Bleed is a concept a lot of experienced larpers will talk about, and it can have a big impact on how you enjoy larping, so I thought it might be worth a post here. I’m gonna give my own explanation of what bleed is first, then a few tips for managing it.
So bleed is a term that describes the process where the emotions felt by a character can be felt by a player, or vice versa - literally the feelings bleeding across from one to the other. It comes in two types: ‘bleed in’ and ‘bleed out’.
‘Bleed in’ is when the character’s emotions are influenced by the real world feelings of the player. For example, if you hate the colour green and then you meet a famous knight errant whose colours are green. There is no reason for your character to dislike this person, but because of your own hatred for the colour, that bleeds across into your responses and your characters takes against them. You might not even notice why.
‘Bleed out’ is when your character’s emotions affect your own real ones. For example, your character’s best friend is killed in a battle. After the event you find yourself feeling sad, as if you have lost a loved one yourself.
There are of course billions of examples of both of these that we could come up with, for a host of situations. And one very important thing to remember here is neither form of bleed is intrinsically a good or a bad thing in itself - no more than gravity is. it is just something that happens. Like gravity, what makes it a positive or negative is how you deal with it.
In this country, bleed used to have a very bad reputation. People were (and many still are) of the view that to be a ‘good larper’ you should have a solid wall between your character and you, and that not having that represents some kind of failure. However, there is an increasing view that bleed is a very natural phenomenon and you can use it as a tool in your larping to make games more fun and the experience richer. The debate between those views still goes on occasionally, but my own view is that any game is more fun if you feel emotionally engaged with it. If you care about it, you’ll enjoy it more. Some players even call themselves ‘bleed hunters’ and will feel like a game is a failure if they have not felt strong emotions during it.
Now, I don’t really care what side of that debate someone falls on. But to my mind it is valuable to understand the existence of bleed so you can handle it in a healthy fashion when you do (and I’d argue that almost everyone does experience bleed of one sort of another if they care about a game at all). The worst thing you can do, in my experience, is to be in denial and fail to process what you are feeling and why. One obvious and common example is when people roleplay romantic relationships with their characters. People who try to deny the existence of bleed are, in my view, more likely to fall into one of the common traps of getting confused between the feelings they are roleplaying their character having and those of their own self. They can develop crushes on their characters’ love interests, for example. Or they can end up disliking a player because they have a hostile relationship with their character.
In those examples, communication is absolutely key. Talk to the player when you are out of character and be sure to be clear that what your character is expressing is in the game, and that you yourself do not feel that way. I’ve made some great friends who were playing my worst enemies in game, because we would go for a drink and chat. But then I’ve seen other players saying how that enemy was a bad person out of character - entirely because they had not realised their characters’ hostility had bled over into their own perceptions. A real irony here is that some people who play complete monsters are amongst the kindest and best humans I’ve ever met, but without talking to them off game you might never know that. Similarly, if you are involved in romantic roleplay, I find it is really valuable to develop coping strategies to make sure those feelings stay in game. Apart from anything else, it can be super creepy if you think someone is flirting with your character because they fancy you. One of my good friends got into a situation where she found herself falling for a guy whose character she was in a relationship with. They did one of the most sensible things and had a chat out of game and decided their characters were going to have a really messy, hostile breakup, so that the relationship the players were planning to pursue did not get muddled with the IC one.
So, that makes tip one: if you are engaged in any kind of intense emotional roleplay with another character in the game, it is super healthy to talk to the player away from it. Communication is king. Once you know someone you will feel a lot more comfortable letting yourself get into a scene where you shout angrily into each others’ faces or confess your love etc.
For my second big tip, it is good practice to have a process for how you unwind at the end of a game. At any event you go to you might find you are tired and emotional afterwards (I know I am, as anyone who has helped me take down our camp will have seen. I can only apologise). One of the most common things you will see after a game, especially one where momentous things happened, is friends struggling in the days afterwards. They might be riding high on a wave because their character was victorious in their schemes, saved the day and everyone is talking about how cool they were. That can make it hard to focus on work and other important stuff. Or worse, especially in a player-versus-player political game like Empire, maybe they were bested by their rival, and now all that rival’s mates are posting all over social media about how awesome they were. And with every compliment thrown their way, you feel a slap in the face. That can be rough.
Little personal rituals can be good here. At the start of a game I find getting into costume helps me find the character, and taking it off at the end is just as important. As it was phrased at one great game I went to, you take off your character like a set of clothes. As you do it, you see them as not-you. Combining that mental process with a literal change of clothes can really help.
Another real boost here is having a close group of mates to unwind with. Pick them carefully if you can, because you want ones who will be on your wavelength; if you are feeling in the dumps you want some mates who will listen, not the one who only talks about themself. My ideal group is half a dozen folks who all talk and all listen, and who understand the kind of game you are playing. I usually go for a curry with a few friends after a game, and we can all chat through what we did and what we are feeling. It helps you to step away from the game and view the character as separate from you. A really handy tool is to make a point of talking about them as a different person. Don’t say ‘I tried to assassinate the senator and got executed’. Say ‘my character/name’. It happened to them, not you. This is especially important if your character has done something which might be seen as failing (which will happen), because you don’t want to beat yourself up about that.
A related tip is that it really helps not to always try to be your absolute best at everything, especially if it is something really important to you. I’ve got one super-clever mate who makes a point of playing characters less smart than him. He’s from that kind of competitive academic background where people beat themselves up if they fail intellectually. So he plays characters who are likely to fail in that way, and when they do it is because he roleplayed them well, not because he wasn’t smart enough. Being able to enjoy your failures is a separate post probably, but a key part of the hobby.
Which takes me on to what needs to be my last point for now: your character is not you. Try to put things in place during the creation process which keep that clear. I would personally avoid things like playing a character who shared all my fears, my relationships, my name, certain parts of my personal history etc. All of that makes it a lot easier to enjoy bleed and take positive things from it, while still controlling it so it doesn’t cause you problems later.