A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play. – the omniscient Wikipedia
The first time the term LARPing was explained to me, unsurprisingly by someone who thought it was a little… eccentric, I quickly flashed through a variety of emotions. It went something like this:
- “Wait, what are the logistics of fighting and magic and such? Is this like a D&D model or…”
- “Wow, that’s a really geeky way to spend time. Definitely less socially acceptable than “Halo 9,” or whatever the kids are doing these days.”
- “It sounds… actually really fun oooo I may have to try that“
So, yeah. LARPing. Although I was intrigued by it since I first heard of it in high school, I never donned my LARPing armor and ventured forth. For the one thing, most of the players were middle school boys, for another, playing seemed to mostly consist of whacking each other with foam swords.
But years later, when my neighbor in French class mentioned that she was going to a LARP game the following weekend, and that the theme was The Vampires who Control the Secret Undead World of Bloomington…
Well, let’s just say that the next Saturday found me walking through the rain to the LARPing base wearing a crushed red velvet cape, a ratty black wig, and a Wednesday Adams style black chiffon dress. I also managed, with the liberal application of greasepaint and ripped-up facial tissues, to get a kind of flakey, “someone applied a cheese grater directly to my face” makeup look. Mmmm.
The game we were playing was called Vampire: the Masquerade. The premise is thus: there are supernatural creatures, including vampires, ghouls, werewolves, and many others, that lurk beneath the surface of society. The “Masquerade” is that the vampires keep their existence hidden from the snack food humans so they may continue to live their undead lives as they wish. There are multiple clans, each with a distinct set of traits and weaknesses. You pick a clan and then make a character from there, with different traits, abilities, and even a costume if you like.
The character creation was one of the most interesting aspects of the game to me. There are over a dozen different vampire clans you can pick from, giving you a predefined character type that you can then customize to your heart’s content. There is a broad spectrum of options, ranging from Clan Assamite, the leechy sorcerers, to Clan Ventru, the snooty ruling class. (I think have to say “Clan” first and then the clan name, because it sounds way more Goth that way. Or something.)
LARPing attracts a curious bunch of people. The largest portion of the group were men far beyond their undergraduate years – aging from late twenties to forties. Mon amie from French class and I were the only college-age women there. Although interacting with a group so removed from my own age range was out of the ordinary for me, it turned out that the experience of these LARPers made for a better playing experience. They were well-practiced in the methods of the same, and were happy to put the game on hold and explain things to me when I got confused (which happened at least four times an hour). None of them were your standard party hardy IU students. No one asked my major or made small talk about the last basketball game. Several people were tapping away on laptops, a small boy in the corner was playing a handheld video game, and the rest of the crowd was kicking back and bantering about food poisoning.
What they lacked in Urbane Etiquette Schooling they made up for in pure, joyous zeal for their roles. I’m going to make some amateur inductions and say many of these LARPers probably don’t fit in in normal, day-to-day life. I also imagine that many of them don’t want to, because they are bursting with desire to be something else, something flashy, mysterious, evil (in a fun way).
And the “something else” turned out to be really, really fun. Many of them slid into their new skins with remarkable ease. One preening bohemian managed to give the impression of reclining luxuriously on a chaise lounge while sitting in a boring plastic conference room chair. A pet store owner transformed into a sociopathic, autocratic vampire prince. A softspoken student turns into a deranged undead flapper who soothsays with a piece of prophetic string.
I found that the more over-the-top the characters were, the more fun they were to play. LARPing has an advantage over real life in that setbacks and weaknesses, even ones as embarrassing as being transfixed by a fast food sign, just make the game more fun. I found myself designing my character to be the grossest and most misanthropic she could be. And lo! I transformed from lame freshman girl to a deformed and cynical vampire, skulking around the room and muttering under my breath with a bad French accent.
It’s undeniable that LARPing carries a certain stigma. It may bring to mind images of friendless losers and socially stunted people who may or may not have just blue themselves.
And sure, it’s not your prototypical grown-up hobby. But besides being socially unacceptable… where’s the damage? The LARP club was clearly a tight-knit group. Still, I got the impression that this was a group mostly comprised of working adults who had jobs, houses, kids. Most of them looked like they would be ill at ease at a polite office party. Something about the theatricality of their conversation, the way they laughed loud, made raunchy jokes, spoke over each other, seemed to affirm the idea I had gotten about LARPing: it’s for people who aren’t satisfied with living their mundane lives and watching adventures on television.
Compare to the Big Lazy Three pastimes: internet surfing, video games, and tv watchin’. At least LARPing involves being actively creative, expressing yourself face-to-face with other humans (albiet humans who have taken on imaginative new identities), and using your imagination in a dynamic way. In my extremely biased opinion, LARPing is both a fascinating world unto itself and the most unrestrained fun I’ve ever had with such a diversely aged group of people.
And if you think differently you can take it up with me. I’ll be the one in the corner staring darkly into the middle distance and hissing about “toreador scummmmmm.”