Leaving the Larp Closet

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

Apologies for the pause in Monday larp posts — my site was hacked last Sunday, but now, courtesy of the awesome Daniel Quinn, everything’s back to normal.

Today we’re tackling a thorny issue: how to come out of the larp closet.

While reporting for Leaving Mundania, I encountered many gamers who kept their weekend selves separate from their work-, friend-, and family-selves, often reminding me of “the first rule of fight club” at parties where non-larpers were present. One of them, a nameless larper who wishes to leave the closet at work, asked me to ask my panel of experts for advice on how to make the leap.

Their de-closeting advice requires three easy steps: 

Step 1: Explain it in terms that non-gamers can understand, using analogy.

Avonelle Wing:

I might be lucky, in that nobody in my world has ever been dismissive of larp as a hobby and an artform. Anyway – when I’m shopping for costuming or makeup and need guidance, I tell people it’s like street theater meets flash mob meets cops and robbers for adults, and then I reference the 90’s murder mystery games.  Everybody seems to “get it,” at least a little, and sometimes people bowl me over with their enthusiasm

Michael Pucci:

Finding if the person likes fantasy books, MMORPGs, or even fantasy based TV series helps a lot.  That way when you want to broach the subject of gaming you can mention a story that relates to a similar interest with the other person.  Explaining to people that you go and live a ‘World of Warcraft‘ type environment, or that you do a more in depth version of a ren fair allows people who are not gamers to have a point of reference to your hobby.

We find that the easiest way to come out with Dystopia Rising is to say “You know Zombieland or ever play Silent Hill or Fallout?  Yeah, I spend a weekend a month living in that.  Fighting zombies and camping and the like.  What did you do this past weekend?”

Part of explaining larp is explaining the medium’s variety, J. Tuomas Harviainen advises:

I suggest mentioning some of the more cool games, in a context where they are appropriate, without taking up the word “larp” at once. There is nothing wrong with it, but it does tend to create immediate associations when non-larpers hear it. When I describe a larp, I treat it as an individual role-play work, and can then say that “Others of course like to do the same but in a different fashion, such as fantasy larp in the woods. To each their own style of play, just as there are different kinds of TV programs, but it’s the same medium.”

As Kate Beaman-Martinez points out, the corollary to this step is “know your audience.”

I suggest easing people in. First be aware of what they think of it. If it’s a sweet church lady who might think that your zombie-raising dark mage might really be a cover for devil worship, odds are you should just say that you’re playing a murder mystery dinner party and leave it at that. More times than not I describe it as “cops and robbers with rules on who shot who first.” If it’s your weekly poker buddies, talk about whats cool about it like getting to hit your friends with foam bats or getting to do wild things with your makeup.

Step 2: Once you’ve explained what the tarnation larp is, own it. Because larp is awesome. And eff the haters.

Mike Young:

Just tell them and don’t worry about being mocked.  In fact, I’ve found that you less often get mocked as you do complete ignorance.  They just can’t wrap their heads around larp no matter how much you explain, and some of my family still think that I do some sort of theater thing on the weekends. But every so often you get responses like I did from a completely mundane cousin who had seen larp on a tv show and thought it was really cool that I do that sort of thing.  That makes it all worth it. And finally, anyone who mocks you for your hobbies just isn’t worth your time.

Aaron Vanek:

Show up to work or family’s home in full costume. FLY YOUR FREAK FLAG LOUD AND PROUD!

Seriously though, it depends on who you are coming out to. Here in Los Angeles I say things like “improvisational acting” or “structured communal storytelling” and most people get excited and want to know more. My wife says larp is a “themed improvisational costume party.” I mention that the United States military uses taxpayer dollars to run a larp that trains soldiers before deployment to the Middle East. My analogy is fantasy foam combat campaigns are to larp like super-heroes are to comic books. They’re the most prevalent, the most colorful and flashy, the most recognizable, but they aren’t all of the art form of live action role playing.

Both larpers and non-larpers need to separate the content of larp (World of Darkness or NERO) from the form of larp (the bubble or magic circle of play pretend). I got that concept from page 6 of Scott McCloud’s brilliant (and highly influential) Understanding Comics.

Sarah Bowman points out that owning it helps defy the stigma’s power:

I never felt the need to stay “in the closet” in terms of my role-playing and it saddens me when I hear stories from other people who do feel that way. I understand that role-playing incurs a stigma, but I believe that the best way to dispel a stigma is to provide a good example of someone who does not fit the negative stereotype. I find that most people remember the experience of playing make-believe as a child and think fondly of those days. Also, the ability to play dress up tends to draw the interest of females, at the risk of sounding totally stereotypical. Men like dress up too!

Step 3: Some cool documentation doesn’t hurt.

Claus Raasted:

Show them the Nordic Larp book. :o)

[Lizzie’s note: I hear that Leaving Mundania is now available in ebook form and makes a great gift for the non-larper in your life. 😉 And also, the Nordic Larp Wiki and Nordic Larp Talks might provide some helpful material.]

But remember, you can’t win everyone over. Know when to fold ’em.

Geoffrey Schaller:

Be warned – some people carry notions, and others will talk about your hobby to people you don’t want them to – like the CEO of your company. Just like some people don’t get rap, opera, or show tunes… some people don’t get larp.  Know when to explain it, and know when to avoid it, and that gossip travels in professional environments.

Finally, know that the geek closet isn’t as dark and deep as it used to be.

Frederik Berg Østergaard:

I think that these days it’s become less of an issue. If you look at how often old-skool Dungeons & Dragons is portrayed in TV-series and films, it has become a part of the broader cultural luggage that we all carry around these days. I mean, the founding fathers have all died, and we’re all getting older. The geek shall inherit the earth and so we have. Of course coming out of the closet as a larper can seem to be a *big thing*, but lets face it, people have a lot nerdier hobbies these days, and how often do you get a chance to say “Oh, yeah. I larp. In my last larp I came out of the closet in a dark room at a gay larp.”


Read more First Timers’ Guides.


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.

Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year.  She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.

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.

4 thoughts on “Leaving the Larp Closet

  1. If it’s a combat oriented larp, with a sports-oriented audience, I like this analogy:

    “You know how football is a thinly veiled war game, all about winning territory and defeating the other team?”


    “My kind of larping is a less thinly veiled war game.”

  2. When I’m describing basic theater style, it’s usually, “Do you know about those Murder Mystery Dinner games, where there’s a theme, and everyone gets a character and the guests all solve the murder? It’s like that, only a lot busier and more complex. And usually there’s no dinner.”

    When I’m describing basic boffer LARPing, I ask them if they’ve seen the movie Role Models. And if not, I say, “half of us dress up like heroes, half of us dress up like monsters, then we run around in the woods for a weekend and whack each other with padded weapons.”

    If I’m at an interview and they want to know about something on my resume, I call it “interactive literature, like improvised stories where the actors are also each other’s audiences.”

    And if someone is actually interested, I whip out the coolest looking pictures on online photo albums (usually facebook or google plus), then ones with the most interesting costumes that depict action-heavy moments in LARPs. “See, there’s me dressed as a flapper, pleading with a German not to shoot my James Bond-esque lover…”

  3. Pingback: Larping.org | LARP Weekly Roundup 5/25/12 Larping.org

  4. Truthfully i hated this movie. For me it just failed acsros the board as form of enjoyable entertainment. In fact if you look it up on amazon, i’m the guy that gave it one star.But i expect one thing above all else in my movie selecitons: That the damn plot makes sense. For me, this movie was like a horror movie, where the only reason the bad thing happens is because no one had the common sense to say #$%& this, i’m going home.I can understand it, if you are trapped for whatever reason, but when you can get into your car at any time & drive home, safely, then yes you deserve to be executed for your stupidity. This movie is to LARP, what Maze & Monsters was to D&D.