WyrdCon: A Magical Mixture of LARP, ARG and Transmedia

WyrdCon Two Wyrd ConferenceYesterday I spoke on the Transmedia and Participatory Culture panel at WyrdCon Two Wyrd 2011 conference. Though I have been to dozens of conferences, this was my first time attending a conference dedicated to Live Action Roll Playing (LARP). Before this, I’ve had only limited exposure to LARPing, mostly just playing a bit of D&D and Vampire the Masquerade in high school…

I was amazed at the excitement and positive energy everyone brought to the experience. Attendees, many in elaborate costumes, entered rooms ready to immerse themselves in new characters and contribute to storytelling experiences with an enthusiasm I seldom see at conferences full of industry folks and academics.

The events and panels varied greatly -from workshops on creating weaponry and costumes, discussions around game theory, storytelling, transmedia and ARGs, to elaborate LARPs of all genres and kinds. And like the events, the participants ranged dramatically across age groups, professions, and experience. Everyone there had something to add to the experience, and everyone threw themselves into having a fun time.

Even panel discussions were more interactive. Attendees participated eagerly to discussions, expressing many fresh views on the topics introduced. On my own panel, nearly everyone in the audience raised at least one question or comment during the discussion. It was great to present transmedia to a diverse group of people, who had many fresh thoughts and issues to raise – particularly on the subject of how LARPs and ARGs interrelate to transmedia storytelling.

It would be difficult to recount all of the interesting points made throughout the day, but here are several interesting questions and impressions that I will likely explore further in future posts:

- We are always playing games and acting out familiar narratives in life – from the home to the workplace. Any social environment involves role play in some form.

- There are productive and unproductive games in the work place. Productive games enable participants to meet challenge with growth. Unproductive games (like the game of kissing ass) lead to time and money wasted. And lots of extra paperwork.

- LARPs are seldom profitable in their own right, but their participants are the most engaged fans I’ve ever come across. Therefor LARPs have high emotional value to fans who participate, but have little or no monetary value to a property directly.

- ARGs and LARPs don’t scale. There is a point of critical mass, and crossing this number of participants causes the game to break down.

-Live social experience has the greatest impact on a fan, making these people the best brand advocates around (example: a man who was kissed on the lips by a gorgeous woman in an interactive theatrical event has been talking about it for over a decade, promoting this event long after it has ceased production).

- Today most ARGs and social games are financed through marketing budgets. However, the more a game seems like an advertizement the less likely a fan is to engage. – I think regardless of how it is financed, a game should possess a strong storytelling component in order add value to a transmedia property. Aren’t we sick of running around looking for clues to win a car?

- As our lives become more digital, more isolated, both the monetary and emotional value in live events increases. This is evident in the music industry – fans are willing to pay more to see the live show because they are denied the social experience of the record store and other physical connections to the music and its fan community. What does this mean for gaming and live storytelling?

So this WyrdCon has given me a lot of fodder to think on in times to come. But I also want to stress that beyond that, I had a fantastic time that I won’t soon forget. In the Runes of Gallidon LARP, I saw a kid too young to buy a PG-13 movie ticket cry out a confession that he was the adulterer and that he’d “made sex” with a murderer’s wife. I had tea with the queen, played some great business communication games, watched some great improv performances and more than a few sword fights in the halls between events. To end the night Saturday I role played the Angel of Death, and played poker in a tiki bar in the Limbo LARP. It was a great event to take in.

Next year as a veteran of WyrdCon, I plan to don a costume of some sort myself, and roll up my sleeves a bit further…perhaps put some of those martial arts edged weapons classes I’ve been taking to good use.

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