Horror in LARP: DreamScape

The maniac pulls the knife high above his head, and the viewers cringe. Is there no stopping what is about to happen? Blood spurts and the audience is left aghast. If only the innocent had heard their cries and been able to listen.

Horror is an ever-growing genre that has found some roots in LARP. We’ve seen games like Dreamscape LARP, where players live in a world that seems inspired from a Stephen King novel. But what truly makes something scary? What causes players to have something that drives them into a true feeling of dread?

First, there has to be something to lose or to be fearful of. There are many situations that can cause horror to manifest, including:
⁃ Something that is after us.
⁃ Something that intends to harm those we care about.
⁃ Something inside of ourselves that is not right.
⁃ Living in a world that is evil.
⁃ Manifesting evil ourselves.
In all of these ways, we are apt to lose something. Whether it be our life, freedom, the unknown, or our very humanity. This is why some situations that will never affect us aren’t scary at all. Only by having an investment can we truly be scared of loss. And this is easy to achieve in a LARP environment, where lives can be lived multiple times. Our characters story can be manipulated against us – just like the main protagonist of a horror flick going out into the woods alone.

Horror has to find some way to be realistic or true to a set of rules. For example, a knife-wielding murderer must get close enough to get you. They must evade capture from the police. They must abide by a skewed system of rules, because if they were all-powerful and unstoppable, there’s no unknown that balances the story. This is especially critical in LARP where we desire things to be believable.

A good scary story makes great use of pacing. The stakes aren’t immediately high, they slowly ramp up over time. For example, the iconic sound effects in Jaws lets you know that there is impending doom, but its the moment that it strikes that carries the true travesty. Still, the time leading up to the shark eating someone carries an incredible amount of dread – we know what is coming, but when it does, we are genuinely terrified. A true horror story in LARP might run over the course of several modules, with small acts building until true horror.

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