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The Mixing Desk of Larp

The Mixing Desk of Larp is not just a great metaphor, it’s also a useful design tool and a valuable way of conveying information about a game to prospective players. Let me tell you about it! Or you can read about it yourself in this article taken from the 2013 Knutepunkt book Crossing Theoretical Borders. Or watch this video.

To quote the authors, Martin Andresen and Martin Nielsen:

“The main idea of the Mixing Desk of Larp is that a larp designer can be thought of as a technician controlling the lights or the sound of a concert or theatre performance. At your disposal, you have an array of faders, increasing or decreasing the amount of lights of different colors or the volume of specific sound frequencies. In the same way, you can adjust the faders of the Mixing Desk of Larp, changing the larp you’re designing.”

So the combination of fader positions that you set for your particular game describes its overall shape and style. And thinking about how the faders might be moved will lead you to think about how the larp might be designed differently.

The faders

These are the faders that they discuss in the article, although of course you could invent dozens of them covering every potential detail. The sweet spot is enough faders to cover the main areas of variation, but not so many as to be fiddly and pedantic.

  • Openness – do characters have secrets from each other? Do the designers have secrets from the players?
  • Scenography – how important are the physical and visual surroundings of the game setting?
  • Character creation responsibility – do players create their characters, or do the designers, or is it a combination?
  • Game master style – hands-on and intervening during the game, through to hands-off and observing.
  • Story engine – roughly speaking, are the players collaborating to create story between them, or competing to achieve defined goals?
  • Loyalty to setting – playability vs plausibility.
  • Bleed-in – are players encouraged to draw upon their own real-life feelings and emotions?
  • Communication style – from physical to verbal.
  • Representation of theme – realistic simulation, through to abstraction.
  • Metatechniques – to what extent does the game use metatechniques [out-of-character techniques that players can use to advance story etc], and how intrusive are they?
  • Player pressure – how physically tough on players is the game?

The Mixing Desk of Larp in real life

OK, so what about some examples? The makers have very kindly provided a Photoshop file that you can edit to create your own game-specific mixing desk. Here below is my stab at what it would look like for The Outsiders, the game that Cat Tobin and I ran at Consequences G in 2013. (Click on the image to see it full size.)

Fader settings for The Outsiders
Fader settings for The Outsiders

So you can see there that it’s completely open (we published the whole game to all the players in advance), the scenography is fairly close to being ‘360 illusion’ ie. fully realistic (we ran it in a space that we’d designed it to exactly fit), character creation is almost all done by the players, and so on. The 12th fader is left for the user to add their own parameter, so I’ve gone for Thatcherism as that was pretty much key to the game’s theme. (And of course it would have been easy to add more custom faders if I’d wanted to.)

For comparison, here’s the mixing desk setup for Reading Between the Lines, the game that we ran at Consequences F in 2012:

Fader settings for Reading Between the Lines
Fader settings for Reading Between the Lines

More secrets; no real attempt at illusion; characters mostly created by the GMs; and so on. A quite different playing experience, closer to the UK-freeform standard model.

Limitations

No sch system can be perfect, and there are some obvious limitations with this model.

  1. The game designers’ choice of faders to illustrate their game may not be sufficient to convey everything a player would want to know. For example, some players like to know how much romance (etc) there is in a game. If the designers haven’t thought that was one of the most significant things to say about it, it won’t be apparent.
  2. Interpretation of the fader positions is up for debate. In The Outsiders, we only used one metatechnique and we only used it on one occasion: but it was extremely intrusive, causing the whole game to stop for a ten-minute interlude. Does the way I’ve set the fader convey that? It might just as well signify a bunch of minor non-intrusive metatechniques.
  3. You’ve got to have a copy of, and be able to use, Photoshop 🙂 [Edited to add: but see note below]

Next steps

I think it’ll be a useful exercise to work up a mixing desk for all the games I design. There are some areas of the desk that I don’t suppose I will ever use – I’m not likely to make things very physically tough for the players – but it’ll be good to see which areas are rather dusty and should maybe get explored more. And it’d be nice to see other people giving it a go, too.

[Edited to add: and here’s an interactive Flash tool for generating a Mixing Desk of Larp graphic. So you don’t need to have Photoshop after all 🙂 And it aggregates and displays the results of people who’ve used it, which is cute.]

12 replies on “The Mixing Desk of Larp”

One dial that the original article leaves out, but which I feel is important in defining a LARP’s style, is Narrativism vs Simulation – does the outcome of an uncertain event reflect what’s most likely in the world, or what’s most interesting for the story?

(Two characters get into a gunfight. At max simulationism, the result depends on their gunfighting skills, weapons, and maybe luck. At max narrativism, the two agree – or the GM rules – on the most awesome possible death scene, and then that happens. Real LARPs often fall in between, of course.)

Mm, you’re right, that is an important area of tone to convey to prospective players.

I guess the N–S dichotomy is to some extent flagged by the ‘Loyalty to setting’ and ‘Representation of theme’ faders, but not unequivocally so. (There’s also the dimension of Gamism to consider, which is flagged fairly well by the ‘Story engine’ fader.)

GNS in larp has been fairly intensely studied, and the addition of a fourth pole – Immersionism – is quite well established. Nathan Hook has an interesting post here developing upon it.

Thank you for the article! I’m glad to see you find the model useful and that you add new, game-specific faders. The main idea of the Mixing Desk is a simple as breaking down the design choices in dichotomies. The 11 faders chosen in our article are just examples (though I think most of them will be useful for the majority of larps).

Thank you for visiting, Martin! It’s a very powerful and useful idea, particularly because of its flexibility – I hope that more people will start to use it.

I really like the idea of this in particular as a tool to get a GM team all on the same page. This technique would have short cut a lot of the debates we used to have in running the society game.

I am interested in the 4th limb of Immersion being added to GNS – sounds very similar to my additions of Emotion and Conversation (if you remember SCENG). I’m pleased that I wasn’t the only one who thought that the model needed some expansion there!

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