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The Worldwide LARP Renaissance

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As the Internet brings the art of live action role-playing games onto mainstream America’s radar, should everyone get to play?

When Aaron Vanek joined Enigma Live Game Lab in Los Angeles in 1989, live action role-playing groups were in their infancy. Vanek remembers games as strictly regional. The Internet changed all that. And the resulting battle rages on.

The online LARPs community now thrives. LARPAlliance.net develops resources and sets up events for players. LARPSpace.com serves as a virtual meeting space for people seeking to become more involved. College students set up games on their campuses. Sites like HumansvsZombies.org tell them how. In this game, the “humans,” wrap bandanas around their arms and use Nerf guns to protect themselves against the “zombies,” marked by bandanas around their foreheads. LARP enthusiasts hold conventions across the country.

Today, Vanek sits on the board of directors of the LARP Alliance and writes a column for Big Iron Vault magazine. Vanek attended LARP Intercon in Massachusetts this past March. He points to the power of the Internet to connect LARPs with the community: Six years ago, two players moved across the country, and it took only a quick web search before they found Enigma Live Game Lab.

As the Internet provides greater access to the games, Vanek hopes they break into the mainstream. But other LARPers dread this: Hordes of new players could prevent gamers from using advanced skills. Game masters would have to train new members. Players who don’t get along with the team could bring the game down.

Vanek and others, however, think more players will make better LARPs. “It’s probably one of the most empathetic art forms,” Vanek says. “For movies, you watch the movie and kind of root for the main character, the hero. In LARP, you are the hero. You are experiencing trials and tribulations, fears, and hopes, and dreams of this character. You can play Luke Skywalker, instead of watch Luke Skywalker.”

The communal power of the games is LARPs’ greatest strength. The participants create the story, instead of the game master directing the narrative. Vanek wants people to realize that LARPing already reaches remarkably far. Cops and robbers, mock trials, Model UN clubs, military role-playing exercises ¬— Vanek considers them all LARPs.
Regardless of whether players desire it, the Internet brings LARPs to a greater audience. But LARPs have something that will help the games stay pure: Pictures and videos on the Internet can’t convey the experience. A LARP game transforms as its players change and make different decisions. The Internet will show you where the action unfolds, but you’ll have to log off to get in on it. Grab your foam weapons. Glory awaits.

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