When you were a child, did you ever play Cops and Robbers? Robin Hood? Did you play Cowboys and Indians? Did you ever pretend to be your favorite cartoon star or super-hero and ran around fighting their enemies?
Did you ever play ‘Let’s Pretend?’
The answer, more likely than not, is yes. As a child, imaginary play was paramount. A playground became a castle, a secret lair, a forest, a mountaintop. A stick became a sword, a blanket a cape, and a pot your helmet. You had imaginary friends. You shot imaginary guns. You swung an imaginary sword.
Then adulthood set in. Toys were a thing of the past. Maybe a Nerf gun. Maybe paintball gun. But the imaginary play was gone. You went into the woods and played paintball Team A vs Team B. It wasn’t GI Joe vs Cobra anymore. Your nerf gun was hitting your friends, not the bank-robber. That creative element was gone.
Now, though, you have that chance to recapture your lost youth and stolen imagination. It’s a combination game and sport called Live-Action Role Play. Or – LARP for short. A LARP is basically a gathering of people who are telling a story and acting as their characters like in a play. Each person involved assumes a ‘persona’ or ‘character’ and is involved in a story that is being told by a ‘Game Master’ or ‘Storyteller’ or ‘Director’. Using their imagination and creativity, each person contributes to and acts out the story.
Every LARP group has a different feel to it. The most common ones are fantasy based and are similar to a live version of Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft. They often have elves, orcs, and other imaginary races playable for those willing to do the makeup. They typically use non-violent weapons such as baffee foam swords or those made of rattan bamboo and ‘magic spells’ cast by means of beanbag projectiles or stickers. Some groups focus on the story being told while others are full scale battles like those seen in Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Groups such as this often can be found in parks and campgrounds – places of natural beauty unspoiled by urban life.
Another major LARP genre is the gritty underground world of the undead. Vampires and werewolves and other fanatic ‘gothic horror’ creatures interacting in power struggles for control of urban cities. These games usually use a non-violent resolution system of conflict (because, let’s face it, people don’t have claws or sharp canine teeth!) and are played in urban centers… usually under the noses of innocent locals. These games tend to be more political in nature, with backstabbing alliances and shifting power structures. It’s not all goths milling about looking depressed!
I’ve seen LARP groups play in the Old West, the Noir world of the 1930s, the Far-flung Future, super-hero comics, basing their gameplay on popular literature such as the works of Lovecraft or Delaney, on television programs such as Firefly or Star Trek, or on movies such as Star-Wars and Indiana Jones and the James Bond spy flicks. Some people play with numbered cards, others with Airsoft and nerf guns, some with dice, some with beautiful foam and latex covered weapons and some with hand-gestures.
How is this an advantage over playing World of Warcraft online or gathering with your buddies to play D&D around a table?
1) Fresh Air – never underestimate the power of getting out of the house. Whether out in a park, a wilderness campground, or just in a shopping mall. It’s a place where you get away from it all and get away from the usual familiar office, computer-room, or dining room table.
2) Socialization – Most of these games have at least 10-15 people per. How many people do you get to be around in a tabletop? 6? How many people from Eve Online or Guild Wars do you know in the real world? How often do you get to go out with them after the game and tell stories of exciting moments?
3) Creativity- Your LARP costume is created by yourself. Rent, bought, found at a thrift-shop, thrown together from stuff in your closet. You’re not picking pictures off the internet to represent your character or selecting hair and skin tones on a ‘toon’ on the screen.
4) Imagination – When was the last time you got so caught up in the story of your online game that you felt it was real? Like there was a plot out to get you, or someone waiting in ambush in the next copse of trees? When was the last time you stopped seeing special effects on a screen and started seeing them in your head?
5) Exercise – You’re the one running away from the angry mob. You’re not throwing a die and hoping it’s high. You’re not pushing /run. You’re the one swinging the sword, not hitting /attack or hoping you get a natural 20. You’re the one climbing the tree, swinging on the rope, saving the damsel/hero in distress. It’s all -you-. Burning calories, getting a workout both body and brain.
I know LARP isn’t for everyone. Some people are physically unable to play due to weight or health issues. They can be a heroic warrior online or in a tabletop but they’re just not able to do it in the real world because they just -aren’t-. But, again, that’s where your imagination comes into play. Were you ever a heroic musclebound barbarian when you played Conan as a kid? No. Why should you stop now that you’re just older?
Why let your imagination fall out of use? Become a little kid and play ‘Let’s Pretend’ just a little while longer. Why not?