LAURA CORRAL / The Bull
It’s early afternoon and the bright sun is vibrant against the clear blue sky on display for the patrons of this beach town park. It’s certainly a lovely day for a bike ride… or a medieval sword-fighting battle. To the left of the park stands a group of orcs and fairies, and to the right a group of knights and maidens; all anxiously awaiting the beginning of their battle. This isn’t the set of “The Lord of the Rings,” but rather a group of Live Action Role Players who have decided to use Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach as their battleground for the day.
Live Action Role Playing (LARP) was created as a way for gamers to experience their favorite games and characters in a more realistic way. Some consider LARP to be playing make believe, but to its players it’s more complex than that. There are two types of LARPing – combat style and theatrical style. Combat style includes physical simulated combat, while theatrical style involves little to no physically simulated combat. Each plot created for the LARP group is unique. The Game Master and Plot Team, or creators of the fictional world, are in charge of the game. They establish rules, create characters and write dialogue for each of the groups. Player Characters, also referred to as PCs, are the main characters created by the plot teams. Individuals who are PCs usually pay a fee to participate in the LARP event. Non-Player Characters, or NPCs, are also involved in the game, but they usually act as part of the crew and sometimes rewrite story lines if needed. NPCs typically do not pay a fee to be involved in a LARP game. Some games are free, while others can cost hundreds of dollars. Once involved, LARPers completely disconnect from reality and immerse themselves into a fantasy world.
Meet Anita Twitchell, a 38-year-old financial sales coordinator who has been an avid LARP member for 20 years. A Woodland Hills resident, Twitchell was first introduced to LARP by her gamer friend when she was a teenager and has been a member ever since. Within the past 20 years, she has participated in roughly 100 LARP games. Twitchell believes that role playing is a healthy way to have fun and escape the mundane, nine to five, work week. She first engaged in LARP when she was in her late teens. “I was 18 or 19, something like that. They (LARP members) were very welcoming,” says Twitchell.
Although LARP has only recently become mainstream, it’s thought to have been created sometime in the 1960s, with the popular Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) being one of the first roleplaying games to be integrated into live action. Twitchell remembers the first time she discovered role playing. She was 10 years old and didn’t even know what LARP was yet. “We played Dungeons & Dragons and turned it into live action playing with sticks in the backyard,” she says. “We just didn’t know what to call it, so we just called it Live D&D.” The popularity of live action role playing has dramatically increased due to the popularity of online chat rooms and forums. After 20 years of participation in LARP, Twitchell credits the Internet as the source for LARP’s increasing popularity.
“Now the information is more readily available, you can go to Yahoo! groups, MySpace or Facebook and find people; you couldn’t do that back in the early 90s and 80s,” she says.
In 2001, the LARP Alliance, a non-profit organization, was created in order to shed some light on the participants to help them communicate better with each other and connect all the groups worldwide. The LARP Alliance brings people together and helps assist with promotions, venues and organizing events. “When I first joined LARP out here, there were only a couple game systems and they didn’t necessarily always get along with each other,” says Twitchell. “And so they’re kind of a hub to get people to talk to each other.”
Aaron Vanek, a freelance writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles, has been involved in LARP since his early teen years and like Twitchell, his LARP experience stemmed from playing Dungeons & Dragons. “I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons and I noticed that LARP was more active than D&D,” Vanek says. “It was far more intense than being parked on my ass while rolling dice, checking charts and doing math.”
As with all games, there is some criticism as to whether role playing is a healthy activity. Over the years and with its increasing popularity, LARP has become a topic in pop culture. In 2008, the film “Role Models” was released in theaters. One of the film’s main characters is an avid LARP participant and the film showcases LARP in a very positive light.
Although most psychologists deem role playing to be a healthy expression, it can also have a very dark side. In 1996, 16-year-old Rod Ferrell was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murdering his friend’s parents.
Ferrell was an active participant in the live action role playing game, “Vampire: The Masquerade.” At his trial, Ferrell told prosecutors and the jury that he was a vampire. Ferrell is a prime example of how someone can take an innocent game of role playing entirely too far.
On a lighter note, LARP enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting June 11, as it marks the date of the first Wyrd Con convention*. The all LARP the convention will take place in Costa Mesa and is hosted by the LARP Alliance and Live Effects. “It’s the first one, so it’s still in development,” says Twitchell. There will be live performances, a fighting tournament, costume contests and guest speakers. Larry Niven and Steve Barnes, two of the guest speakers scheduled to attend, are co-creators of the “Dream Park” novels, which are a highly respected series that inspired some of the first LARP games in the U.S. Vanek will be doing his share in helping make this convention successful as well.
“Come June, I’m one of the architects unveiling the first all LARP convention on the West Coast,” says Vanek. “I’ll be running (some events) and helping run many events there — including LARP workshops.”
It’s evident that role playing games have come a long way since the era when they were first invented. From a simple role playing dice game like that of Dungeons & Dragons to a newly established convention, role playing has found itself a niche in society and in popular culture.
This story has been edited to fix a misprint stating, “On a lighter note, LARP enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting June 11, as it marks the date of the first all LARP convention.”
The event is not the first of its kind, rather it is the first scheduled Wyrd Con.