Have you ever wanted to tap into your instincts on a deeper level, creatively or otherwise? I recently uncovered my ability to do so at Dammerung LARP, a blended live action role play style including inclusive and largely accessible play, European (fest and theatrical) inspired traditions, and North American boffer larp styles.
In this larp, I played a cultural lead. About a quarter of the participants were osthalers (lore creators and cultural leaders), cultural leads, and directed cast (characters with specific purposes to guide others). My role was to play a ‘cultural faultline’ as a co-lead, creating some tension within my cultural group. I was part of the Cern, a Celtic-inspired culture. I played a Fimrish (troll heritage) character. Going into the weekend, my main goal was to lift and support other players; my personal goal was to play a confident character and larp safely—and from the gut.
Why It’s Important to Explore Instinct Through Larp
I remember my mom telling me to always trust my instinct when I was younger. As I grew up, I learned otherwise.
You’re paranoid. It’s all in your head. You’re being unreasonable. You’re just too anxious. You’re always afraid of everything. Stop being so negative about outcomes.
And then there are the men (and “mean girls”) who threaten and intimidate you, and then make you feel bad for being scared—for trusting your instinct that they mean you harm, when, in fact, they do.
This is a common experience for women.
I’ve done a great deal over the years to explore a connection to my instinct, including:
- Focusing on woman-centric pagan paths
- Reading centering books, such as “The Witch of Portobello Road”
- Spending time with others who think gut instinct is important
- Participating in the act of creation, creating and co-creating songs, poems, stories, books, and larps
- Exploring intimate relationships through empathy and sex and touch
- Approaching social situations with empathy
But inevitably, things happen: demeaning elections, lost jobs, abuse, ends of relationships.
These things add up.
Over time, I discovered that I needed to focus a character more directly on connecting with my instinct, regardless of consequences. I’ve used larp therapeutically (but not as therapy, and as approved by a therapist) to explore external validation, grief, and my Irish American heritage. But I wanted an opportunity to not only play ‘from the gut,’ but lead that way.
How Larping By Instinct Impacted Play
My character was supposed to be someone who stirred the pot, and she did. By responding with my gut, my character wasn’t being impulsive, but rather leading with heart every time. So often, our instincts are buried under the negativity of ‘impulse,’ when in fact this type of experience serves any sort of ingenuity, innovation, or creativity extremely well.
So why do we constantly suppress it?
In the real world, we’re told to. Going by the gut means risk. Risk means a high chance of failure.
In the world of make believe, the consequences are usually fictional (when we play with emotional safety in mind). It can result in playing a better story, so long as you don’t hog the spotlight.
This also allowed me to go ‘all in,’ encouraging other players to really jump into scenes even if they were newer or unsure of how to feel included. Veteran larpers, especially in new larps, get just as self-conscious as the newbies, and this style allowed me to avoid some anxiety and nervousness.
Furthermore, reacting by instinct, with emotional and physical safety techniques in play, resulted in quick immersion. I didn’t have time to think about what the character would do; I assumed the role and acted quickly, without taking too long to think or formulate a response—and that became the character’s nature.
Playing By Instinct: The In-Game Result
At first, playing by instinct meant being aware of my surroundings, as this character, and reacting to them. “Feeling the blood of the fallen in the ground” or accepting an icy snowfall were primary examples of this. It extended to how the other cultures in the game wanted to interact. I had my nature, and they had theirs, and the Jotunar (trolls) drew something out in my character that she was somewhat discouraged from exploring among her people—her instinct.
That became the real hook for my character, and for me.
What would happen if I followed it? Would my character destroy relationships? Would she lose her life, or find a greater reward? And why did she want to go back into a pattern of serving a troll king as she had done many years ago?
As intended, she rocked the boat. People called her selfish (because whether or not she was, that’s what happens when you follow your gut, and it is kind of selfish and self-preserving). Playing this path allowed her to head to an extreme, becoming fully troll through a ritual. And doing that, in the culture she left, was quite taboo.
It was also quite liberating.
My character did things with herself in mind first. To her, this was also for the better of her people.
I felt what it was like to do something for myself, and to interpret that as also serving as the architecture of the greater good.
It was an unfamiliar feeling.
Exploring Instinct in Larp: The Future
In this ceremony of becoming a troll, my character consumed the blood (represented by water in a drinking horn) of many trolls. This allows her to see what will manifest—and permits me to select which aspects of the troll blood (what type of troll) I’d like to play. I chose the Wudvas, a more animalistic manifestation. It’s the perfect avenue to explore instinct and reactionary choices in a way that I can never safely do in the real world.
The Out of Game Impact of Larping by Instinct
In short, my self-esteem has increased tenfold.
I’m always pretty aware of my high confidence level. I’m good at what I do, and I know my abilities. But that needs the reinforcement of self-esteem, which is separate from confidence. Belief in yourself is distinct from your belief in your abilities.
Now, I’ve got my groove back. Recovering from the intense larp in bed or leading an online meeting, I feel the shift in not just confidence, but self-esteem. Thanks, larp.
I’m also bolstered by the praise and positive reinforcement from other members of the community. We larp as in-game antagonists sometimes, but out of game, we’re propping each other up.
This is a wonderful tradition to continue, and I look forward to exploring this form of controlled, reactionary play in the future.
Material disclosure: As a cultural lead cast member, I received complimentary admission to Dammerung LARP in exchange for my work. I was also compensated for marketing duties for this larp.