Are you mature enough to play “dress up”?

A guest article by Brian Pekarske, aka Gnarlug DewClaw, Morowa Broken Ear, Raskolf Vakr, and LZ129

So I watched a brief documentary about a long-running LARP that is based in the UK. A lot of it is just basic introduction to the hobby, but some of the interviews that they have with the veteran LARPers of 7-10 years are quite interesting. Two of the interviews, in particular, stand out because they deal with immersion and levity.

One of the players interviewed talks about the difference between being a funny character, and being funny IN character. I agree with him completely. He talks about how instead of screwing around and damaging immersion for the other players, the respectful and courteous way to express yourself is to have your character try to insert the humor into the situation and to keep it all in game. Instead of breaking character to joke about something, or doing something out of character that seems unnatural, harness the spirit of that joke and try to work it in using your character, but staying true to the game world. As he puts it, “It is the mature and respectful thing to do… for the sake of the other players.”

Maturity? What? We’re LARPers. Isn’t the whole point of this just to have fun and forget that we are adults? I gave it some more thought. LARP is about escapism, yes, but what are we escaping from? We LARP because we want to escape to a world where we don’t have the same responsibilities that we do in real life. Of course, that implies that we are responsible folk in the first place, and mature enough to actually HAVE things in our lives that we want to escape from.

Well, we are, and we do. Whether we are homeowners who work full time, parents raising children, students struggling to keep our grades up under a crushing course load, or just plain everyday folk trying to pay the rent and keep the electricity on, we ARE mature, responsible people. That’s the whole reason that LARP appeals to us.

What does this have to do with the game itself? Well, LARP isn’t a license to be immature. It isn’t a free pass at being irresponsible for a weekend. To the contrary, we must be mature enough to assume pretend responsibilities, which almost seems like borrowing trouble, doesn’t it? The mark of a good role-player isn’t the ability to completely get into character, it is to do so without getting carried away.

Sometimes, the plot and storyline get really heavy. Have you ever read a novel and had an emotional response to it, where something that the characters did made you angry or sad? In a LARP, we are even closer to the source of that turmoil, because we are the characters involved. It’s easy to get upset or emotional about stuff that happens in game. If a character dies, a battle is lost, or it turns out that the party has been betrayed by someone, it can make a player feel depressed, hysterical, or even enraged. From the outside looking in, this might seem like the ultimate compliment to the organizers or storytellers. From the point of view of the players, though, we need to maintain a certain amount of disconnect so that we can turn it off after the game without hard feelings. That’s the one thing that makes LARP different from little kids playing make-believe. We are adults. We have to be mature enough to separate reality from fantasy and yet at the same time be imaginative and creative enough to immerse ourselves in the game when it is appropriate. That’s not always easy.

I once said that when it comes down to it, we are all just big kids playing a game of dress-up in Dave’s awesome tree-house. That isn’t completely true. Yes, it is a game. Yes, Dave does have an awesome tree-house, but we aren’t children. If we get in a fight over something that happens in the game and it spills into the real life, our parents aren’t going to fix it. It’s all up to us.

It doesn’t matter whether the world is high or low fantasy. It doesn’t matter if it is modern-day or futuristic sci-fi. It doesn’t matter how nice the costumes are or how high the standards of immersion are. LARP experiences are what you make of them. That’s right, you. Are you mature enough to play dress up with the others? Are you mature enough to set the example for the new guy who is struggling and to help him out in game without breaking character or getting flustered? Are you mature enough to avoid getting your feelings hurt over some NPC scoundrel that made your character look like a fool? It takes a great amount of maturity and responsibility to be a good LARPer.

That’s the thing with LARP, folks. Yes, the experience is what you make of it, but at the same time, it isn’t about you. If you spend time working on an awesome costume, or perfecting an accent for your character to do, you aren’t doing it to get attention. You aren’t doing it for yourself. You are doing it for the community. You are doing it for the other LARPers, so that they can take more away from the experience. That’s a wonderful thing. Just like anything else in our lives, the longer we do it, the better we get at it. When everyone does it, the immersion comes naturally, and everyone has fun.

The general public seems to harbor certain misconceptions about LARPers. LARPers are not reclusive, shy, awkward, or mentally unstable. Quite to the contrary, LARPers are gregarious, socially inclined people who are comfortable enough with themselves to do something that others might find embarrassing, or might be afraid to try. LARPers are brave enough to be themselves, and mature enough to be someone else… from time to time.

Keep LARPing, my friends.

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