Focus of Interaction

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The Focus of Interaction (FoI) theory is an attempt to classify live action roleplaying games and to help determine what is and is not a live action roleplaying game. It was first espoused in The Book of LARP.[1]

The FoI theory divides LARP along two axises.

Interaction Axis

The horizontal axis is the Interaction axis. To the left, we have larps that are classified as Adventure style.

An adventure style LARP bears the most superficial resemblance to a tabletop roleplaying game. The focus of interactions of an adventure style LARP is player to environment. The players’ characters tend to be a party of adventuring heroes, and while the characters may have individual differences, they band together and fight alongside each other. The world, in this case, can be portrayed by non-player characters (portrayed by people who are not players, often called Non Player-character (NPC)s, monster, crew or cast), GMs, elaborate props, scenery, or signs.

Players in adventure style LARPs tend to find their characters trying to solve puzzles, fight monsters, deal with powerful foes and generally live the lives of heroes.

To the right, we have Theatre-style larps.

The focus of interaction in a theater style LARP is player to player. The player characters are not a solidified party, but rather a group of factions or even each player out for him or her self.

Theater style LARPs usually focus on politics, negotiations, power struggles, and social interactions. GMs are still needed when the players wish to do something that affects the world outside of the player set (for example, making a phone call to an ally not in the game, or exploring a nearby haunted house). Cast players are fewer and there are usually fewer adventurish plots. The heroes and villains (if any) are all portrayed by players, not by cast or GMs.

This isn't to say that larps must be strictly adventure style or theater style. Most larps fall somewhere along the axis, having combinations of those elements.

The Focus of Interaction (FoI) theory is also used to help determine if something is or is not a live action roleplaying game. The theory defines two other foci of interaction.

If the FoI is player to GM, then the event is classified as a tabletop roleplaying game. Again, there can be crossovers and most tabletop rpgs tend to have a good deal of player-to-player interactions. However, if interactions with the GM are what is needed to move the event along, then that is the focus of interactions.

If the FoI is player to audience, then the event is classified as improvisational theatre. In improvisational theatre, the participants tend to work together to produce a dramatically satisfying story for the audience. Live action roleplaying games tend not to have an audience. Again, some experimental events, especially Eclectic Theater Style events have tried to produce a hybrid of LARP and improv theater.

Mechanics Axis

The Mechanics Axis divides larps by what mechanics they use to simulate the game world. Some character abilities are difficult to simulate safely (such as fighting) or are things that do not actually exist (such as shooting bolts of fire out of one's hands). These are simulated by game mechanics.

The Mechanics Axis measures the verisimilitude of the games systems. It consists of Live Combat vs. Simulated Combat. This is not to say that combat is the most important part of a LARP, but it is usually the clearest difference.

Live-combat, (also known as Boffer) larps include a high degree of verisimilitude and requires the players' abilities to perform an action. If a player wants to hit someone with a sword, she must actually hit the player with a prop representing a sword, usually a padded weapon or latex weapon. NERO is a well known live combat organization.

There are many advantages to live combat. Combat, and all other mechanics, happen in real time. You don’t have to stop the game and wait around to get a GM ruling. And there is a real adrenaline rush when you are carrying a sword and suddenly see a gang of monsters running right for you.

The main problem with live combat, however, is that you cannot play a character who is a better fighter than you actually are in real life. Some groups try to offset this by allowing characters to do more damage, but it doesn’t matter how much damage you do if you cannot hit the other person in the first place.

Simulated combat is more abstract. It uses an external method that does not rely on player ability. For example, if you want to hit the other person with a sword, you may have to make a paper-scissors-rock challenge. You might not even have a sword prop; it may just be a 3x5 card with the word "sword" written on it. Mind's Eye Theatre is a simulated combat system.

The biggest advantage to simulated combat is flexibility. It is easy to run a game that has guns, or swords, or computer hacking. Further, most live combat games require a physical representation for items, but you can run a simulated combat game on a budget using index cards to represent items. This is useful if your players are supposed to create items in the game.

Finally, you can play simulated combat games in places that would not readily allow live combat, such as bars or museums or swimming pools or china shops. And it is easy to create a character that is more skilled than you, the player.

The biggest disadvantage to simulated combat is that it is intrusive and can often be time consuming. Combat and mechanics take a longer time and can take you out of the game. Often, a GM is needed to adjudicate results. Simulated combat games can often also lack verisimilitude. Holding a padded "sword" that you can hit another player with just seems more "real" than holding a card or miming it.

Intersection

Most live combat LARPs tend to be adventure style and most simulated combat LARPs tend to be theater style. There is some sense to this. The quick, unobtrusive mechanics of live combat work well in a game where the focus is being a hero and fighting monsters, while the flexibility of simulated combat mechanics allow for a variety of situations for negotiation and politics.

However, this isn’t an absolute rule. There have been a number of simulated combat/adventure style games, and a few live combat/theater style larps. These larps do tend to be in the minority.

But this tendency of alignment has caused a confusion, and the genres are usually said to be Theater-Style vs. Live Combat. This is usually a shorthand for Theater Style/Simulated Combat vs. Adventure Style/Live Combat.

References

  1. Mike Young (2003), "The Spectrum of LARP". In The Book of LARP, Interactivities, Ink, 2003.