Geeking out over LARPing

Do you know what it means to LARP? Or what a LARPer is? I’ve known a few LARPers in my lifetime and I’ve always been fascinated with the passion these people have for Live Action Role Playing (LARP). So, I wanted to talk to someone about what LARPing is and why it’s so special to so many people. And, I’m lucky to have had that conversation with Tara (in the badass picture above), Senior Editor at The Geek Initiativea site that celebrates women’s contributions to geek culture.

Caitlin: Okay, so when I think of LARP, I think of that movie Role Models and also, LIGHTNING BOLT! LIGHTNING BOLT! So, you tell me, what is LARPing really?

Tara: LARPing stands for live action role playing. You basically embody a character. It’s a bit like playing Dungeons & Dragons or acting. Role Models isn’t entirely unlike LARP, but LARP is really diverse. There are medieval fantasy LARPs, post-apoc LARPs, steampunk LARPs, and parlor LARPs (which involve little or no combat).

Many LARPs do include thrown packet spells (i.e. ‘lightning bolt!’), but in practice it is usually a lot less cheesy than that. Some of the special effects can be movie quality.

That said, most LARPers realize what we are doing and that it doesn’t look entirely serious to the outside world. I think it’s healthy as a LARPer not to take yourself too seriously all the time, though there are many real benefits to LARPing and immersion.

Caitlin: Okay, so I don’t know what a lot of those words mean, haha. So, why don’t you tell me what a typical LARP consists of for you.

Tara: Sure! LARPs are diverse, as I said, but I’ll tell you about the one I’m most familiar with – Seventh Kingdom IGE in New Jersey. It’s a medieval fantasy LARP.

Participants assume one of two roles: that of a PC (player character, or the ‘adventure heroes’ of the game) or NPC (non-player character, or the quest-givers/people who deliver plot and make the world interactive).

I play as a PC. You can do various things – solve problems and puzzles, increase your standing in your character’s kingdom, delve into politics, do sneaky stuff, and participate in combat.

While you are in character, you basically act as that character. If you achieve immersion, it means you feel that very deeply (of course you need to temper that with real-world issues like safety and relationships). It’s a very entertaining experience.

Caitlin: So, I think for people who don’t LARP, this is kind of hard to really understand. Do you find that’s the case?

Tara: Yes. When I talk to people unfamiliar with it, I usually try to stick to the basics. You get into costume, you pick a character type you’d like to play, and then you act like the character! It is actually that easy to get started.

By character type I mean ‘class’ or ‘profession,’ as in what the character does. Rogue, witch, diplomat, bard, etc. Every game has different options and rules, but that’s the basic thing.

Caitlin: It sounds a lot like method acting, actually.

Tara: I am not an experienced method actor, but I have witnessed others go through the process and I believe it’s really similar. You run into the same benefits and risks. For me, it is about establishing boundaries and then participating in the game with people I trust.

My first total immersion experience happened last year. I was having a really stressful time in real life, and I got a role play note that my character heard a demon’s voice in her mind. It made her feel very differently towards her protector (who normally allows her to feel safe) and then it made her feel ‘better’ than the other mortals. She revealed her ambition, which is to become queen of her kingdom. The resulting role play was just amazing.

Caitlin: What drew you to LARPing?

Tara: My husband (then boyfriend) thought I’d be interested in it and he was a long time LARPer. I was already into theater, role playing (online) and role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, going to the renaissance faire, and I’ve been writing stories since I was 8. LARPing uses all of those talents and interests at once. So it’s like I never have to give up a hobby due to lack of time or money.

I stayed because I had a great time and found that it was a really easy way to make friends with similar interests as an adult, which isn’t always easy to do, especially if you are not single.

Caitlin: And it kind of becomes a way of life, right?

Tara: Kind of. I mean, it isn’t all-consuming, but it is kind of a lifestyle in a way, for those of us who are open about their nerdiness. I’m pretty open as a geek, which I think is easier for me than others because I am female and in a creative industry. People expect me to be quirky.

Caitlin: Are there some people who tend to keep LARPing private from their work/families/whatever?

Tara: Yes. One of my friends says, “don’t cross the streams.” He doesn’t really date LARPers and he keeps his work, love, and LARP life all separate. With social media and being tagged in Facebook photos, that can be kind of challenging.

Caitlin: Why do you think that is?

Tara: For some people, it’s a professional thing. They don’t want to be Googled and have their boss find them painted up like a demon or something. For other people, it supports their career – like actors, for example.

I think there is also a major social stigma against LARPers still. We’re low on the ‘geek hierarchy,’ although that is changing a bit. People are very afraid of what others think of them in general.

I also think it’s generally much more acceptable for women to be more outwardly expressive and creative in their hobbies than men, and that’s unfortunate. LARP really provides a forum to tackle gender roles on a different level (in the game), but out of game, a lot of guys really feel like they might be judged negatively for it.

It really depends upon a person’s career goals and field, usually. Professional athletes may even face fines if they are photographed doing unusual stuff like LARPing, believe it or not.

Caitlin: What have you learned about yourself through LARPing?

Tara: The fact that I HAVE learned about myself is probably the most valuable thing I’ve gotten out of LARPing besides an amazing and supportive network of friends – who are really family.

I’ve learned that I’m more than one thing. Like my character, I’m not just a bard, nurturer, fighter – but all of those things. And like her, sometimes I’m protecting others or standing up for them, and other times I’m asking for that from someone else.

I’ve also learned that most of the people I interact with in game, in character, are also very valuable and caring friends to me in real life, and sometimes those relationships really echo. You do not spend years playing someone’s sister or protector without a bit of ‘bleed,’ which is the term used to describe real-life and acting-life stuff blending, especially emotionally. I had no idea how positive bleed could be.

Caitlin: Would you encourage others to give LARPing a try? Who does it typically appeal to?

Tara: I’ve seen shy people find out who they are – or how they can be expressive – because of LARPing. Everyone should give it a try.

I’d especially recommend it to anyone who wants to make more friends, anyone with a theater background…or anyone who has talents they do not get to use in real life. I very rarely get to sing in real life but I LARP as a bard, and it feels good to kind of keep in practice.

Also, it’s amazing stress relief. You can hit people with foam weapons, and there are some really talented fighters out there (I am lucky enough to know a few of the best of them).

Caitlin: Anything else you want to share?

Tara: LARP is a great place to learn more about what you can do. I wouldn’t really think of myself as a ‘fighter’ or ‘defender,’ but I have learned through LARPing that those are actually really natural roles for me. I’ve become a better public speaker because of it as well.

If you have a skill you want to work on, LARP is a great place for it. You can also find in and out of game encouragement, too.

So what do you think? Do you want to give LARPing a try? Any questions for Tara? I’ll be sure to follow up with her! Let’s talk!

Image: A Clockwork Moon Images

Living Arrangements

The following story is what happens when people stop being polite…. and start getting real.

Just kidding, it’s the story of when four good people who are really good friends decide to live together for awhile.

When my best friend Kristin told me she and her husband Matt were moving in with their good friends Ted and Melinda, I admit, I was skeptical. So, naturally, when I started this blog I knew I wanted to talk to Kristin about her living situation.

It’s a fascinating arrangement and one that is clearly working well for everyone involved. Check it out!

Caitlin: So, tell me about your living situation.

Kristin: Right now, my husband and I live with our two best friends and their 2 ½ year old. We have lived there for 3 ½ years now. We moved in to their house when Matt was changing jobs.

Kristin and her husband, Matt

Kristin and her husband, Matt

We had moved to Huntingdon, PA after college. After a couple of years, we realized that we had left behind a fairly exceptional group of friends and a church we loved in that move.  Friends like these are very hard to come by, so we decided to move back to Shippensburg, and it felt like home.

Melinda was my roommate in college and she and her husband, Ted, had stayed really great friends with us. They had just built a house and it had plenty of room to accommodate all of us.

Matt was thinking about starting a business so we knew it would be impossible for us to purchase a home, but it might even be hard to rent somewhere. So Melinda and Ted offered to let us live with them.

Melinda and Ted

Melinda and Ted

Caitlin: And so when they made that offer, did you have to think about it for a while, or did it immediately feel like the right thing to do?

Kristin: It’s really funny because reflecting back on it, Melinda and I have said we were both really hesitant at first. I mean, they were really open to doing it and they were the ones who made the offer, but we were all thinking it would be short term and we were all a little afraid it was going to cause tension in our relationships. But, it ended up being awesome.

Caitlin: So you’ve been there now for 3 ½ years. What’s been the most surprising aspect of your arrangement?

Kristin: I think how easy it is. To be honest, there have never been any actual fights. There have been times of tension just because people are people, but it’s just been really easy. We’ve been really honest with each other and I think really gracious in times where there might be a point of tension and we’ve really worked through it. I don’t know that this would work with just anyone for us. It happens to be a really perfect combining of personalities.

Caitlin: When you moved in you were both newly wedded couples. I do remember you telling me that when Melinda was pregnant you thought maybe you would move out when the baby was born. But, then it seemed as though you didn’t want to and they didn’t want you to.

Kristin: Yeah, in my mind, it was like, of course we’ll move out when the baby comes. But, to be honest, the business was still at a point where we weren’t sure if it would be a smart decision to do so everyone was like, okay, let’s just see how this goes. And if it’s hard for everyone then, you know, Matt and I will figure something out.

Kristin and Caleb

Kristin and Caleb

But, I can’t even remember what it was like without Caleb. It’s like he was always there. It continued to be easy. Actually now one of the reasons it will be hardest for us to go is that he won’t always be around.

Caitlin: So, how do you do it? How much time do you all spend together? Do you do meals together? How do you split the bills? Are there rules?

Kristin: We spend a lot of time together, probably most of our time together. Melinda and I do the meal planning on Sundays and then we take turns grocery shopping for the week. So, we do cook and clean up our meals together every night. We do determine who is going to cook which meals, but it usually ends up kind of falling together. Whoever gets home first should figure it out and then you know, whoever cooked doesn’t usually clean up.  And you should see the meals we have.  When you’re only cooking one or two meals a week, you can really make something nice.  We have all become amateur foodies.

We do split all of the bills so we keep our receipts and at the end of the month we split up groceries and utilities in half.

Also, living with your college roommate means that you still get to share clothes and jewelry!  It’s the best.  We have no idea what belongs to who anymore; it will be extremely difficult to separate our wardrobes when the time comes.

Caitlin: Do you pay rent?

We don’t pay rent!  Our friends are awesome.  In their minds, they would be paying their mortgage anyway, so it has enabled us to save for a house.

Caitlin: Do you have your own living space? Do you get time alone with your husband much?

Kristin: We do. We do a weekly date night. It’s funny because at first we thought it would be really important to do that, and we still do, but on our date nights we usually end up renting a movie and we invite Ted and Melinda to join us anyway.

We each have our our bedrooms and full bathrooms so that’s really nice. There’s a family room and a living room and they each have a tv and a DVD player and so if couples want to do their own thing, they can. And up until Caleb was older, we did do everything together. But, Matt and I watch some shows that are just inappropriate for a child, so that was the point in which we separated because Caleb was awake and he couldn’t watch it.

But, we do watch tv and movies together and we make all of our weekend plans together. We really don’t get tired of each other.

Ted and Melinda went on vacation with their family a few weeks ago so we were alone in the house. We realized that we do kind of forget to keep up with each other on a regular basis. Like, I’ll get home sometimes and Matt will still be at work and I’ll catch up with the first person I see when I get home. It could be Ted, it could be Melinda. And then I never really tell Matt about my day, so sometimes we laugh if Matt hears about my news from someone else.

Caitlin: It’s interesting because you’re like a family, really. What’s that dynamic like?

Kristin: We really are like a family.  We affectionately call our house the RamWald’s, a combination of our two last names, Ramsay and DeWald.

The RamWalds, dressed up for Halloween

The RamWalds, dressed up for Halloween

Sharing life together is great. It’s the reason that Shippensburg is home for us, because they are there for us when we need them.  In four years you see the ups and downs in life.  We’ve celebrated and mourned together.

And it’s been fun because when our lives are crazy and we’re too busy to cook and clean and eat, they just pick up the slack. And whenever their lives are crazy busy, Matt and I have been able to pick up the slack for them.

Melinda jokes that for the first two months of Caleb’s life she didn’t cook a meal or do a dish.

People always think that this must be really inconvenient, and that we’d really like to get away from this living situation.  We’ve even had people offer their homes to us when they go away as if it would be a favor to us.  The reality is we’ve all really benefited from living together and we really enjoy it.  We are taking a one-week vacation soon to a beautiful beach house in the Outer Banks.  The best part of the vacation is that we’re going with 7 of our best friends, including Ted and Melinda.

the whoel group

Caitlin: So tell me about holidays. I know you guys have a really cool tradition for Christmas.

Kristin: Yeah, this is a Melinda tradition that we took on and will continue to celebrate together even after we move out. Melinda calls it First Christmas. Since we all have family that’s not in the area and we travel to see them on Christmas, we don’t get to wake up on Christmas in our own house and celebrate together.

So, the Saturday before Christmas, we pretend it’s Christmas. We have Christmas eve dinner together the night before and we invite everyone over. And then the next morning we wake up and we pretend it’s Christmas all day. We make a crock pot meal or a tray of lasagna and Melinda will make monkey bread. We sleep in, eat breakfast and open presents together. We celebrate all day.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for making a living situation like yours work?

Kristin: Step 1. Pick forgiving friends.  We really never have fought, but anyone in a close relationship will stir up things on occasion.  I think it helps that we are gracious to each other, we give each other the benefit of the doubt, we’re honest when we need to be.  And it doesn’t hurt that we were really close friends to begin with.

Ted and Melinda are super Type A. I’m a little Type A and Matt is not at all Type A. So they are really clean. As soon as dinner is over, they do every dish, wipe down the counters, everything. And for me and Matt, that’s not our natural inclination. But, because it’s important to Ted and Melinda, we try to do that now.

It’s just really good to recognize who the other people are, what’s important to them and if you do have an issue, just be open and honest about how you feel. And I think that’s why we haven’t gotten in any fights. It helps that they’re probably nicer than we are.

Caitlin: So you are looking at moving out in the next few months. What is that thought process like?

Kristin: It’s really just because we want to start a family and we couldn’t all fit in the house. Melinda and Ted keep talking about how they could turn the basement into a suite for us and we could live down there with the baby, which is really generous, but I do want my own house. So, it’s happy and sad all at once.

I’m not one of those people who needs alone time. I like being around people 24/7. So it’s really nice for me that when Matt is working late, I can hang out with Ted and Melinda. So, it’ll be hard.

We do plan to live in a community with our group of friends later in life. We plan to all buy land separately, together. So we can have a pool, a huge garden, that kind of stuff. We call it the cul de sac. Matt calls it the Cult-de-sac because he thinks that’s funny.

Our culture continues to move towards more individualistic living.  People don’t know their neighbors or borrow sugar or share lives together as much, and something is really lost in that.  It’s also much more efficient to buy one lawn mower for five families than to have everyone spend hundreds of dollars on their own lawn mower.  Plus, most importantly, we really love our friends and value community.

I think Kristin is right when she says that this arrangement wouldn’t work with just anyone. Just as you need to pick your spouse carefully, I think you’d also really need to be careful of who you decide to live with. I’m so happy to see how well it has worked out for the RamWalds. It will be interesting to talk to Kristin again in a few months when she is living in her own place with her husband. Perhaps we’ll need to do a follow up.

Unlike Kristin, I am a person who needs her own space and time alone, despite having grown up with five siblings. I’m not sure I could make an arrangement like theirs work for myself and my husband. What do you think? Could you live with friends? Family? I know a lot of couples end up living with their parents or adult children. How do you make that situation work for everyone?

Hug it out, man

My husband is a very private person. I am not. BUT, I try my best to respect his boundaries and not tell the world his business. I did, however, get the green light to share some of our conversations from time to time because he really makes me laugh sometimes.

Caitlin: I never know how to greet guys that I like, but don’t know all that well. A handshake seems weirdly formal, but a hug seems like a bit much.

Rob: I heard that younger men really like hugging.

Caitlin: You heard that? Where would you hear something like that?

Rob: On the radio.

After I stopped laughing I tried to find the radio story he was talking about, but couldn’t find it. I did find this story, though, and it does, indeed, describe the trend he heard about. 


Finding peace after loss

My friend Johanna lost her dad very suddenly when she was 26 years old. Through tears (for both of us), she talked about what she’s learned through six years of missing her dad and shared advice for others dealing with loss.

Johanna 2

Caitlin: It’s been six years since your dad passed away. Has dealing with that loss gotten any easier for you as time has gone by?

Johanna: Yes. I mean, it definitely has. When I think back to how hard it was in the first week, couple months, even the first couple of year, it was so unbelievably hard. But within six years, it’s definitely gotten easier.

This is something I’ll never get over. There are times when I suddenly get upset still and you know, holidays are still hard because I do miss him terribly, but I don’t feel that raw, raw pain that I felt six, five, four years ago. It’s steadily gotten much better.

Your mom said something to me that at the time, it was heard to hear, but now makes so much sense.

Caitlin: She lost her dad really young.

Johanna: Yeah she told me, “You’re now part of a club that no one wants to be a member of,” which is so true. And you know, I’ve had quite a few friends lose a parent and I feel like I’ve been there for them and have been able to understand on a much deeper level and I think thats been helpful for them to have someone who gets it.

Your mom also said to me that you now have to find your new normal. At the time I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to have to find my new normal, I wanted my old normal. I wanted my dad in my life. But, it is true because you do kind of get used to a new way of doing things and living your life without that person. It takes a while, but you do find it.

Johanna 1

Caitlin: You touched on this a bit before, but I do wonder if people realize that when you lose someone, even when a lot of time has gone by, there are still times when the pain feel just as raw and sharp as it did when it happened.

Johanna: Yeah, you know, I’m not bursting into tears all the time and having those kind of episodes that I had before so it is kind of something that people tend to forget. Maybe its something they just don’t want to bring up, because it is such a tough subject to talk about.

Everyone is always looking for the right thing to say to make you feel better, but its not about making you feel better, it’s just about being there.

Caitlin: I think when our friends go through something difficult, we all want to be there for them as much as we can, but it’s often hard to know what to do or say. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but what do you think is the best way to be there for a friend who is going through something like what you went through.

Johanna: I think it’s just being there. Everyone is going to handle it differently and need their own thing. I wanted people to be around me at all times. I didn’t want to be alone. There is nothing anyone could have said that was going to make it better or change it, but I think just allowing me to talk about it made me feel better.

But it depends on the person. Other people don’t want talk about it at all. They just want to be left alone and that’s how they have to deal with it. And I think it’s just a matter of realizing the type of person (your friend is) and what they actually need. For some people, less is more.

Caitlin: What advice would you give someone who is going through a loss that’s been really difficult?

Johanna: I don’t try to say it’s going to be okay, because it’s not. You will be eventually (be okay), but it’s still going to hurt quite a bit.

Just hang in there, because it will get better. And with time it does actually feel a lot better and the pain just does ease up a little bit and it doesn’t hurt as much.

I just remember sitting there thinking that I felt like my world has stopped and everything around me is still spinning and how is this possible? But, you kind of fall back into that groove and you get back spinning too, and you find that new normal. You can find peace and move on with your life.

Thank you so much to Johanna for talking about such a tough subject with such grace and wisdom. What advice would you give a friend who is dealing with the loss of a loved one? Or, if you’ve experience a loss like Johanna, what did your friends and family do for you that helped?