Like many of the other totally wrong assumptions I had about what I would expect in the EU, I thought that our Scandinavian brethren knew everything that was going on and had gone on in the United States larp scene, like some vast and looming overlord who gently patted us on the head when we picked up our first boffer weapon. Instead, what I heard was a lot of questions that quickly lead me to realize that just like I didn't have a god damn clue what was happening out in the EU, no one knows what's happening here either.
This primer is based off of the questions or assumptions I received when I was at Knutepunkt and is intended to shed light for the folks out there who don't know what it's like here and have only seen snippets through our wayward traveling larp soldiers, or from the internet. The history of larp in the United States doesn't start with Dystopia Rising or New World Magischola -- or something else that I feel required to answer first, since I received this fear multiple times over the conference.
"American Larp" Isn't Larp Haven
Yes, we get into arguments and shitty online debates and have members of our community who makes us grit our teeth and sigh heavily, but that’s similar to any other online community, Larp Haven is in no way representative of the kinds of people -- and larps, and ideals -- that are important to our Larp scene.
Like you, our new or incoming larpers see Larp Haven and have a fear of coming to try them out on the assumption that we are brash, confrontational, and uncomfortable to be around. It’s a discredit and disservice to who we actually are. While I listened to a lot of dialogue about how Nordic Larp is beginning to focus on the concept of community over game (and the pros vs cons of it), that has been a larger concern for many US larps for years and we are already beginning to make positive changes based on that. A good community creates a good larp and more positive recognition from a wider public, and it’s the reason why we’ve survived as long as we have outside of the internet.
Ignore the trolls under our bridge and step on over to play the game.
"American Larp" Isn't Real
And it’s a very inefficient term anyway. In the same way that Nordic Larping doesn’t accurately represent everything you are and everything that you do, “American larping” is a patently impossible term to umbrella who we are, what we do, and what matters to us.
The United States is a huge country and each region -- sometimes even each state -- have very different larping cultures and customs. I distinctly remember the first time Alliance/Nero did their first “national” event for a networked game and how surprised we were at how differently every region interpreted the same rulebook. Larp on the East Coast is different than West Coast is different than Midwest, Southwest, and Texas might as well be its own country. This makes running networked campaigns a real challenge for what we do, but it also means we have decades of experience in how to make larps work across what is essentially different cultures.
We also have a growing population of freeform and larps based in Nordic tradition that have appeared in the past two or three years. This year at Dreamation, I think I saw more Nordic/freefrom style games then I saw long-term/campaign games on the schedule, and that’s not the first time that this type of game -- and its audience -- are probably here to stay. You can add that to our giant melting pot of larp culture too.
We Have A Metric Fuckton of Larps
And yes, the vast majority of us don’t talk to each other. It’s only recently that groups like larping.org and the larp survey have tried to gather information, but they haven’t been able to achieve a full picture of who and how many we are, and frankly, they might not be able to because of how isolated we all are. The larps that you generally hear of are the ones that have money -- that can afford advertising, or are a part of established communities, or have a history to them. I can’t even fathom how many there are overall in the US.
There are many, many larps that are campaigns for their own backyard or only run for set amount of times. It’s true that the majority of them (from what I can see) tend to be “campaign” larps or larps with continuous storylines, but one shot larps or different larps based in the same world system are beginning to become more common in the past five years as an alternative to heavy financial commitment from the organization level.
This is a map of the region I larp, screenshotted off of larping.org. In the state of Massachusetts alone there are about 20-30 larps (again, that we know of) and on any given weekend there are two to four larps running -- and that’s just in MA. It’s not uncommon for campaign larpers to drive down to New York or up to New Hampshire for a game. But even without distance, I can reasonably argue that larping in the US started on the East Coast, and given the history in the region, it’s pretty easy to find a number of larps within one hour of you.
We Aren't all "Pro Larpers"
But many of us want to be. In this case, I am using the definition of “professional larper” as one who makes their income off of larp work or is able to generate enough money to do so. Larp is our industry, our job, our passion. This is a fairly recent development in the States, and even though there’s a small handful of us doing it (some of which with a lot of history), many who have the capability don’t because of tax or healthcare reasons.
Still, there’s something of an American Dream for a Larp Organizer to become a Professional Larper and many walk into the industry with that goal. Most of us grew up with the idea that you should follow your passions, and that’s what we’re trying to do, especially with campaign style larps that can generate consistent income. It’s a good thing and gives us the opportunity to turn larp into more recognized industry, hire people, make entertainment and art and give back to the community too. It’s not uncommon for campaign larps to drive charity events that give to their local community’s needs, or work for a particular cause they’re passionate about, like LQBTQ rights, refugee services, or disaster funds.
Larp is Foreign in the States
The vast majority American public still don’t know what larp is and we are still learning the best ways to positively involve the media in what we do. Unlike many Nordic Larps and Larpers, receiving government, public, or religious funding from organizations to create larps is something that’s still fairly new and done in small circles by individuals who have put a lot of work on the table in order to do it.
The public dialogue in the United States is still one that’s an unknown, though many of us in the industry have been actively trying to change and effect that for years. It’s only recently that it’s begun to shift, mostly because of the viral effect of blockbuster larps. Prior to that, there has been some movie and media attention that didn’t really pick up speed to the same effect, but have definitely brought interest -- TV segments, youtube ads, mini series, and mentions in popular media have slowly started to turn larp from a weird joke and into an actual hobby that isn’t occupied by basement nerd. While the stigma still exists, we’re starting to see the work we do regarded more seriously, which has been one of my favorite developments of the last ten years.
We Can Help Each Other
We are all wrapped up and tightly bound by this strange and beautiful hobby and the individuals inside it. Detached as we were from the European and Nordic community for years, we have learned different ways of doing things and our communities have developed in entirely separate ways. One of the large take-aways I have from my time at Knutepunkt is seeing how we have encountered very similar problems on organization, design, implementation, and community yet we have -- in many cases -- developed wholly different solutions. I can’t fully explain how fascinating and exciting that is for me, and I could probably spend a whole extra weekend just talking with larp organizers from Europe about what they’ve encountered so we can compare notes and strategies.
We can and should learn from each other. The Americans who started to brave Nordic Larping and come home with theories and ideas years ago have introduced us to a wider world, and in turn, we want to introduce you to the wider world of us, too. We are weird, sometimes loud, sometimes too-loving of cat pictures and beer and dumb jokes and we form a vast mosiac of personalities and types that larp in the United States. It’s pretty amazing, and I’ve always been humbled to be a part of it.
And thank you for what you’ve shown us, for the tools you’ve given our scholars, for the excitement and enthusiasm that they’ve come back with, for the strange mystery many of us have had wondering what you’re all doing over there -- now let us show you who we are too.