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Are we LARP-ing yet? 

By Tim Wood

I was born in the year 1950 and remember I started entertaining myself when I was around 4. I had an older brother that helped; he’d take me on outings and watch out for me. Then, when I learned to ride my bike at around 6, it seems I was always outside seeking adventure and often getting in trouble for it. 

I remember watching a few TV shows, usually just on Saturday morning: Mighty Mouse, Roy Rogers, Sea Hunt and Sky King. I’d spend most of my time outside, by far, within about a 5-mile radius from our house, like a cat, snooping around. 

As I got older my time turned to seasonal sport activities: swimming in summer, hockey in winter, baseball in spring and football in fall. There were always pick-up games in my various neighborhoods. 

As an old man now, I feel so fortunate to have had that kind of freedom during my childhood. Leaving the house early in the morning, getting back home in time for dinner; I can really relate to “Leave it to Beaver.” I pretty much led Beaver’s kind of life, though mine was without serious parental guidance and supervision. I loved and longed for a Ward and June Cleaver. 

I guess life for our our country’s youth really started to change with accessible electronic gaming that started in the 1970’s with Odyssey and Atari. I was too busy partying and dating at that point. I had left home and was earning daily money just to be able to cruise around at night. That was my entertainment. I didn’t own a TV or watch television unless visiting someone who wanted me to join them. Yes, I do remember once playing “PONG,” but not where I played “PONG.” It didn’t light my fire. 

Big changes in the electronic gaming market happened when my own kids were young, when Japan introduced into the fray the Nintendo. We did have a TV but Kris and I enforced limited “educational” (Sesame Street) viewing and did not allow electronic gaming in our home. 

Our kids certainly complained about that, but we knew they had exposure to gaming at their friend’s houses. We felt limited exposure to gaming was better than unlimited exposure. But certainly, this was youth’s new entertainment, adult entertainment as well. We did give in with our youngest, he had a portable “GameBoy.” I think pretty much everyone knows and remembers what has happened since that time. 

And, of course, there was “Star Wars.” I bring “Star Wars” up because that franchise became an entertainment market all it’s own, one which continues to this day; 1977 to 2022, 45 years, and Disney projects another decade at least. 

Science fiction conventions have become very popular not in the least because of the growing popularity of “cosplay,” costumed role-playing; basically extending Halloween. Now I do remember cosplaying as a little boy; I liked to dress up as Zorro and various cowboys. Not so much as an adult. To witness the growing popularity of cosplay has blown my mind a little, simply because I don’t get it. I love Halloween, don’t get me wrong, but cosplay for a theme-based, mega-serial-branded convention? What’s the cost for all that? 

But wait, it’s gone even further. Now we have LARP-ing: Live Action Role-Play. This is where you spend a lot of money to dress-up (your expense) and exist in an entire movie-like set of the themed LARP you’ve paid for. 

And it’s not just at Disney’s Star Wars Galactic Starcruise and its “immersive adventure.” Different themes for a LARP immersive are all over the globe. Forget goggles and virtual reality, on Disney World’s Galactic Starcruise” you’re going into space, baby. The Black Spire Outpost and the planet Batuu to be precise. 

In Poland you can immerse yourself in Harry Potter’s “College of Wizardry” inside a real Polish castle. In Sweden, “No Man’s Land;” immerse yourself in a post apocalyptic, nuclear war and pandemic existence. Bigger cities are into the act as well. If you can afford it, go to New York City and hang with a community of vampires as they go out on the town on a vampire’s lark – LARP a LARK! 

LARP’s are spreading like COVID. They’re expensive, but you don’t die from them. The cheapest cabin on the Galactic Starcruise for two people and a 46-hour immersion is just under $5,000. That doesn’t include the cost of getting there, and, as stated, costuming. From what I understand Disney doesn’t even post the cost of first class accommodations. Apparently it discourages inquiries. One can only dream. 

I can fully understand the reality of the world’s gaming evolution with so many people wanting to escape. After all, there are now gaming professionals that compete with other gamers all over the world who are capable of pulling in a legitimate salary. 

We now have three 10-year generations established in electronic gaming. Young people have grown up playing video games that have become ever more sophisticated, realistic and graphic. When you learn that 85% of video games now involve violence with most of those having combat themes, it’s a little worrisome. The age ratings are very similar to movie ratings for appropriateness and can be easily abused just like movie watching. 

So you have generations growing up playing these games. How can that not help but desensitize our youth? This is what close to 90% of our (U.S.) young adults are entertaining themselves with, along with social media. 

I’ve read that many participants that go to LARP venues to role play the villains. This doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen interviews with famous actors (the pinnacle of LARPing) that have said some of their most enjoyable roles have been the ones when they got to play a juicy villain. Kind of like getting out of your own skin and tasting the wild side. Is it possible that a LARP can it be as rewarding as trying to water ski, snowboard or rock climb? 

My research about LARPing has brought me around to thinking about the videos from the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at our capital. All the decked-out insurrectionists in their full military battle gear and of course the other felons painted up and wearing costumes. Dressed for chaos. 

And perhaps in some distorted fashion they were role playing the “true Patriots.” Unfortunately, seven people actually died that were directly connected with the insurrection. As time goes on, our country leads the world, by a massive percentage, in violence-related gun deaths. No wonder we are becoming a culture so in need of some form of (now) virtual entertainment and escapism. 

But is our growing need for more and more “virtual reality” entertainment hurting us or helping us? That’s the big question. I often wonder what our world will become if our social systems as well as our infrastructural systems start to break down. It’s no longer that difficult to imagine our eating one another. There’s a LARP for that. 

Tim and Kristy Wood moved to Beaufort in 1974. He worked as a carpenter in both restoration and new home construction, as well as operating a shop specializing in custom woodwork, Wood on Wood Specs. He is semi-retired, involved with fine woodworking and formerly sat on the City of Beaufort Zoning Board of Appeals. 

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