We Are All LARPers Now


The world doesn’t need another trend piece on “normal people” embracing Geek Culture. We get that celebrities really love to wear glasses that make them look like Steve Urkell. Fashion-wise, the whole “geek chic” thing is — thankfully — creeping dangerously close to irrelevancy, but the mainstream obsession with nerd culture is probably far from over. Just look at the box office for evidence — almost every major film these days is linked to the comic-book world.

And then there’s Live Action Role Playing — or LARP, as most hardcore fans call it — in which participants physically act out their game characters’ actions. According to David M. Ewalt in Salon’s excerpt of his new book Of Dice and Men, LARP is the leper colony of the geek world; something so bizarre that even most stereotypical gamers won’t get into it:

[T]o many geeks, LARPs represent the obsessive, delusional side of fantasy role-playing — the actual freaks who make the rest of us look like freaks. There’s an infamous video on YouTube of a LARPer running around in the woods, dressed up as a wizard, and shouting “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” Each one of its 3.6 million views has added to the perception that D&D is weird and that I spend my Tuesdays letting grown men whack me with foam swords.

How geeky is too geeky? Apparently, LARP crosses that line, known as it is for moments like the one in the viral video Ewalt mentions above, of a group of LARPers in the forest tossing spells at each other:

Ewalt’s writing certainly doesn’t help glamorize the subculture, especially as he delves into the highly technical realm of the Otherworld adventure camp in Connecticut:

As a mage, I had just one free hit, making me the weakest member of the party. I could get hit at most three times (anywhere, limb, anywhere) or as little as two times (anywhere, then torso) and be killed stone dead. Fortunately, as Ganubi has demonstrated, death is rarely permanent in fantasy role-playing games. At Otherworld, getting killed means you become a ghost, and you take a piece of cheesecloth out of your pocket and drape it over your head like a Scooby-Doo villain. You’re not allowed to speak or physically interact with people, and you must remain that way until resurrected by a cleric’s spell or magic potion.

You can’t read that without drawing a mental picture of the type of participants most drawn to this kind of play. Luckily, I don’t have to use my imagination: a lot of my childhood friends regularly post pictures on Facebook of their similar adventures, dressed in robes and chainmail, wielding wooden swords, and looking like various characters from Lord of the Rings. If not for my personal connection to the real lives of active LARPers, I might agree with Lizzie Stark’s characterization of how the masses view them: “misanthropes living in their parents’ basements and shouting ‘lightning bolt’ while running through the woods in an improvised kilt and elflike ear tips.” Even though I can’t vouch for the weird ears and kilts, I can say that the people I know who participate in LARP aren’t misanthropes, and a lot of them own houses three times as big as my apartment. I’m not as close with these people as I once was, but looking at the photos they post, I’m always impressed by how seriously they take their hobby. While most of the people I spend my time with now would rather sit in dark bars and be snarky about books or music, LARPers look like they’re having a genuinely good time.

Via Larping.org

But are LARPers any more delusional than other hobbyists or theme-party attendees? A few weeks ago I would have said yes, but this summer, just above a Facebook photo of one friend looking like he raided Dumbledore’s closet, was another photo of a Brooklyn-based buddy participating in his first Civil War reenactment. While I realize that the Civil War actually happened, and this is the thing that distinguishes it from the fantasy world of LARP culture, there isn’t much else separating the two activities.

That notion occurred to me once again as I read Ewalt’s new piece, just ten minutes after scrolling through my Instagram feed to see picture after picture of various friends in costume — some dressed like they had been transported back to the 1920s, others muddling the lines between that era and the turn of the century — at this weekend’s Jazz Age Lawn Party on New York’s Governors Island. How can I make jokes about LARP when nearly everyone I know spent the weekend hunting down flapper dresses and shining their spectator shoes? How different is doing the Charleston in a period getup from performing a spell in fantasy garb? Whether we’re nostalgic Brooklynites or the nerdiest of the nerds, we’re all LARPers now — so maybe it’s time to stop gawking at geeks and start stepping up our costume game.

Via Guest of a Guest