Wednesday, 13 April 2016

"Hardskills" in LARP

Hardskills are those things that you can do OC (out of character) that you can apply in game or IC (in character).

A classic is your fighting skill. Somebody who can hardskill fighting, probably has practised a bit with latex weapons, knows some decent attacks and defences and can move well. This means that even if their stats are low (low hit points, low damage calls, no crafted weapon - whatever it is in game) they are likely to do well against an opponent who doesn’t have that hardskill i.e. an opponent who isn’t very good at fighting OC.

Good hardskills are often equated with being a good LARPer. The good fighters, the good tacticians, the good stealth trackers, the good archers, the good codebreakers.
And this is great. A lot of us have learned and developed skills we never would have used had it not been for LARP. There are people who are fitter and healthier than previously because of time spent trying to be better on a battle field or able to better navigate the woods.

The issue I have is that sometimes it can make people feel like shit when, for whatever reason, they don’t have those hard skills. They are then left to feel like not good LARPers. When so much attention is given to “X is an amazing fighter” and “Y is brilliant at calculating battles” then by default those of us who aren’t, are ignored and relegated to “ordinary”. There is little chance to shine when you don’t have those hard skills.

There’s an extra sting to this for me and for many others. Many of the commonly revered hardskills are physical or require a lot of concentration or a particular way of thinking. If you are disabled, chronically ill or not neurotypical there is a chance that you simply can’t engage in those things, no matter how hard you practice. I can’t go running in to every battle and I can’t practice enough to be anything other than “not an embarrassment”. Fatigue and brain fog mean I can’t always problem solve as well as I’d like, or puzzle out codes and cryptic messages. I’d love to and on a good day I can. However, the sheer effort and fatigue inherent in a LARP means that it’s unlikely.
However! I had a revelation this weekend. I was thinking about what skills I bring to games (I am somebody who often feels I don’t have good hardskills and ergo am a subpar LARPer) and how they help the over all game experience.

Now the first thing I do a lot in games and am good at OC and IC is organise. I am a natural organiser. I will make lists, I will document things. I will facilitate meetings, summarise information, bullet point ideas and delegate to those who are best suited to manage different areas. I can do this in game as well as in the workplace. OK so this often doesn’t lead to momentous events IC. It doesn’t often create those intense periods of roleplay that I thrive on, or suddenly and obviously change the tide of plot, but it can and does have an impact. When everybody is a panicked, disorganised mess and I stand on a table, ask for the officers to make themselves known, tell them to introduce themselves, designate tasks and set up a control centre I have created game.
Organising and HR is one of my hardskills and, when I use it, it does create game even if it’s a little more subtle.

Me playing Felicity "Just and administrator" Grey at Proekt Ragnarok - Pic by Oliver Facey

The other thing I can do (and it’s what I did throughout Falling Down) is produce raw emotion. I’m really, really good at showing emotion in LARP. I can produce the glistening eyes and tight throat of anxious sadness being held back in a quiet moment. I can stand and talk passionately at somebody with tears streaming down my face. I can hysterically sob real tears, crouched shaking over a dying friend. I can quake with quickened heartbeat and trembling breath in near genuine terror when held hostage by a monster. I can break out smiles and tender caresses when a friend is safe and happy. I realised how many of the stories people tell of favourite LARP moments are highly emotional for their characters and that is something I can contribute to. I might not be the central player in that moment, but when it does happen to my character I can bring it full force and in a horrifically genuine way. You want a heart wrenchingly emotional piece of roleplay in a LARP? I’m you player!

Cassi at Falling Down, struggling to hold back tears - Pic by Oliver facey

  • Hardskills do add something to the game, and honing and refining your skills is an awesome thing.
  • Not all hardskills are physical and dramatic - can’t fight or hide for hours in a ditch? No problem!
  • Some hardskills will have an immediate and obvious effect: defeating an enemy in battle; turning off the bomb using code breaking;
  • Some hardskils are gentler and less obvious: organising and admin skills; song writing; emotional roleplay; charisma and leadership.
  • We shouldn’t undervalue those less physical or less “impact” hardskills in ourselves or others. We are all contributing.
  • Keep in mind that your opinion of what counts as a hardskill or what makes a good roleplayer may be exclusionary to those with disabilities.
  • Take time to think about what you are good at and consider if you do that in game. Chances are it is having an effect, and you can choose to make it a part of your character and game if you want.
  • LARP isn’t always about winning. It’s ok to be bad at something and it’s ok to not use your hardskills. Good at fighting and always play the fighter? When not play a pacifist this time who has never thrown a punch in their life. You might surprise yourself with what you get out of it.

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