Lizzie Stark: Grownup Make Believe Rocks!
Several years ago, Fringe EIC Lizzie Stark began dropping the word “larp” into casual conversation with the rest of us editors. I’d nod along, pretending to be armed with the knowledge that larp is an acronym for live action role-playing, and is a game in which grown adults put on costumes and play “make believe” with other grown adults.
Tomorrow (May 1) will see the release of Lizzie’s book, Leaving Mundania: Inside the transformative world of live action role-playing games (Chicago Review Press). Leaving Mundania tells the story of adults who put on costumes, develop personae, and interact with other characters. Lizzie explores the history of the hobby, profiles several colorful larpers, and even takes part in the larp scene herself.
And you know what? It all sounds pretty cool and fun. And the book itself is a joyride. Don’t believe us? Buy it yourself and see. And if Leaving Mundania is not the most entertaining book you read in 2012, then making a Faustian bargain with the demon Cthulhu is the only way to assure a 100% refund.
[EIC’s note: I’m Lizzie Stark, and I approve this book]
So when it comes time to create a character for your first larp, you opt for a hardboiled 20s detective named Verva Malone. Your first instinct, though, is something entirely different. You write, “My feminist sensibility recoiled at my first thought—a princess—so I had to delve deeper.”
Had you stuck with that first thought and chosen to be a princess, would you have felt obligated to relinquish your Fringe credentials? As you know well, I’ve been plotting a hostile takeover of the magazine, and the EIC job, and I think this provides me with some ammo.
Have you ever read the Nicolò Machiavelli tract The Prince? Envision my cupcake-skirted character as The Princess.
If you’re going to test the steely iron grip I wield over the editorial board, you best come correct. Because I’m not the only princess who works on this magazine. And when we fight about font, we fight dirty.
Seriously, though: if identifying with princesses in childhood means that your feminist-card is at risk, then we’re all in trouble, because that image of femininity is unavoidable. Better to subvert the stereotype, not just for the sake of justice and womanhood, but because it’s incredibly dull to play a princess during make-believe. You get to wait. And wait. And wait.
Speaking of princesses and queens (and Elizabeths), you devote a chapter of Mundania to the deep history of larping, which traces back to before Henry VIII, but really starts heating up during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Larp, in its modern-day iteration, has been around since the 1980s, but, unlike Dungeons & Dragons and Renaissance Faires, we don’t hear much about it. When you mention the topic of your book, what percentage of people ask you “What is larp?” And why is that? Why has “larp” never become a household word?
Every so often, I’ll encounter some hip non-gamer who knows what larp is, but nearly everyone else is in the dark about the burgeoning hobby. I think there’s an aura of secrecy around the word. As an acronym for live action role-play, it sounds highly technical. Then, too, there’s the culture of gamer shame and public ridicule in the US — fueled by the Satanic panic of the 1980s and some media portrayals of the hobby — which keeps many gamers closeted about their weekends in the woods. If larpers don’t tell people about larp, how is the rest of the world supposed to find out?
Larp in the US is also a discrete hobby — there are many small local larp scenes that don’t necessarily communicate with each other, and so it’s difficult to present unified front to the world.
The culture in the Nordic countries is a bit different, both because many places have national roleplaying associations that advocate for the hobby on a larger scale, and because they deep-sixed the shame element years ago — if it ever existed on the same scale that it does in the US — leading to widespread mainstream recognition of the term.