An exploration of my feelings and ideas on role playing:
The other day a friend of mine came upon some LARPers doing their thing in a parking garage somewhere in the suburbs of Seattle. Being the snarky, bitchy kind of friend that this person is they snapped a picture of them and posted it to facebook. Everyone quickly jumped on the "point and laugh"" band wagon.
LARPers seem to be the geeks geek, the lowest in the food chain. They reside perhaps only above furries in the never ending game of internet mockery. Myelf, being the sort of person who's happy to let people do what makes them happy, has no problem with LARPers, though I know that i myself have no desire to particpate. With that thought in mind I threw my two cents in to the fray by saying that, while I enjoyed me some RPG's I wouldn't LARP because it felt too disconnected from reality. A friend of mine called me out to explain, out of genuine curiosity, how table top role playing is less disconnected from reality than LARPing.
I found myself befuddled for a moment and then came up with the following:
"Though I feel slightly on the defensive about this all of a sudden I will give it a shot. It's more of a feeling than something I can really point to. I think it has to do with how deeply you immerse yourself into the character you're playing and shrug off your own persona. When playing a rpg video game you are controlling a character in a limited way. You are that character, but in a very detached and non immersive interaction. There is also frequently no interaction with other real people. (This is of course not taking MMORPG's into account) In a table top rpg you create the character, so it's more personal, but you can still keep it 3rd person if you wish. You can say what your character does, rather than BE your character. Or you can choose to speak with your character's voice. There are options. You can take yourself as deep or shallow into the character as you like. In LARP though....you are your character. You are dressed like them, speak as them, and everything you do is as that character. In order to talk to another person as yourself you have to actually let them know that you're speaking "out of character". You are totally immersed and actively pretending that you are another person, in another world, doing other worldly things. At the table you're all just sitting around, eating thai food or whatever, and usually socializing in a removed way from the game."
Thinking more about it after the fact I realized that it is the social aspect of table top I mention that is the thing I like most about it. Even when you speak as your character, you almost immediately remove yourself from that immersion and other players will frequently comment on your action or crack a joke on what you've just done. There are all kinds of opportunities to build social bonds between you and the other players as yourselves. In LARP I'm sure there are still socializing opportunities, but it just feel like that since you're there as another personality, that the interactions are somehow ingenuine. On the other end of the spectrum they may actually be too personal.
My first exposure to LARP was actually my first exposure to Role Playing outside of Dragon Warrior for the NES. I met a boy and fell for him when I was somewhere in my teens. He was into Vampire: The Masquerade pretty heavily, primarily through LARP. He invited me to go and I went. I observed for a couple sessions. It seemed very bizarre to me...and also boring. I got very into the V:tM mythos and backstory, but the actual act of role playing it live seemed tedious and not entertaining.
The one thing I remember most was one of the players and his character. He was playing a Nosferatu, which was the type of vampire that developed a grotesque and repulsive appearance upon being turned. This guy was a very very large gentleman. While playing, in character, he introduced himself and said something to the effect of: "My name is Charles, Sherriff of Chicago and, as you can tell from my great size, I am a Nosferatu."
I was dumb struck. In two sentences he had peeled back layers of psyche, self loathing, and pain right before my eyes to reveal a pretty deep core part of himself. He was playing a class of character who's inherent feature is a physical deformity, which in his case was shape of his actual body. I felt immediately uncomfortable and embarassed. It felt like a very intimate moment between strangers...a moment that normally wouldn't happen until you had developed a closer bond with someone.
I think it's very common for people to explore their own psyche through role play. In fact that is probably one of the things that draws people to it most. You can poke and prod at your own insecurities, personality quirks, and ideas about life in a safe and non threatening way. This is because you're just acting, playing a character...not actually talking about yourself. Right? I mean I'm doing that right now with my current d&d character. I'm doing it purposefully and intentionally. It's been very interesting. I like it quite a bit, as this blog has probably shown.
This guy could have been doing the same. But since it was LARP there was a palpable immediacy of his character background, a glaring light to it. There was not even a veil of him just manipulating a character like you might in a video game or a mini on a DM mat. This guy was playing himself in his own character, referring to his physical reality, playing with his own life. Further more he was doing this around complete strangers. It was way too personal, too much like watching a car crash, and was too serious of an atmosphere. It was not at all like sitting around a table with friends and food having a good time. It was like group therapy.
I think that moment turned me off to LARP very quickly and strongly.
In the end I make no proclamations for or against LARPing. I don't understand it myself, but that doesn't mean pointing and laughing is the answer. My general rule of thumb for most situations in life stands for this as well.
Whatever tickles your pickle my friend.