PADDLING TO MORDOR Today's LARP ranges from tabletop gaming to immersive, events like this one in Sweden.
For the uninitiated, the word "LARP" conjures burly beardos hitting each other with foam swords in the woods and corseted women in capes flouncing around hotel ballrooms, all for entirely inexplicable reasons. Lizzie Stark aims to change that.
The freelance writer (and Tufts and Emerson grad) spent years immersing herself in live-action role-playing communities from New Jersey to Sweden, getting up close and personal with the world's most misunderstood geeks. The result is Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role Playing Games (Chicago Review Press, $16.95), an exhaustive treatise on LARPing past, present, and future. I called her at home in New Jersey last week to talk about it.
WHEN I READ YOUR BOOK, I COULDN'T BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE WEREN'T DRINKING. IS EVERYONE REALLY SOBER DURING A LARP? Yes. Occasionally, at conventions, there'll be a bar somewhere else, so people might have a drink before the game, but it's sort of accepted that, if you're of age, you can LARP pretty well on one or two drinks, but getting drunk is not good for character development.
Getting LARP-drunk is as fun as having a couple [of actual drinks] in real life. I was in a game, and I met this gypsy, and he and I got LARP-drunk. We were in character, and we were looking at other people and trying to imagine what they were saying. But we were drinking Kool-Aid.
DOES THAT MEAN YOU'RE A LARPER NOW? I don't identify as a LARPer, but other people might see me as one. I like running jeep-form scenarios [a form of LARP created in Sweden] at conventions, and I'm trying to put together a run of a [popular] Nordic LARP . . . called Mad About the Boy. All of the men on Earth have died, mysteriously, of a virus five years ago. The government is trying to repopulate the Earth. I thought it was interesting because it's a game about gender.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE ABOUT THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE? I always found it intriguing — acting out a story combines so many things that I'm into: theatricality and collaborative narrative. I edit a literary magazine called Fringe, and we publish experimental and political fiction. We do genres that are atypical: plays and cross-genre works. I feel that LARP is a new medium for storytelling.
The participatory element really sold it for me. At Fringe, we've done audience participation literary pieces, and so I was really interested that people were engaging. This wasn't a digital interaction they were having — they were showing up once a month to meet face-to-face with their peers and do something cultural. I found that fascinating.
STARK'S BOOK examines the stories behind the games.
I NOTICED YOU STARTED USING THE WORD "LARPWRIGHT" WHEN YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT NORDIC LARPS. WHAT IS THAT? A larpwright is like a playwright. It's the person who comes up with the idea for the game and then organizes it somewhat. Playwrights give up their manuscript to a director, but in LARP, my sense is that they help in the organization.