• Playing high status characters – What can we learn from The Lion King?

    by  • May 11, 2015 • Essays • Comments Off on Playing high status characters – What can we learn from The Lion King?

    The Lion King

    In this post I will address two different approaches to playing high status characters. On one hand you can play a high status character who feels secure in their position, who respects and acknowledges others. On the other hand you can play a high status characters who feels that their position is threatened and deals with it by oppressing others.

    To make the distinctions between the two types of characters clear we will use the film The Lion King. You do not need to be familiar with the movie to understand the comparison. The male lions Mufasa and Scar will be used as examples of the two different approaches. Mufasa is the rightful king of the lion pride and Scar is his jealous brother. Both of them have high status in the social hierarchy: they are above the other animals and lion females in the pride, and after Scar betrays Mufasa, he takes over as the new king.

    The important difference between them is that Mufasa feel secure in his position while Scar constantly feels threatened. This is evident how they maintain their status. Both give orders and get respect from their social environment, but in different ways.

    Confident and relaxed Mufasa

    Mufasa, who is confident in his high status, behaves in a relaxed manner in regards to those around him. He shows respect for those of lower status, by listening and asking for advice. Someone who feels secure can be relaxed and playful; For example, Mufasa can “lose” a wrestling match with his son and joke with the counselor Zazu without losing his status. What most clearly shows Mufasas security is that he willingly admits that he has done wrong. He can show himself vulnerable without losing his high status. He also uses his status to raise the status of others through his actions and make others feel more secure.

    Threatened and insecure Scar

    Scar, on the other hand, is insecure of his own status. Every action that the other characters perform, Scar interprets as a threat and he is constantly oppressing everyone else to defend his own status. Scar does not trust his surroundings, does not ask for advice and do not show respect for anyone else. Scar upholds his power by the threat of violence, by manipulating others and by taking aways the security of others. He expects others to show respect for his status, but does not acknowledge anyone else’s status. Although Scar has high status his uncertainty shines through. Since he is constantly oppressing his environment, we understand that he feels threatened by it. He is afraid that he would lose his own status if he gave the slightest acknowledgement to someone else.

    Because Scar sees his lofty status as constantly threatened, he spends his time and energy to push others down.

    Good and evil?

    While Mufasa is a genuinely sympathetic and good character and Scar is a totally unsympathetic and vicious character it is perfectly possible to have evil and antagonistic characters that feel secure in their high status and vice versa.

    A high status character who has an evil and unsympathetic agenda and also is secure in his position can afford to relax, show respect for those around him, listen to advice, share their status and support their allies. At the same time the characters might want to rule the world and be prepared to walk over corpses to achieve it. A vicious character that feels secure in their high status and leadership are generally much scarier than one who is not.

    If you are going to play a character that believes themselves to be above everyone else, do not play the character as an insecure teenager trying to act cool by saying condescending thing about others. If someone feels sure that they actually are superior, they don’t feel a need to constantly point it out. A lion doesn’t need to remind a mouse that it is much larger, the lion simply knows it.

    Similarly, it is possible to make a make a sympathetic high status character who feels that his status is constantly threatened. The character can have a good heart and and good intentions, but can still feel compelled to maintain their status with the threat of violence and by oppressing others, if the character does not know how else they can keep control of the situation. King Triton in The Little Mermaid is an example of such a character.

    What would you like to play?

    When you play a high status character at a LARP, you should consider whether you want to play a character that feels safe like Mufasa, or one come of as insecure and threatened, like Scar. Both types of characters are interesting and fun to play but they are treated differently by other players.

    A character that is secure in their own status is easy to respect and affirm. It’s easy to be a respected leader if you show that you feel secure in your position. It is also much easier for you to play a secure high status character. You get to relax! You can acknowledge and confirm other’s status and others will find it easier affirm yours! You can ask for advice and show weakness! If you are a supposed to play the character  a whole weekend, it’s nice to have these opportunities.

    If you play an insecure character like Scar, who feel their position threatened and oppress others, the other players might want to turn against that character. It’s a character that people want to rebel against and want to see fall fall. Or if the characters maintains their powers other players might want to explore the dynamics of oppression.

    If a Scar-character’s goal is sympathetic, the character may be the subject of reform attempts. It may be that the high status character that in the end of the story change their ways and acknowledge that what they did was wrong. King Triton in The Little Mermaid was for most of the film much like Scar. but when he in the end accepted his children as they are and chose to support their decisions, he becomes like Mufasa. The change is possible because Triton has a sympathetic agenda.

    The corresponding narrative for a Mufasa- like character is to play the kings fall. You can either explore how the power is taken away from the character, or how the character is corrupted by power. In The Lion King Mufasa falls through Scars treason, losing his power. An example of how an Mufasa-like character  being corrupted would be Magneto from X-Men’s increasing extremism in his fight for mutant ‘rights.

    Both characters are interesting but you should consider which of the characters you want to play. At larps, I sometimes get the impression that some play an insecure high status character by mistake, when they would actually like to play secure high status character. Some people don’t seem to grasp that a character which constantly spending energy to put others down appears to be threatened and insecure, not mighty.


    Think about The Lion King when you play and create high status characters. Consider how the character is going to handle their status.  Do you want to play a character like Mufasa or do you play someone like Scar?

    Both are excellent choices, but do not play Scar when you really want to play Mufasa. And do not play Mufasa when you want to play Scar.

    Keep in mind that playing high status characters is a skill that needs practice, like any other. Consider how you portray status both through body language and how you relate to the social environment.



    Thanks to Eva Schiffer and Christoffer Lundberg for help with editing.



    Elin Dalstål is a game designer, larp and convention organizer living in Luleå, Sweden.

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