April 1, 2019

The January the Arts and Prosocial behaviour Group (APRG) meeting took on a slightly different format to previous meetings. Adam James (an artist and PhD researcher at the University of Kent), hosted a non-verbal LARP (live action role-play) for the group.

Adam is currently exploring the potential of LARP as a tool for encouraging new forms of pro-social behaviour. At the beginning of the session Adam gave a brief overview of LARP. He explained that the purpose of LARP is to see and come up with art in a different way. LARPs have roots in avant-garde theatre, the fantasy role-play game dungeons and dragons, military training and in psycho-drama. As such, there are different styles and types of LARP each with different rules and guidelines. Pervasive LARPs for example, usually last about 5 hours and take place in a specific location in the real world or among people who are unaware of the game.

Some LARPs use a 360 design, which means that you use the world as it is, and some use a black box technique whereby everything is imagined. The LARP that Adam hosted for the
APRG had a black box design and came out of his residency at the TATE.

Tom Andrews, Founder and Associate of People United, describes his experience…

It wasn’t what I was expecting to be doing on a Monday afternoon. The time was 1.30pm, I was in the middle of a University of Kent dining hall, and I was embodying a celestial being with 4 strangers.

As a facilitator, the two words that I know strike fear into participants are: role play. Conversely, I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of playing another character –
experimenting outside the pressures of the real world. And this is what this experience, excellently led by Adam James, felt like. The workshop led us into imagining and physically recreating different beings and scenarios (including interactions between groups). The experience was surreal, fun, creative and involving. But interestingly, for me at least, the key to the workshop was what
happened next.

Following the physical activity, we sat, spoke and reflected as a group. Our feelings that we shared provided the real learning. It felt like the improvisation had provided us with a visceral experience of group behaviour: courage, exclusion, community and uncertainty. What felt different for me, was that we didn’t just talk about it, but we felt it. It was the encounter between us (without words) that was the most striking; one group felt rebuffed, another felt exhausted, we realised that each group had misread the others’ intentions. And even in the safe confines of the workshop, it felt real and risky.

We only had a taster, and I’m aware of the danger of generalisations, but it felt like LARP could be a fascinating medium, as a starting point for important conversations and as an exploration of empathy.

If you’d like to know more about Adam’s work, have a look at his website. Text and the online resource called ‘Here is the Place’ that he produced in collaboration with Serpentine gallery. Project
information available here.

Header photo here.

Special thanks to Shazza Ali and Tom Andrews for their reflections. 

Shazza is a PhD student in social psychology at the University of Kent. She obtained an Economic and Social Research Council funded CASE studentship in partnership with People United to carry out her PhD research.

She is part of the University of Kent Arts and Prosocial behaviour Group (APRG.)

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