Saving the World, One Break at a Time

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by Quille Chayes, ‘12


Live Action Role Play: Battling Villains to Save the Universe

Winter break was a brilliant mix of relaxing, mundane, crazy adventures. I enjoyed pedicures, got my learner’s permit, watched television with my little brothers, dragged my mother up to the mountains to ski, and crashed on friends’ couches for a week. Oh, and I saved the world. It wasn’t the first time, either.

Once I championed intellectual freedom under threat of death in a post-World-War-III dystopian nuclear winter. Another time I assisted a band of humans in rescuing the goddess of life from the underworld. I’ve led an army of angels to storm the garden of Eden in an attempt to save creation, and watched friends take down the dragon empress Bane to save the lands of Terglas. Then there was the time I fought to re-build the ancient Mayan tree of life and end the Immortal Plague.

I’m not talking about video games or some new online phenomena. Nor am I crazy, flat-out lying, or greatly exaggerating things like my own demise (twice).

Welcome to the world of LARPing, or Live-Action Role Playing. LARPing comes in many ways, shapes, and forms: from cosplaying (costume playing) a fictional character, to re-enacting battles with real armor and wooden swords, to story-based improvisational theater.

It’s been two years and twenty-five games since my first LARP at a San Francisco-based outcropping of The Wayfinder Experience, the LARPing group in Kingston, New York. I played a young investigative journalist accidentally caught in the crossfire between a secret militant sect of the government and an ancient genocidal alien race. By reporting the story to the rest of humanity I gave them a fighting chance in the oncoming war.

The-Tree-Scientists.jpgI’ve made it a habit to save the world every break since then. As a proud member of The Wayfinder Experience, I stay in touch with the people who attend these camps and we come together to run our own games year round.

How does it all work? A game writer creates a whole world with its own histories, myths, legends, religions, political factions, and problems. Behind the scenes, a team works to costume everyone who arrives at an event, make sets and props, and get all of the foam swords ready.

Players learn about the world they will inhabit before the quest begins. We teach a basic magic system and run through a variety of theater and improv games so everyone knows what to expect and how to react. We hand out character sheets describing the personal life, relationships, and objectives for every single person attending and players flesh out their parts with childhood histories, personal quirks and body language. And, of course, train with swords and magic.

By the time the game starts the location has been transformed by sets and props and people into a fictional, far-away realm. We all join hands in a massive circle, say the magic words: “Let us play!” Then we’re off to adventure in a world created by the collective imagination.

LARPing has already made its way to Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Last semester a small club of interested students put on small games. The theater, creativity, and the focus of community, along with the release of emotions, make LARPing a fit with the Simon’s Rock community. Besides, the Boffing club already knows how to wield foam swords.

But deeper than just pure, unbridled fun, are the relationships formed in a game that comes from the trust you build when someone saves your life in the field of battle, or that helps you secretly scheme the destruction of tyrannical regimes. LARPing lets us physically do the things we dream of and to be the hero that we picture ourselves inside.

Angels-of-The-Old-Land.jpgThe experience has changed me deeply. I’ve learned about plots and character interactions firsthand. My rusty sewing skills were quickly brought up to par working on sets and props. I can lead a theater workshop and comfortably talk in front of large groups of people. And organizing events off-season with friends has taught me responsibility.

Besides, when someone asks, ‘How was your Winter Break’? It allows me to proudly state, completely without irony, “I saved the universe. Again. How was yours?”