LARP and Cosplay: All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

I’m really interested these days in where LARPing and ARGs and games connect. LARPING is Live Action Role Playing Games where you play a game with very set rules and inhabit a character- sometimes for days at a time. Initially the word LARP made me think of “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!!” But it’s not necessarily all elves and DnD stuff these days. Especially in the Netherlands, there’s been a great movement of LARP games for causes (as seen here.)

For a person who loves to play ARG’s and games in spaces, It seems like the next natural step, right? Play. Play using objects in the real world with a storyline. Play using the storyline and pretending it’s the real world. Final step: pretend by stepping into the story with a full character and costume. A group at Games for Change named Oddyse gave an incredible talk about LARPing- probably the best talk I saw. 

“You can learn a lot by living as someone else for three days” said one of the speakers (a massive, bearded viking of course!) 

“What if we took serious topics and put them in a fictional universe for people to interact with.” 

These are comments I can get behind. My favorite moment was when they showed a picture of a hundred storm troopers from a cosplay event. ”All dressed up and nowhere to go” our viking commented. “Somebody give these storm troopers a rebel alliance to fight for God’s sake!!!”

Odysse is building pure magic: play Hamlet… inside Castle Elsinore… in the 1930’s. Interact with an amazing-looking “Battlestar Galactica” type game inside a battleship in California… just- totally awesome things that I want to play. 

So I was definitely intrigued. I was curious about the LARP scene in Boston, which apparently is one of the best in the country (as seen here.) I have some friends who know a thing or two about it but… I was hesitant. I know. Me. Hesitant to play a game. Insane, right? And that’s where I realized that for LARPS, the barrier to entry is really high. The Larp Adventure Program had a promotional video with a lot of very serious-looking people discussing why LARPing is important. Nobody seemed to say “I’m dressed as an elf and that is ridiculous and cool and hilaaaaarious”… which seems like a natural thing to say when you’re dressed as an elf, but these people struck me as not so easygoing. They were so intense in the videos I saw that I felt like maybe they would be annoyed when my elf did or said the wrong thing, or didn’t adhere to the proper rules. Like I would have to do some serious research about elf rules, and they might be straight out mad when I screw it up and then laugh about doing it wrong. It didn’t seem joyful or fun or funny- it seemed…serious. Serious play, but not in the way that I’m used to it.I was worried that I will not be able to “take the game seriously” enough. I wonder if other people feel the same about LARPS. Are they just too high a barrier to be useful for reaching out to the general population?

So maybe LARPS are a big step to take in getting people to interact with content. But what are some other options of LARP-like games that don’t seem so intense? It seems like there are a couple of half-steps that have been successful. 

One variation is a role-playing game where the game coordinators are in character and costume driving the game, and you’re just playing. That way there’s not so much pressure to “do it right” or prepare ahead of time. I’ve seen this a few times with historical organizations. Rev Quest at Colonial Williamsburg is maybe one of the most successful, long-running museum games I’ve ever seen. The staff plays characters. You play a role and through conversations, texts, clues and riddles, you solve the mystery. They update the story every year for replay value. Last year was “The Order of the Rhinoceros”. This year is “The King’s Quest”. 

Just two weeks ago, Daud Alazar and folks from Boston History ran “Ghosts of Boston.” A similar approach to Rev Quest where people were given a list of “ghosts” (costumed reenactors) around Washington Street in Boston, who they had to interact with to solve riddles, puzzles and unravel a story. The finale was a fantastic march down Washington street, where people protested the Stamp Act and hung a British Official in effigy. (!!) 

I tested the Ghosts of Boston and it was really fun! A few different people wrote about it- my favorite was actually a LARP player who decided to go check it out. She and her friend created costumes and characters and decided to get a little more into it. Sounded like the costumed reenactors loved it and played right along. So there’s another way that it can sort of scale. Create something that has a low barrier to entry but more committed people can play at a higher level. 

Another thing I was thinking about was the Odysse talk where they showed 100 storm troopers and said “PLEASE somebody give these guys a rebel alliance!!” It reminded me of a cosplay that I went to once where people got dressed up in these amazing elaborate outfits and then awkwardly stood around and took pictures. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Maybe we could do it backwards… maybe rather than planning a LARP, we could take an existing event where people are already dressed up, and give them characters and a purpose. 

I breached that a little with the Crane Estate Lawn Party game this summer. People were already dressed in their 1920’s finest, we just told them that we needed their help to solve a mystery. What if we went a little farther and there were goals and factions. It couldn’t be *too* complicated because people are there to have fun, not to learn a new system of rules for a game… but they’re already dressed up, why not give them a world to live in?

So if you happen to know of any places where people are already dressed up with nowhere to go… lemme know. If you know any places where there were already costumed people and they added a game element, lemme know about that too! Maybe LARPS aren’t a reasonable answer for a regular outreach game but the concept seems like too much fun not to explore!


3 responses to “LARP and Cosplay: All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go”

  1. Glad to hear other people enjoyed the Echoes of the Past event! (If you have any links to other people’s write-ups, I’d love to read them myself.)

    It’s interesting to me that people might see some of the promotional videos for LARPs and think the barrier of entry is too high. I often participate in online conversations about the importance of raising production values of LARPs, and lots of people seem to be of the opinion it’s solely positive to improve the production values and make sure everyone knows how visually beautiful and Impressive and Serious LARP can be. But I always think that while it’s good to have high production value and/or serious LARPs, there is also great value in LARPs that are clearly highly accessible to everyone, no matter what their budget or interest level or comfort with trying something new and weird is. I think LARP often gets treated mockingly in the media or by our fellow geeks at geek conventions, especially when it looks very awkward with low budget costuming and props, and so people try to counter that image by showing how serious and high quality it can appear. I’ve seen plenty of images from LARPs that look like shots from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.

    But don’t let this kind of thing intimidate you. There are plenty of highly accessible, casual, and even outright comical LARPs, especially in New England. One of my favorite LARPs of all time is the Other, Other All Batman LARP, which is a spoof of the 1960s tv show and it was hilarious. If you’d ever like to check out some of the options, let me know, I’ll send you some links!

  2. Kellian Adams Avatar
    Kellian Adams

    Thanks for your comment! Yeah it’s an interesting conundrum: people may make fun of LARPS because it’s play that people take seriously .. but then the response is to make it higher production value so the seriousness increases. I think humor may be the key- like the original Doctor Who or the Come Out and Play Festival. It’s hard to be made fun of when you’re already having a grand old time making fun of yourself. The Other Other All Batman LARP sounds like a pretty hysterical place to start, I’d love to hear more about it!! Do I get to dress as Batman? Do we all dress as Batman? If we ALL dress as Batman, I am so in.

  3. This is incredible. Good, high quality cosplay really takes a LARP to the next level in terms of immersion. I’d like to see more of this kind of thing at cons.

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