a flat hand like a tea cup) and they give either a Thumbs Up (I’m fine), Thumbs Down (I’m not all right) or a Maybe Hand Gesture (I’m mostly not all right). This will give you the chance to react accordingly to help them through the situation.
- Use the “Time Out Gesture” if you’re finding a situation is far too intense and you need to take a break and/or switch to narrative description of events.
- Use the “Reduce Intensity” gesture when you’re becoming overwhelmed by the scene but are happy to continue it so long as, say, the character interacting with you lowers the intensity by, say, giving you more personal space or lowering their volume from a loud shout to a quieter yell. Continue using the gesture until the scene settles into a more comfortable situation.
- Use the “Lookdown” method (looking down and shading your eyes) when passing a situation that you are not emotionally or physically capable of participating in. You might use this because the scene appears too intense and disturbing for you at the moment or when you are feeling sick, tired, sore or really need food / water and are returning to the base. You must pretend your character hasn’t noticed the scene and should not speak about it in-game. Those players involved in that scene should pretend they were distracted and didn’t see you go by.
- Remember that consequences are still a part of the game. While you are always welcome to discuss with other players if a situation has ceased to be fun for you, if the consequences are due to your character’s actions (especially if they are PvP actions, i.e. where two player characters are working against each other) than you will need to be willing to compromise and offer concessions. If those consequences are due to in-game cruelties or treachery, such a compromise might not be possible. Be mindful of this when creating your character.
- It can help to use an individual player ritual that marks the start and end of each game (such as listening to thematic music while putting on your costume and unsuitable music when taking it off).
- Make a point to attend social events that can remind you that the players who surround you are different to their characters. If you only see someone when they’re being mean, it can be hard to know that is a character rather than a player trait.
Those who play NPCs have a crucial role in making the game incredible.
We’ve touched a fair bit on how to be a great player in a LARP game but there’s also a group of people who can really make or break a LARP. A group of people who don roles created by the LARP writers and game masters to people the wider world, providing extra conflict and excitement during a session. These are the quest givers and the witnesses, the police who investigate the character’s crimes and the monsters that lurk in the forests. They add a lot to the game world but with the power to shape so many players’ experiences comes a great responsibility to do so well.
- Play to WIN the hearts and minds of the players. Too often people get caught up in the idea that they must win the conflict (physical or otherwise) or be sure to lose it when truly the goal is to entertain those around you and help the players write their narrative.
- Read your NPC bios and ask any questions you may have. You’ll be a much better NPC if you’re briefed on the scenario, likely choices and situations in the local area. That way you won’t be surrendering when you’re meant to be fearless or talking about cheese in a world without milk.
- Congratulate the players on their skilful manoeuvres after the session. Odds are you saw more of their manipulations than the other PCs did. Certainly never pay them out for their poor decisions. We all make them. Mistakes are part of playing one’s character and lacking a wider understanding of the game. They should be embraced — don’t ridicule someone for making them.
- Read about body language tricks so that you can better depict your character and help differentiate them from others.
- Eat something for breakfast, or bring something with you if you can’t stomach food so early. That way you don’t get grumpy and fatigued as the day wears on. And definitely drink water — or cordial if you just don’t like the taste of water.
- Be gentle with new players, in particular. Work with them and help make their hopes and dreams a reality! This may be through targeting their character for a kidnapping,
- Remember that your NPC is most likely not omnipotent or omniscient. If it would be appropriate, assume your NPC doesn’t notice if the players try genre appropriate behaviours like sneaking up on your camp, eavesdropping from behind a tree or pocketing a key from a table. Bonus points if you don’t tell them you saw them afterwards!
- Bring your own costuming, if you have it, and learn how to apply makeup or face paint if it would be appropriate for your game and you have the capacity to do so.
- Understand how much wiggle room for improvisation you actually have. If you’re not told, than ask. Some games allow their NPCs far more free will than others. Your GM’s response will depend on how events are scheduled, how cohesive the vision must be and whether your own gameplay desires are likely to mesh with the setting, player expectations and overall theme and style of the game.
- React to hits in a combat LARP. Nothing makes a person feel more special than when they land a blow and their enemy grunts in pain, shrieks in terror or otherwise responds as though they had been hit. Heck, if your LARP involves dice-based combat you can respond to the player’s dice rolls as well!