LARP Debate: Evolution of LARP

Three years ago I wrote a paper (pdf) (yes, I’m pulling out that paper one more time) for some British LARP friends because they were curious about the US LARP Hobby and the state of the hobby here in the US. A recent article by Kevin Tjia entitled “Has LARP Evolved?” got me thinking and I figured it was time to take a critical look at the hobby as it stands today.

Before I get into the meat of this article I feel a need to note a couple caveats: Just as there are those who are wanting to see and are pushing the evolution of the hobby, there are also those who are happy with how things are or have been. Not all LARPers, groups and organizations want or see a need to evolve. I also realize that not everyone shares these opinions and I’m sure there are plenty out there that will likely disagree with me, however I feel that there are also several who do want to see the hobby mature, grow and evolve and this is where I see much of that evolution happening in the future.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that I’ve noticed that overall it’s not the large, nationwide groups and organizations (The Alliance (formerly the NERO Alliance) and the Camarilla for examples) that are necessarily pushing this evolution, but the smaller regional and local games. I also feel that it’s worth defining evolution so that you, the readers, are aware of exactly how this evolution is being determined. I look at evolution as more than just a rules update, though this is a sign of evolution. In my opinion evolution is a change in the hobby culture and the artifacts of that culture (rule systems, props/weapons, etc) show that change.

With that being said, has the hobby within the US evolved or changed over the past three years? In what ways has it changed, if it has? In what direction do I feel that change needs to go in, in the future?

Within all forms of the hobby I’m noticing a slow, but steady increase in more and more systems going classless thus allowing the players much more freedom to develop their character concept based on their perception of that concept rather than the designers perception of various concepts that are formed into different classes.

I’ve noticed a drive to be more experimental when designing LARPs (primarily theater style), particularly over on the east coast where LARPA is based and has its main influence.

I think that the hobby has gained greater acceptance by the mainstream, however we’re not considered a mainstream hobby by any means at this time. Movies such as LotR and Harry Potter have helped here, some even feel the film Role Models has too (personally I don’t think it did as it portrayed the hobby in that nerd/geek reject fashion far too strongly), though we still have a good ways to go.

More and more I’m seeing that those LARPs that are not only well run, but also understand that a degree of professionalism is needed to be successful are those that are thriving and growing. It’s no longer just attaching yourself to a big name or a known system that will sustain a group or organization these days.

Within the past few years I’ve noticed an increase within the live-combat role-playing games to utilize quality latex weapons and the ability to find latex weapons is becoming increasingly easier here in the States. Live combat battle games (to read about how I class these two visit this article) still utilize boffers and I don’t foresee them moving to latex weapons given the nature of the game they play vs. the kind of game and stressors that latex weapons are designed to work with.

There have been attempts to organize and create UK fest style LARPs here in the States. An ongoing example I know of down in the Portland, Oregon, area is Devia and there was the ConQuest America attempt by NERO International. This is coupled with an increased drive to grow more of a cohesive LARP community, even a nationwide one culminating in a huge LARP drawing people from all around the nation to a singular game.

Not all change has been positive though. I feel there’s been an increase in unhealthy levels of entitlement within games and organizations, to the point I’ve seen it destroy games. I also feel that MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft have had a negative impact on the hobby too. I feel they’ve helped lead to an increase in gamist style playing particularly in games that are supposed to have more narativist or simulationist elements to them (GNS Theory for those unfamiliar with it).

At this time I see the hobby here in the States going through a series of growing pains as the hobby strives to decide which direction it wants to grow and then growing and evolving. I see plenty of LARPers within the States looking at our counterparts across the ocean and having a desire to strive for games of those calibers. It’s just a matter of these isolated pockets of change coalescing into something larger and greater.

What do you think has changed in the hobby over the past few years? Do you think these changes have been a help or hindrance to the hobby? What changes would you like to see?

The next article will be on the “Business” of LARP. This article will be two weeks out as I won’t have a column next week due to being out of town late this week and over the weekend. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there.

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