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Live Action Online Games (LAOG) During Lockdown

In this article, Sande Chen reports on the use of educational live-action online games (LAOG), a variant of educational LARPs.

[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect under the topic of Social Impact Games and Game-Based Learning.]

During the pandemic lockdown, it was impossible to play Live Action Role-Playing games (LARPs) that require face-to-face contact. LARP designers like Isabella Negri were forced to consider how LARPs could be played in an online-only setting.  Live Action Online Games (LAOGs), as they were called, were not a new idea, but their popularity in Italy did not rise until 2020 due to the lockdown. 

Speaking at Games For Impact, an online festival celebrating games with social impact, in her session, "Justice TalkDigital Educational LARPs Under Lockdown," Negri discussed the challenges in converting an existing LARP to LAOG format and gave tips on how best to approach the design of LAOGs. 

Negri first set upon trying to convert her existing eduLARP, Victorian Murder Party into a LAOG. She discovered there were several difficulties in this endeavor due to the nature of online spaces. Players could speak over each other, leading to chaos, or players could opt not to speak at all, which made for a very boring scenario. Most importantly, because body movement, touch, and voice were limited, the normal ways of energizing players could not be done. She further discovered that more than 6 players in a virtual room was not a good idea because it usually turned negative.

Negri found it far easier to design a LAOG from scratch and incorporate the online setting and facilitator into the narrative. Her design could take advantage of whatever digital tool the LAOG would use.  

Justice Talk, an eduLAOG based on the TV show The Orville, featured three convicted felons and a moderator (played by the facilitator) in a live broadcast. The viewing audience got to decide the fate of each felon. The educational goals were to explore biases, social psychology, modernity, politics, and heuristics.

LARPs typically have five phases: the icebreaker, workshop, game, debrief, and follow-up. Because of the online setting, Justice Talk needed a re-imagining of these phases. The workshop consisted of world creation with the audience and the game phase was split into 3 parts. First, the facilitator would get the three main participants to elaborate on their relationship and back story. Then, the televised Q&A would start, with some questions from the audience. Finally, the audience would vote on the verdicts. At the end, the featured players would step out of their roles and there would be a semi-structured debrief based on the issues.

In the Q&A section of the presentation, Negri revealed that icebreakers and energizers were difficult to conduct online. There were the logistics of muting and unmuting or accidentally leaving the microphone on for hot mic moments. Pacing was especially important as was ensuring there was ample opportunity for all players to participate and be involved in the story.

Sande Chen is a NYC-based writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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