*This article was originally published in Finnish in 2014, and it was translated by some larpers in 2016. You can find the original post here.
Romantic love is a strong motive in both fiction and real life. It makes people start relationships and break up, cheat on their partners, take revenge, rejoice, engage in a relationship, be jealous and even commit murders. In addition to real life, television, movies and books are filled with different kinds of love stories. There’s even a saying that every song is somehow about love.
Love is also often an essential theme in larps. It can give a character a motive, make things meaningful, create drama between characters and bring the strong emotions in the game.
Characters might be willing to make big sacrifices and give it all up in the name of love and because of it. And love and romance are common themes in larps: infatuation, marriage intentions, hearts breaking and secret affairs are basic plots for many larps.
How do the players themselves feel about playing romantic love? Why is love a fascinating theme to play larp after larp? What kind of feelings do the players experience as they play those strong emotions towards another character? When talking about larping to a non-larper and describing playing a love affair, it’s possible to hear the other one wondering “So, do you really fall in love while playing that?”
For this article we made a web questionnaire in which Finnish larpers could talk anonymously about their thoughts on playing romantic love. The questionnaire was advertised in the largest Facebook group of Finnish larpers Suomi Larp – Larppaamisen Ilosta, hoping that it would reach as many larpers around Finland as possible. During the week when the questionnaire was open 44 persons answered it. The answers were copious; we could have written a dissertation instead of an article based on the material. Big thank you to all players who answered! The thoughts about romantic love in this article are based entirely on the answers in the questionnaire. The quotes (bolded text) in this article are from the answers we got, and the respondents have given their permission for their use.
What attracts players to play romantic relationships?
In general, the answers show that romantic love is an essential theme in larps for many players, and people wish to experience love affairs, crushes and relationship drama in their larps. A few respondents told that they don’t want to have romantic relationships as a central theme for their larp, and even hope they can avoid playing those, but a clear majority wish to have them in their larps and see it as one of the core themes they wish to play.
Romantic love is seen as a central part of human everyday life. When aiming for the most authentic larping experience people often want to include love, too, which on the other hand can make their character selfish, or on the other hand emphatic, when they consider the person they’re interested in or their partner. Love often drives characters to prioritize things and make important decisions. Many respondents felt that larping without love affairs felt contrived.
Love is a strong and motivating feeling. It creates possibilities for drama and with a fortunate contact love plots can create strong feelings, both positive and negative. And these feelings are what I often want from a larp.
Love affairs give a boost to playing. For instance, playing a crush can make even quiet and boring moments in the larp somehow meaningful: just seeing your crush walk past you can make your heart beat like crazy.
Love, in the end, is a very good motive to do things. Most of all love is a wonderfully complicated and interesting theme. It forces you to look at your own decisions from a larger perspective than through your own agency.
Love and romances are also important to the content and plots in larps. For many players love affairs provide a chance for larger-than-life drama, and at the same time offer intense player contacts and strong emotional experiences, which many respondents see as a core reason to larp.
The best thing in playing romantic love is the storm of emotions, or alternatively the stability it brings into the larp. The world may end around you but love endures.
Playing romantic love in larps can be seen as a break from the players everyday life outside of the larp. In the safe environment of larp players can experience strong feelings and things they never even wish to encounter in real life, like cheating on or lying to your partner, breaking up, or seeing your loved one dying. On the other hand larps are seen as a possibility to try playing a character whose sexuality or concept of intimate relationships differs from the one the player has. Larp can also provide insight to a relationship that would be impossible for the player, due to their age or life experience.
For example it is interesting to get a window – albeit an imaginary one – into a relationship that has lasted for decades, and to immerse into how the trust and love have endured the uphills and downhills for decades.
In larps love and affairs often have their high moments during the game and there’s no time for everyday life to reach the relationship. Many players say that they enjoy especially those epic movie-like moments, the fear of loss, the revelations and other kinds of tension.
In larp you get to be the Romeo or Juliet of the larp; you get to immerse in the epic love affairs that very few of us experience in the real life (and that’s good, as the biggest love stories are often born out of big sacrifices or loss). In larp you can experience those heartbreaking goodbyes in the arms of your childhood sweetheart just before walking up the altar to the person your parents have chosen for you. In larps you get to experience the highlight moments of a relationship before everyday life hits, and you don’t have to live with your choices for the rest of your life.
Some of the respondents mentioned that romance in larps gives a safe place to flirt and experience emotions, without the stress or need of commitment in real life. Some respondents felt that romance in larp brings variation and change when their real life relationship is already settled – while respecting the limits and wishes of their real life partner. Also some told that playing romance and love isn’t as interesting now that their own relationship is established. Some reasons for this might be that the person who’s in a relationship may be careful not to cross the line they have agreed on with their real life partner, or that real life limits have an effect on how and where one larps. Also the real life relationship can satisfy their “hunger for romance” to the extent that they no longer crave experiences of romantic love like they used to.
Usually after a larp I’m really satisfied with my own life and happy that the character’s life isn’t mine. On the other hand, through the character I can experience and process things that I don’t have in my own life.
Not all players fancied playing romantic love. A few players stated that they don’t seek romance or a relationship in their play. Some people might not feel comfortable with sentimentality and emotions, and they reported that they usually express the wish of not having a relationships as one of their main themes already when signing up to a larp. It is good for the gamemasters to note these wishes while planning the larp and casting the characters.
Generally, playing romantic love is an interesting and wished for theme that makes it possible for the players to experience things that are distant or unreal in their own life. Trust and chemistry between players are also important in this.
In romantic relationships it’s much more about trust between the players. It’s rewarding to be able to trust the other players so much that we both are able to simulate romantic feelings in-character.
The theme also challenges players to introspection and to reflecting their own scheme of things by comparing it to the one the character has, and gives new perspective.
At it’s best, romantic love in larps is a deep companionship that let’s you find new feelings in yourself, feelings you didn’t even know you were capable of. It can be a profound relationship between soulmates, a delicate falling in love, or a violent, twisted love or balanced marriage life. The amount of options is unlimited.
Why can playing romantic love also be challenging?
Love is a complex and wide theme to be larped. For this article we also asked about the challenges of playing romance.
The clear majority of larpers who answered the questionnaire consider the largest challenge, in playing romantic relationships, to be in the chemistry between the players. Certainly, a successful relationship in a larp does not need a real crush or romantic interest towards your co-larper, but people did wish that the co-larper arose some positive thoughts in them, for instance through their persona, looks or general pleasantness. It’s important to be able to feel easy with the co-larpers.
The most difficult situation to play romance in is, if I have no chemistry with the co-larper. I don’t mean I should be interested in them off-game, but that I should be able to feel safe to throw myself into the ingame relationship with them. I can’t create romantic feelings from thin air, I need to feel something positive towards the co-larper. It’s hard to define this feeling, but it can be companionship, interest, or just being on the same wavelength with them.
Love and affection are seen as especially challenging feelings to larp. For example hate, sorrow and disappointment are generally seen as easier emotions to feel towards other characters. The respondents thought it important that you didn’t have to resort to acting out the feeling, but instead could immerse in it.
Continuous acting feels like pretentious sentimentality: a bit like having to watch a newly-in-love couple cuddle – and in addition you’re one of them.
Love and romance are also sometimes seen as an unwanted theme because it can be so challenging. Some feel it’s oppressive and awkward at it’s worst, so they rather wish their own larp wouldn’t revolve around a relationship or romance. Some people were also worried about situations in which the relationship or romance is the only plot for the character: if the chemistry with the co-larper doesn’t work, the player will end up having quite an empty larp.
I have never been in a larp where playing both a relationship and the other plots would have worked well for me. That’s why I avoid characters that are falling in love or committing to a relationship, or whose relationship needs a lot of attention. I rather have more action in the larp than in the ingame relationship.
Some players reported being more nervous in playing a love affair with a co-larper, they didn’t know beforehand, than with an already familiar player, as they didn’t yet know their reactions and larping styles. On the other hand, some mentioned that having a familiar co-larper has its own challenges.
Creating an emotional connection with a person you didn’t know before can happen surprisingly fast. With a friend it can feel a bit confusing or strange, if, for instance, you’ve been friends outside of the larp for ages.
The challenges in modelling intimate behaviour also make people uncertain about playing romantic love. People are nervous, as many people have different ideas about kissing and techniques for characters in larps to be sexual without the players actually having sex, and people don’t want to cross the boundaries of other players and also wish that their own limits would be respected. Uncertainty in limits creates puzzlement and awkward situations during the larp. Also people think about this very differently: some people are used to playing their characters in very physical ways, while to others it might feel uncomfortable even to talk about sex with their co-player. It is agreed that it’s important to talk about potential limits before the larp, if at all possible.
While talking with your contact players, it’s easy to talk about what you expect from that relationship and talk about meta techniques or whether there’s even need for them. However, the larpers own experiences in real life relationships may easily affect how physically they play, so it’s possible to end up in a situations where one player wants to be touching all the time and the other doesn’t.
If the chemistry doesn’t work on any level, it’s hard to create play or react. If the ingame and off-game rules are not covered well enough before the larp, it might be hard to find a natural way to express the relationship so that other players also get it, and so that it won’t feel artificial.
According to many larpers who answered the questionnaire, trust between players is an integral part in playing a love affair. The contact between the players is often intense, and the co-larper and their actions can affect the player’s own larp experience very much.
I must be able to just jump and really trust the other player. I must dare to throw myself into looking and touching them like it means more, and all the while know and trust that the other one also knows it’s just a larp not real life affections.
Lack of or losing trust can lead to a ruined larp experience. While playing a love affair or falling in love, players want to trust that the feelings are the feelings of a character, not those of the player. The difference between in-game and off-game, larp world and real life, is important to keep sharp. Many say they feel uncomfortable while thinking that their co-larper could have interests or ulterior motives which they’d use larp as an excuse to express.
The worst situation is if somehow you get that feeling that your co-larper somehow brings their own feelings with them, and has a crush on you, and you as a player would absolutely not want to send the wrong signals. It’s even worse if the characters should touch each other romantically, it makes me feel really slimy especially if you have to pretend to enjoy it.
This challenge is associated with “roleplaying agreement”; the agreement that the game and real life are two separate things that do not mix. Of course, it’s impossible to completely avoid, but it feels exciting and challenging to play a romantic affair with a complete stranger. Especially when playing with a stranger, I wonder whether they really realize it’s just completely ingame feelings, and that they won’t get a crush on me or think that I have one on them.
Many players admit that they have sometimes developed feelings towards their co-larper. It doesn’t necessarily always mean they’re having a romantic crush on their co-player – even though that, too, was reported to have happened – it can also be some other kind of affection. That affection often needs to be dealt with afterwards, either by oneself or with the co-larper.
While playing romantic love, off-game crushes can also happen. In some cases it might become a problem: it might not be easy to recognize your own feelings from the ones of your character. Proper debriefing about that love affair with that co-larper might help with this. Sometimes it has felt bad when as soon as the larp ended the co-larper has gone back to cuddle with their off-game partner. The ingame feelings don’t stop the moment someone yells “Game over”, and it would be nice to go through the good moments with the same person that you shared them with in the first place. Paying attention to the experience of your co-larpers and careful debriefing could be elaborated more.
The fact that we’re all humans who have feelings, desires and minds that work without our permission, brings challenges. A person met ingame can turn into an important friend, and ingame romance can create feelings outside the larp too. Some people fall in love more easily than others, and some of these players get ingame and off-game feelings mixed up more easily. When one has a crush and the other sees it as just the ingame element, which it is, awkward situations do happen.
As a rule, however, larpers don’t always develop feelings towards their co-larpers. Many respondents mentioned that feelings during the larp don’t affect the feelings after it.
Of course it’s easiest to play love affair with a person who is pleasant but not “my type”. Then I can concentrate on playing the character without fearing that my own feelings would get in the way.
Immersing into feelings that are not familiar to the player from their own life, can also be seen as challenging while playing romantic love. The players own views on love, forming a relationship and general life experience can affect how they’re able to immerse into their character. To play a character with a different sexuality than the player’s own, was one thing that was seen as an example of that.
I have realized that because of my own orientation the “traditional” heterosexual relationships are much harder for me to play. I get stuck with my own values and attitudes, and I’m not always capable of seeing the situation through my character’s eyes.
Real life problems and triggers can make it harder to immerse into character. For instance relationship problems, cheating and other personal issues might disturb the larp experience if one runs into them while playing a love affair. Many people don’t want to play romantic love with people close to them in real life – like their partner – whereas some players, however, find the idea interesting.
We have noticed that we don’t want to play a couple together in a larp. We know each other so well that playing characters that are close is a bit hard, as it’s hard to see the other only as their character, or through the eyes of my own character. Playing a romantic relationship is even harder, as it’s so difficult to make a difference between character and person, and thus for instance a cheating plot might hurt much more.
Also, previous bad experiences with a certain player can make larping with them more challenging. Many larpers tell the organizers already when they sign up if there are people they rather wouldn’t play a close relationship with.
Some respondents mentioned that it is sometimes hard to talk out loud about ingame feelings, feeling affection or even having a crush towards a co-larper or just basically other positive experiences. Many players feel it’s really important that other players won’t think that they have mixed reality with fiction on an emotional level. Does one, for instance, dare to thank a co-larper after good larp and tell them about the strong feelings that the larp arose, or will that cause suspicion? Can one talk about their experiences with romantic love in larp without becoming labelled unprofessional? Some respondents thought that this is still some kind of tabu among players. I wonder what is the experience of the players, is it a topic that can be freely talked about?
It would be important to remember, already when signing up to a larp, to talk about how one feels about romantic affairs, and with what kind of players you’re willing to try to play them. “Who don’t you want to play with?” can be seen as funny, but it’s really important here. I use it to limit the people who I know it won’t work with. The reason for that can be anything, it doesn’t have to be insulting. My own reasons include too close relationships outside the larp, previous bad experiences, or how our relationships in other larps would make it not believable to me.
Playing romantic love and it’s effects on reality
In the questionnaire we also asked players whether they felt that playing romantic love in larps has affected their real life. The answers were various: many said that it has had some effect, smaller or larger, but some said they don’t believe it has had an significant effect in their real life.
Many of those who have had a crush on their co-larper think that it happened more often when they were young. As experience with larping and life in general grows, many have learned to recognize and handle the feelings better. Many respondents mentioned that they don’t act on the feelings that the larp has evoked in them, but wait for them to calm down. Many players seem to be very aware of the feelings larps may evoke: they understand that the feelings are primarily something you feel towards the co-character, not the co-larper.
It’s good to ask yourself whether you liked the player themself or their character more? Pondering this makes it easy to find out whether it’s an echo feeling or real chemistry and attraction.
Many larps I’ve been to have been so intense that you end up exposing something of yourself. It’s a crazy process anyway, to “brainwash” yourself to be someone else and become interested in someone based on that, and then after the larp ends it all should end in a second.
Can the interest sometimes be so strong that it will lead to action in real life after the larp? According to the questionnaire it happens occasionally. Some respondents told that they’re in a relationship where they either first met their future partner or got to know each other better while playing romantic love. Short-term or longer relationships have been born after larps – one respondent mentioned being married to their old larp relationship partner.
It’s natural that if people share something special together, you feel social cohesion with them. I think it’s natural that after playing an intense relationship, one has to rethink their relationship to that co-larper a bit, but in this process it’s really important to determine whether the feelings are some kind of echos from the larp, or real interest. If it’s the latter, the off-game relationship should start from the beginning and you should get to know the person behind the character. The truth is, that if someone’s character pleases you in the middle of an alien invasion, that doesn’t necessary mean that watching them in everyday life would work.
The feelings experienced in larps and their echos have also been the matter of discussion in the real life relationships of some of the larpers who responded to the questionnaire. Discussions about limits have been seen necessary so that both partners could feel trust in the relationship. Generally it was seen as more easy to talk about these things in a relationship where both partners are larpers: for a non-larper it might be difficult to understand what larping is about, and the difference between fact and fiction. It was generally thought that honest conversation is important.
Playing love affairs in larps has caused a lot of discussion in off-game relationships, and it has been interesting to analyze them with new perspectives. Ingame relationships will be contrasted with off-game relationships and occasionally the real life relationship might been seen in a new light. Speculating and planning the relationship plots (especially in campaigns) has it’s own excitement, which might help to deal with larp withdrawal symptoms. In a worst case scenario your real life partner can be jealous about your in-game relationship!
Playing love affairs affects my own relationship. After a good larp I don’t really feel like returning to my own life and relationship right away, but after having played an intense love affair the effect is even stronger. I don’t want my partner to be there when I’m still wishing I was back in the larp world.
On the other hand, playing love affairs in larps can have a positive impact on a real life relationship. For instance, after having played a larp relationship a player can understand how well everything is in their real relationship, compared to ingame relationships. Playing romance has caused players to think and reflect on themselves, and that has helped them find answers to their real life relationship problems.
Ideas and inspirations are not the only positive experiences. Playing an intense relationship, experiencing incredible things together and finding trust can leave a trusted person in your life. Many respondents tell they became friends with their co-larpers afterwards.
In one larp I met a person who I played a relationship with. We became best friends after the larp.
Crushes come and go, it’s normal life. When it just “clicks” with someone it’s nice to stay friends after the larp, and not just forget the other. People have great traits that might echo from the real person behind the character, and if I have the same, of course I should stay friends with them.
Based on the questionnaire we can say that playing romantic love evokes lots of different kinds of thoughts. Love as a theme in larps is really popular and wanted, and it raises debate. Playing romantic love offers great things worth experiencing, but also some challenges. It gives us strong relationships and feelings and occasionally larger-than-life drama, and it is challenging and raises questions about the practical side and requires player chemistry. At best it gives you not only a great larp experience, but also let’s you meet new interesting people, and have new thoughts to reflect on.