4 Larp Buzzwords that Don’t Mean Anything

We’ve all seen the advertisements for the next best blockbuster larp or the new local game that’s trying something new and different. There are buzzwords that seem like they get used everywhere but what do they really mean? Well, as it turns out, they don’t really mean anything, or at least not how they’re being used.

1.  Immersive

This is probably the most overused buzzword in larp. The idea of Immersion in a larp can mean a variety of things to players and game runners. The very general definition as it applies to larp is:

Immersion (n):  state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption.

Immersive (adj) providing, involving, or characterized by deep absorption or immersion in something (such as an activity or a real or artificial environment).

But how it’s used in practice is incredibly subjective one person’s immersive experience is another person’s make-believe game with a child. Sure, the kid could be incredibly immersed in their cardboard fort, but adults tend to need more to fully suspend their disbelief. When game’s tout their “immersion” they are usually trying to talk about how great the costumes, setting, and other visual parts of the larp are going to look.

The problem here is that because it’s such a subjective word to use, it can mean anything a potential player wants (or hopes) it to mean.

2.  Nordic larp

Often used, and most often misused in American larps that want to describe how roleplay heavy their game is. Nordic Larp is (I’m going to oversimplify here) a tradition of culture and roleplay style that comes from Nordic countries. The problem with using this buzzword is that and players that don’t come from this cultural tradition can’t really run a Nordic style larp, as they lack the requisite experiences to do so. It gets misused by Americans (and others) who have heard the term or played a game in Europe and try and bring those ideas to their game.

For more info about nordic larp, check out nordiclarp.org, they have some really cool academic articles on their wiki with some play tested tools to make games better.

3.  Cinematic Experience

This one should be a big red flag for any potential player, especially if the game avoids using the word “Larp” anywhere in their marketing. It’s used to say “hey look how much our game looks like a movie”. But you know what? This doesn’t actually make for a good game. Games that rely too heavily on their visual aspects are almost certain to fall short in other ways.

Also, what does it actually mean? Are players going supposed to feel like they’re in the setting of a movie? Or are they going to feel like they’re on a movie set? Similar to the problems with using “immersion” as a catch all for visual aspects of the game, Cinematic Experience can be extremely subjective, and doesn’t actually promise anything in the way of a 360 degree in-game setting.

4.  American/European style Larp

These get tossed around a lot, usually by players from one continent insulting (or praising) the practices of larpers from the other continent. But honestly, both American and European larps have a massive amount of variety now and saying that one entire continent has a specific style of larp is an ignorant generalization. Typically, players who point to one continent’s “style” of play tend to have very limited experience in multiple types of larps on their own continent.

So, instead of using shorthand buzzwords that don’t describe your game, try actually describing your game. You might not be able to do it as quickly, but quick does not equal good.
Happy larping!

Also, for a fun and somewhat related read, check out this article on tvtropes.org about Meaningless Meaningful Words and how to not make your writing fall into this trap

2 thoughts on “4 Larp Buzzwords that Don’t Mean Anything

  1. Well said! I guess I can’t really fault a LARP for using the word “immersive” in advertising, but it would really help if they then went on to specify how it is they plan to achieve it.

    I totally agree regarding the terms “American LARP” and “European LARP” — both locations are way too large and diverse for that to actually mean anything.

    Sadly, I most often encounter those terms when people are denigrating elements that they (incorrectly) assume are common to all American LARPs. (Conversely, I most often common across the term “European LARP” when someone is lauding what they think are elements common to all European LARPs.) A real sample quote I’ve pulled from online chatter:

    “Yeh whenever anyone takes the piss about larp it’s because they’ve seen photos or videos from American larp and thinks that’s what it’s like.
    Then you show them European larp and they think it looks epic”[sic]

    Regarding the term “Nordic LARP” — I don’t think it’s oversimplifying to say Nordic LARP (or Nordic style) is “a tradition of culture and roleplay style that comes from Nordic countries” . That lines up with my observations of its use of how the terms get used (by LARPers from Nordic countries and non-Nordic countries) and also a Knutepunkt talk that covered this topic and came to this conclusion.

    I wouldn’t say that “…players that don’t come from this cultural tradition can’t really run a Nordic style larp, as they lack the requisite experiences to do so.” — I would say with most LARPs I’ve encountered that bill themselves as Nordic style, the staff has experienced LARPs from Nordic creators and are emulating concepts and techniques learned from them. (Though those concepts and techniques could be pretty much anything.)

    I see similar issues in live combat campaign LARP descriptions – they pretty much all bill themselves as RP focused, or a solid combination of RP and combat, with emphasis on player agency. I can’t actually tell how much input from players staff will take (relative to any other LARP) or how much time I can expect to spend in combat vs verbal RP based on these descriptions.

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