This essay was prompted by the fact that, after a long absence, I'm contemplating a return to live-action role-playing and - somehow - I find myself simultaneously keen and wary. I'm hoping if I can better articulate why I do it, I can better understand what I want out of any upcoming encounters.
If it isn't obvious from the outset, this is just one player's opinion. I don't look to speak for the entire LARPing community - although I'm bound to share a few observations as I bash this out.
LARP Is Social Storytelling
LARPing is a social thing. Solo LARPs are - barring certain mental conditions - impossible. Last I checked, humans are a social species and storytelling must be one of the most ancient and appealing forms of socializing. And with so many of our stories owned by corporate culture, it's fantastic to get out there and be a part of something original.
Because of a few mental quirks, I find it difficult to simply sit back and passively enjoy a story. I can't watch a movie on the telly unless I'm sewing something at the same time, or skimming a book. Listening to music is something to do while tackling housework. It's the way I am and I'm better off accommodating this neurosis rather than fighting it! LARPing drags me into the story to the degree that I don't feel like I should be doing something else at the same time.
The games I've enjoyed most tend to be the ones where there is more going on than I can keep up with. I'll pick and choose the bits most pertinent to my character and her goals, and wade in from there.
What makes a bit of storytelling such great fun? The usual reasons: finding resolutions to complicated situations (so unlike everyday life!), being able to take actions without any real consequences, escaping into something that isn't the daily grind. That's all rather obvious, if you ask me.
It's Acting for Non Actors
Are there any LARPers who didn't dabble with acting to one degree or another during their youth? Didn't think so.
I'll cheerfully cop to accusations of going a bit further than others. When writing characters (for play by myself or others - here's an example) I borrow various bits of the Stanislavsky system, primarily because it's the easiest way for another player or my GM to understand what the character is about. Stanislavsky called on an actor drawing from their own experiences and, honestly, a player isn't going to play very well - or have any fun - if they can't identify with a character in some way or another.
The most often-used tools for character analysis - exploring the inner life, being able to articulate objectives and motivations, and learning how to listen to and receive another player's input - should be in every gamers' toolbox. Anyone can understand the basics and it's damn good fun to go beyond them, when the opportunity arises - but I'll save that for the Advanced LARP Character Development essay...
It's probably no surprise to anyone that I when I first waded into LARPing, the college courses I was taking at the time all came together in a gooey synergistic mess - fiction writing, acting 210 and a rather interesting sociology course. It was gamer-geek heaven... So much so that I've carried that all along with me, ever since.
I'll never be an actor - hell no - but I just love playing with the tools. Insofar as such a thing is possible, some of those tools are a reasonably reliable metric to apply to the variety of characters and games I've encountered over the years. Otherwise, it would be rather difficult to understand why I had as much fun playing, for instance, a sociopathic surgeon in one game and a mercenary pilot in another.
And there's none of the aggravation of trying to memorize a script.
It's A Safe Space for Weird Shit
This is almost a subset of Acting for Non Actors
Most of my LARPing has occurred with White Wolf's World of Darkness setting, particularly Vampire: The Masquerade. At its best, it's a great place to play - just a bit - with the darker bits of one's psyche without wondering if one needs psychiatric intervention by the end of the night.
Case in point: there aren't many LARP troupes out there that would let me sit down with my much-thumbed copy of DSM-IV, some research pulled from Google University and a character concept that was summarized as "Travel writer and serial killer". She didn't last long and, honestly, I was relieved. Thinking up new and interesting ways for her to be cruel to animals and people as her mental state slowly collapsed was quite tiring. Fun, in a masochistic way, but exhausting and not a little scary.
Why scary? Because a player brings something of themselves into every character they play. Every. Single.Time. Sometimes, it isn't something nice - but it's always educational. It seems that, should circumstances really merit it, I could be a very nasty person - although I hope it never comes to that!
Playing Dressup - It's Not Just For Kids!
I don't know about y'all, but my everyday wardrobe is jeans and tee-shirts and not very interesting shirts at that. It's a little thing, but LARPing allows one to play the peacock - to one degree or another. I get quite grumbly if I'm at an event and realize I'm underdressed...
And, in keeping with my I can't have fun strictly for its own sake neurosis, costuming for a LARP provides focus for my sewing hobby. As soon as a new event lands on my schedule, I start wondering what I can put together for it. Oh, sure, I could make everyday clothes - if I felt like spending three times the cost of a retail garment on fabric and fixings - but that hardly qualifies as fun does it? It's much more fun to put together an ensemble for the Countess of Ruritania than a pair of slacks for the office.
If it's so much fun, why did I step back from LARPing?
Rant-ette The First: What I'm NOT Getting Out of LARPing (Or: Why I'm Done With My First LARP Love, White Wolf's Vampire: the Masquerade Setting)
So, er, what do you want, then?
Rant-ette The Second: My Dream LARP
I've lately discovered a genre generally referred to as "Story gaming" or "Norwegian Style Gaming". Small groups getting together not to save the world from the Looming Monster, but to walk their character through a setting or situation. A few examples may be found here. I think that - or something like it - is where my LARP future lies.
Blimey. When did escapism get so complicated?
Postscript - October 2012. On the advice of some friends, I joined a Vampire: The Requiem LARP and I must admit that I'm going to have to eat some of my words when it comes to my past resistance to the rebooted World of Darkness. A lot of the more egregious flaws of the oWoD have been fixed, especially the fundamental structure of vampire society, much to my relief. The superheroes-with-fangs element is still omnipresent, but it's clearly easier for the character-oriented player to get what they want out of the setting, too - or, at least, so my interaction with this one small troupe suggests. Admittedly, I'm playing a ghoul again, as I still find them more interesting than vampires. I've only played two sessions, so far, but I'm sufficiently engaged to want to continue. Gosh!