Lizzie Stark blew my mind. I used to say that Nordic Larp was the best book about larp and Organiser une murder party en 6 étapes the best pdf (how to organize a small one-shot larp). I just finished reading Leaving Mundania and now I need to add a slot up there to form the Holy Trinity of Larp Books.
What it’s about
For several years, independent journalist Lizzie Stark (of Nordic larp talks and Solmukohta fame to the readers of this blog) immersed herself in the US larp culture, from joining a fantasy boffer campaign to attending several theater-style convention games. She writes about these events in a great combination of a factual and balanced account of what actually happened both in game and out of game, and of her own feelings during the experience. In between, she also takes the time to describe a few larpers: where they come from, why they larp, how the look, speak etc. Her writing is so evocative it quickly dismissed my initial gripe about the absence of photos in the book. I could really picture the games and the people described, sometimes evoking the same type of sadness and despair I felt when watching documentaries about US larp. So great writing overall, and décolletage now joins the ranks of double entendre in the list of «shit Americans say that the French have never heard of».
Leaving Mundania is immensely superior to Darkon or Monster Camp in its fair treatment of the subject, its scope and thoroughness. Lizzie covers both the positive and negative aspects of larp, fully diving in and keeping a friendly open mind, neither dumb cheerleader not demeaning prosecutor. She went beyond the obvious and also attended a US military war simulation facility, making every larper envious to run a modern day game in it (they even have massive smell generators!). She talks about Tudor-era larp-like activities, how corporate larp is used for team building and simulation, thus expanding the scope of anyone who thought this was only people beating each other with rubber swords or goths playing rock-paper-scissors. She manages to find structure in all of this, makes chapters that are detailed enough to be representative and short enough to not be boring, ending them with a segway that takes the reader to a completely new direction while still holding their hand. And the info always comes with references, names, places, dates, actual fact-checking, i.e. something that has greatly been missing in larp journalism, especially when it gets emotional and personal.
The killing blow for me was how much I could identify with her experience. Even though I was already an experienced roleplayer when I arrived in the US, her account of not knowing what to do or how to interact with the high-power characters in Knight Realms exactly mirrors my experience in Always Comes Evening, the San Francisco Vampire larp campaign. With a few years and thousands of kilometers distance, we both hand no fun in combat and decided to make an in-game newspaper (I wrote Harpy Reports) to give ourselves stuff to do, a service to the game and an excuse to talk to people. In both instances, our articles raised some trouble, thereby creating plot for us. There are many other similarities, like a preference for games where characters are connected to each other before game, where the action starts «right now» etc. Even when I did not experience the same thing (e.g. I had not participated in A week in Denmark, hence was fully rested when I attended Knudepunkt 2011), I know a Frenchman who went through exactly the same life-changing experience that year, fueled by sleep deprivation and exposure to completely different people and new styles of games. And used the same words (but in French).
To infinity and beyond
This Nordic last part of the books is pure fireworks. First it shows Lizzie did not limit herself to the US, which is already quite something. But in addition, instead of pointing fingers at «those crazy vikings» (like I often do), she treats the subject of Nordic larp with the same combo of objectivity on what happens, what works and what doesn’t and subjectivity of her experience going through it. She puts it in perspective with the games she played in the US and ties it all together in her conclusion, meaning both American and European larpers will benefit from reading Leaving Mundania. Over the past years, I have been working hard in the French-speaking larp world to share my experiences in the US and in Scandinavia. I’ll keep on doing it and will work more on bringing French-speaking stuff to the rest of the world (e.g. larps in France and Switzerland are neither like the US nor Nordic). But whenever someone will ask me for a book about larp in general, I’ll say «can you read English? There, try Leaving Mundania».
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