Three Key Elements of LARP and Its Application in Live Interactive Game Design

Ines Yin
6 min readJan 24, 2021

Today, for previewing the topic of the course, I came across a new term called “LARP” (Live Action Role-playing). According to Johanna Koljonen[1], a popular lecturer on LARP and related topics, making a LARP is similar to planning a birthday party: it needs a place and a time, that is, it needs a setting; it should have a specific theme, which can be derived from history, movies, fictions, or people’s imagination of the future; at the same time, it also needs characters, which means that there should be a role for each person for engaging, whilst they should also have the right to feel free to do whatever they want.

Koljonen[1] has also responded to a series of questions: Is LARP a game? Is it a drama? Is it art? Her answer is: Larps have no competition, so in this sense, it is not a game; Since there is no “audience” and everyone is in the scene, it is not a theater; it could be an art or not [1].

As I understand, making or designing a LARP emphasizes three specific elements: setting, theme, and characters. With these three elements designed, people can better experience certain scenes through role-playing. After watching Koljonen’s presentation in 2010 [1], I found that LARP is very similar to what I regarded as live interactive games — a kind of live-action game that people engage in the pre-set scenarios and experience the given plots. In other words, the concept of LARP has been embedded in the design of the live interactive games. Here I would like to further explore how the concept and elements of LARP design can be used in the live game design of some variety shows, and why is it significant for people to experience social problems. Such questions will be discussed through the analysis of two Chinese variety shows Who’s the Murderer and Great Escape, both of which were originally produced by South Korea and then introduced to China.

First of all, I would like to talk about the positioning and the rules of the games of these two variety shows.

In Great Escape, players need to figure out all the clues in a room and gradually unlock a new space in the large secret chamber made according to a specific theme, and finally escape from that secret chamber. All players will have a relatively consistent identity. For instance, they could be teachers of different disciplines, people employed to find the treasure, and so on. There is no time limit for escaping. All players can spend any time they need to successfully escape from the secret chamber.

In Who’s the Murderer, players have specific characters and corresponding backgrounds for each episode, one of whom is the hidden “murderer”. Players need to find evidence in the “criminal-scene” and conduct reasoning to find out the “real murderer”. The “real criminal” will be prosecuted by voting. If the prosecution is successful, the players who correctly vote for the “criminal” will get the reward, otherwise, all the rewards will be given to the criminal.

It can be seen from the positioning and the rules of the games that the two variety shows have specific settings and themes, just as a LARP. Besides, they all have a clear goal of the game — “escape from the secret chamber” or “find the real murderer”. But the design of who’s the murderer is more in line with the design of a LARP because it provides each player with a specific role, which means each player has his or her own character and background stories. The integration of LARP design elements into the live game design of variety show is conducive to allowing players to better immerse themselves in the game experience through role-playing, and supplement and connect the whole storyline.

Then I want to discuss the benefits of applying the three key elements of LARP to design games to experiencing and considering social problems.

As I mentioned above, players can have a better experience by integrating the three core elements of LARP into the game design. If the designer embeds the thinking of social problems in the design of the setting and plots, the players can deeply understand and think about the possible causes of these problems and their negative effects in the long run. If the playing experiences are shown as a variety show, the audience may also have an understanding of the corresponding topics after seeing the experience process of the players (stars). In this way, the variety show can really teach people in a way acceptable to the public.

The second episode of the first season of Great Escape “Screaming Boxing House” focuses on artificial intelligence, which reveals human’s obsession with artificial intelligence, and triggers people’s thinking about the moral margin of artificial intelligence. Similarly, the first episode of the second season “The Secret of Room 404”, deals with the ethical issues caused by VR & AR technology. In this episode, the players find that a little girl’s mother, knowing that she herself would die soon, has designed a timing system before she died. She also implanted the VR glasses into the girl’s eyes, with which the scenes of her accompanying her daughter could be restored through VR technology so that the girl could feel like her mother is still with her every day. In the last stage, players find that the VR system has some problems. They need to think about whether they should immediately shut down the system to make the little girl realize that her mother has left, or automatically repair the bug to restart the system. As an audience, before seeing their decision, I tend to choose the former one, because I think the girl would have to face the truth sooner or later. But as the players finally reach an agreement that the girl can still live a normal life after repairing the system, and when she grows up, she will naturally know that her mother has left. The choice of players has provided me and other audiences with another perspective on viewing this issue, and also taught me to think about how we can minimize the harm to individuals from multiple perspectives. I think it is also very meaningful to introduce the concept of “aliens” in the fourth episode of the first season to reveal the existing environmental problems on the Earth.

There are even more topics involved in Who’s the Murderer. I am deeply impressed by the topics like Campus Bullying, Cyber Violence, Network Information Security Issues, Robots and “Anti-human”, and so on. Since the players in Who’s the Murderer have clearer roles and more specific identities, they will be more immersed and their feelings of the related topics will be stronger. As the audience, we are more able to think about the reasons and results of every character’s behaviors.

The settings, themes, and characters needed to design a LARP are also very important for designing a live interactive game of a variety show. A theme related to social ethical or environmental issues can lead players to think about the specific issue; settings and roles can help players to immerse in the specific events related to the theme from a special perspective, so as to reveal all the possible impact of events on people and their living environment. The application of these three elements to live interactive games will undoubtedly enable players to consider social problems from the perspectives of different roles and provide different ways of thinking to the audience.

Above all, I think that in-depth research and exploration of LARP can be beneficial to the game design of a variety show or the design of a live interactive game. Embedding ethical issues and environmental issues of our society in the design of settings, plots, and characters can provide players with different perspectives, so that both the players and the audience can experience the impact of specific issues on people and/or their living environments, so that people can think more, reflect, and make a difference.

[1] Koljonen, J.(2011) Introduction to Nordic Larp. 5 November. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fH_RLgR4DI4&list=LL&index=1&t=968s [Accessed: 24 January 2021].

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Ines Yin

MA User Experience Design; Bachelor of Communication in Media, Arts and Design