There was a little girl, who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead,
And when she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
There is a dismissive attitude towards LARPs in some sectors of the gaming community. I often get the feeling that LARPs are perceived as a sign of poor taste, and that LARPers are thought to be overly dramatic, and not “true” gamers.When I was working on Shelter in Place, I was often advised not to call it a LARP, because that might discourage people from buying the game.
“Call it a Party Game!” people would tell me.
“Say it’s an Improv game.” I’d be advised.
And it most certainly is those things. It is also a LARP – a Live Action Role Playing game.
Many people who hold this opinion do so because they have heard stereotypes about LARPs in the media, or they have played in a LARP and found the experience distasteful. I understand. I often think of the poem above when I think about LARPing, because in my experience, a good LARP is transcendent, but a bad LARP really is horrid. Playing a lot of tabletop games, run by a variety of game-masters has given me a good mental scale to calculate good and bad games.
In the very worst tabletop I’ve ever played, the game master was racist, and one of the players refused to look at me, and the game itself was tedious. Afterward, I walked out of that game and though to myself “Well, I wont be doing that again!” and had a weird story to tell about the afternoon.
After a bad LARP though? You really want to punch someone, or a wall, or yourself. Something about acting out the action with a bad group or GM can make a LARP a miserable experience. A bad tabletop can be laughed off, where a bad LARP can leave you seething.
LARPing also opens up a person to ridicule. When you tabletop, there is distance between yourself and the character. LARPing requires that you throw yourself into the character with abandon, and that can be embarrassing. Like an actor who throws themselves into a role, a good LARPer commits to the role, becoming the character.
The rewards of an excellent LARP are astounding. A well constructed, well played LARP allows the player to walk in a characters shoes, to understand what it is to be strong or weak or feared. It lets the player know what it is like to defend your village against dragons, or rebel against an undead overlord. It lets you experience betrayal without real world consequences. It gives you a space to play out being a scheming villain and a selfless hero. Where in tabletop, you imagine yourself somewhere, in LARP you go there. You wear the armor, you carry the sword, you run from the zombies.
LARP showed me what it was like to be a leader. I am a softhearted person, and LARP allowed me to experience being ruthless without actually hurting anyone.
Most importantly, LARP helped me make my peace with death. I remember purposefully setting up the death of a character, and giving her the best darn story death I could think of. Living beyond the death of a character has allowed me to come to some peace with death in my own life. Not that I am an incredible risk taker now, or that I am living without fear, but I live with the understanding that there is a good death, and a life well lived.
I understand why LARP might not be the preference of some gamers. There are games I don’t enjoy either. But the LARP deserves respect, because while it runs the risk of being terrible, it also has the chance for being transcendent. LARP can teach us how to live a different life, and how to take those lessons back to our own lives.
Edit: Welcome Reddit! Thanks for coming to visit my article about LARP. I am a writer, photographer and game designer. You can read about me and my various projects on my about page. I am the Creative Director for Galileo Games, who hired me after a successful collaboration publishing my game, Shelter in Place. Thanks for taking the time to read this article and visit my site. I’m happy to hear your comments, but agree or disagree, I do like to keep things civil around here. Thanks for stopping by!