At around 1.30pm today, the University of Otago was swamped with a bunch of dudes with cardboard swords and shields bashing the shit out of each other and yelling, while a bunch of girls dressed as nurses looked on. While the nurse thing was a new factor, I immediately recognised this occurrence for what it was: Live Action Role-Playing (LARPing). Sure, this was crude and amateurish, poorly thought out and without any true enduring passion to the *cough* um. Sport(?)... But it was enough for me to pull out the phone and capture it (Ericsson W995, 8.1 megapixel camera, bought specifically for this type of occasion).
What better time than to have a think about its history, gently mock it and then discuss it as if it was some enduringly important social phenomenon?
Well. As far as I can tell, LARPing got started when some kids playing Dungeons and Dragons were told to "GET YOUR ASSES OUTSIDE AND PLAY!" by their mother. But they liked it so much that they decided to keep doing it. You get those historic re-enactment type deals too. I know a dude up in Auckland who routinely dresses up in Roman Legion armour and goes marching or something. Someone described it to me once and I immediately ran off to Mr. Youtube and asked for some video. What I saw was essentially a bunch of dudes and ladies dressed up as elves and knights, running around with plastic swords and yelling out "Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!" I was somewhat put off by this. I mean, I'd play Dungeons and Dragons, just to say I'd done it, but this was a bit much.
Then, I watched this movie Role Models where LARPing factored rather heavily. It was a great movie, and the people looked like they had such a blast LARPing that it changed my perception somewhat. Would I do it? I don't know. Maybe if they had WETA-quality props instead of the ghetto-ass cardboard shit I saw today. And no gorse.
So is it socially acceptable? My flatmate Conan answered, "Yeah, if 90 percent of the population do it." Obviously that's never going to happen, but will LARPing ever be more than a much maligned niche activity for socially awkward teens and thirty year olds who still live with their mothers? Probably not. When you think about it, activities like Laser Tag and Paintball aren't that far off, and everybody loves those. Is there a way to incorporate this into Live Action Role Playing? Maybe in a Sci-Fi LARP situation, but it wouldn't work too easily in a fantasy setting (although, now that I think of it, there might be something in running around in Medieval armour with paint guns).
Is the root of the problem the absurdity of throwing ping-pong balls at each other? In paintball, it hurts, which is kind of closer to reality than using minor sports goods as proxies for magic spells. Is it the period costumes and the ye-olde English? Maybe, although the terminal intensity of fantasy genre fans might be a big put off. You get the same stigma against Dungeon and Dragons and Warhammer fans. World of Warcraft probably flies under the radar to a degree, because the fans don't really cluster together into one easily mockable unit. Well, not in a physical sense anyway.
I think we're a way off before something like this becomes more socially acceptable, but with technology developing all the time, and special effects leave the TV screen for the home as videogames become more complex. Who knows how the two might become incorporated. Live Action Role Play might become more than just the realm of bored theatre students with excessive enthusiasm. Maybe you will see the jocks out there in Wizard hats with the next generation of the Wiimote.
Of course, I doubt by the time this happens these people will recognise it as have origins in current day LARPing... But maybe leave those nerds alone in the meantime, huh?