LARP Discussion II: Goals and Motivations

17 Jan

I don’t want to attempt tackle “goals in LARP” in a single post, so I’m going to try to start small. (I feel a little bad for posting this so soon after my first post, by the way– I don’t want to stop discussion on the first post if people still wanted to talk endgames. But I’m obsessive and therefore am writing lots of stuff about LARP theory.)

Here’s an essay on LARP-writing by Gordon Olmstead-Dean:

I’ll quote the passage that I want to talk about:

“Motivations – a character acts in a certain way because of their motivations. […] Players usually need to know what their motives are, so that if their Goals become inaccessible, they can figure out how they should change, or react. Motivations are the reason the Player acts as he or she does.
Goals – are what the character wants to accomplish.  If a character’s goals are impossible, or very unlikely, it is often better to make it clear that this is the case.   Goals are the reason the Character acts as he or she does.”
I’m not going to focus on this particular definition (since I’ve never talked with Gordon Olmstead-Dean about his interpretation of it), but my definition is very much along these lines. Hopefully it’ll become clear through the following example:

If I tell a character, Arnold, “you want to make friends with Bobby,” that’s a goal– an action that Arnold wants to accomplish during the LARP. It might give Arnold interesting role-playing opportunities (if he and Bobby turn out to have exciting interactions); it might fizzle (if Arnold can’t see how to make go about friends with Bobby, or if he doesn’t see why he ought to, or if he’d rather not RP with Bobby’s player, or if Bobby doesn’t trust him).

If I instead say, “you want to make friends with Bobby because you are lonely after losing your only friend in that wormhole accident, and the way Bobby is so kind and friendly reminds you of him,” I’ve added a motivation– an extra facet of Arnold’s character that causes him to have goals. Notice that once armed with this motivation, Bobby has a lot more room to roleplay. For one thing, he has a lot more motivation to talk to Bobby now that he has a compelling reason to do so. For another, if Bobby rebuffs him, he might try to make friends with another character who reminds him of his old friend. Or he might start talking to another character about his loneliness, which could lead to an interesting scene.

An example of motivations being useful: in a recent LARP I played, my character also had the goal of making friends. My character sheet listed which characters I wanted to make friends with, and as it turns out I didn’t make friends with any of them during the actual game. That said, I (as a player) took to heart the idea that my character wanted to make friends, and my reasons why, and that wound up motivating most of my most interesting LARP decisions and character interactions.

Or, another example: if I tell Zanzibar that “your goal is to kill the god-king and replace him by using the Omega Orbs,” then I’ve given Zanzibar a goal. Unfortunately, Zanzibar might discover 10 minutes into the game that the god-king has gained the Omega Orbs as well as the aid of Looftronia, the Ultimate Bodyguard. In this case, Zanzibar may not be able to complete his goal, or even attempt it. One way around this problem is to give Zanzibar more goals (or to give Zanzibar interesting relationships with other characters, or to give him special abilities that will make him feel useful during the game, or to give Zanzibar an interesting personality that he will enjoy role-playing even if he’s otherwise bored, etc. etc.; all this stuff belongs in another discussion). But another way that sometimes works is to add a motivation.

For example, here’s a motivation behind Zanzibar’s goal to kill the god-king: “You’ve always been jealous of your brother the god-king because you think you’re every bit as good as he is–better, even. Why is it that he got the woman you loved, the throne, and the power of the Crystal Smooshie, and you got nothing? The two of you used to be friends, and you could still be if only he’d recognize that you were the better man and give you the Smooshie. Why, if he did that, Princess Petunia would doubtless realize that you were the one she’d loved all along. But of course he would never do that. What a jerk!”

Of course, I’m fleshing out the character as I write this, so he becomes more compelling as a matter of course. But I could instead have written a very long, detailed character sheet for Zanzibar in a way that didn’t add interesting motivations for this particular goal (and in fact, the motivations indicated above are not necessarily going to be helpful, depending on the way the rest of the character sheet is written and the way the game’s plot works).

Here would be an example of what might happen to this character as a result of having these motivations: early in the game, Zanzibar has a conversation with the god-king in which he tries to convince him to give him the Smooshie. Secretly, Zanzibar’s player knows that this will never happen, but it’s become clear to him that his character is motivated by an irrational arrogance and belief that life has been unfair to him, so he goes through with what turns out to be a very fun and dramatic scene. Later, Zanzibar wants to kill the god-king, but it turns out that Zanzibar is unassailable– too bad! So instead, Zanzibar goes and talks to Petunia about how depressed he is and complains about her marrying the god-king instead of him. This leads to an interesting discussion in which Petunia tries to convince him to give up his evil ways– or maybe Zanzibar tries to seduce Petunia. Later, Zanzibar decides that he’s going to prove that he’s better than the god-king by winning the Contest of the Silver Bucket. By the end of the game, perhaps Zanzibar has failed in all of his original goals but has become a better person, which is satisfying. Or perhaps he stole the girl, which wasn’t even listed as a goal, but which he realized was something that would satisfy him. Or perhaps he beat the god-king in the Contest of The Silver Bucket and feels like that was a victory. Or perhaps he had a tragic defeat on all counts, but just enjoyed all the interesting character interactions he was able to have as a result of having a more complex character.

Some questions (in case what I’ve written above isn’t enough to inspire discussion): do you agree with my ideas about the distinction between goals and motivations, and the usefulness of motivations? Can you think of times you’ve felt that your goals didn’t quite work out, but your motivations did? As a LARP writer, do you think about things in a similar way to what I’ve just described, or do you come at things from a different angle?


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