When we were young… a post mortem on live action role playing

May 12, 2010 at 8:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments
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When I first heard about L.A.R.P. (live action role playing) I was under the impression that it was just a bunch of crazy nerds going out into the woods and throwing fake lightning bolts at each other. I was so amused by this that I even talked George into renting a L.A.R.P. documentary called Monster Camp, which actually ended up being a very entertaining and insightful film. I say “insightful” because the director, through the examples of the people he followed, delved heavily into the concept of escapism. There was a lady who said she larped to escape the reality of being in a wheel chair, a single father who was addicted to World of Warcraft, a software programmer at Xerox, and many others. I was surprised at the wide variety of people who attended these events. For some of them, larping was just a healthy activity where they could get away for a weekend and hang out with friends… for others, it was just another drug helping them avoid neglected responsibilities in their real lives.

The other concept the film touched upon was one that I’d been curious about for quite some time: being able to enjoy make-believe as if you were a kid again. I remember going out into the backyard with my friend and our younger sisters and just playing for hours. I remember we pretended that we lived on an island, and we’d invent various scenarios. One time we said that “bad guys” were going to invade the island and we’d have to prepare traps and other defenses… Another time we decided that winter was coming so we gathered “supplies” and fortified our shelter. We had this tree in our yard that was slowly dying, it was hollow at the top and rainwater collected there. It wasn’t just water though, it had magical powers of restoration that could cure my sister when she got some mysterious island sickness. We didn’t make her drink it of course, but we climbed to the top of the tree just to obtain the water so she could pretend to drink it; after which she was immediately healed. We played this for hours… I even put Megaman 2 on hold so that we could play… and my NES-time was severely limited back then, so that was a BIG DEAL.

In middle school, I was talking with my friend Tara who still had a sister in elementary school. At some point we were like, “hey, remember when we used to make stuff up?” We both agreed that it was the most fun thing in the world, and then questioned why we hadn’t done it lately. “Would we still enjoy it?” we wondered… so we went into the yard with her sister and attempted to make up scenarios and play as we did just a few years prior… but it just wasn’t fun anymore. It was a sad realization; for both of us I think.

After that, I never had fun playing like that again. I had forgotten how.

But after watching Monster Camp it suddenly occurred to me… these people whom I had been imitating in jest, who go out into the woods dressed as elves and mages, throwing lightning bolts and using healing potions… these people remember how. They remember how to have fun playing like we did as kids. And at that point, I became intrigued with live action role playing. I became intrigued with the adults who were actually able to suspend reality in order to relive that fantasy that all children experience and invariably forget once they grow up.

So I decided to write a LARP. Well, not a real one… there was no battle system or throwing of lightning bolts… but there was a story with characters who had latent conflicts, a central objective, a giant feast with plastic gold goblets, and a handful of mini-games. Oh, and one of our characters had to pretend that he was raised by bears.

As this was the first time I’d ever run an event of this nature, I found that there were definitely some kinks that I’d want to iron out if I ever did this again (especially in terms of how late everyone ended up having to stay awake). But beyond that, I was amazed by how many people came dressed in creative costumes, got into their characters, and seemed to actually have a good time. I don’t think we quite reached the level of “suspending reality” in the way that the people from Monster Camp did, but that’s okay. For now I’m just focused on creating an environment where people can come and have fun, play games, and goof around for a few hours.

Perhaps someday though, I will remember.

laura shigihara, george fan, dylan librande
me (yes, Laura Shigihara loves head ornaments, haha), “Emperor” George, and Dylan

We were all wearing our costumes when we went outside in the middle of the night to do an “Alchemy Relay” that culminated in dropping mentos into diet coke.

Preparing the mentos…

The players were discussing clues… (At Norolond, who left behind a black pouch with a ninja star, bay leaf, and black sea salt inside?)

Dan (the Imperial doctor), Lindsey (the head of the Economic Council), General Tod (head of the Military Council), and Zita (head of the Dragon Riders)

Theresa… she holds an annual robot fighting competition called “Theresa’s Mech Wars”

I think the plastic gold goblets were my favorite part.

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