I have been a LARP‘er for many many years, and have been opposing MMORPGs for almost just as long. But two years back I discovered PlaneShift, a free online game. I decided to put away my dislikes for MMORPGs and give it a try. I registered and account, downloaded the game and logged in. And the big surprise was: I liked it!
LARP is much more social than any MMO because you meet actual people, you can stare in to their eyes, shake their hands and interact in a physical way. I’m not saying that MMOs aren’t social, because that would be wrong. Through MMOs you meet people from all over the world and you can interact as much as you like, and when you are tired of being social you can just go solo, do some quests and bash some monster skulls.
Attending a LARP demands a much greater effort that a MMO. You need a costume and you must attend preparation meetings. You’ll have to travel to the location of the LARP, and some times the location is far off into the wilderness. This means that you also need a certain minimum of gear and survival skills. To join a MMO all you have to do is download/purchase and go.. Of course you can prepare to a greater extent, like making a solid background for your character, researching what game suits you best and so on, but this is things you’ll have to do before a LARP anyway.
There is no question about what gives the greatest immersion experience! In a MMO you are constantly diverted by the mechanics and your surroundings. All you have to do to break the immersion is to look up from your screen. In a LARP you don’t have all these distractions. You physically in the world and so is every one else around you. This makes it all feel as real. I’m not saying that immersion is impossible in a MMO, but it is certainly much harder to obtain.
Griefers and trolls
In a LARP you meet the actual people while in a MMO you have no idea who they are and where they are from. Anonymity is the main problem for any MMO, as this makes people idiots. In any MMO you’ll have a chance to meet a griefer around every corner, while in a LARP the griefers have already been denied access to the game or they just don’t grief because every can see your face. In my 15 years as a LARPer I can’t remember anyone griefing others in a game, but online I meet griefers every week.
To be honest, I still favour LARP. As an actor and storyteller I feel that I can use my skills to a far greater extent than in a MMO. I have seen and been in great stories in MMOs but the greatest stories I have experienced for “real” in LARP. The biggest difference is that in a LARP you feel to a much greater extent that what you are experiencing is real, immersion is the key, while in a MMO you can be part of awesome stories but still not be totally immersed. Still I’ll keep playing online, as the preparations are so much easier and the fun much more accessible.