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Live Action Role Play (LARP)

What is LARPing?

Live Action Role-Playing (LARPing) is an in-person interactive role-playing game where participants physically act out their characters’ actions without a script. Alternative names for LARPing include interactive literature, live role-playing, and immersive role-playing.

Each LARP has a theme which provides context for the setting and characters, and that theme might be based on the real world, or a fantasy one. The games can last for hours or even days at a time, and might be monthly or annual adventures. 

Unlike traditional tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons – where players sit around a table and describe their characters’ actions – LARPing involves dressing up in costume, using props, and engaging with other players in a customised environment to create a shared narrative experience. Players take on the roles of specific characters and make decisions that influence the direction and outcome of the game’s story.

In her book ‘Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games’, participation designer Lizzie Stark says: “Although LARPs are commonly called ‘games’, there is no winning or losing in the traditional senses; there is only having fun or not having fun… Sure, a computer character can wear cool armour and swoop through the detailed landscape of the game world, but in a LARP, players actually stalk down their enemies in the woods, moving silently, muffling the jingling of their coin pouches.”

Where did LARPing come from?

The origins of modern day LARPs are in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States and Europe, evolving independently. Renaissance fairs and battle reenactments were joined by myth and legend based games, all with a shared goal of bringing fantasy worlds to life. *

As LARPing grew in popularity, it diversified into various genres beyond its military and fantasy origins, exploring new contexts like horror mysteries, and futuristic sci-fi adventures.

Tavern LARPs, set in a tavern scene, focus on character interaction, storytelling, and intrigue in a fantasy or historical setting. They offer a more static and intimate experience compared to broader LARPs, drawing from the genre’s origins in tabletop gaming and historical re-enactment. 

What makes LARPing immersive?

Physical presence

One of the key elements that make LARPing immersive is the physical presence of the players in the game environment. Being physically present in a setting that represents the game world allows players to engage more deeply with the narrative and with other characters, enhancing the sense of reality and immersion.

Costuming and props

The use of costumes and props is integral to LARPing, as they visually and tangibly represent the characters and the world they inhabit. A well-crafted costume can help a player fully embody their character, while props and set pieces can add depth and authenticity to the game world, making the experience more engaging and believable.

Interactive storytelling

LARPing is built on interactive storytelling, where players’ decisions and actions directly influence the narrative’s direction. This dynamic storytelling method allows for a unique, personal experience for each participant, as the story unfolds based on collective and individual choices, creating a sense of agency and immersion.

How is LARPing similar to, or different from, other immersive experiences?

Just like scare attractions, themed attractions and immersive theatre, LARPs use scenery and props to help create a sense of immersion, turning the real world into a fictional one. Unlike scare attractions, however, they’re not games with definitive outcomes, although they might contain games and puzzles within them. They have no script, making them unlike immersive theatre in that sense, and all players adopt a character and actively participate in the fictional world, which is where they differ from themed attractions. 

Examples of LARPing

The Zone’ is a near-future sci-fi LARP set in Manchester, where participants assume the roles of Freelancers – mercenaries smuggled into a government-mandated exclusion zone called Sellafield. Within this zone, players navigate a landscape filled with mysteries and dangers, seeking fortune and survival. The LARP uses outdoor laser tag equipment for its combat system. 

First Contact: 2035 – Rain of Terror’, by Very Large Huge Games, is a LARP for 175 people in London. It’s set in the year 2035, depicting humanity’s first encounter with extraterrestrial life. The story unfolds with a dramatic and unexpected onslaught from the sky, marking a pivotal moment in human history. This encounter challenges humanity’s preparedness and response to a new and formidable threat from beyond our planet.

Much further afield, the ‘Sahara Expedition’ LARP immerses players in an adventurous journey through the vast and challenging Sahara desert. Participants assume roles of explorers, scientists, and survival experts facing the harsh conditions and mysteries hidden in the sands. 

There are also plenty of smaller one-day LARPs based in the UK, like ‘School of Magic‘ in Dundee; a wizard-themed event in Bonar Hall in Dundee which is open to children as well as adults. 

Date of article - February 25, 2024
Updated - March 31, 2024

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