A few weeks ago, I visited Alliance, one of the oldest live-action role-playing (or LARPing) groups in the US, where I met people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who’ve made LARPing a central part of their lives.
The LARPers included both diehards and the newbies. Every year, Pennsylvania-based Alliance sees around 50 to 100 new faces. According to Todd, a higher-up in Alliance, new players tend to be college-age or recent graduates. These players usually stick around for three or four years before dropping the hobby, but about 10% become “lifers” — people whose dedication can be measured in decades, not years.
For the lifers, LARPing becomes their main social outlet. According to Michael Ventrella, a founder of Alliance, dating is common among LARPers and there have been more than a few weddings of people who met there. Some of the veterans have been around for so long their kids sometimes come to events.
While visiting Alliance, I met players who work in biomedical engineering, tech, insurance, cybersecurity, law, healthcare, and accounting.
Here are few of the people I met:
Joe has played the same character at Alliance for 20 years. He has played in so many different LARP “systems” — from medieval to sci-fi — that “it intimidates other players,” he says. In addition, he participates in Revolutionary War reenactments, playing a drum major in the British Army.
Joe is a character even without his costume, prone to a mischievous smile, a high-pitched cackle, and a sense of humour that amounts to asking yourself constantly, “Is he messing with me?”
He’s coy about his profession, though he says he’s a technologist who works on government contracts in the Washington, DC area. When asked if that means cybersecurity, he shrugs and says, “You could call it that.”
At some LARPs Joe attends, every player is an IT professional with government security clearances. Others are dominated by college students.
Lauren, Safety Professional
When I introduce myself to a woman named Lauren who works at a major tech company, she tells me, “I wear pretty things and hit my fellow nerds.”
Lauren grew up in Pennsylvania and attended nearby Binghamton University. At college, Lauren was heavily involved with Humans vs. Zombies, a popular live-action game played at colleges across the US. Humans vs Zombies is basically a complicated, weeks-long version of tag that spans an entire campus. It’s kind of like entry-level LARP, allowing players to act out a zombie takeover using sock balls, marshmallows, and foam-dart guns.
“Humans vs. Zombies was huge at Binghamton,” Lauren says. “Everyone gets involved, even the police. One time, we had a police officer get out of his car and tell us to try to make him a zombie. We were like, ‘Should we try? We might get arrested.'”
After college, Lauren met a few guys who told her about Alliance while attending an anime festival in Baltimore.
“Grown men and women fighting in a remote woods … what could go wrong?” Lauren jokes.
In a short time, Lauren was hooked on the game, making fast friends and constructing elaborate characters. She met her boyfriend Colin at Alliance.
Scott and Tim, Insurance Analyst and Warehouse Supervisor
Scott (right) is an insurance analyst who has been playing for nearly 20 years, and Tim is a warehouse supervisor who’s been playing for about eight.
Both have arguably nerdy pasts. Scott originally played “Dungeons and Dragons” in high school and college before a cousin introduced him to LARPing. Meanwhile, Tim found out about LARPing from coworkers at a gaming store. He was initially sceptical but quickly got hooked.
“There’s nothing like being in character the whole time. You get fully immersed,” Tim says.
Both Scott and Tim have since convinced their wives to join in on the fun, after years of trying to get them to play games like “Dungeons and Dragons.”
“My wife always thought ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ was really boring,” Tim said, “but when she realised what LARPing actually was — playing a part, sneaking around, fighting and trading, having fun — she was like, ‘This is something I could get into.'”
For Scott, Alliance has helped him learn skills he uses every day.
“I’ve learned leadership skills, resource management, and public speaking,” Scott says. “Before I started playing, I hated public speaking, but my character was a Duke. I had to make speeches. Public speaking quickly got way more comfortable.”
Akiva, Graduate Student at Binghamton
Akiva is a graduate student at Binghamton University, studying Healthcare Systems. He’s been playing since his freshman year of college when he helped start the college’s LARPing club. Before he started the LARPing club, he said, he had “the typical nerd background.”
“I played ‘World of Warcraft,’ ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ read sci-fi books, but when I heard about LARPing, I knew I wanted to do it. It’s a chance to play the game in real life,” Akiva says.
Although Akiva has attended Alliance for several years, like many other students, he saves money by being a non-playable character — someone who attends for free in exchange for being a cast member for the game designers.
“Every time I come, people ask me, ‘When are you going to make a character?’ I give them the same answer every time. When I get a job,” Akiva says.
It’s expensive to create a character, according to Akiva, who says a costume can cost thousands of dollars.
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