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Struggles with Game Literacy in LARP

I often forget how niche my hobby is, here's some reasons why it is.

I forget that my hobbies are really niche a lot of the time.

I am a LARPer (Live Action RolePlayer), particularly a Vampire and Werewolf LARPer. For those that don't know, there are lots of different types of LARP, especially ones that are different than the Tolkien-esque fantasy full combat LARPs you tend to see when it shows up in media. Our games use a really complicated system of rules and pre-established lore that are important to understanding what is going on in the game at all. In my decently big circle of friends, most of them LARP with me. If they don’t, they at least know enough about how it works and the story behind it to follow what I am saying.

It’s really easy to get used to that, right?

So, say I’m visiting home for a holiday or I’m at work and someone asks me what I do for fun. I get super excited and start to tell them, but the more I talk, the more I see the lack of understanding in their eyes. For me, knowing what a chop is or who the Story Tellers are is basic knowledge to me. It’s like when a small child asks you what color an orange is. When I start going into a tale of this epic battle with a BSD, where my character almost died, everyone starts asking what a BSD is, what do you do if a character dies? And, do you actually fight each other? etc.

My hobby isn’t really made for beginner literacy, and it’s frustrating. I have ADD and I’m not used to people being interested in what I’m interested in. So, if someone asks me to talk about LARP or tabletop roleplaying, I just kind of...go.

It’s really eye opening, because I still think of myself as a newbie, still stumbling my way through mechanics and lore, even though I have been playing for almost two years now. I’m surrounded by people who have been playing this game since it started sixteen years ago, who know all the drama and storylines and have the experience that it’s just natural to them.

I want to emphasize that I really hope that this doesn’t discourage you from trying to find a game and play! If given the opportunity, I recommend taking it and trying it out.

Finding a game to join is tough.

I think that a big thing about LARP is how difficult it is to get started, especially in my area. The only reason I know about the games I am currently playing in is because a friend of mine was doing her masters thesis on the culture of LARP and introduced a game to us. I’d been searching for years to find something sufficiently entertaining and reasonably affordable in my area, but there was nothing posted online for it or anything. It was mostly word of mouth to get new people. I live in Des Moines, IA, and the nearest games to us (the ones we are in) are both a two hour drive one way from our apartment each. We drive to one game and back home, then drive to the other game the next day and back home. I only recently found a game closer to us, but the game is part of a different organization than our games with totally different house rules for the same system.

It’s understandable that there isn’t a lot of advertising, however. First off, no one is getting paid to run and play these games. Everyone involved in this is doing it for fun in their own time. A lot of games will have a entry fee, but all of that money is used for game-related things (like paying for a venue or food for the game, etc.). Everything the people running these games do is done alongside their jobs and regular lives, and it’s a lot of work to keep a game running. Even beyond the nights we play game in person (twice a month), there's all sorts of email scenes and experience spending happening outside of a session.

Because running a game is a challenge, it’s also really common for people who LARP to want to game with people they already know and are comfortable with. We’re a bunch of awkward nerds playing a social game, and we want to be comfortable with each other. Another part of that is if you’re playing with your friends, you’re less likely to have a bunch of problem players. A lot of games also want to keep numbers down so it can be manageable.

Finding your resources for lore and mechanics is also tough.

Additionally, the information one needs to know to play is not freely available. The rulebooks we use were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and are difficult to find copies of. Information needed to play is not free typically and not easily found on the internet. Sometimes, you have a friend that has a PDF of the rulebook, or a physical copy that they’re willing to loan you. The games typically have tons of rulebooks on hand; we purchase every game book we see in secondhand book stores and hoard them like sacred tomes.

It’s a lot of information to absorb once you have the info.

When you do have access to the information, there’s a lot to read and a lot to learn. Even from just reading the books, there is still going to be a lot that you just have to learn by playing the game. I’ve been playing for about two years and I’m still making beginner mistakes. People who have been playing for 10-15 years still make mistakes about the game. Of course, I’m not saying people have to get it perfect, it’s a game! However, for one of my characters there are at least 5 or 6 documents and books involved in knowing all about the TYPE of vampire she is. There’s tons of lingo to learn, and it takes some time to get used to.

This is the part where I tell you to try it anyway, if you’re not already playing in one.

Seriously, though, ever since I started LARPing I’ve found an amazing game where I can express myself creatively and make an awesome story with a bunch of new friends. I get to make costumes for my characters (not required but I’m extra). I get to be a part of an overarching story with conflict and really awesome moments of glory. It’s a lot to learn, but people want you to have a good time as much as they want to have a good time themselves and are willing to teach and help you learn the story.

Honestly, if you join a game like mine, one rich with pre-established lore and complicated rules, play a character who doesn’t know how that works either! Be open to asking questions. I’m an awkward duck so I pick someone at games I feel comfortable with, then ask them things or ask them who to talk to for questions they can’t answer.

I wouldn’t worry too much about finding a pre-established game necessarily. If you don’t feel comfortable joining a long running game like mine and you can get a copy of the rulebook, you could start your own with your close personal friend group!

We don’t want our hobby to die, and new people bring fresh new ideas and personalities to games. A few months after my roommates and I started playing, we were told how all of us newbies that got brought in breathed new life into the game and made them want to keep coming and keep playing. If you’re worried about having a disability, you’ll find that not only are a lot of the people there also disabled, but they’re willing to be patient and understanding. They are so ready to help, because like I am now, they’re just really excited that someone took interest in their super niche hobby.

Thanks for reading! Happy LARPing!

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