I’ve had occasion to explain larp to a great many people at dinner parties, and one of their first questions is always, “But why do people larp? Are they compensating for otherwise dull lives?” I usually explain that people larp for many different reasons.
Today, I thought I’d let my panel of larpers speak for themselves.
J. Tuomas Harviainen:
Cool new experiences, interesting new perspectives, and so on. Larping combines the draw of alternate roles with a definite physicality, and thus affects its players in ways most other mediums can’t.
I get such a swell of creativity from larp that I have yet to be able to replicate it. When I have a character talking to me, I completely (much to the ire of my partners) focus on that character. I write short stories on where they’ve been. I start journals, fuss with their costumes, obsess over the next wig purchase. I love the art form. I love creating memorable characters that people talk about years later. I like shocking people when I step out of the character and I get statements like, “oh dear god, you DON’T sound like you’re from New York!”
You get to play. You get to experience. You get to have fun, cry or grow, depending on what type of larp you want. I’ve been a cowardly snack bar owner on a muslim space ship in 2862. I’ve been a brutal demon-worshipping general fighting orcs, elves and progress. I’ve been a doctor visiting an old friend in 1829. Instead of reading the book or watching the movie, you get to be part of the larp. It’s really that simple.
I think that larp most appeals to people who like to roleplay and pretend but don’t want to act. Being on stage can be intimidating, and many people are scared of performing in front of an audience. Larp allows them to explore that creative side of themselves in a safe environment.I think a lot of adults still like to pretend and play make believe, but because it has become a taboo in American society, they just repress that side of themselves. LARP gives people a creative outlet that they just can’t find anywhere else.
Frederik Berg Østergaard:
Bah. I think theres too much focus on the return of investment idea nowadays. What do you get out of this or that. The bottom line is, that as any past time activity, what you get out of it is FUN. And mind you, that fun does not equal FUNNY, so you can actually play a sad game and have fun at the same time. I think that one often overlooked thing is that it is actually pretty great to be with other people and doing stuff together while dressed up as Kermit the Frog.
Larping allows people to take the banal and mundane world that is their job, their paying of bills, and their household chores and put these frustrations away for a night or a weekend. Going to a larp is almost like being involved with an organized sports team or being actively involved in a musical subculture. When you go to a larp, like these other events social oriented events, you get to step away from the frustrations that come with the responsibilities of being a part of society and step into another world that has been designed for your enjoyment. This environment, because of its alternate world immersion, is a set place where you go to play and relax.
For me, it’s a chance to unplug from the real world for 48 hours – to not have to deal with day-to-day issues, a mini-vacation. It’s also a way to hang out with 200 people I like to be around, with a common activity to bring us together. It’s a chance to take risks with minimal consequences (Challenge someone to a duel? You don’t actually die when they kick your ass). It’s a way to indulge and exercise your imagination in ways you can’t normally do in the real world. If anyone has ever watched a movie or TV show and though “I could do that,” or even “I could do better” – larp is a way to actually DO that.
As a player, I love that larps can give me a complete physical, mental, and emotional workout. I am especially interested in the last one, emotional. I don’t know of any other art form that permits and encourages people to express emotions in a safe environment. Players can “practice” fear, sadness, love, anger, jealousy, greed, via prompting. Life unexpectedly provokes our emotions, e.g., landing a job, death of a pet, success of a rival. In larp, we can feel these emotions by letting go…or not. We can pull back, ignore the situation, temporarily leave the larp if we don’t want to release.
Sarah Lynne Bowman:
I enjoy the act of dressing up and embodying a character as a form of emotional and intellectual expression. I also enjoy watching the dynamics between other characters. Role-playing can provide a feeling of agency and excitement that some people feel the real world lacks, as well as a unique outlet for creativity and self-expression.
The panel answers more questions for the new-to-larp.
Kate Beaman-Martinez has been acting since she was 11 and started gaming at 17. She cut her teeth on White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse and naturally got up when there was a heated debate on the proper uses of torture in her weekly table top group. Shortly thereafter she joined The Avatar System and hasn’t looked back. Through larping, she has found her partners, and moved to New York. Kate is currently a full time student and the Executive Assistant for Double Exposure, Inc.
Sarah Lynne Bowman received her PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. McFarland press published her dissertation in 2010 under the title The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. Her current research focuses upon understanding social conflict within role-playing communities and applying Jungian theory to the phenomenon of character immersion.
J. Tuomas Harviainen comes from Finland, and is one of those pesky professional larp researchers. In addition to studying larps, he also designs them. His mini-larps have so far been run in at least 14 countires and translated to seven languages.
Frederik Berg Østergaard is a Scandinavian game designer and jeepform evangelist. His work has mainly focused on taking the medium further and farther away from its tabletop roots into an adult oriented form, that has more in common with performance and psychodrama. He also holds an M.A. in History of Religions from the University of Copenhagen.
Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media. He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.
Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?
Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member. He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.
Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America“ in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.
Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years. His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.
In much fictional media (plays, films, novels. . . ) a lot of effort goes into getting the audience to identify with a character.
Larp resolves that effortlessly – you identify with the character because they live inside you.
Why would you want to watch, when you can do/be?
I think this is a defining trait of our generation (the one that grew up with computer games), that we want active rather than passive entertainment.