Like any project, after many years of playing a larp it is easy to become too close to it and have trouble stepping back and seeing it from a different perspective. In larp we have many different kinds of experiences and adventures which bind us to the group and allow us to form social hierarchies and patterns together. In some cases these patterns can be divisive, for example two different groups disliking each other for various reasons, and in other cases these patterns can bring people together. We form bonds in a larp that extend well beyond the game and we also carve out places for ourselves within the game and community which makes us feel secure, powerful and in control. All of these things have both positive qualities and negative qualities. The positive aspects are that we make friends we can trust, we learn how to navigate a social space and we get a chance to step outside of ourselves and step into someone else’s shoes. The negative aspects involve the us vs. them mentality that being in a tight group creates, as well as (sometimes) the inability to see the forest for the trees. We can, if in a certain mind space, become myopic and unable to allow new perspectives into our lives.
This is the case for many things. From group work to individual projects, we as humans always need someone to come in to shake things up for us. To shine a light in the dark places and take our eyes off the specifics and direct them towards the whole. For a larp, the people who can offer that different perspective are new players. New players to the game are vital for the growth and evolution of any larp and allow us, if we let them, to show us different ways to play and experiment with the game we love so much.
Why is this important?
Because larp is art. It is, or should be in my opinion, ever changing, ever growing and ever exploring its boundaries. It should push us to see things we have never seen, experience things we have never experienced, because if it doesn’t then it is simply life in fancy costumes.
In larp we have the unique opportunity to let go of what we know and explore the unknown. But if we get too comfortable, too set in our ways and too relaxed, we will no longer be interested in exploring the new, all we will do is fight to maintain the old. It is easy for us, as creatures of habit, to want to find habit in our games, but the trick is to let go of that concept, because in the unfamiliar is where we find true mystery and adventure. New players, when entering the domain of the older players, sometimes tend to be shy. Luckily I don’t suffer from that myself, but I know many who do and because of that, their unique and fresh perspectives are often lost. If not encouraged from the start to explore the world in their own way, to play by their own social rules and experiment, they will quickly (and tragically) conform to the rest of the group and their potential will fade.
How to encourage your new players?
First and foremost never let them believe their opinions don’t matter or aren’t welcome. Every single person in the group (new players especially) should be encouraged to speak up, provide feedback and express themselves. They should be listened to carefully and not dismissed off hand simply because they are new. What if they have a solution you never thought of before? The more new players see other new players being shot down and written off, the less likely they will be to engage and contribute their unique perspectives.
Older players should be especially cognisant of ‘teaching‘ new players. Remember that new players are impressionable and especially susceptible to all of your opinions and biases. They need to be encouraged to think for themselves, solve their own problems and invent their own fun. They need to be welcomed into discussions on rules (no matter how game-changing) and play and provided with every opportunity to give critical and honest feedback. Think of it as learning from and teaching each other, as opposed to a one sided approach.
New players, don’t be afraid to speak up in a crowd, to fight to make yourself heard, stand up and be counted. Just because someone has been at the game longer than you doesn’t mean that their opinion means more, it just means it is different. Don’t let anyone tell you not to give feedback or pipe up if you notice a problem. Remember that the longer people have played, the closer they are to the game and therefore you might be the only one who will be able to point out a problem that has been staring them in the face all along but they just haven’t noticed!
Overall I think both new players and older players have value to bring to the table, but it is worth recognizing the difference and more than worth while to take some time and listen to the people who are new to the game because their insight and understanding might just surprise you.