In larp, the word ‘bleed’ means a leakage from the player’s real life to the character (‘bleed-in’), or vice versa, from the character to the player (‘bleed-out’).
What is ‘bleed’? I would say it’s mainly about emotion. Some thoughts too – but, as they say, our thoughts are what we think we are; our emotions are what we are. Bleed is about feeling something.
This fascinates me. My training as a therapist has been largely about how to stay in the presence of difficult emotions. Some traditions of therapy attempt to achieve objectivity, but this may be futile. The best we can do may be to recognise the extent to which our own subjective feelings tell us about the client’s. If a client is feeling panic, fear, anger, shame, or whatever, the therapist can feel those things too: “So, I’m feeling nervous and I feel doubtful that I can help this client. Maybe that means that he couldn’t rely on his parents.” Or it can work in an opposite way: “The client says she is happy, but I feel angry. Perhaps I’m holding an emotion she can’t acknowledge?”
In other words, emotions do not stay put, and it’s impossible to know them intellectually, from the outside.
The word ‘bleed’ appears to suggest that emotions are inconvenient, that they rightfully ought to be kept within safe limits and boundaries. Bleeding is messy, costly, weakening, dangerous. We only have so much blood. It reminds me of tears, too, a leakage from the emotional realm into the physical. The term bleed seems to me normative, and it suggests that the norm is that player and character remain discrete units.
More recently, however, it’s become fashionable for larpwrights to ‘design for bleed’. Players have come to appreciate the value of intense emotional experiences, whether the larp is set in a warzone, a prison camp, a BDSM club or an alternate universe with different concepts of gender. This has also led to a backlash against the ‘bleed-hunters’, self-indulgently using larps as personal therapy.