The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition:
slang (orig. U.S.). Mildly derogatory.
An insignificant, foolish, or socially inept person; a person who is boringly conventional or studious. Now also: spec. a person who pursues an unfashionable or highly technical interest with obsessive or exclusive dedication.
At least according to this definition, it is hardly a compliment to be labeled a nerd, despite the gradual shift towards greater acceptance. Although the term ‘nerd herd’ might be used in jest among friends, the negative connotations towards ‘nerds’ remain. Reevaluating the nerd stereotype in the context of live action role-play, commonly addressed as LARP, it is clear that these beliefs are unfounded. LARP allows its participants to develop their creativity, passion, perseverance, and interpersonal skills alongside an accepting community.
Amy Beresford describes fellow participants as ‘super welcoming and inclusive – there’s a real sense of camaraderie.’ Having been involved in a form of LARP – Treasure Trap – for the last two and a half years and participated in 5 national events, she loves the stories that she helps shape. LARP allows participants to choose a character within an established world and provides them with the autonomy to interact with other characters and extend existing plot lines. Amy praises the creativity involved in ‘designing your character, picking out their costume, and working out their personality, motivations and goals.’ In her words, LARP is simultaneously ‘serious and ridiculous fun.’
The setting, character abilities, challenges and opponents you will face depend on the specific LARP system. For example, Treasure Trap, the oldest LARP system in England, is a high fantasy LARP founded in 1982, set in Medieval England with supernatural elements. Alternatively, Beacon, Destiny, Emergence, Supers and Tilt, all of which have different obstacles and objectives that take place in different worlds, are just a handful of the many formats LARP can take. Amy related that LARP can fall into the medieval fantasy genre, but post-apocalyptic settings (such as Falling Down), steampunk (Rockets, Rayguns and Really Nice Tea), or regency-based formats also exist. Most formats cover a range of focuses such as interpersonal relationship-building or emotional drama, combat and survival, as well as research, science and rituals, allowing participants to redirect their energy to what best suits their styles. She also pointed out that LARP styles vary across countries with combat-orientated ‘boffer’ LARP in America, massive battles in Europe and freeform, explorative Nordic LARP such as Limbo.
LARP works best when individuals immerse themselves wholeheartedly into the action, much like the physical and mental energy invested in theatre when taking on a character’s persona. Yet, unlike theatre, participants in LARP run the risk of having their interests and efforts taken less than seriously. Aron Kearney, formerly the president of the Treasure Trap Society at Durham University, admits that he thought LARPers were ‘kind of lame’ when he first came across LARP. However, he mentions being surprised by how much of an effect it would have on his life: ‘LARP’s given me more confidence. I now make and run LARPs, and I have made so many friends and gained so many stories. It’s amazing compared to what I’d originally thought of LARP.’
Although LARP can have a rather steep learning curve, more experienced LARPers actively help ease newcomers into the hobby. Having participated briefly in a LARP session, I was reassured by Josie Clare, a fellow LARPer, that although there would be a lot of names, both fictional and real, I was always welcome to ask if I forgot. It was a perfect example of how amazingly friendly the community can be. Similarly, the character that I adopted was of my own choosing along with the kit I donned (borrowed from the society’s sizeable armoury). Venturing into LARP, while mildly nerve-wracking given how different it is to most of my hobbies, was an admittedly enjoyable experience.
According to Aron, LARP is different, amazing and unexpected. The reservations displayed towards a so-called unfashionable interest suggest an element of hypocrisy within our society. Academia and fields of employment often advocate the importance of passion, never mind the massive overuse of the word in job applications. The modern work place describes an ideal candidate as enthusiastic, engaged and sociable, all of which are traits that LARP fosters. It begs the question: why the misgivings towards LARP as a more mainstream activity? Perhaps it is time to reconsider.
Words by Jenora Vaswani