Live action role-playing, also known as LARPing, is often viewed with suspicion, to the extent that several LARPers profiled in Lizzie Stark’s 2012 book Leaving Mundania asked that she not use their last names. Among these players was Derrick, a star athlete who’d been LARPing in secret for years.
“His family was very religious and viewed role-playing as not a healthy or holy hobby, so he was operating under the radar,” Stark says in Episode 259 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I know people who work in government who try to avoid having their last names attached to LARP, just to keep things simpler.”
But the hobby is finally starting to gain mainstream acceptance, thanks in part to projects like New World Magischola, a Harry Potter-themed LARP that raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter. Stephanie Grossman, who attended Magischola last year, says she was drawn in by the game’s focus on character development.
“I wasn’t necessarily interested in battle,” she says, “but I was interested in playing a character, and having that character make friends, and go to classes, and just explore that world. It made me think of art house movies or literary novels.”
Before attending Magischola, she worried that LARPing would be difficult or uncomfortable, but actually she found the atmosphere very welcoming, and also very accepting of different identities. “It just felt really amazing to be somewhere where everybody could feel accepted, no matter who they were, no matter how they identified,” she says.
Ben “Books” Schwartz, who’s been running LARPs for over a decade, says that there are now a wide variety of games available for players of all ages, including Magischola Prep, The Wayfinder Experience, and Trackers Earth.
“I think there is a LARP out there for everyone,” Schwartz says. “And I think people have so much that they can learn from the experience of LARPing that I want everyone to give it a shot.”
Listen to our complete interview with Lizzie Stark, Stephanie Grossman, and Ben “Books” Schwartz in Episode 259 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Stephanie Grossman on bleed:
“I assumed that I’d just go back to normal life, and everything would go back to how it was, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, what a great experience.’ But then my friends and I got to Penn Station, and I noticed that the entire time I was there, I just kept looking at everybody in the crowd and thinking, ‘Oh, is that somebody from New World Magischola? Is that somebody from New World Magischola? I just kept looking for familiar faces that would very likely not be there. And then at one point we actually heard somebody screaming, further away in Penn Station, and my first thought was, ‘Oh, is a plot about to start?’ And then I’m like, ‘Wait, I’m in Penn Station, I better get out of here.’”
Lizzie Stark on “freaking the mundies”:
“This comes from what is now, I would say, somewhat dated terminology, which posits the world of LARP against the mundane world, and the mundane world is populated by ‘mundies’—they’re just like muggles—and some of the LARPers I encountered in the course of my research kind of relished the difference of being a LARPer. … Sometimes at conventions you’ll see code of conduct rules that say ‘do not freak the mundies.’ Whenever you’re dealing with a synthetic reality like LARP coming in contact with the real reality, there can be misunderstandings. Waving around a weapon that maybe looks realistic but has no capacity to fire bullets, for example, you could understand why you might not want to do that in a public place.”
Stephanie Grossman on romance between characters:
“There was definitely a lot of that talk and that interest among all of my friends, even though all of us were in long-term relationships, where we thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be fun if our characters find romance.’ So we were sometimes looking for it, even though this was just as characters. One of my friends that I went with started getting desperate toward the end of the run because she didn’t have a date to the dance, and so she decided that she wanted to ask one of the craziest characters that was in our run, [but] it turned out that he already had a date. … [She] was kind of heartbroken that this guy already had a date to the dance—even though she’s married and has a husband that she loves—but it still felt like she was getting rejected.”
Ben “Books” Schwartz on the benefits of LARPing:
“So much of adult life is about LARPing, whether or not people realize it. When you take on a new job, you have to learn how to play that part, you have to learn how to act as that job. When you are in a new social situation, you need to learn, ‘What are the social rules? How do I process this? How do I navigate this social environment?’ And all of the skills that I learned LARPing, all of the things that I learned about how to put on a new identity, how to navigate a social environment, those are just as relevant in my daily life as an adult as they are when I was LARPing as a superhero or a werewolf or anything like that. Those skills are totally applicable, and I hear the same thing from so many people I know, that the skills they learned LARPing help them navigate the social world.”