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Do You Want to Write a LARP Game? The Golden Cobra Challenge


Do you want to write a LARP game?
Come on, let’s go and play.
You’ve got some plots for great freeform
Never shared before.
Bring it out into the light of day!
There’s a first time for everything
Even if you’re a newbie.
I wish you’d give it a try!
Do you want to write a LARP game?
A really splendid LARP game?
Do you want to write a LARP game?
I think you should try.

One of the great things about the independent game design community is the way that intersectionality is perceived as a feature, not a bug.

The Golden Cobra Challenge (not to be confused with the song “Gold Cobra” by Limp Bizkit) is one more example of how the community emphasizes inclusive creativity, particularly in the area of Live Action Roleplay (LARP) games. The challenge began in 2014, and games that win the challenge are featured at Double Exposure’s Metatopia (taking place in Morristown, NJ) in November. The contest is open to everyone, with a submission deadline of October 30, 2015. The challenge this year will be judged by a diverse committee of all-star game designers: Jason Morningstar, J Li, Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, and Evan Torner, with assistance from Emily Care Boss.

The challenge emerged as a response to problems related to running LARP games at cons. In particular, the challenge addressed the issue of how many longer games offered at the on-demand setting of Gen Con 2014 struggled to find enough players. Accordingly, the goal of the 2014 contest was to “generate games playable at large conventions like Gen Con where time and space are in short supply,” for two to eight players (from the 2014 anthology). The contest awarded five categories of games: Most Convention-Ready, Most Appealing to Newcomers, Cleverest Design, and Game We’re Most Eager to Play. The games that debuted (and won) last year varied in many ways.

Just to give you a taste of the sorts of games that won last year: The Most Convention-Ready Game from 2014 is a romantic game by Sara Williamson entitled “Group Date,” wherein players try to find love through a lens of chaos versus order and utilizing the driving forces of lust, empathy, doubt, and optimism. The Game We’re Most Eager to Play from 2014 is a philosophical game by Wendy Gorman, David Hertz, and Heather Silsbee, entitled “Still Life,” where players pretend to be rocks affected by elemental forces beyond their own control, examining penetrating questions about their existence (as rocks).


This year, the challenge has evolved into something even more inclusive and exciting: to “generate small, intense, personal games” for zero to four players. (How does a game run with zero players? Check out this essay by Staffan Björk and Jesper Juul.) The categories have also expanded to the following:

  • Best use of themes/techniques for evoking empathy
  • Best incorporation of perspectives of unheard or marginalized people or groups
  • Best incorporation of touch
  • Game we’re most excited about
  • Most polished and ready-to-play game

Clearly the second category is an attempt to extend the reach of the challenge’s utility from a simple game design contest to a game design contest rewarding games that are intersectional and educational.

There are a few games from the 2014 line-up that attempt to do this. Perhaps the best example is The Aftermath by William Nichols, which is a game about experiencing injury-related disability. Trapped by Juan Manuel Avila is a game about the deprivation of liberty, and hearkens experiences of incarceration and imprisonment, though it can also be taken in a more fantastical direction. One of the most talked-about games from the 2014 game lineup is Active Shooter by Tim Hutchings, a powerful experience where players are young people who are witnesses and victims of a gun violence at a school.

Interestingly, as this author was reviewing the complete list of the 2014 games made public, most of the games that focus on social issues are written by men. Most of the games written by women focus on genre themes. For example, Dream Bear, by Emily Care Boss, is a rich fantastical experience about exploring dreams and symbolism. Game designer Vivian Abraham (who is entering the challenge for the first time this year) observes that this phenomenon is likely a positive product of the community’s safety for minorities in gaming – “when men are actively stepping up to focus on inclusiveness, it means that women don’t have to participate solely by being the ‘inclusiveness’ cheerleaders, but can actually develop their own ideas!”

Aside from dedicating a category to games that emphasize intersectional social issues, the challenge committee has made it clear that they’re available to support budding game designers – including game designers with little to no experience. Anyone who wants some support, either from a collaborator or mentor, can simply contact the committee and request assistance! This opens the field substantially, helps to remove barriers of entry for minorities, and provides a stepping-stone for those who are new to the industry.

Of course, on a broader scale, gaming is still thought of by some as an activity for white men. But the Golden Cobra Challenge – particularly in how it is being executed this year – is just one more piece of evidence to show that gaming is for everyone, and that indie writers and designers are leaders in developing inclusive games.

So please – go check out this cornucopia of exciting gaming content on The Golden Cobra Challenge website. If you’ve written or played LARP games before, this contest is a great way to participate in the community.


If LARP gaming is an artistic medium you’ve never explored before, now might be the right time to try it out. Again, you don’t need to have any experience to participate in this challenge, or know anything about LARP at all. The challenge is open to all, no credentials checked at the door. Also, if you’re hesitant to try and do it alone, don’t forget about the mentorship component, which the committee takes very seriously. In addition, some areas are developing their own local support systems. The aforementioned Tim Hutchings would like to add, “The Portland, OR freeform community is digging into this as a group, working together to help each other refine and build ideas. It’s amazing to watch.” If you’re from the area and would like support, feel free to

 Basically, if you’ve got a vision, and the premise of this challenge tickles your artistic bone, go ahead and try this out. Just remember – approach it with the same spirit of fun and creativity that you’d use to build a snowman.


K.N. Granger is a queer white cis able-bodied person with a radical, social-justice perspective towards games. When not writing, organizing, or playing games, K.N. engages in fanfiction, social justice, playing viola and piano, and other activities in New York City. Her games are available on DriveThruRPG and under the auspices of Goldfinch Games.


If you would like me to consider writing a review of your game, Kickstarter, or gaming event, please email [email protected]. Also, if you like this article, please support my game own design efforts on Patreon: That would be cool of you.

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