What game doesn’t have rules? Is it even possible to imagine chess if there were no rules to the game? All you would have is a checkered board and some carved little statues. Although difficult, chess could be played in your mind precisely because the game itself is the rule-set. All games are this way, in various degrees, and larping is no different.
Rules are the invisible barriers of a larp. They hem the game world in while keeping everything else out. They are the catalyst of collaboration toward the goal of group pretending. Rules give a framework to everyone so that pretending in the same space is viable.
Rules in many games are often viewed in the negative. This means that most of the time people interact with rules in a “can’t do” fashion. For example, in a larp we know that you can’t use out of game information in game. We rarely interact with rules in a positive way; namely what we can do. In a larp, because we are crafting a space from thin air, we get the fantastic ability to create rules that manufacture a sense of “can do”-ness. By setting limits somewhere we produce freedom within that space. For example, by saying that there are three races to choose from in this game world, we have just made one choice with three available options possible where there was no choice prior to the declaration. Nothing exists in nothing, but where something exists some things are possible.
I’ll reiterate, the rules make larping possible because the integrity of group pretending is based solely on what everyone ascents to. When a group agrees on what is possible via rules, options become available in the pretend space where there were none. If there are no rules there is no balance. Where there are rules, it makes the gaming space available to everyone.
Collaborative pretending with rules is how we define larping. I’ve tried to show that it is from these three equally vital parts that larping itself is born. If we are missing any one of these parts then we are dealing with something altogether not larping. Without collaboration you are looking at a play, one man dictating everything via a script. Without pretending you are looking at a job or project. Without rules you just have a bunch of people sticking their tongues out at one another screaming, “Well MY character crushes your character’s brain with just a thought!” It’s with these three parts that we can define and create any larping experience.