Playing Weak Characters

Photo by Martina Šestić. (Terra Nova 2013, Croatia)
Photo by Martina Šestić. (Terra Nova 2013, Croatia)

Being weak is one of the many taboos in our modern, hi-tech western civilization, especially if you – for goodness’ sake – do it intentionally. Everybody wants to rule the world – not be the one ruled over, which is a common part of our everyday experience. It’s no wonder traditional larping is full of heroes and superheroes, the same as other roleplaying games. Who’d want to play someone who’s not in charge of their own life?

In my larping vocabulary, not all experiences in play are intended to be high and mighty. Sometimes I find it even more interesting – and infinitely more challenging – to roleplay a character who is (or is perceived as) weak.

While I’ve no intention to even try to grasp the psychological context of intentional weakness, both ingame and out here, in our everyday living, there are a couple of things I’ve notices in my own play, which might be considered a direct result of roleplaying a character weaker than average (for a person in a given surrounding). Consider them just a start, a little incentive to think about what taking the superhero complex down just a notch might include for your larping experience.

#1 There are different types of weaknesses and all of them bear their own social stigma. Physical disabilities are not the same as emotional or intellectual ones in larping (especially in fantasy settings), but all of them count. Blind characters may not be that common (at least that I know of), but emotionally hurt ones are. Characters with different types of PTSD vary in statistic appearances, but people seem to love family and/or childhood traumas. (All of us bring a tiny bit of ourselves in play, so I guess it’s no wonder). Characters of significantly lower social status (serfs, owned people etc.) are still very rare. (And yes, just writing about it all makes me want to conduct some sort of survey among fellow larpers to find out the true numbers…) Whatever we do, our actions bear consequences, and people with disabilities get more scrutiny than others. Co-players will react differently (than others and than in real life), but you will, still, probably have lesser ingame options than usual. Be prepared.

#2 Playing weak characters can bring you closer to yourself – because, in life and interpersonal relationships, you can’t always really choose how you’ll feel. Trying things out in a controlled environment can teach you a bit about your own (possible) reactions, something you can’t always comprehend in the middle of a real life event. It’s the same for feeling weakness and strength – larping’s an awesome way to test both. On the other hand…

#3 Roleplaying weakness can teach you different kinds of strength. We live in a culture obsessed with physical strength and aggressive self-presentation for almost everyone, never mind what social norms you personally belong to, based on your appearance, age, status, gender etc. Strength and muscle are often used as synonym, while different types of strength – emotional endurance, ability to listen, patience and piercing intellect – can oftentimes go unobserved.  Playing a “weaker” or more passive character can prove to you (and others) that silence, for example, doesn’t always mean simplemindedness. It might also show you that aggression is not the only answer to a conflict – something we are way too slow to learn in life, especially while growing up in this culture. When you take away something valuable from your character – say, her eyesight – you may very well find out that the world doesn’t end where you thought it did and that there’s more to life than you could previously imagine. All you have to do is dare.

#4 Playing weaker characters makes for memorable experiences. The first time I’ve ever larped, I chose a completely passive character and had to be, basically, a misogynist, denying my own rights (as a character and player) out loud. The last time I’ve larped before writing this post (just before this sad excuse for a summer started in Croatia), I roleplayed being mute for the better part of an hour, depending on the kindness of strangers and their ability to translate my pantomime. (Only two players understood everything I wanted to say – and some couldn’t even be bothered. Quite a lesson for life.) I remember both experience with pride and pleasure, because they were both seriously challenging and provided great response from co-players, both the good and the bad. I still wouldn’t dare roleplaying being blind (like a friend did a couple of years back, quite convincingly!) – not only because that’s one of my innermost fears, but because that would limit my ingame options a bit too much for my current taste – but I’m definitely looking forward to exploring the possibilities of being different, intentionally, further in the games. The first two times can be seen as anomalies – but the next one won’t be. (Really – can’t wait.)

At the end of the beginning of the discussion, let me be clear – there’s a place for heroes in larp.

But there’s a place for everyone else, too.

Who are you going to be?

6 responses to “Playing Weak Characters”

  1. Yes, that is a good way to put it. And, of course, weak characters have natural places to grow into, if that is appropriate.

  2. I feel it adds to the world’s depth, too, and diversity helps define contrasting elements. Still, I wouldn’t put it the same way as you; I feel weaker characters offer more of a challenge for players of strong characters to question the real level of their strength, not prove it.;)

  3. I really like a game to have weak characters as you describe (I often create weak characters for build-your-own-character games ). I think the presence of weak characters makes the world feel more real to me, and give the players of strong characters a much better sense of the fullness of their strength.

  4. It’s cool!

    I played a maid as a character once, a maid to some really important folk. I found it really interesting being able to just follow orders and watch the big important stuff from an outside view of being like not important enough to deal with it. Getting tea for them was the most important part of my day.

    Kind of like being a mute, I guess, not having your views heard because of your low station. Did you enjoy your experience as a mute? Did the people being uninterested in trying to understand you affect your enjoyment?


  5. Hehe, I know what you mean 🙂 Layered characters are always more fun. I’d still like to try it, though, at least once, just to see how it feels, in terms of introspection etc. 😉

    Thanks for the feedback, Leah 🙂

  6. I like playing weak characters as much as I like playing strong heroic characters. Usually, ‘strong’ characters have their weaknesses, and ‘weak’ characters have their strengths. So really, it’s just a matter of where you’re strong and where you’re weak. I imagine playing a terminally weak character would be just as interesting as playing a strong character with absolutely no weaknesses at all. (I.e. it wouldn’t be interesting at all…)

    Nice, thoughful post though 🙂


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