fredag 25 maj 2018

Interacting with Antagonists at Larps. - social bid theory.

War Criminal Alldis (Krigshjärta)
[Disclaimer and context: this is written for Nordic larp, and I as the writer learned to larp specifically in some of the Swedish larp cultures. When looking at the characters I've played a fair deal of them have been antagonists and dedicated to destruction, disruption and punishment of other.]

Have you ever played an evil character and the other player characters end up avoiding you, leaving you sad and alone at the larp?

Or have you planned some really nasty interaction with a co-player and then after the game realizing you both missed out because once in character it felt only logical to avoid the nasty interaction because that is what your character would do?

Here is some information that might help, both on how to proceed as the player of the evil character and how to initiate interaction with evil characters.

So first, some framwork:

In a lot of the storytelling we interact with, there is some protagonist characters, and some antagonist characters. Avenger vs Thanos for example or Sherlock vs Moriaty. In most larps the "evil character" will be the antagonist and try to get in the way of or hinder the progress, wishes and wants of the protagonists.

Social interaction:
I'm going to be talking about making a "Social bid" or answering one. Social bid is something I read about in a article about couples who stay married for a long time and what makes them happy in the relationship (1). That article said it came down to how many social bids they did towards each other each day and if and how they responded to their partners bid. An example can be "oh dear, there is a bluejay in the garden" and the response can either be "that's lovely dear, you love blue jays" (responding) or the partner just going on reading their book (ignoring).
Social bids are very close to so called "play signals" but I think play signals in larp deserve a post of their own. They called this "turning towards" and "turning away". I'm going to call it "answering" and "ignoring" as even a "turning away" can still be "answering" in a larp setting.

This also builds on something Anna-Karin Linder(2) taught me about playing antagonists: One thing you can do to make your character seem less nice and cozy is to avoid giving of these little encouraging sounds to show that you are listening while the other person speaks. Be very conservative with how you express that you are listening.

I try to say that a larp protagonist is never cooler or harder than the level of resistance that they get from the larp antagonist. Sometimes the antagonist isn't a person but nature it self or an opposing army.

Another problem for those of you who are not playing the unpleasant character: sometimes we get a feeling in our gut that we need to stay away from the other player due to their in game behavior. I say it's ok to listen to that feeling but then remind yourself that this is what you are here for. Your character might be scared, but this isn't real. The behavior is only acting and it is an invitation to negative play (type B fun/ type II fun). You came to the larp for this. I sometimes as a player find myself feeling scared of the person who is supposed to play my antagonist, and then I circle away from them. I take a deep breath, remind myself it's not real and then I come up with a reason to go back and "larp in their vicinity". Maybe they are standing close to the coffee? Or they control the in game shop? We can't interact if we are not in the same area.

Some way's to listen as an antagonist:

  • If you look directly at the other player, don't do so nodding or humming. Hone your cold stare in a mirror. You want your eyes to look dead or at least dispassionate.
  • Don't accept being talked to just anywhere. Express you expect people to come to you or organize a space to your character liking.
  • Remember what they are saying, but don't repeat it imediatly. Keep them sweating. Ponder your answer, take things slow.
  • Remember what they said and use it against them at a later time at the larp. But preferably at that larp, and not the next one.
So now I will go into some social bids with some suggestions on how to initiate them and how to answer them. A problem that sometimes comes it is hard to act on in negative ways when other people are playing their characters as kind or subservient. But there are ways.

"Get them coffee"
  • The antagonist gets brought coffee. This is a social bid. 
  • Ignoring the social bid: just accept the coffee. Drink it.
  • Answering the social bid: taste the coffee. Look at the person delivering it. Either say something with words about the coffee or with your face. Dump the coffee in front of the person. Look them in the eye.
"Serve them dinner"

  • Everyone is supposed to stand in line for dinner.
  • The antagonist instead sits down that their favorite spot at the table, looks at someone and tells them to bring them dinner. This is a social bid.
  • Ignoring the social bid: either not answering at all or giving them food without any invitation to further interaction.
  • Answering the social bid: bring them their dinner either perfectly organized or messy and unappetizing. Serve them in a clearly submissive way or if you wish to be provocative, plonk it down hard in front of them.
"the knowing insult"

  • For common interaction, casual conversation gone bad.
  • Social bid: a protagonist states liking/disliking a phenomenon or action. "I don't like when you tell me what to do"
  • Answering the social bid: Move in close and, depending on physical interaction rules of the larp grab them a bit to hard on the wrist or other neutral body part. Stand in their personal space and look them in the eye. Calmly reflect what they said either enforcing or contradicting it "Oh but I think you actually do like it." Give them your full attention. To do intimate things like this it is best if you have read up on their character.

P.S Avoid playing a psychopath. I often say that psychopaths are boring characters. Because while we often play them as evil, if they do not have wants, needs and emotions of their own there will be no emotional resonance to play them either. People can be harsh, cold, violent and manipulative without being psychopaths or sociopaths.


1. Masters of Love (

2. Linder, Anna-Karin - Writer and narrative designer

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