Larping About

Aug 31, 2013

The importance of keeping a journal is well documented. (No pun intended.)

It’s a way of preserving a memory or keeping a record to share with future generations.

For some it is cathartic, for others a joy, and for others still it is something much more akin to a duty. Historians and archivists take their responsibility to secure the past for future generations very seriously. It’s their job. A vocation. And for some it's a game. A very serious game. Although don’t tell them I called it a game.

The business of historical reenactment is very serious indeed to some people. Whether it’s Kevin the office manager dressing as a Cavalier and standing in a muddy field opposite George from accounts dressed as Cromwell’s lieutenant, or Fiona from legal channeling Florence Nightingale as she reenacts changing the future of nursing care. On any given weekend there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of them. From Confederates to Cavalry, Knights to Knaves, even Huns and Nazis. Many people view this type of live-action role-play as something a bit daft.


Grown-ups playing make believe. And while its easy to see why that might be the case as you wander through a field of elves and wizards, there are many more role-players who see themselves as custodians of the past keeping history alive. Albeit with state of the moment latex swords and Gore-Tex tights.

They view their role-playing as interactive storytelling. Beyond 3D. And beyond that, there is also an increase in the number of people who join in simply for the fun of it, and unlike the historical re-enactors, they are fantasists and proud of it. Blame Game of Thrones or Warcraft or Tolkien. Blame the internet and Ebay. Might as well blame it on the weather.

Every summer thousands of people attend live-action role-play events across the UK. The largest, with about 3,000 attendees, is The Gathering in Derbyshire which is organised by the Lorien Trust where according to their website you can “escape into a colourful, rich and in-depth world where you walk amongst Goblins, Elves and Dwarves and where magic is real and fortune favours the brave?” Sounds better than a rainy Saturday in Surbiton. In fact it's a cross between a drunken raid on the family dressing up box and a game of Gladiator. But much much more fun. Larpers – that’s what a live-action role-player is called – create their own characters in detail right down to the length of their toenails and the smell of their hair. The only constraints they face is that they must exist within the agreed parameters if the “world” in which they have chosen to exist. (The attention to detail that is required to be a proficient Larper is such that the world would be a much more efficient and effective place to live if they applied the same focus to their real world activity. But hey, that’s real world thinking and holds no water here.)

According to a recent news report the stereotypical perception of a Larp festival is a muddy field filled with nerdy young men squealing: "I hurl my lightning bolt at thee!" That said, with a fairly equal gender split, the reality of Larp is nothing like this. But, because of such misconceptions, some players do not like to discuss their hobby for fear of ridicule. Those with high-responsibility jobs - teachers, doctors and government employees, for instance - can even worry that misconceptions about Larping might damage their careers. (I can’t imagine why.) Larp has had its fair share of negative popular culture references - the nerdish Augie, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in 2008 film comedy Role Models, or Gerard in Channel 4 comedy Peep Show.

The stereotype is Larpers being socially awkward. However that might all change with the release of the horror-comedy Knights of Badassdom, starring Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones, which follows a group of Larpers who inadvertently summon a demon at a festival. Sounds like fun. In tights. I might sign up to take part in the reenactment.

For more information about the Gathering visit

Category: Journal

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