So you want to study Larpers?
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dianna Fielding. Dianna is a sociologist at Hamline University currently neck-deep in studying fans. She blogs at Sociology for Nerds.
Sociologists have been studying the unique and interesting since before there were sociologists
(back then, it was just called “philosophy” and included everything from chemistry to botany
to political science). Some sociologists have begun to expand their horizons to study new and
exciting things that, to the people they’re studying aren’t that new (although hopefully still
One of the new an exciting things that sociologists and other social scientists are exploring is
an area of study that involves nerdiness and geekery. Things like interviewing D&D players to
understand how gaming is a metaphor for real life. One of the areas that is still understudied,
however, is LARPing.
And this is very sad.
LARPing has been around for quite a while. When I was a kid, it was called “hitting the boy
next door with a stick.” We had epic adventures on the high seas, got captured by aliens, and
were thrown into full-scale war all because I had found a gnarled old tree root that looked
like a wizard’s staff. As kids, this was beyond acceptable. It was practically required. But then
growing-up had to rear its ugly head, and next thing you know hitting people with sticks isn’t
acceptable any more. In fact, you might get in legal trouble.
Unless you’re LARPing. LARPers have found sanctuary in their stories. They have discovered a
way of relaxing that intertwines physical activity, mental exercise, and social experience. Instead
of forgoing storytelling for the “adult” world, they integrated it. It is similar to Science Fiction
writers who never gave up their alien adventures, and now make a living selling their work.
LARPing is not childish per se, but the world does act like it is.
So what does this mean for LARPers? It means they face a lot of adversity. It means they have
to do a lot of convincing to get people to understand that their sport is legitimate. Many social
scientists should be salivating at the chance to study a group that struggles under adversity, and
still manages to have a good time.
But for some reason, they aren’t. This is generally a problem all around. Social scientists suffer
from real-worlditis as much as the next person. They don’t always enjoy studying D&D players,
Anime readers, and SciFi fans. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Hence, this post, to give you
the steps you need to jump into studying LARPers.
Step one: Learn your audience!
If you’ve never been to a LARP, attend one! There are LARPs of all different shapes and sizes,
across the country. You might also start by contrasting and comparing movies like Darkon and
Monster Camp, both of which offer very different portrayals of LARPing groups.
Step two: Do the research!
I’ll save you the time and link you to one article on LARPing. Check out “Live Action Role-
Playing Games: Control, Communication, Storytelling, and MMORPG Similarities” by Anders
Tychsen, Michel Hitchens, Thea Brolund, and Manolya Kavakli. It will give you a start.
There may be more, but you do have your work cut out for you in finding them (or, you know,
scroll down and read the works referenced in the piece linked to above).
Step three: Jump in!
Don’t hesitate, go for it! I’m sure you already know how to choose your methodology, so whether
its surveys, interviews, or participant-observation you should really just go for it. LARPers aren’t
scary. They’re normal people despite what society would have you believe. And that means the
normal reactions to being studied. Some will enjoy it, others will be scared, and still others will
try to drive you away. The trick is to persist.
Step four: Write about it!
Do the research and then write about it so future generations can look back. Research into
LARPing is sorely lacking, and your voice needs to be heard. If you start the ground work others
can build and advance the field of nerd studies.
And there you have it; in four easy steps you, too, can research LARPing. Just step away and
realize that LARPers are like any other group: rich and diverse, waiting with hidden information
for you, and for the world.