Review: Leaving Mundania

Leaving Mundania, Lizzie StarkLive action role-playing, or LARP, is defined as “a type of role-playing game in which each participant assumes a particular character and acts out various scenarios at events which last for a predetermined time.” Although most people associate LARP with a bunch of people dressed as elves beating each other with foam swords, the tradition extends from Tudor England to modern-day military training.

Lizzie Stark’s Leaving Mundania part history, part diary of her personal LARP experiences, and entirely a dedication to this misunderstood and often maligned art form.

Such a strange concept

Stark acknowledges in her book’s introduction that LARP is a bizarre concept for most people.

…[LARP] is so geeky a hobby that other geeks — comic book lovers, reenactors, trekkies, and Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts — often pooh-pooh it as a lower form of nerdery.

I can vouch for this statement’s truth. My dad is a big Trekkie (he attended some conventions back in the day), but I can just imagine his reaction to learning about LARP; I played Dungeons & Dragons during college and married a guy who’s played D&D since high school, but I don’t think we’d ever seriously consider going to a LARP event.

There’s a stereotype that all larpers are odd, socially inept, single, and living in their parents’ basement while working a minimum-wage job and going absolutely nowhere. And in some cases that’s certainly true; but what Leaving Mundania shows is that many larpers are actually pretty normal — they just happen to like LARP.

But not really that strange

I majored in theatre in college, and I recognize the similarities between LARP and acting (although it involves more improv than line memorization). But I suppose I never really thought about it in a larger context.

Although LARP as we know it today began in the 1970s and 80s, its roots go much deeper: ancient Romans held mock naval battles and themed costume parties, the medieval British had an annual “Feast of Fools” in which masters’ and servants’ roles were reversed, and Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) had a habit of dressing in costume and surprising guests with impromptu dances.

And of course LARP’s roots are wider than the stereotype suggests. Every year thousands of people gather to reenact battles like the Civil War’s Gettysburg and WWII’s Battle of the Bulge, and most military branches train their soldiers and medics by dropping them into fake towns to complete “missions.”

An eye-opening read

I knew a little about the LARP concept when I started reading Stark’s book, and it was cool to learn more details about the different kinds of worlds, events, rules, and people.

The last couple of chapters, Stark travels to Scandinavia (Denmark, specifically) to test out the “arty LARP” scene, were the ones I found most interesting. These guys make American LARP look like child’s play.

If [American LARP was] a fluffy bunny, arty Nordic [LARP] would be the secret policeman executing your firstborn — but for artistic reasons.

It’s in Denmark that Stark participates in a game where dancing is a main form of communication between characters, and the plot development revolves more around relationships and words than battles. Both chapters she spends on the topic are totally surreal, and stretched my definition of what LARP is and can be.

(I read this book as part of Non-fiction November. Click the link to see posts from this and previous years!)

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