Test/fix/improve larp taboo

Larps are impossible to test, larps are above testing, larps are perfect in their imperfection, larps in need of testing are bad larps… All the above is the general opinion in our community, and it is wrong.

 

They say that every aspect of your life carries a lesson that you can apply somewhere else. I currently work developing a test app, and with it something obvious has come to my mind: In larp we are terrified by the concept of test.

While doing my first solo weekend larp (solo as organizer, but with a group of collaborators at my side) I was terrified by the possibility of failure. And while running the larp, even if the final result has been really satisfactory, I kept banging my head each time I encountered a design error I had not foreseen. But why so?

Every discipline when treated seriously includes testing, fixing and improvement as a routine process. There is even such thing as “test driven development” for software development. But ok, let’s not go to something so technical and consider a more artistic discipline, what about editors and proofreaders for books?

But no, a larp needs to be close to perfection in its first run. There are several reasons, one being that the first run might be the last one in what I like to call the “Run&Burn” approach (I am not criticising, it has been my style for years as well)

Also, in weekend larps (with or without monetary profit in mind) participants have to pay for the expenses. Therefore, they rightfully expect a certain level of quality.

But there is one more factor, testing is not a thing in larping. Your larp being in need of testing is seen as a sign that you are either insecure, lack the experience, you want others to do the dirty job or your larp is simply not so good.

Sure, chamber larps have less requirements and you might be able to do a test run with some friends, but still the result better be acceptable even in this first test run. And after that? What you do when you have run out of friends or when you do not live close to a larp community to test with?

Most larp conventions require already tested larps or larps never tested but fully functional.

And what about weekend larps? I have heard of NotOnlyLarp running a smaller version of Conscience in a Spanish larp convention as a test. There is also the approach of Rolling running their larps first in Czech for their local community before turning to the international one once tested.

I myself try the following:

  • Do a lower budget first run, which has lower production and is more risky for me economically.

  • Send my design to other larp designers and ask for their opinion.

  • The “shoe box approach” (thanks Oscar for the name) in which you write the ideas of your design, let them rest for some time (I recommend months) and then review them less biassed.

  • Create non related short larps just to test elements intended for a bigger larp.

  • Provide a detailed questionnaire to the participants after the larp including a document with planned improvements as guide.

But all this approaches while interesting are not the norm, are not documented and are insufficient.

I really believe that we have to change our opinion regarding test in larps. A larp is not bad or faulty for being in test state in their first run, as long as the responsible team let it clear that it is the first run. Even Run&Burn larps are in test, like it or not. We should not be afraid of recognising it. Ignoring a deficiency does not make it disappear. It is not a problem, it is a fact and an opportunity to learn, improve and grow.

Once this has been acknowledged, it is time to look actions and tools.

Here are my initial proposals, that I will be refining and testing.

Participants and organizers should be aware of the run number and the risk they are taking, having one or more of the following pros and cons:

Test run

Consolidated run

Pros

More Personalized character

Fully functional larp

Option to influence the creation process

Fully motivated organizers

Reduced prize

Cons

Greater risk of failure

Pre-written finished characters

Organizers with less illusion for the project

Full price

 

Also we should start implementing the following tools and options:

  • Divide the larp in its elements to test them separately.

  • Do test runs.

  • Create short versions of long larps for testing purposes.

  • Create non related larps where to test techniques intended for a bigger future larp.

  • Use certain organization tools (scrum, agile, etc)

  • Gain useful feedback from the participants by providing them with a list of intended changes so they can be an integral part of the improvement process.

  • Find a group of “local” people willing to test your larp.

  • Create more conventions or groups for local larp testing (E.G. in Vienna we founded Larp Lab Vienna, a place for risky, short notice, experimental larps)

  • Consult peers – I am going to create a facebook group with such intention. You will be able to store your design in a google drive that others will only be able to comment, never modify. I will let it more clear in the group description, but it is not a place to promote larps, to search for larps or to talk about the controversy in one of the existent larp designs. It is a peer review place for designers.

Those are my ideas till the moment, but I am sure I will continue researching and improving.

Test is not something to be ashamed of but the only road to “perfection”

 

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