Interview: LARP LAB Part One

This month I got to chat with Amber and Conor, some of the organizers over at LARP Lab. LARP Lab is a Seattle-based non-profit. Their goal is to bring “bite-size” LARP games to the area. If you’ve always wanted to try LARPing but found it intimidating, these one-shot games are an excellent introduction to live action role play.

IGP: For the uninitiated, why don’t you first explain to us what LARPing is.

Conor: Larping is something everyone knows how to do, because it’s something we’ve all done – it’s playing pretend. When people talk about Larping, they usually say it’s ‘interactive theater’ or ‘it’s like improv’ – those are fairly accurate, but because there are many different ways to larp, lots of different definition can fit. It’s like acting in a play, but you are writing the play with what your character says and does on stage. Some games have structures and make them like games – think ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ or ‘Fallout’ – with powers, abilities, etc. Others have very little mechanical rule structure, and are much more like an improvised play. Regardless – almost everyone agrees that there is no conventional way to ‘win’ a larp – other than by both having fun and making sure other people are having fun.

Amber: LARP is an interactive adventure, not unlike a table-top role-playing game, however instead of sitting around the table with your character sheet, dice and snacks, you dress up and act out your character’s actions in real time much like an actor or actress does. You might even say it’s a video game come to life.

IGP: LARP Lab produces one-shot games in a variety of themes. This seems fairly unusual to me. Was there a specific reason for this?

Conor: That is partially to do with trying to fill a void in our current operating area of ‘The Puget Sound Area’ in Seattle. We don’t see many one-shot games, but, we see a lot of games that are weekend-long, or, that are weekly.  In other words – they are high-commitment games, and there’s a fairly high-bar to entry to even just try out one of these games. It’s costly both in time and money to get appropriate clothing together for a weekend long fantasy game. It takes several games to really ‘get into’ a weekly game, especially if others have decade-long established plotlines. Our games are designed to be bite-sized commitment, with as low-as-possible bar to entry. One-shot games are something that many of the Larping community in the area haven’t gotten to do a lot of.  And they should – because they are fun. They’re also perfect for bringing that friend in that has considered trying it – but – has been overwhelmed by the commitment needed. We are absolutely trying to help Larpers have a easy medium to get their friends and co-workers to ‘catch the Larping bug.’

Amber: There is. All of us at LARP Lab are veteran LARPers and we had all noticed that there are a lot of ongoing games happening around here (where each session builds on the story of the last, a campaign or chronicle), but no one really doing one-shots or games that were easier and more feasible to attend for those with limited time or money, or more cost-effective for those newly interested in the hobby to try a game or two out.

IGP: How difficult is it to organize these events? What are some of the challenges you run in to?

Conor: Predicting and managing games to work with existing schedules of other games can be tricky. We try not to run stuff when we know some other ‘big’ game in the area is running… but there are several ‘big’ games in the area which can really limit the schedule. Moreover, it’s hard to reach out to the non-larping community without at least some buy-in from the larping community.
A larper might want to bring a non-larper to one of our games – but – they can’t do that if they’re already at a big weekend long thing… and the non-larper won’t usually come alone; they feel they’ll need their friend for translation. After all – what they know of larping is a big confusing rule set their friend tried to explain. They don’t know our games are different and designed with a minimalistic rule set.

Amber: It’s not that difficult to organize. the hardest part is making sure everyone is communicating with everyone else and that information is shared in a timely manner. Prior to starting up LARP Lab we scouted out locations that we could use, which tends to be another big hurdle for most groups.

IGP: How did you get involved with LARPing?

Conor: A European mag – FACE – had an article I read when I was 17. It was about a reporter going to one of the most strict, more intense, week-long larps in Germany. The reporter was new to it, didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t smoke his cigarettes because it broke the atmosphere of the game. Naturally, the reporter didn’t enjoy the experience too much – but that article lit my imagination on fire. About four years later – despite a desire and a ‘wouldn’t it be cool’ that never left my head all that time – I still was wary about actually Larping myself, and never thought I’d do it. Then, a friend I met doing Tech Theater told me about her local, decidedly less intense or strict games she played in.  And she just started by telling me the cool adventures she was having by Larping. After whittling down my prejudices of ‘but larpers are those weird lightning-bolt video guys’ – she got me to try a game. She hooked me with the idea that some games are done on the street – and the idea is that you blend in – and that’s part of the game.   As someone with an intense fear of public humiliation – the idea of a game where part of it was to explicitly *not* bring attention to yourself or even have people around you that you are playing a game – sounded awesome.  It was awesome, and, it was a great gateway.

Amber: I got started over 10 years ago when I was in college. I had a friend who introduced me to another friend of hers and they were LARPers. They told me about the game they played, I looked into it, gave it a try, and was hooked. That game is now defunct, however I loved the idea that I no longer had to sit around a table just looking at a character sheet, I could really become my character for the course of the game, costuming and all (within the bounds of the law and what reality allows that can’t be easily represented with props or make up).

Check out part two of my interview with LARP Lab’s Amber and Conor, coming soon!

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