Growing up as a tabletop roleplayer in 1990s France gave me a first glimpse at how much journalists can twist facts and use clever casting and editing technique to make ludicrous claims about topics they know jack shit about.
As a result, I am always curious to see how larp is portrayed by various media outlets accross the world and buy pretty much every serious larp dvd that crosses my path. Expecting innacuracies and general weirdness, I started with fiction and the 2008 comedy Role Models.
The story follows two guys doing community service to avoid jail time, one of whom gets to look after a nerdy kid who larps. Combining clichés of feel-good, coming-of-age family movies and the crassness of the American Pie school of humor, Role Models actually does a decent job at showcasing larp. The subject is pretty well researched and while many characters are funny, one is just amazing: Kuzzik, the enthusiastic guy who overacts with a lame fake medieval accent and dubious cultural references. We all know at least one of them in each local larp scene, I could even spot them at Conquest of Mythodea even though I don’t speak German, just based on their bombastic body language.
While I recognized some familiar equipment from Leonardo Carbone or DeinLarpShop and the infamous boffer swords I had first seen at Dagorhir, one thing did irk me. Some games seemed basically played on football fields, with parking lots in plain sight. Never having played fantasy larps while in the US, I decided to investigate further, into documentary land.
Darkon did feature battles on football fields near parking lots. The Darkon game itself is more like live action wargaming than the types of larp I play, but there seems to be quite a lot of roleplay in between battles so it does qualify as larp in my book.
Two things struck me about this documentary: the production value (flyovers, crane shots, restaged scenes) and the overall sadness. Basically the main protagonist’s life sucks out of game, and it ends up sucking just as much in game. While fans of greek tragedy may enjoy this, I do not recommend watching this while depressed. Another thing Darkon was really good at was showcasing how bad campaign games can be, meaning how much out of character negotiations can occur in between games, outside of games, for pure personnal reasons. One scene in particular reminded me of a few late-night dinners at the local fastfood joint, endlessly discussing vampire game politics. Except it didn’t matter as much to us. Darkon led me to Monster Camp, a movie about a NERO chapter, i.e. in a better known fantasy larp network.
While a bit less depressing than Darkon, Monster Camp did feature a lot of weird guys. I suspect the filmmakers carefully picked their cast to make a point about WoW-addicted misfits, but I did notice during my time in the USA that American larpers were often less socially well-adjusted compared to French larpers, especially in less urban areas. Once thing I really liked in Monster camp was the fact that is also showed the organizers and how much work such a hobby can be. Sure, the costumes, props and game site looked very different from the average French larp, but the organizer’s stress, passion and dedication is universal. One thing that did look weird was how much people were discussing rules, down to people stopping the final fight to discuss rule details with a GM standing right there doing nothing. The overall “crunchiness” of the rules made the game look more like a rather faithfull porting of D&D than something designed for live action.
So I wondered about France’s represention on the topic and bought the aptly-named “Jeu de rôle Grandeur Nature” (French for “live action roleplaying game”) at the GNiales.
Jeu de rôle Grandeur Nature
This DVD is, to my knowledge, available only in French, but does feature a rather good look at what a large French heroic fantasy game may look like. “May”, because I have never played one in France and because it is just not my kind of game. From setting to races to a rule system with damage calls, it still looks a bit too Monster Camp for me. I usually call such games “daddy’s larps” meaning this is how most games must have looked like in the late ’80s and early ’90s (with worse-looking weapons obviously). Thus, with such a general title, I would have loved to have a smaller, one-shot larp set in the modern day also presented on screen. Luckily, both the game participants and members of the French larp federation get to talk about other styles of larp, but it would have been nice to show alternatives for people who are allergic to elf ears. Another pet peeve of mine was the constant use of video games “special effects” added on top of live images, as well as tabletop rpg esthetics throughout the documentary. I understand that more people play video games than larp, so using this “visual language” makes explaining things easier. But I am still not convinced by the need to show 3d animations of 8-sided dice during each episode. The “director’s cut” included in the DVD is a bit less “made for TV” and does a better job at following the plot and showing more roleplaying scenes, so kudos for that one. Beyond comments from a friendly sociologist and a like-minded psychologist, this documents explains pretty clearly how things can work in a classic larp, how magic can be handled, or how much work goes into the organization of such an event. The players get ample time to explain why they larp, what is cool about it, to talk about their character and it was quite fun to see people onscreen that I had only met in a Star Wars larp, at cons or in a larp comedy webseries.
In a way, these DVDs confirmed to me that larp just does not translate well to the big screen: it is neither theater nor a movie, and can look pretty lame at times. But they also showed that a professionnal team that understands what it is filming, collaborates with the organizers and really embeds itself in the game can succeed at conveying a sense of what the game was like, given enough means. The number of cameras, their locations and the tight editing gave these documentaries a sense of scale and an efficacy I had never seen in amateur larp videos produced by local larp groups themselves.
So a positive viewing experience overall. Knights of Badassdom and The Hunt are on my radar screen, but suggestions are always welcome.
Tags2013 afroasiatik burlesque conquest of mythodea convention critique défi XVIIIème english français french french larp gn gniales gnidee hip-hop huis clos jdr jeu de rôle jeu de rôle grandeur nature knudepunkt knutepunkt kung-fu lacepunk larp le four fantastique murder party mythodea nodal point nordic larp old news orc'idée podcast radio roliste rap review roliste sk2012 solmukohta steampunk stim suisse swiss larp switzerland thomas b. XVIIIème