Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word, and you respond with the first thing that comes to your mind, mkay?
How might you respond? If you’re like my friends, whom I polled in a completely scientific way, your thoughts ran the gamut from “Huh?” to “Goofy!” to the more knowledgeable “Hit points” and “boffers!”
LARPing, or Live Action Role Playing, involves taking your favorite sci-fi or fantasy characters, dressing up like them, and then acting out scenarios in those roles. Have you ever imagined yourself storming a castle or surviving the zombie apocalypse? Sure you have. LARPers act out their fantasies, in the process inviting the derision of the hipper-than-thou crowd and dyed-in-the wool “grown-ups,” who sneer or scratch their heads at folks dressing up and running around the woods “slaying orcs.”
Lizzie Stark takes an axe to LARP misconceptions in her debut book Leaving Mundania. Lizzie, a journalist, immersed herself in the LARPing scene (Lizzie uses the lower case term, “larp”) as research. She played an interdimensional detective from an alternative 1920s universe and produced a medieval newspaper in the Pennsylvania woods.
And Lizzie spoke with a lot of LARPers, all of whom are much like you and I: Geeks who are passionate about something. Normal people. Fathers, sons, mothers and daughters. Folks who just want to escape reality for a while.
Each chapter of Leaving Mundania introduces the reader to a new aspect of LARP: The first chapter brings the reader along as Lizzie heads down the rabbit hole, and the second humanizes LARPers whom I (yes, I admit it) might otherwise have scorned. A later chapter talks about in-game economics and racism. Lizzie writes with clear prose and an observant eye, and she opens up to the reader worlds about which he or she never knew. Anyone with an interest in gaming, pop-culture or even sociology will be fascinated by Leaving Mundania.
I had the good fortune to speak with Lizzie about her book and her experiences writing it. A few nuggets from our conversation:
What do you say to readers skeptical about LARPing?
Larp is misunderstood. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. We’re living in the era of the geek—everybody is a geek.
What advice might you give to people who are considering trying LARP for the first time?
It takes time. You have to learn what sort of gamer you are and look at all the different games that are out there. You have to figure out what sort of game you enjoy. Nordic games emphasize powerful emotions, while others stress physicality. Don’t get discouraged; just try something different.
You spent a lot of time in Scandinavia as part of your research. What differences are there between the Scandinavian and US LARP scene?
Larping is more mainstream in the Nordic countries. It’s more homogenous there, and it’s a smaller scene. Larp is another medium for entertainment. It stresses emotion and less plotting. In Denmark, games are more free form. In Helsinki, they debate theory. In the US, there’s still shame or stigma attached to larping. It’s a bigger place and there’s less community. Games here are more table top and investigative; they stress plot and adventure.
For more information on Lizzie and her book, visit her official website.