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March 18, 2011 Comments (27) Views: 2228 Nerds

Magic Missile! Or How I Stopped Worrying and Love The LARP

My handle is FishingTheSky. I am a 23 year old white male graduate student who has a homosexual boyfriend. I enjoy writing, meandering about new environments and attempting to learn new musical instruments. I also love video and tabletop games. I am, with the encouragement of said homosexual boyfriend I mentioned, am a new convert to the world of “interactive literature”, which you may have heard of before…. under the term LARP-ing.

For the unaware, LARP-ing is an acronym for “Live Action Role Playing”. While this can mean a number of things to different people, the most commonly accepted definition of this term is “a bunch of stupid virgins running around acting out Dungeons and Dragons in real life.” Many picture something involving “dice checks” and “lightning bolts!” when they think of LARP-ing. Some may even picture the following scenario (which may be on YouTube for all I know) A bespectacled basement champion charges up a hill carrying a foam sword, yelling gibberish about dealing “four damage by broadsword” to an aloof looking teen in an enormous robe. The robed one claims that he doesn’t have the necessary abilities to do that. The two begin to argue until an acne ridden man runs over to them to settle the score. All the while, their girlfriends are non-existent and a pair of onlookers turn to one another in confusion. “What the hell are they doing?” one asks innocently. “They’re… LARP-ING!”

Gay-Nerds tries to be an all-inviting and encompassing hub for any nerdy pursuits. We’ve squabbled over the social implications of anime, got into shouting matches over fighting game characters and even admitted to shedding a tear or two after a few films or games. In all of the time I’ve spent visiting, writing for and (occasionally) yelling at the website, I don’t recall I’ve ever seen anyone mention this pastime. Even in our relatively small (but constantly expanding) universe, nerds, geeks and dorks all share an unspoken law that LARP-ers are at the absolute bottom of the nerd social hierarchy (because we all need to enforce some kind of high school microcosm even after we’re removed from the system).

MS Paint Larp 01

The Stigma

Last year, a few months into our relationship, my boyfriend asked me if I wanted to join him on a “day of LARP-ing” his friends were planning to attend. After a few minutes of calming me down and reassurance of the fun I could have, I agreed to go with him. I was hesitant to talk to anyone there I hadn’t come with, and was even more anxious when the head of the game (game master) distributed packets of information out to us. Inside were things similar to character sheets I’d seen in Changeling and Exalted, but with even more detail. Who was I? How did I conduct myself? How did I relate to other characters? Wait a minute, was I auditioning for an improvised play reading or playing a game? I didn’t have time to ask. Soon I was acting with others, trying to figure out what the hell was going on in the world this took place in; who was kidnapping and experimenting on the tenants of a quiet hotel, and why the hell would they send such a loose cannon asshole like myself to do it? Some kicked in doors, screaming contests and a pimp-slap or two later, the game was over and I still couldn’t tell you what exactly happened.

At the end of the day, I decided that I might want to try this again. I now felt like I kind of had an idea of how these games ran (Improv! Improv! Improv!) and was overjoyed to be encouraged to act like a fool in public places. Time passed, and nothing turned up on the horizon, until March. My boyfriend informed me of a whole weekend devoted to LARP-ing. Dozens of “short” games (two to four hours long) were being held, and I was promised that people would be outgoing and providing alcohol. Being the easy date that I am, I signed up for five games and waited for the first weekend of March to roll around. Would my past positive experiences repeat themselves, or would I drown in a sea of printer paper, staples, and ridiculous costumes?

The first thing I noticed during this excursion was that this particular LARP-ing community described itself as an “interactive literature” group. For all the social stigmas that haunt this activity, I found the majority of the people I met playing the games and hanging out afterward to be, for the most part, well adjusted and sociable people. Maybe the emphasis on the acting performances and writing attracts a more outgoing or creative personality than the dice-rolling and foam wielding battle nuts? Even after we were done, many of those involved wanted to hang out, grab drinks or snacks, and shoot the breeze. It almost felt like undergrad again, except people were older and had more refined tastes in beer.

Speaking of the games, I have rarely seen writing this consistently awesome in any sort of gaming medium. I could tell that the writer or writers of each game took painstaking efforts to make sure that each scenario and playable character would be complicated enough to have his or her actor understand him or her, while providing enough intrigue and detail to get involved in competitive and collaborative scenarios. The first one I acted in is a perfect example; forty-two people were divided into three rooms, each acting out one area of a larger unfolding story. Our actions not only influenced how other people in our group acted and perceived one another, but also affected the other two games as well.

MS Paint Larp 02

Supposedly This is a Low Key LARP

The best way I can even describe this process to someone who has never done it before is as follows; picture an enormous play that you only have the beginning of. Now, you’ve been given a character and role to play, but you haven’t been given the middle or end of the story. Imagine the playwright (or game master in this case) integrates new element of the plot based on what they know is supposed to happen only, instead of providing the answer; he or she allows the actors to bring things to their own conclusion. You are the actor and this is your stage. Put on a show.

My character for that particular game was the Chief Science Expert of a ship trying to get to a soon-to-be colonized planet in record time using a new type of technology. My promotion to this position not only put me on uneasy terms with the rest of the science staff, but my desire to have everyone get along just peachy irritated nearly everyone else. Oh, and let’s not get into the part where I may or may not be a baby or two’s daddy. Of course, things went wrong with the ship, people got into petty arguments, and a few doomsday scenarios were avoided. All the while, each person involved in the game had enough of a role to play that there was rarely a moments’ pause from either acting, solving puzzles, offering moral support, or being inappropriate in public.

It was a blast. Maybe it’s my inner literature or writer nerd, but I loved being thrust into a new scenario and told to work it all out. Everybody would congregate to a bar or open space and talk about game plots, mechanics, and shenanigans before diverging onto other topics that dealt with nearly any other aspect of life. One of my favorite moments of the whole weekend was meeting a man who worked as an interpreter of English into American Sign Language and how he got to where he was, how he got into LARP-ing, and how he’s also working with his wife on a performance of Star Wars: A New Hope into sign language. He also played a character in a game who was in an in-game relationship with my boyfriend’s character. They spent the rest of the weekend yelling at and hugging one another whenever their paths crossed. It was adorable.

Legit Boffing Weapons

It Only Happened for a Few Hours

Now, four of the five games I played were set up like the one I described. Great, meaty excursions in creative writing and acting that I would fully recommend anyone trying out if you ever had an aspiration to act, write, or geek over mechanics. However, I also partook in a boffer LARP. This is the kind of game that everyone thinks of when they picture LARP-ing. While it was fun running around and hitting people with foam and NERF swords for about fifteen minutes, the particular game I was in needed more external help. The elements were there for a fun game, but I don’t think it’s my cup of tea. I hardly received any background or motivation for my character, and there was far, far too much downtime for my liking. On the plus side, I got one of two “stealth kills” which amused me.

In conclusion, finding an appealing game of “interactive fiction” or “Live Action Roleplaying Game” is a lot like finding a film or video game that is appealing to you. What’s the scenario, what is being asked of me, and how much do I want to get into it? Those who want more creativity and flexibility in their escapism might want to poke around and see if there are any “interactive fiction” groups in their area. As I said before, there are tons of parallels between this sort of thing and acting and improvisation troops, so I would encourage anyone interested in those activities to try this out (it is GAY Nerds after all, I know some of you fit some stereotypes…) So I’ll be returning to this weird, madcap world of make believe for an occasional escape. I hope you’ll take the time to look around and put yourself somewhere you never saw possible. Oh, but please make sure you ask around so you know what you’re getting into. I don’t want anyone getting hit with any random objects for five damage. You likely won’t have that many hit points, or that much dignity to spare.

Ever LARP? Know someone who has? Do you want to know more about how you can make a fool of yourself in public? Bring your questions and stories to the forum!

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