LARP (live action role play) provides participants to experience collaborative stories and emotion. During my time at Seventh Kingdom IGE (a fantasy boffer campaign LARP set in New Jersey, USA), I had the opportunity to play Ceara, a fairy-turned-mortal character. Over the course of five years, my LARP character Ceara changed from weaponless princess to fearless warrior.
Ultimately, I decided to stop playing a combatant character for multiple reasons, the main one being my health. Due to chronic pain, it just wasn’t good for me to spend all weekend outdoors, let alone on a battlefield. However, I also didn’t want to compromise the character by taking away the agency she’d gained as an elite warrior.
How Did I Know It Was Time To Retire Ceara?
Real life comes first, and real life is what made me unable to play Ceara any longer. Beyond that, there were other reasons for me wanting to end Ceara’s journey:
- She was a politician who had gone as far as she could in her career without retiring, which was very important to her.
- She had developed key PC and NPC relationships to their fullest capacities.
- She mentored other characters who could ‘fill the gaps’ once she was gone.
- She was unable to get some of the answers she sought and was learning to live with that.
- She achieved some of her greatest goals, such as aiding a foreign king in battle and receiving a gift and title from her own king.
- I could not foresee any further character development or evolution that was attainable within the confines of the setting.
- She was in a good place of approval with her god, kingdom, envoy, and king, all of which were very important to her.
These were all solid indications of the character’s time coming to a close.
How Did It Happen?
I decided to let the Seventh Kingdom staff decide how to end Ceara’s time, but when I checked in I asked if there had been anything written or if she could simply say she had been called to fight alongside her king. My character had been wanting this outcome for multiple reasons, and I was told that was acceptable. That’s how it played out.
I still wasn’t sure if there would be an assassination attempt or anything of the sort, so on an out of game level, it was thrilling to play through the event and I also got a lot of closure.
How to Find Closure When a LARP Character is Done
I found a lot of closure prior to the event, which was very helpful. I did this by talking to friends (both players at that game and not) and working on a final prop for the game with my best friend who also plays the game. Ceara was a bard, so I wrote her final song and let others know that she had one last speech and song to provide.
What surprised me was how much of my prep work for closure would involve – and exist for – other people. It’s like the passing of a real person, in a way: grieving and lack of acceptance are felt by the survivors, not the person who is dying, if they are ready to let go. I had talked about retiring Ceara for months, so most people were somewhat prepared while others were still saying “you’ll be back” in an in- and out-of-game capacity. I see my best friend a lot – we work together on other projects and talk about many things besides LARP, so that relationship didn’t suffer too much. However, a lot of people probably wonder if they are going to see me again.
I also posted on Facebook after the game in an extended debriefing modeled after debriefing exercises I have experienced at various Nordic style and Nordic-influenced LARPs. I asked myself three questions and then posted the answers:
What Should I Keep?
I learned a great deal from Ceara and wanted to keep with me a lot of what I learned. Towards the end of my play as Ceara, I begain to explore intentional bleed and therapeutic LARP practices (maybe even informal CBT) by deliberately and repeatedly performing empowering actions as the character.
I had already gotten into the habit of repeating actions that gave myself agency and translating those into real-world empowerment. For example, when Ceara thought she was amazing, she would say so. When she received a compliment about her looks or her singing voice being great, she’d say “I know.” In rebuilding my own self-esteem, I’ve borrowed from Ceara’s self-confidence.
What Should I Leave Behind?
Ceara did some difficult things that weren’t necessarily healthy. In accordance with her culture, she didn’t grieve, but she did use alcohol to cope with a range of emotions. While I wanted to admire and retain the loyalty she felt for her king, I didn’t want to take with me her compulsive need to put her king first.
I liked how Ceara served her kingdom, but didn’t like that while she learned to be independent and do things by herself, she never really did anything for herself, but for her kingdom and king instead.
That kind of habit has to go, and I’ve decided not to bring it with me into the real world.
What Have I Learned Through LARPing This Character?
While I learned a lot about empowerment through playing Ceara, I also learned some tough lessons that apply in and out of game. The most difficult, which applies to the character and the players of the LARP itself, is that some people prefer to remember you as they first met you, not as you are now, changed by life. While this doesn’t apply to all of my LARP friends (and Ceara’s), it does apply to some people, and I realized that I had to say goodbye to them because I don’t appreciate or enjoy the pressure of being someone I’m not.
I also learned about the people who are there to support me. My friend Wendy has said that it’s not a coincidence that the same people who care for me in game also do out of game. That became quite evident during Ceara’s last evening in Freehold when a group of very lovely people prepared a concert for her (and me). It was lovely.
Those who were playing different or new characters even took a moment to go out of game to recognize the moment and give me a hug, and my photographer friend Mark even took me aside to get some good ‘closure’ photos.
My Post-Game Rituals
I always have some post-game rituals for Ceara. Since Ceara wore a mask almost all the time, taking off the mask signifies a real ‘end of game’ for me, a return to my real self. Ceara also spoke in a high register voice most of the time (though I deliberately lowered the register over the past year, not sure if anyone noticed) so going back to my regular voice was another indicator of the game’s end. Ceara also wore ‘woad’ paint. The absence of mask, voice, and woad meant no more Ceara as usual, so I performed those post-game tasks as always.
The last time I took the blue paint off, I did get very emotional. Ceara went through three very difficult trials to earn the right to wear it, and her position as a dyed woman was very meaningful to her on several levels. Of the many titles she held, “dyed woman” was probably the one that produced the most pride for her. I’ve even worn the same makeup I used for the ‘woad’ on a job interview or in other difficult real life situations to remind myself that I can stand strong and conquer a difficult situation. As a result, I decided to of course remove the makeup, but to keep the rest of it instead of donate it.
In addition, I also sold and gave away a great deal of Ceara’s costuming. I did this in character. For me, the more practical benefit was a cleaner closet, but I think this stage really helped others realize Ceara’s departure. Most significantly, I gave away two of her masks: one she wore at her beginning and another she frequently wore at her end.
My character’s last in-game moments involved talking to Devlin, another PC. The last thing she did before she left was give him her mask.
It made for an ideal transition.
Unexpected Emotions: Saying Goodbye to Ceara
I expected to feel some things like sadness or grief when saying goodbye to a character I’ve put thousands of hours into playing and preparing. That came and went, mostly prior to the game. What I didn’t expect was the unburdening: the relief I feel now having said goodbye to the character. I’m not worrying about this character, her ongoing story, or her demanding in-game job and relationships with other PCs. Instead, I’m focusing on stuff like this website and other games which happen less frequently and in more chronic pain-friendly settings.
I no longer have the stress of wondering how much medicine I’ll have to take, if I’ll be okay driving home after taking all of it, how my dog’s doing in a cage for several hours while I’m out LARPing, or whether I’ll again go through an out of game shunning because of an in-game (in)action. I get to enjoy my real-life friendships with LARPers from Seventh Kingdom without having the burden of stressing over our in-game ties.
Overall, this was a much smoother, less dramatic experience than I thought I’d be. Have you ever said goodbye to a character? Tell me about it in the comments!