6 Reasons Why LARP is Not Just a Game

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If you’re a LARPer (live action role player) or even just know a bit about LARPing, you’ve probably heard it: “LARP is just a game.” As a staff member and new LARP marketer of a small American fantasy boffer campaign game back in 2010, I quickly realized the power and importance of this phrase. When players became emotional or upset over a rule or a plot, I mistakenly thought it was helpful to remind them that LARP was just a game.

 

How wrong I was.

Not Just A Game

While I spread this rhetoric, I practiced quite the opposite. As a marketer, it made sense to build a community around a young game and engage our player base. From the start, this meant that to me and many in the local community, LARP was far more than just a game. Every participant – from staff member to financial investor to player – invested time, money and trust in the game, its community, and its success. They believed in something I was part of building and growing.

 

It would take a good six or seven years before I realized the importance and responsibility of that power.

 

I recently observed a conversation involving a LARPer who is clearly experiencing some struggle over how his ideals do not align with those practiced in one of his LARP communities.

 

He reminded everyone that “LARP is just a game.”

 

I’m finally ready to say that it’s not – and that there is real harm in pretending is fashioning LARP to be as simple as make believe.

 

LARP is a Community and a Culture

From LARPing.com

When you create a LARP – whether it’s a four hour one-shot, a regular boffer fight club in your backyard, or a full blockbuster experience – you’re automatically creating or enhancing a community. Professional marketers do this intentionally all the time, hoping to cultivate a community around the brands they represent. By the event-focused nature of the LARP events, you’re shaping and providing space for a LARP culture to grow.

 

Why is that a big deal?

 

It comes with some responsibilities. LARPers depend on their communities for things like:

  • Healthy socialization
  • Opportunities for catharsis
  • Physical fitness
  • Education about writing, acting, game design, cooking, event management
  • Empowerment through connecting with like-minded individuals
  • A meaningful place away from home, work, or school
  • Entertainment

 

When I started LARPing (and when I created marketing messages for my first LARP), I saw the community potential – but I didn’t think about the impact of this experience. When I write and design LARPs now (or when I consider playing one), I look first at codes of conduct and any material about community or standards. That’s because I know safety and community are huge parts of the LARP experience and how I might feel about playing in a game.

 

LARP Can Be Transformative and Therapeutic

Until recently, I never thought of myself as a leader, except when it came to some modest accomplishments in the world of publishing. Through in and out of game positions in LARPs, I learned that I am an effective leader. This kind of safe experimentation wouldn’t have been possible without role play scenarios, and the challenges I’ve faced in leadership roles in the real world are much easier to handle, having already faced similar scenarios in fantasy worlds.

 

Similarly, I also spent time dealing with themes like mortality and grief in LARPs. This is in contrast to one of my family members, who grieves a loss in a circular fashion, talking about someone’s end but never coming to a form of acceptance.

 

Through the slightly removed perspective of LARP, I’ve been able to employ some coping mechanisms in conjunction with (and under the approval of) a counselor.

 

More than that, having a community has helped immensely during tough times.

 

LARP is a Growing Industry

Of LARPS

LARP has legitimacy. Every year, there are more individuals and companies proving that LARP is becoming an accepted, viable way to operate as a business – while there are still, of course, informal and nonprofit LARP organizations out there as well.

 

The reasons for this are various and decades in the making, heralded in the U.S. by earlier successes like NERO, shaky (but visible) representations of LARP in more mainstream media, and the successful development and migration of blockbuster business models.

 

Additionally:

  • People now long for experiences more than things
  • Despite socioeconomic hindrances, passion drives game creation and commerce
  • The community is growing at a pace rapid enough to support substantial growth
  • Lead community members are giving of their time and experience, mentoring other game designers and business owners who are committed to representing the hobby and subculture in a meaningful way
  • A larger brand took the leap: Disney is making a Star Wars LARP hotel (even if they aren’t calling it that)
  • Savvy resources help newcomers find games, reflecting the increasingly less disparate nature of LARPs on a national (and international) scale and the role of the internet in this

 

LARP is Art and Art is Progress

LARP as Art

Here in the U.S., our schools face budget cuts. The arts are often the first thing to go. Naturally, there’s still a need for us as students of school – and life – to express our wants, needs, joys, griefs, and frustrations through art forms.

 

That’s where LARP comes in.

 

Even if you don’t view collaborative storytelling in a high-art way, it provides a vehicle for expression in a very difficult sociopolitical time.

 

LARPers come from a variety of backgrounds, so “LARP is art” was never a solely academic reality, even though LARP academics were at the forefront of saying it. LARP is a means for expression. Its community is a means for disagreement; sometimes it’s a battleground for inclusion. In my daily experience, nowhere is the struggle of inclusion more relevant.

 

“My story is important” makes LARP more than a game, especially when this feeling is expressed by a marginalized individual.

 

LARP Represents Commitments of Time, Money, and Trust

Building Community!

Regardless of the size or type of LARP, it requires three things from all participants most often: time, money, and trust.

 

It takes time to play the game, even if the LARP doesn’t require extensive character development. For larger productions, LARPs can involve the investment of time on a weekly or monthly basis; they can involve weeks or months of prior character development online;

 

It usually takes money to travel to a game; at the very least it is a willing decision to spend your time doing something other than work.

 

Lastly there is the trust of building a story with other members of the LARP. Whether you go into this consciously considering the trust or it evolves out of interactions, it’s often an important component of LARP.

We’re aware of our various commitments, and knowing that we have truly invested these valuable resources in something (in this case LARP) fulfills the sense that it is more than just a game.

 

LARP Embraces and Causes Change

 

The real world impacts us in dramatic ways, often beyond our control. LARP provides participants with more than a sense of occasional escapism, even when participants avoid immersion and internalization. LARP creates a sandbox for exploration and discovery – whether we see characters as aspects of ourselves or the outcomes of people we’d never want to be. By its very nature, it’s conducive to the practice and development of empathy.

 

But hey, some people aren’t into the deeply emotional side of LARPing – and that’s okay.

 

LARPs still become affected by those who play them, and they still create change on various levels. Here are some examples I’ve seen at a variety of LARPs:

 

  • Players with chronic illnesses or periods of unemployment who built businesses off of creating commission-based LARP and other artistic projects
  • Foamsmiths who learn small business and safety skills all because they showed up to boffer games with safe and impressive weapons
  • Through turmoil or inspiration, LARPers who come out of a LARP weekend full of inspiration to create their own game – forcing the evolution of the hobby whether they intend to or not
  • LARPers who employ story-based game mechanics more heavily into work and game settings less traditionally accepting of collaborative narratives
  • New and experienced LARPers who are now more open to trying new activities

 

Now that I’ve seen this kind of change, I’m ready to stand by it: LARP is not just a game. It’s a lot more than that to me and to many in LARP communities around the world.

 

What does LARP and its potential mean to you? Please let us know in the comments.

Tara M. Clapper is Managing Editor at Mythbuilders, a game designer, a fan of Marvel’s Thor, and a forever LARPer. She is the founder and senior editor of The Geek Initiative, an online community focused on women in geek culture.

How LARP Made Me a Badass at Work

Guest Post from Tara Clapper of The Geek Initiative and Mythbuilders

Few professionals emerge from high school, trade school, or college with the badassery required to act fully confident in their respective field. In any job, you grow as you learn – but you can enhance your confidence and other work-related skills through the magic of LARPing.

 

Here’s a look at how it’s worked out for me.

 

LARP Kindled My Interest in Marketing

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Following college, I got my professional start in publishing – which was an uncertain field due to its not-so-smooth transition from print to digital. Moonlighting as a freelance writer, I also learned about SEO (search engine optimized) writing and its constant state of evolution.

 

What tied it together was the opportunity to be a marketer for a LARP. The duct tape budget was mandatory; the marketing budget was meager (and by that I mean $0). I bartered talent and content for tables at conventions and even recruited LARPers on Freecycle.

 

Most other games didn’t have someone who knew how to seed a new blog and dominate keyword opportunities, but like a veritable marketing badass, I made it happen and began my official journey into a marketing career.

 

LARP Got Me Hired Four Times

What differentiates me from almost every other job candidate? I’m an avid LARPer, and I’m not afraid to talk about it during my job interviews. In digital marketing and publishing, the right kind of creativity really helps me distinguish myself.

 

Additionally, my knowledge and enthusiasm about LARP shows that I’m able to speak clearly about what I do. Four prospective employers felt that their team needed my passion – and every time I described LARP and what I learned from it, I got hired.

 

LARP shows several desirable traits to employers:

  • Improvisational ability: I’m able to think on my feet
  • Ongoing desire to learn: I take lessons from LARP and apply them to real life
  • Continual creativity: LARP’s a vehicle for creative thinking
  • Problem-solving skills: As my character, I often have to overcome challenges, and I take pleasure in doing so
  • Team player: Collaboration is the name of the game in LARP, as it’s a necessity for the media’s format as well as character development and progression

 

LARP also serves as a backup for those pesky interview questions. “Can you remember a time when you handled an emergency?” Not in real life, but one time I totally helped a pregnant dwarf get to the midwife on time.

 

LARP Makes Me a Badass Leader

Minerva had only a moment to think about the years of preparation under the guidance of her mentor. Presently, she was a mage enrolled in her second year of wizard college. Refusing to hand over the coveted letter, she defied her professor openly before the entire class. In that moment – in doing what was right even though it was against the rules – she knew that the decision to pursue law enforcement was right. This wasn’t only justice, it was leadership.

 

…And I took that experience to work with me.

 

This is the narrative of my most immersive and impactful LARP experience to date. As a woman in marketing who often interfaces with people in the tech industry, leadership and confidence are essential – and not always easy to maintain. Through LARP experiences like the one described above, I deliberately practice embodying confident and decisive actions.

 

This allows me to speak up and lead confidently, whether I’m working with a team of writers or leading a client through the buying process.

 

Success in this endeavor comes through repetition. That’s how to make a good habit stick.

 

LARP Makes Me a Badass Marketer

I’m a more effective marketer thanks to LARPing. In marketing, telling a brand’s story and appealing to prospective customers through genuine passion for your work is all the rage. (And for all those people who said an English degree wouldn’t help my career: you were wrong.)

 

LARP is all about collaborative storytelling, a skill I constantly practice at work and on game. This also means I’m used to reacting to what others give me to work with, and I’m not going to stick to the conventional beginning-middle-end format with every story. LARP helps me help brands stand out.

From LARPing.com

LARP Makes Me a Badass Colleague

 

In addition to the collaborative nature of LARPs, these games have helped me focus my passion for advocacy. Often in LARPs, I’ll have to take a stand on a position and convince others of its value. Through my career, I’ve used these skills to advocate for team members, customers, and even fair wages.

 

Forget Toastmasters: I LARP

 

Public speaking is an important skill in every field. Like most writers, I’m far more confident in crafting written words than delivering speeches, but public speaking is also a necessity for many marketers. Whether I’m on a podcast, webinar, or speaking live at an event, I lean on my LARP experience to engage the audience effectively.

 

Specifically, I grew more confident in public speaking by portraying a bard in a monthly fantasy campaign LARP over the course of five years. The bard began as a passive fairy princess and retired as a respected and battle-ready political leader.

 

Remember that time the inn got attacked in the middle of the bard’s song? That taught me how to deal with the unexpected when there was a technical glitch in my webinar presentation.

 

I still have a long way to go when it comes to nasty glitches and surprises, and work life doesn’t always go as planned. But thanks to LARP, I’m able to handle it like a badass.

 

Tara M. Clapper is Managing Editor at Mythbuilders, a game designer, a fan of Marvel’s Thor, and a forever LARPer. She is the founder and senior editor of The Geek Initiative, an online community focused on women in geek culture.