Dunbar's Number, Morality, and LARP


Do our brains register long term characters as actual people?

A theory regarding the abstract and the applied.

I would argue that most people, when provided an abstract moral question, choose for good. Unless there is an outside source of conflict relating to how they were nurtured, or a biological situation which causes a person to process thoughts and morality differently than the norm the majority of people choose "good" over "bad". When a person is given an abstract situation, without real world connotations and connections, many people would choose an answer that would provide the most theoretical positive response. If asked “You have an excess of food, and a person next to you is starving to death, do you share your food?” the majority of people will respond with yes.

The theoretical becomes more complex when real world variables are applied. If the same question was asked in regards to a starving person, and the starving person happened to be Hitler, the question is nowhere near as cut and dry from the perspective of the person answering. To feed the starving Hitler is to provide continued life for an individual who causes so much suffering and pain, and to not feed the starving Hitler is to directly cause the death of another individual.

This idea of the abstract and the applied morality is important to keep in mind for a question I am going to ask later, but for right now I need you to put the idea of the applied perspective verses abject morality aside and consider another concept.

The next concept I want you to consider is “Dunbar's Number”. To summarize the concept for the sake of this blog post, Dunbar’s Number states that there is a limited number of individuals that a person can be connected to and identify as “people” or members of their tribe. The idea is that any individual can only truly care about a number of people (between 100 and 250). Dunbar's number states the number of people one is able to know and keep an social contact with. It does not include people we KNEW and don’t keep a social relationship with nor does it count people just generally known of without persistent engagement. Where this number lies between the 100 and 250 mark is theorized to be directly related to the long-term memory of the person in question.

Dunbar’s research also states that we have “inner circles” of friends and connections that vary from 5-15 people who are considered the inner most connections we share.  This theory has been proven (according to Dunbar) using phone and communication records of over 35 Million people and 6 Billion calls that humans organize themselves in this “circles” mentality by default.

This explains the reason why our brain processes betrayal, unequal levels of familiarity (where one person considers another as a closer relationship than reciprocated), and being removed from one’s circle as unpleasant or even painful. This social structure design is literally built into our emotional psyche.  

Now that we have these two concepts on the table, I want to take the rest of this post to muse with a theory I have started to put together. My theory is that chronicle LARP play, where an individual character has the ability and develop relationships and connections that could be perceived as “real” over a long duration of time, has the potential that the character as well as the player could hold two overlapping relationship “slots” in our real-world minds. That a person who I consider part of my inner circle, who portrays a character that I have built a fictional narrative relationship with over the years, could also exist in one of the non-inner circle slots of my “acceptable people” relating to Dunbar’s number.

Furthermore, I want to suggest that since a single individual, portraying multiple “identities” that are attached to by a human’s psyche as part of the limited restriction, can become a higher priority to us as humans than individual relationships due to the multiple layers of connectivity that have been created.

To give an example I am going to provide three fictional people: Alex, Chris, and Pat. Alex and Chris are LARPers in an ongoing chronicle game and Pat is a non-LARPing person that both Alex and Chris know. Alex plays a character named Brosh and Chris plays a character named Drom and Pat knows them through the quilting organization (A portrays B, C portrays D, and P knows A&B via Q but not via B and D).

Alex and Chris’s alternative personas Brosh and Drom are siblings in their fictional narrative at LARP. They live together, fight side by side, share experiences together, and have each other’s back. While during the duration of the LARP Chris perceives Brosh as a friend and Alex perceives Drom as a friend. While each of the LARPers are viewing the other from a fictional perspective the bleed of emotions, agency of engagement by the real person over the fictional persona, and the real chemical responses the LARPER has when their CHARACTER experiences a simulated environment are all real.

My theory is that because Alex sees Chris and Drom as two similar, but different, people that Alex creates two different levels of attachment. Alex may have Chris as part of their inner circle and Drom as part of their extended 150 connections that they make.  This means that the physical form that is the host for both the conceptual identity of Chris and Drom becomes even more important to Alex. This would suggest that the engagements that Alex has with Chris and Drom will bleed back and forth between the two making it so that the actions and engagements of the real persona will influence the third parties perception of the fake persona and vice versa.

 The average Dystopia Rising LARP Network game has more people attending it than it is theoretically possible for one person to care about.

The average Dystopia Rising LARP Network game has more people attending it than it is theoretically possible for one person to care about.

This also suggests that since the connection that Alex has with Chris (because of both the identities of Chris and Drom) is more potent than the connection that they have with Pat from their quilting circle, it is very likely that if a question of morality were to be brought into question that placed both Chris and Pat at odds with each other with Alex being the object of observation and “judge” of the situation, that Alex would be fighting against their own nature to believe, apply, or observe wrongdoing by Chris if brought forward by Pat.

Applied example continued. After years of playing the same personas together month after month, Alex is approached by Pat. Pat tells Alex that Chris has been sexually harassing them for months, and that Chris is acting as a predator. Pat has no evidence in regard to this but provides a narrative that matches the timeline, opportunity, and situations that are all believable.

Because Alex has an inner circle relationship with Chris as well as a secondary relationship with Drom, Alex will be less able to default to assist the theoretical victim (Pat) due to the fact that this becomes a situation where one person is accusing TWO people of committing an unprovable or hypothetical wrong.

This theory makes so much sense to me. It explains why LARPers want their non-LARPing friends to participate so badly (because it makes multiple levels of connection). It explains why once a group, organization, or network becomes a certain size that internal sub-communities are going to grow and treat the other groups as “outsiders” or even enemies. It explains why social development growth can happen at such an accelerated state during LARP, and it explains to me why players are incapable of seeing objectively outside of their rank and file of overlapping connectivity.