In Defense of “Larp”

In the states, larp’s got a certain…ah…shall we say stigma attached to it. Larpers know this, and they don’t like it one bit. In fact, a lot of them hate the term “larp,” lamenting it as a weird-sounding word that quite possibly evokes a smelly bodily function.

Perhaps this explains why so many larp organizers use other terms to describe games that would otherwise seem to fit in the “larp” rubric. Here’s a little sampling that I’ve come across in the course of my research:

  • Knight Realms bills itself as a “live acting experience.”
  • Interactive Outdoor Theater, a new game company in New Jersey, calls its games “rehearsals” and its players “cast members”
  • A couple people on one of my larp listservs prefer the more generic “roleplaying” or “live role playing,” while others objected to “larp” on the grounds that it lumps together very different sorts of games, and proposed a variety of more specific substitute terms, such as “battle games,” “freeform,” “live combat,” “theater style,” and “parlor games.”
  • Seventh Kingdom calls itself an IGE or “interactive gaming experience.”
  • The Osiris Sanction, a game that apparently has pervasive aspects by NERO grandaddy Ford Ivey is called  a “LUG,” or live urban game.
  • Wyrd Con, a US-based convention in the style of Knutepunkt, calls itself an “interactive theater” convention.
  • Incidentally, the above are all lovely games/venues, and are worth checking out.

Here’s my take: larpers, call yourselves larpers. OWN IT. Yeah, sure, you could call yourself “roleplayers” — you are roleplaying, but to me that just doesn’t have the snap that “larp” does. As a word, “larp” is freaking awesome. For starters, it sounds like a real word, and it’s adaptable as a noun, verb or adjective. (I larped at the larp; the after party felt larpy because everyone still had their costumes on. I larped the larp with larpy larpers.) Plus, if the random people I meet in bars are any judge, there are tons of non-gamers out there who are already familiar with the term. You can capitalize on this.

I get it — “larp” has a bad rap — but it’s totally possible to reclaim it as a term by getting your story out there.But in re-qualiftying your game to avoid the stigma, you are, perhaps, further stigmatizing good old “larp” as an unutterable insult.

Is the term broad? Yes! But that’s part of its awesomeness. Part of the reason the medium is already so misunderstood is that it’s cloaked in all this mysterious technical jargon — NPC, GM, IG, OOG — that is inaccessible to the uninitiated. Splitting larp into more technical categories like “battle games,” “theater games,” “salon games,” etc. isn’t going to fix that — it simply creates more terms for the average non-gamer to negotiate. It fragments your community into many even smaller fringe communities. To mainstream culture, as IGErs, LRPGers, battle gamers, you are individually weak, confusing, and dismissible. Together, as larpers, you are a strong movement rapidly moving into the mainstream consciousness.

By all means, keep on using the finer terms and technical gradations inside the gaming community — to the seasoned gamer, to someone already in the know, they are tremendously useful. I’m not much for battle games, for example, but I love theater-style games, and I’m curious to try a LUG, mainly because I’m not yet sure quite what it is (though I love the verby-sounding name). But first and foremost, be a larp.

Sure, the theater analogies are tempting; there are strong parallels between theater and larp, and I think it’s a great idea to party with all the interactive theater people out there. But I also think you should be proud of your roots in gaming — the interactive theater people have a lot to learn from you. Larp isn’t theater and it’s not a theater-derivative; it’s its own cool and special medium, and as such, it deserves a unique name.

Think of it this way: if “larp” goes mainstream, then you won’t have to explain the general term, just your specific niche to the interested consumer. Educating the public about larp in general saves you time in explaining specifics. Instead of telling prospective new players, “magical fantasy interactive theater von LRPGROFFLBBQ? Do you have a couple hours so I can explain it to you?” you’ll be able to say “this is a larp where ___.”

Viva la larp!

Think I’m dead wrong? Think I’m half-right? Are there other reasons to use names that aren’t “larp”? Have you got a better term? Is the whole thing a non-issue that I’m blowing out of proportion? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

4 thoughts on “In Defense of “Larp”

  1. Testify!

    I have learned to embrace the term larp (our term for it was “live games”), because:

    1. It’s already out there, and changing it now would be too difficult, and really, pointless.

    2. I really like that the acronym Live Action Role Playing does NOT include the word “game” in it. In other words, a larp doesn’t necessarily have to be a game; it’s not embedded into the definition. There are certainly many “larp games”, but saying “larp” doesn’t mean a game.

    I agree 100%; but I know there are many out there that vehemently disagree. What needs to happen is a widespread separation of the larp art form from larp content.

    When people say “larp”, the first thing that comes to mind in 99.9999% of the population is “fake elf ears in a state park with a foam sword”. The media in America almost exclusively focuses on this. However, as I have often said:

    fantasy foam combat larps are to the art form as super heroes are to comic books.

    Superheroes are a GENRE of sequential art (Will Eisner’s term), but not the art itself. There are many examples of non-superhero comic books (or graphic novels).

    We need to get more media attention on the non-fantasy larps, so people realize it’s more widespread than the local boffer group.

    My opinion, at least.

  2. There is no getting away from it.

    People are going to refer to what we do as a larp even if we wish really hard that it was otherwise.

    Rather than the spending time and energy to deny an essentially correct classification, you are better off spending that time changing the image of what that means to people outside the game.

  3. True story follows.

    Here in Italy, the most general term for a role-playing of any kind (including larp — let’s not even get into the specifics of tabletop rpgs vs. larp vs. whatever else you got) is “gioco di ruolo”. Everybody has heard it sometimes, though not many people would be able to tell you what a “gioco di ruolo” exactly is, and most may think it involves computers.

    Once I was hired by a town-council funded community center to organize a larp for the local youths; I got very little money, but still something, and a very beautiful scenic location to play with, which was wonderful. When it came to advertising the event, they got back to me about my ad/promo copy and told me:
    “No, please, we don’t like to use the words ‘gioco di ruolo’. Too much of a bad reputation, you know, it may scare people away… People may think it’s too complicated for them. We prefer to call it a ‘live game’* instead.”

    * = Yes, in English, but that’s typical of Italian business or institutions whenever they’re trying to sound cool. And be assured I’d never heard this particular idiom before, and will never hear it again.

    So, they hire me to organize a role-playing game for them, but then they don’t want me to call it a role-playing game ’cause that could “scare people away”?!

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