On LARPing, a reporter gets it right

A pair of UK men duke it out in a live-action role-playing game in England. Photo by Flickr user Bifford the Youngest.

Live-action role-playing games, or LARPs in the common lingo, have been around for more than 30 years. Hysteria about them has been around almost as long, with help from books such as Rona Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters and the Tom Hanks movie of the same name. Many adults have feared that kids who begin playing fantasy RPGs — particularly if they dress up and act out their roles in these games — would lose touch with reality. Of course, most of them no more lose touch with reality than Meryl Streep loses touch with reality when she portrays Julia Child or Miranda Priestly. It’s a bit of weekend theater, where everyone playing the game is also helping to write the story.

Fortunately, there are some portrayals of LARPing that get it right. This piece, from the Toronto National Post, spends some time among Canadian LARPers playing the Underworld game. In Underworld, gamers can choose to portray a variety of characters in a fantasy and medieval-inspired setting where, as in real life, people make friends and enemies, work together or foment conflict, and imagine doing great deeds. These games offer the opportunity to experience heroism — an opportunity that day-to-day life may not provide — as well as explore villainy in a safe, harmless way.

Though there’s no real danger to these games, players do get deeply invested in them:

During game weekends, the story runs 24 hours a day, and players are required to remain in character the entire time, sleeping whenever they dare. Combat, which occurs using padded “boffer” weapons, can deplete a player’s “body points,” which are subsequently replenished as that player gains more experience. But if the tally hits zero, the player dies — a development that can be highly emotional for some, forcing them to create a new character.

“When you play a character for five years, it’s like a second you, and then it’s gone,” Mr. Ashby says.

Adds Ms. Rodé: “People have come and said it was too real.”

Have you ever tried LARPing, or even played regularly? What did you make of the experience? Did you ever know anyone who got so involved with the game that they forgot who they were? Answer in the comments — I’d love to hear your stories.


2 responses to “On LARPing, a reporter gets it right

  1. I have LARPed off and on for the last decade and love it! It’s like acting without the audience, like improv without the competition. I love theatre and costume and LARP allows me to express those joys in a well-regulated environment. The groups I’ve LARPed with weren’t into boffer LARPs; we used different mechanics — dice, cards, rock-paper-scissors– to resolve conflict (emotional, social, or physical). A lot of them were one-shots, so every other friday we’d all pick up new characters and play them for one evening (much closer to improv). None of us ever forgot ourselves, though we do tend to talk about our characters in first person if we get really attached. 🙂 I also found it really fun to have OOC (out of character) knowledge about the story that I didn’t know IC (in character) and enjoyed watching the consequences of that lack of knowledge.

    After each game, we would gather as a group and “debrief”: discuss all the character goals, touch on some highlights of the evening, etc.. All in all, LARPing was and is definitely a positive bonding experience, very similar to what theatre troupes (or sports teams) experience.

    • I think people like LARPing for many, many, many different reasons. That’s one of the cool things about it — it’s so open-ended, that people can take away from it whatever works for them. Mostly, though, it seems to appeal to folks who crave a sense of theater and who want to collaborate in creating an alternate reality.

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