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 Initiative, a site that celebrates women’s contributions to geek culture.
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