6 Reasons Why LARP is Not Just a Game

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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.

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Creative Outlets

Ask people why they LARP, and they usually answer roughly the same. The most common answer is their own form of “because it’s fun” or “because my friends do it” and both of those answers are great. Did you know there are actual benefits to LARPing in addition? Examining LARP shows there are many benefits to it that are hidden just beneath the surface. In this series of articles five of these hidden benefits will be expanded upon and detailed. For more information check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Health, and Social Skills.

 

Huge Discounts on your Favorite RPGs @ DriveThruRPG.com

LARP can help you express your creativity and help foster creativity in others. By putting together your costume, you learn ways to express yourself through clothing and makeup. LARP can inspire art and creative writing about your character’s situation. LARP can even inspire creativity in people who don’t LARP!

 

Creative Expression Through Costume

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

Four of my own characters, all very different!

In the above picture, the common theme is that I am the player, and that is it. Each character has their own style of dress, makeup, hair and accessories. Different characters let me experience the different styles I present for a few hours in a non permanent way. Through these characters I have a creative outlet for trying new styles. I can get brave and try new styles and figure out what I like. Before I started playing the character in the bottom right, I couldn’t draw a good cat eye. Now I can do one well enough that I would wear it out in public. I’ve been able to creatively experiment with my appearance and enjoy myself because of LARP. Never in my life would I wear something like the bottom left or top right in public, but I can play with it at LARP and enjoy myself.

Sometimes I will even experiment at home with my look for LARP if I’m feeling creative. The expression has even gained me new topics to talk about with friends who also like makeup and body paint. It can even help spread creativity outside of LARP too! By commissioning costumes and asking friends for makeup help, you spread the creative process around. The artist or friend you ask for help may even end up liking the style you request and exploring it more on their own, which is a win for everyone.

 

Creative Expression Through Art

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

The guns my character uses in After The End

 

LARP also offers many creative outlets to be found in the creation of art, props, and writing. Those guns (lovingly painted for me) were just regular NERF guns that were painted to match the style and aesthetic of my character in that game. Many artistic friends of mine will draw their characters for fun. Through commissions they will also draw other’s characters and that can really help to get the creative juice flowing. I (and many of my friends) also write small fictional works involving our characters.

They focus on many subject matters and can be either dramatic retelling of game events or ‘off-screen’ events. Many of them are of stories that work best on paper, such as dream sequences, internal monologues, or backstory reveals. Having the expression outlet of creative writing is one of the things that inspired me to begin writing for KotH, so I can certainly say it is a benefit.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Credit: Anna Sharpton

If my keyboard could be a tired cat, it would be Freyr.

 

This series of articles has been extremely fun for me to write. I’ve touched on so many things that LARP can help you do, and there is still so much more that I haven’t even covered. From educating yourself, to gaining valuable contacts, to improving your health, to gaining social skills, to exercising your creativity, there are so many wonderful things that LARP can help you with. I hope you all have had as much fun reading this series as I have had writing it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to take a break from writing about LARP to actually go do it. See you in character!

 

Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Networking, Health, and Social Skills for more ways that LARP can benefit you!

Anna uses she/her pronouns, is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire or werewolf she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats with three eyes between them. She can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.