LARPing, or live action role playing, allows participants to assume the roles of characters. Instead of describing their actions in a tabletop game or using a video game console to affect the environment, LARPers are actors representing their characters.
Many would-be LARPers post about how they would like to try LARP, but fear social ridicule and judgment as the stigma against LARPers is still relatively severe. Over the last several years, LARP has become a bit more well known. This is due in part to media such as Role Models, King of the Nerds, Beauty and the Geek, and The Quest.
Committing to try LARP is the difficult part, though—and just about everyone is nervous before they attend their initial LARP event. Throughout my seven years as a LARP participant, I’ve learned a great deal about myself through role play. LARP has been a vehicle for the improvement of my life, both socially and professionally. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Confidence is Key
As a result of LARPing, I’ve definitely leveled up in confidence. This applies to many aspects of my life. This is particularly important to me as a woman. In many fantasy environments, inequity only exists when the lore, rules, or characters deem it so. When in character, it’s a lot easier for me to deliberately push boundaries or break gender roles, especially when the outcome is immediately positive.
In most instances in the real world, I’ve come to realize, inequity is also often present only because people say it is or because they choose to act a certain way. With this realization, I’ve become much happier. I ask for what I want and call someone out if I’m being disrespected.
2. It’s OK to Take Healthy Risks
I’ll admit it. I’m kind of a rules follower. Even in the fantasy world of LARP, I usually follow the rules. That said, my main LARP character sometimes pals around with characters who take risks and break the rules and customs of the in-game setting. This comes with a huge responsibility, and through this I’ve learned to define limits and ask myself if I am pushing a boundary for the sake of doing it or if it’s because I’m doing the right thing. Ultimately, LARP has taught me to be a bit more like Captain Picard when it comes to rules and laws—to do the right thing, sometimes you need to follow moral integrity and the spirit of the rules rather than the letter—and ask forgiveness rather than permission.
3. Family Isn’t Always Blood
When I was a teenager, I wanted friends who were truly like family. This kind of construct just isn’t possible when everyone is going through the usual changes such as puberty and a transition to college. As a LARPer, though, I’ve learned that acquiring this type of family can happen really naturally. In a LARP, it’s frequent that people will play siblings, cousins, or even spouses. And while it’s always good to be keenly aware of the separation between game life and reality, some of these theatrical relationships do transfer. If you’re playing someone’s protector, parent, or friend in a game setting, it probably means you have the potential to do the same thing in real life.
Because of my LARP family and people I have met through LARPing, I had a place to stay when I would have been homeless, someone to watch my dog when I went on vacation, and lots of comfort when one of our own passed away. I hope I have been able to offer as much to those who have been there for me.
LARP is also a fantastic way I made life-long friends while experiencing my post-collegiate life, which had left little time for anything other than a relationship and a career.
4. Confront Your Demons Head-On
In real life, it’s pretty easy to hide from problems sometimes. Usually they come back to get you later, but there are ways to avoid issues. In the LARP world, that isn’t always so. Imagine having ‘inner demons’ and fears that could actually materialize and hunt you down! My main LARP character cannot avoid facing these fears and the consequences of her actions.
Because my character must confront these issues, often in a physically manifested form, I’ve learned that it’s usually easier to just slay your demons when you have the chance. Worrying about them only takes time and stress. Now if there’s something I can tackle, I try to force myself to do it—even if it’s scary. This mentality has led me to take major advances in my career (interviewing authors and celebs like it’s no big deal) and lead a healthier life (I’m not about to go skydiving or anything but at least I visit the dentist regularly now).
Fictional characters are often integral when it comes to inspiring us— even those of us who are not self-identified geeks. I love watching Buffy slay vampires, but it’s more empowering and meaningful when I get to embody a character who does it herself. (And ultimately, that’s the message of the series anyway.)
5. You Can Go From Victim to Hero
“I notice you often play a victim character,” one of my LARP friends commented out of the game. That really stuck with me. I was always ridiculously good at that role—and comfortable with it. Shortly after my main character showed up, she asked everyone to protect her and ended up making an arrangement with the toughest guy in town.
Over the time I’ve played Ceara, she’s grown in ways I’ve never imagined, severely affected by the people and events in her world. She has gone from ‘just a healer’ to battle healer and composer of epics, even obtaining a coveted elite warrior status among her people.
This, more than anything, has affected me deeply because I have acted out the motions of change. It has created a real-life transition from helpless to helpful and from potential victim to potential hero.
It’s true that LARP is a game, but to me it isn’t just a game. It’s a way to learn more about myself and others; a means of testing boundaries in a safe and entertaining environment.
Plus, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy.
Would you like to try LARPing? There are a variety of styles and genres out there. Search for a game near you at LARPing.org.
Tara Clapper is the Senior Editor of The Geek Initiative, a collaborative website celebrating the contributions of women in geek culture. She also covers LARP and Marvel TV and Movies for Examiner.com.