The Economy of Cool: Part 1

The Economy of Cool:  Part 1

Originally Credited to Jason Andrew


“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” — Lester Bangs, Almost Famous

A thriving economy revolves round the tension between the scarcity of goods and services versus the demand for them. Many LARPs share a common fallacy—assuming that game economy is based on the earning and spending of XP and the gaining of additional power. 

This misconception is shaped by an unconscious acceptance of the Hero’s Journey trope. Coined by Joseph Campbell in his legendary book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” the theory of the Monomyth opines that important myths from around the world have shared a common default structure for thousands of years. Traditional roleplaying games tend to strictly follow this narrative structure.

Imagine a thrilling gaming session about a callow youth who unexpectedly receives a strange call to adventure from a wise mentor who will show him the wonders of the universe. The hero endures increasingly dangerous tasks and trials to prove his worth, until he masters his destiny to achieve a decisive victory against evil. Should the hero survive, he is offered a choice to return to the mortal world with special insight or to improve the world with what he has learned. 

This archetypical story could have been inspired by the tragic tale of King Arthur, the cunning legend of Odysseus, or perhaps the adventure of Sinbad the Sailor. Or from a modern perspective, this story can be seen reflected in many recent classics, such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or the Matrix. 

The perspective of the Hero’s Journey presumes the fundamental story is about the adventure and evolution of the title character. This narrow focus unconsciously encourages selfish, and sometimes destructive, behavior from players as they begin to see their own character as the most important and all other characters as less important. This mentality results in hyper-aggressive behavior and an obsession with XP as the metric by which the game measures progress and success.

This perception fails to take into account the LARP environment.  Players in a Mind’s Eye Theatre: Vampire The Masquerade game do not directly compete with each other to earn XP. Earning XP is not a zero-sum game; the XP gained by one player does not detract from other players’ earnings. All players who attend a game have the innate potential to 

earn the maximum XP. Characters in networked games may have a cap to balance out monthly XP earnings across multiple games. However, clever players can earn extra XP for games that they have missed via downtime scenes, background reports, or email roleplaying, with Storyteller approval.

A LARP is an organized social contract designed to provide enjoyment to every player involved. If the LARP is a stage, then the hidden economy of the game environment is time on center-stage. In this system, all of the LARP’s players are consumers and producers of that unknowable quality known as cool.

Some players with natural charisma and force of personality seem to always create interesting characters that become magnets for the spotlight. Other players discover that their characters fizzle stillborn despite an extensive history and powerful character sheet. The answer lies within the subtle dance of the Economy of Cool.

The basic principle of the Economy of Cool is that there is a finite level of cool in any given moment in a game. Players naturally accrue social cool points over time, and the investment of said cool points can determine how well they do in the game and, more importantly, how much fun they have. 


Continue on to Part 2: Metrics of Cool

Ryan B Roberts 

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