Megagame Adjacent Design
What can Megagames learn from LARPs and Immersive Theatre?
In this recorded conversation, as part of the MegaCon Mini series, experienced megagamer “BeckyBecky” looks at Immersive Theatre, and Live Action Role Playing ( LARPing ), to see what the Megagaming hobby and nascent industry can learn from them. Both of those hobbies/professions are adjacent to Megagames, and for this discussion are represented by:
- Owen Kingston, immersive theatre Artistic Director from Parabolic Theatre
- Elynor Kamil, weapons-free LARP designer
To take text directly from the introduction: “These hobbies had similar niche roots to megagames, but have managed to achieve better commercial success and cultural awareness than megagames. Our panelists discussed positioning or promotional ideas they have for how megagames can follow in their hobbies’ footsteps, and also whether there are any interesting design ideas they believe could lead to even better megagaming events in the future.”
As someone who’s particularly interested in what people and organisations can learn from Megagames, and how Megagames can introduce issues around complexity and systems thinking and emergent properties and so much more, I was pleased to see an emphasis on how to be more professional in the way megagames are designed and executed and paid for. It can be a difficult format to work in, so I’m not sure that’s possible, but I think it’s worth repeatedly looking at that as an aim.
This discussion is a “MegaCon Mini”, these are hour-long events, held online on Discord and available afterwards on YouTube. They provide key insights and megagaming ideas, and are a good chance to meet the Megagaming community. Do check out the main MegaCon website.
There’s great points throughout, and as it’s really audio only this is something you can treat like a podcast and put on in the background. But if you’re looking for highlights I’ve listed the rough timing for points that I thought were particularly useful.
From about 11 minutes in: I think Owen made great points about how difficult Megagames are to test due to their sheer size. Also he leads into how Megagames, being games at their core, can have an emphasis on mechanics, which can impede immersion. I think Owen over-estimates how much the Control Team in a Megagame adhere to mechanics, but still, I think there’s a value in using mechanics in the background to ensure Control has a consistent decision making procedure but hiding as much of them from the players as possible unless the player’s role is a deep understanding of those mechanics.
Now 22 minutes in: I really liked Elynor’s comments ( and Owen’s later comments at 40 minutes in ) on interface design, on how the players interact with the world - from the card based magic system Elynor mentioned to Owen’s 1940s telephone system. Owen’s points on his Operation SeaLion mechanics being behind the scenes and the “players” just having access to real world explanations was thought provoking.
At 38 minutes in: a very interesting contrast between LARPs and megagames, on how a player’s character is decided for them in megagames. Assigning real world players to in-game roles, or “casting”, is an important part of Megagame execution, and done badly can sabotage an event before it starts; having players decide their own characters in advance feels like it would make this an even more difficult task, but would also have the players engaged right from the start of a game.
At 44 minutes: there was a lot of common ground between Immersive Theatre and Megagames on how to deal with “wizard wheezes”. A wizard wheeze is when the players have their own idea on what to do within the in-game world, regardless of what we expected of them or what the in-game mechanics can handle. Both disciplines want to give players the freedom to come up with their own ideas for the game context they’re in, but also, to quote Becky’s excellent phrase, to make sure “the world hits back realistically”.
At 47 minutes in: LARPing has benefited from being popular at universities, something that Megagaming could really take advantage of too. In my personal experience, Megagames are particularly good at introducing people to each other and giving them a reason to talk to each other - both during the event, and afterwards. This works in professional contexts, and at universities; the latter being especially important with educational establishments putting such an emphasis on remote study right now. From an event I was involved with some students who’d met each other in the game were still using the game-specific Discord server to chat to each other a week or two after the event finished. ( If you’d like to run a megagame at an event with this approach in mind, please contact me through my employer, Path Dependence Limited. )
At 49 minutes in: Owen makes really, really apposite points on the commercial viability of Megagames. This is something I’m expecting to explore far more this year, the format is too invigorating and useful not be used more widely. But it’s also a very challenging format to work in; and in such turbulent times many companies are failing to experiment and hoping the methods that got them through calm waters are somehow equally sufficient for what we’re going through right now… but that’s a blog for another time perhaps…
And lastly 54 minutes in: on communicating to your audience about what to expect. In particular, what “gateway drug” there might be to get people into megagaming… in the same way that Secret Cinema has introduced so many people to Immersive Theatre.
As shown by my highlights being at least a third of the conversation, if you are involved in game design at all do listen to the whole thing. And hopefully there will be more cross-pollination of ideas and audiences for all three mediums in future…