Beyond Medieval Leather Armor And Nerds: A Brief LARP History

In today’s world, people have many options of how to entertain themselves.  They can watch movies, read books, play sports, go hiking, and even engage in live action role playing, more commonly referred to as LARP.  Now let’s be honest…when most people think of LARPers, they associate this activity with a group of super nerds dressed in goofy medieval leather armor and other fantasy garb frantically winging latex swords at one another.  While this train of thought is not unfounded, the truth of the matter is that we are all nerds in our own fashion and this is okay.  In fact, the concept of LARP – people assuming roles and characters to play out a given scenario – doesn’t come out of left field.  After all, isn’t this what actors do?  When it comes down to it, actors and LARPers have a lot in common – they are both interactive storytellers.  Sure, one may not wear the elven attire or medieval leather armor on a consistent basis, but both actors and LARPers essentially strive for the same goal of crafting a good story.

In recent years, LARP has seen a huge surge of popularity, but be not fooled.  The invention of LARP goes all the way back to pre-history where games like “cops and robbers”, “cowboys and Indians”, and the like were favorite childhood past times.  Moving forward, history saw a transition from childhood “pretend” to grown adults joining the fun.  This surfaced in historical re-enactments among the ancient Romans, medieval Europeans, Han Chinese, and many other civilizations.  Primarily serving as entertainment at various social gatherings, people would re-create various situations from past historical periods.  Even royalty, such as Queen Elizabeth, were known to bring in re-enactors for their delight.  In the 20th century, these were manifested in theatrical re-enactments.

Medieval leather armor

The bridge between historical re-enactments and modern-day LARP occurred in the 1960s where the Society for Creative Anachronism was founded in Berkeley, California in 1966.  Along with this organization came the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia in 1969, who held their first events at the University of Maryland.  This also may have signified the beginning of LARP medieval leather armor and latex swords, as this group’s main focus was re-creating medieval life and times.  Hints of fantasy were implemented here, but it was not yet full force.  It wasn’t until the 197s with the emergence of “Dungeons and Dragons” and other LARP groups that fantasy really struck a chord.  Once it hit, the wave moved rapidly on a national and international basis.

Not only as LARP given people a community to belong to and a recreational activity to foster creativity, it also has influenced other forms of entertainment.  Among them is improvisation which is essentially a kind of role-playing.  Evidence of this can be traced back to the 16th century Commedia del’arte stock characters that were placed in different scenarios and basically free-styled their way through them.  Modern-day examples of this would be comedy groups such as Second City and the Groundlings.  LARP also aided to the creation of Renaissance faires and other such events where people can come in their Scottish kilts, medieval leather armor, and Renaissance wardrobe and take on a character type for a day.

Indeed, LARP has a legacy that extends far beyond nerds in medieval leather armor with latex swords and at the rate things are going, it doesn’t look like it’s dying off any time soon.

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