The term “LARP” (live action role playing) encompasses a variety of games. Most people generally think of medieval fantasy LARPs. While there are many such games inspired by fantasy literature like “Lord of the Rings,” there are LARPs taking place in the theoretical future, in worlds created by historically-based novels of fiction and in settings of actual wars.
By role playing actual historical events, many LARPers wish to experience and understand history through a hands-on method. Formally and informally, teachers often conduct a form of LARP in schools by asking children to play different roles in historical debates.
While historical re-enactors of all types in the United States generally dislike the insinuation that they are LARPing, many re-enactors do assume the role of a character or persona and play it out. This is generally seen as socially acceptable, especially when the re-enactment enhances public interest about historical events and ways of life. Most Americans value living history.
However, there is a great deal of cultural sensitivity. While America has its share of LARPs taking place in fantasy environments, zombie scenarios and the wild west, we seem to be lacking in historical scenarios. In Europe, groups have taken to LARPing war scenarios.
This may be partially due to the direct availability of history and its effects or a more naked determination to understand cultural identity (or the identity of another), perhaps influenced by the physical closeness of European nations and the affordable nature of travel throughout various European nations.
In America, however, this type of game seems taboo. While people are still sensitive about recent wars like Vietnam, people still fight over the necessity and outcome of the American Civil War, which happened in the mid 1800s. While some re-enactors are labeled as LARP groups due to the increase in awareness about LARPing,
It’s easy to understand why events like World War II would remain off-limits and controversial to LARPers in America or anywhere else. How could you ask someone to portray a Nazi? Would the Nazi LARPer be endangered if a non-LARP participant spied him in uniform? Surely a “pretend concentration camp” would be unethical by the standards of most.
That said, a Revolutionary War LARP, for example, might educate the players about history. The social aspect of the game could remain free-form while real historical events exert influence on characters.
American LARPers frequently express jealousy. In Europe, LARPers can sometimes play near actual castles rather than tarp forts. A Revolutionary War LARP would be able to take advantage of similar landmarks in the United States–so why isn’t it done?
There are a few likely reasons:
- Budget. It’s less expensive to toss together a fantasy outfit and you don’t have to worry about historical details. Fantasy outfits can also be more practical for female LARPers.
- Interest. There’s a lack of interest in historical LARPs the LARP community.
- Re-enacting. Those who are seriously interested in this form of role playing stratify themselves. They’re “re-enactors,” not role players, though the basic tenets are often similar in form.
Do you know of any excellent American LARPs based on wars or history? Do you think they’re appropriate? Please comment below.