March 29, 2012 A Local Fantasy
The valkyrie rests his broadsword on his shoulders as he jokes with the spell caster about the upcoming mission. A warrior wizard has gathered the adventurers there to discuss the growing unrest in the woods and the evils that lurked there.
Just another typical day for Heroic Interactive Theater.
To most, this sounds like the beginning of an epic movie. However, these are adventurers, not professional actors – gamers participating in live-action role-playing, or LARPing.
LARPing as a Game
This form of gaming brings the fantasy genre to life. It incorporates many of the same elements as video games and the tabletop role-playing games of the 1970s, such as a point-scoring system, different characters and specific characteristics pertaining to appearance and skills. The settings of each adventure can vary from realistic to fantastic and modern to historical.
“Most [role-playing] is done at a computer or at a table, the difference here is that you actually act out anything your character would do,” said John Garcia, the founder of the Austin chapter of Heroic Interactive Theatre, a national non-profit organization that works with groups within the gaming community to create and maintain live-action fantasy games. “Instead of rolling a dice or clicking a button you are like, ‘I want to fight an enemy,’ and you actually get up and swing a sword.”
Discovering the LARPing Community
Garcia began LARPing a few years ago while studying at the University of Nebraska. He had a friend who was already involved in a LARPing group and he convinced Garcia, a big fan of making costumes that utilized his armor and leatherwork, to give it a try.
“We had been playing Dungeons and Dragons every week, and I was like ‘look, I’m nerdy, but I’m not that nerdy,’” said Garcia. “But I tried it out and I’ve been addicted since.”
After the previous leader of the Nebraska chapter of Heroic Interactive Theater left, Garcia stepped up to the plate and gained experience by running the show.
“I stabilized the chapter and recruited some new people to take over for me and now I just figured I would take my experience and bring all the fun down here for everybody else,” Garcia said.
“There are some aspects that are little bit video game-y, as far as keeping track of your health, because in real life we don’t have a health bar that goes down and requires healing to pick it back up,” Garcia said. “But in a video game you can get hurt and take a healing potion and is a straight numbers game.”
The weapons used in game are typically made from cheap materials, such as PVC pipe, and are altered to make them safer. Foam and tape are used to cushion the blows on all the weaponry and rules govern the lengths. Players are also in charge of announcing what “damage” they are unleashing in the form of “hit points” and keeping track of their health status throughout game play.
LARPing as a Social Event
Unlike a typical video game setting, players involved in LARPing are required to interact and socialize.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost to play in a LARPing game because you are powerful,” Garcia said. “You’re standing up to fierce enemies and you’re among friends…Almost all of my best friends I made in college were through LARPing because we would hang out for 48 hours straight at least once a month.”
Garcia met his now fiancé in the LARPing group in Nebraska.
“Before I was actually dating her, we were really close friends,” Garcia said. “We went to an event where my character turned evil, backstabbed her and killed her. She ended up forgiving me.”
LARPing gives people the opportunity to hide behind their character for a day and act any way they wish.
“It’s no longer you in the spotlight and there’s almost no consequences, so your character can be a jerk and slap the king in his face,” Garcia said. “However, in real like, you can’t rebel against authority and assert yourself in the ways you can in-game. If you want to be the noble knight in shining armor, you can practice it in this game and part of it will rub off on you.”