Here is a text about what larp (“live role-playing”) is, written by Eirik Fatland (in Norwegian) for the webpage of Laivfabrikken Oslo. Larp is an abbreviation for live role-playing. We use it both as a noun and a verb “a larp”, “to larp” and we even call a person who participates in a larp “a larper”.
This is how it works:
Every participant has a character, and together we have a framework or setting. The character might be “Bleeding Gums Murphy”, a sazzy saxophone player, and the setting a jazz club in Chicago in the 70’s – inspired by the movie “Blues Brothers”. Usually we rent or build venues so they resemble the frame – if we all play vikings, we might be in a longhouse. If we are playing a murder mystery, we might be at an old hotel or a cabin. A jazz club in Oslo can work as a jazz club in Chicago.
More often than not, we dress as the characters, and change our body language and facial expressions to look more like the person we pretend to be. In that manner a larp might look like a costume party or theme party in fitting surroundings, apart from the fact that we are also playing characters. Most of the games at the larp festival are however played in plain black clothes.
Together the characters become a society, with smaller and larger groups. The four of us, over here, are a family, mother, father and two children. Those 20 over there are a company of soldiers. Those two over there in the corner… don’t ask, they obviously don’t want to be disturbed.
A larp usually has some organizers – who prepare things, distributes the characters to the participants and decide the frame (Romans celebrating Saturnalia? A group of university employees in a crisis meeting?) They are not directors or authors: when the game has started you are the one who decides what your character will do.
From the start to the end we keep up this illusion for each other, by pretending that we are the character, pretending we are living in this other place, this other time, and don’t mention a word that can remind us about who we usually are. Thus we can create or recreate settings from the bronze age to modern times, and histories from action and thriller to psycological dramas and the absurd. When people meet, things happen. When characters meet, even more exciting things happen. Old enemies will draw their cords to duel. Six couples are sitting at a cafe, each with their private relationship crisis that has to be dealt with before the evening is over. Fifteen beduins are smoking water pipes and hagling over camels when Aladdin enters with a magic lamp.
Why should I larp?
Role-playing is creative, playful, living. While acting has a main emphasis of being for the experience of the spectators – roleplaying is for your own sake, for the thrill of the experience.
But what is the “point” of this experience? There is no obvious answer: larp is a cultural experience, and different larps will give different outcomes. An action-larp will give you excitement, adrenalin, a feeling of victory or loss – like an action movie or football mach, just more intense. A psychological contemporary larp will give you perspectives on how people think, feel, confront difficult questions – like a drama by Ibsen, just closer to home. A romantic larp comedy will give you memories of candysweet scenes, anecdotes to laugh at and think about, an innocent flirt – like a Woody Allen movie perhaps, except you were there and experienced it yourself.
In addition, larp is a social thing. You play with people you know, or you get to know new people through playing with them. Afterwards we usually have a beer, talk about the experience and find out who the people behind the masks are. Just like with books or movies different people prefer different things.
But we dare say this: larp is a stronger cultural experience than most others – more real, more personal, more democratic. It is experienced as closer, feels more intense and you get to feel some of the joy of creating that authors, directors and actors enjoy.
But… isn’t it difficult?
No. Only a few of the participants at a larp has any experience with theater and acting. This is not “amateur theatre” – there are no professional role-players! – but something different, another way of being, acting and telling a story.
There are no critics judging how “well” you played – you decide yourself how good a time you were having! The first five minutes of a larp might feel a bit confusing, but most people instinctively and quickly understand how to play.
Did you, as a child, play “house” or “cowboys and indians”? Then you have already larped. This does not mean that larping is (only) childs play – playing challenges you in many ways: to put yourself in a completely different human’s way of thinking and being, to recreate the character’s society and personality in body language, ways of speaking and acting, and to tell a story together with other people. These challenges are exciting simply because there are noe critics present . you can not play “wrong”, but you can allways play something new.
Translated by Trine Lise Lindahl