What are LARPs?
I started larping in 2004 to entertain people — for fun. This idea has been turned into a social media nightmare.
I’ve been larping for a long time
Nearly 20 years ago, I was a founder and CTO of a company called 42 Entertainment. I got to work with some of the most brilliant people in the world inventing new ways of entertaining people online. It was some of the most exciting and challenging work I‘ve ever done.
I was a “puppetmaster” on a bunch of ARGs or “alternate reality games” including the one in the video below. I don’t know the person is that made this video but it’s a fun summary of it from the players’ point of view.
We got to work with the creators of Halo and we built an entire story around the idea of a 26th century AI from the Halo universe crash landing on a beekeepers website in current time — 2004. We bounced a lot of ideas around about what the website should be called and finally came up with ilovebees.com.
I built the website from scratch.
Without going into unnecessary detail, the website not only displayed a huge amount of clues and content on an intentionally glitchy, randomly “corrupted” website, it displayed “Axons.”
Axons were simply times and GPS coordinates. The idea was that players would go to those locations to see what would happen. They did, by the thousands.
That’s me larping at the top.
At every location and time indicated in the Axon, a pay phone would ring. When the player answered, a (usually) automated voice from the AI that crashed on the website — “The Operator” — would ask a question in the fiction of Halo.
If the player answered correctly (via voice recognition) it would “unlock” the Axon online for everyone — which revealed an audio clip. Think of an early version of “Pokémon Go” — finding and interacting with characters in the real world — 18 years ago.
The audio clips when all pieced together created a six hour “radio drama” set in the world of Halo 2 that was meant to echo Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds.
I built the website, voice recognition and infrastructure with one engineer in six weeks. I did not sleep more than a couple of hours a day through this six month project.
The process of piecing the entire radio drama together was planned to coincide with the launch of Halo 2. We started releasing “Axons” three months before that date. Turns out that you need a lot of content to entertain people for three months.
“Live Action Role Play” character or “LARP” was a tactic that came naturally as part of creating an online experience like this. We had a central character called “The Operator” who was the AI on the website.
The Operator had a number of alter egos. One of those was FLEA. Without going into detail I created a fake programming language to communicate with the players. It was later called FLEA++.
I larped as The Operator, FLEA and several other characters throughout the project. It was powerful and the players reacted in ways that were surprising — and sometimes concerning.
Driving themselves Crazy
We found that the core group of players was extremely passionate — sometimes worryingly so. If we created a puzzle that did not have a solution, or if the players thought there was a puzzle and there wasn’t, they could get obsessive. As I recall, I said “they’re driving themselves crazy.”
We found that it was extremely important to make the boundaries of the game very clear and that if we put out a mystery, it had to be solvable.
It was easy to see, even then, that the techniques we were inventing in real-time were powerful, and that they needed to be handled ethically, which we always did. We maximized fun and eliminated harm.
“Q” is a Malevolent LARP
“Q” took what we did with The Operator and mirrored it to cause maximum harm.
Instead of putting out mysterious puzzles and content that had a solution, “Q” ensured that there never would be — and set up a pipeline from “Q drops” to “redpill” content that indoctrinated and brainwashed people into a fascist death cult.
“Q” borrowed techniques from alternate reality games, including the idea of LARPs and weaponized them across social media. This was not only the Q LARP itself. There were other LARPs set up to create conflict with “Q.”
There are a number of real people who have been larping for years for exactly this purpose — to cause conflict and attack enemies. While they may use their real identities, they are actually playing characters in a drama orchestrated by the most dangerous people in the world.
The trick to deciphering whether someone is larping is simply to look at the actual effect of what they say — then compare it to their words. Malicious larpers have a number of common attributes.
First, almost all larpers target people. The reason for a LARP in the first place is to conceal the agenda of the account, which is almost always to cause harm. LARPs will attack people, wait for a response, and then claim that they were the victim.
Second, almost all larpers spread disinformation and protect it — almost like it’s their job. An example of this are the larpers who are spreading the disinformation that Ronald Watkins was “Q,” or that it’s just too mysterious to solve.
Harmful LARPs should be illegal
If someone uses a social media account to intentionally and fraudulently attack another person for the purpose of harming them, IMO that should be a crime.
Similarly, if a larper pretends to be someone they are not, and they intentionally spread disinformation that can harm people, that should be a crime as well.
Laws, and society itself, are supposed to be designed to protect citizens from harm. We have 250 years of legal precedent in the real world to draw from. But none of it has been adequately translated to our online lives.
It’s time to expose the larpers polluting the information bloodstream — across the political spectrum. They exist on the left and the right.