LARPing 101 or In the Defense of Virginity

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LARPing 101

Or

In the Defense of Virginity

“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”  –Simon Pegg

I guess I must apologize immediately. There is a cultural idea that gamers are all 30 something doughy losers sitting in their mothers’ basement, whose only sight of an actual not-on-the-internet vagina was their mothers’ on the day they were born, and it would remain so for all eternity is a horrendous, but humorous stereotype. I hope that the following will dispel this idea, and make the reader see that there are gamers from all walk of life, some of which are actually girls.

For those that know nothing about RPG’s ,(role playing games, not rocket propelled grenades) they may not know exactly what it is. Worse, some may depend on second, third or even Kevin Bacon* levels of distance between firsthand knowledge and themselves.

I was a victim of such tragic discrimination as a youth. My mother had given me the old red boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons when I was eight. I was an carnivorous reader, to say the least, and fantasy novels were like cheesecake to me now: Irresistible. This made for a long term love story for me. However, it had to wait. I lived in West Texas, which is quite possibly the closest one can be to the devil’s rectum and still be on Earth. Which is to say, that it was malevolently hot, desolate, and populated by those who considered reading a sign of homosexuality.

RPG’s are, simply put, games of imagination. A few steps up from having an imaginary friend, and perhaps a few more from running around, pointing your fingers at people like guns and shouting “PEW! PEW! PEW!”. They have, since that fateful day, in Lake Geneva Wisconsin, when a certain Mr. Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren formed the first official RPG. It was a miniatures based game called Chainmail that led the way, by including a supplement which had rules for elves, wizards, and other fantastical units, such as dragons. This was the point in time that started it all.

Sadly, RPG’s got a bad rap by a few tragic incidents involving mentally disturbed individuals who happened to play D&D. (In truth, they could have been obsessed with chutes and ladders for all it mattered.) But people, as they are wont to do, decided to find a scapegoat, rather than face the fact that the individuals were, a bit on the crazy side. Shortly after, Tom Hanks made a movie that further demonized gaming called Mazes and Monsters. We, the gaming community, really didn’t need help seeming weirder than we already were. Thanks for that.

Years later, the family moved, after various hijinks involving the Pinkertons, to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Where I met my best friend Karl Mckibben. He was a hell of a guy, and he liked games as much as I did. We spent years together playing D&D, Champions, Star Frontiers, whatever we could get our grubby mitts on. My little brother Travis joined us as well, and our childhood wrapped up in that fashion.

LARPing  has its roots in the SCA  (The Society for Creative Anachronism) which was founded in 1966. Technically not LARPing, they are certainly the predecessor to it. It’s not a huge leap from hard core rattan battles to actual role play sessions. (add referee and non-player characters, safer, NERF style weapons, add a plot, sweeten to taste)

An old friend of mine had a chance to sit down with me and talk about the SCA  he, (Charles Lander III) had this to say when asked:  “How is LARPing different from the SCA?”

“The SCA is a re-enactment group. Everything has to be just so, from clothing style, materials used, it’s also a very clique’y organization, it is literally set up in a caste system of nobles and commoners.  In a LARP, no-one can be a noble unless they earn it in-game. that way everyone starts on an even keel.” (Lander, Charles. 2013)

Ander Monson says this about the SCA:

Anyone could walk into our lame but better smelling version of the Middle Ages just by coming through the door. I don’t pretend that this is entirely due to Dungeons & Dragons, or due to Gygax, since after all, fantasy literature has been around since time immemorial, and even the Society for Creative Anachronism (you know, those kids you see dressed up and battling in armor on college campuses) has been around since 1966, when it originated reportedly (and questionably) as “a protest against the twentieth century.” (Monson 144)

Which is fine, if you’re a twenty something in the prime of your life (both women and men fight in the SCA), but for gamers, a good portion of us aren’t quite …in shape enough to go all out in hundred degree sun and fight on the pitch. In fact, it’s a good enough statement to say they we’re all in perfect shape, because pear is apparently also a shape. Whereas LARPers tend to lounge about the site, chatting and doing the verbal interactions that really makes LARPing shine.

LARPing officially started in 1981 as a game called Treasure Trap, based out of Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England. Notably, it relates to RPG gaming because “The original Trap rule system was closely modeled on Dungeons & Dragons, using the same character classes and alignment system. Each class had eight levels, at which point the player had to undertake a special solo adventure. Monster weapons were coated with paint as a mechanic for tracking damage to players. The common areas were time in constantly, with parties forming for linear adventures and occasional mass battles when the castle itself was attacked.” (Hook)

LARPing entered into my life when I was around nineteen, thanks to NERO. (the New England Roleplaying Organization) NERO had just opened a chapter in Arlington, and many of its members were students at UTA. (University of Texas in Arlington) In truth, the chapter had not truly been formed yet, I truly got in on the ground floor. It officially signed its charter a week after I joined.

NERO was a LARP based out of  rural Massachusetts, and it stressed safety above all else. Rules for the manufacture of armor were lax to non-existent so far as safety was concerned. There were rules abound as to determine how many “armor points” armor is worth in game mechanics.  NERO was my first LARP, and it was my home for years.

I am fully aware of the looks we got as we did sparring practice in the public parks. I have had those looks of disdain and pity cast at me all my life, for I was an alpha nerd. I did not then, nor do I now, care particularly about those peoples’ opinion of me and my hobbies. I invited my little brother Travis to a NERO event many times, and it took some work, but he eventually caved in and came. Afterwards, I spoke with him about it. This is the transcript of the interview:

M: Hello Travis!  Tell me about your first experience with LARPing

T: Well You had been pestering me to try it for months, and I eventually caved in.

M: OK, well, let’s start with your initial impression, then.

T: Honestly? I thought it was super nerdy. I didn’t want anything to do with it.

M: What changed your mind?

T: So you had finally convinced me to come along, I had every intention of having a look and then ditching.

M: And then?

T: And then I was painted head to toe in green makeup. I was a goblin, and I had a club. I was supposed to fight the players with a pack of other goblins. I never looked back. That was twenty-five years ago. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I’ll still strap a shield on sometimes. I taught my kids to LARP. Heck, I met my Ex-wife at a game.

M: any experiences you’d like to share?

T: Yeah. this isn’t a specific experience, but I’d like to say that LARPing builds social skills for those who are sorely lacking. It builds leadership skills, It teaches you to depend on others when you are in need, and to let others depend on you when they are in need. I thought that it was for losers, but I was wrong. It’s for people who aren’t afraid to express themselves.(Galvan, Travis. 2013)

Also, Markus Montola from University of Tampere (Finland) has this to say about LARPing:

In other words, socially expanded role-playing provides empowerment to act against social constraints. While an ordinary person is bound to follow cultural conventions, a directly instructed player or carefully designed role-playing character can differ from them. After the game the player is left with insight on the strength of such conventions and how they operate. (Montola)

Clearly, the condescending attitudes that those not in the know tend to favor my kind, are misplaced. Hopefully, one day, they can accept us for who we are, as we accept them.

One day.

*Six degrees of Kevin Bacon is a parlor game based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are, on average, about six acquaintance links apart. That idea eventually morphed into this parlor game, wherein movie buffs challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and Hollywood character actor Kevin Bacon. It rests on the assumption that any individual involved in the Hollywood, California, film industry can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any such individual to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible. It can also be described as a trivia game based on the concept of the small world phenomenon. In 2007, Bacon started a charitable organization named SixDegrees.org.

Works Cited

Galvan, Travis. “Interview.” interview. 2013.

Hook, Nathan. “The History of UK LARP.” LARPMAG.COM 5 June 2006. Internet.

Lander, Charles III. “Interview.” interview. 2013.

Monson, Ander. “Geas.” Writing Creative Nonfiction. Pearson, n.d. 136-146. print.

Montola, Markus. “Tangible Pleasures of Pervsasive Role-Playing.” DiGRA 2007 Conference. University of Tampere, 2007. conference material.

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