Tuesday, January 7, 2014

LARPing and the Strongman

Otherworld was founded in 1991 by four members of Quest, a Connecticut-based LARPing group. Several months after completing a particularly challenging adventure, they received a letter from one of the participants.
"It was from a woman who'd attended, and she started by saying, 'You're going to think I'm crazy, but the event you ran changed my life,'" says Kristi Hayes. "She was working in a dead-end job she hated, and she was living with her boyfriend, who from the sound of it was really treating her pretty badly. She'd sort of accepted that... this was probably about the best she could expect from life.
"And then, she said, she came and spent the weekend having all these adventures and doing all these challenging things. She was particularly afraid of any sort of public speaking, but at one point during the event, the story line took a dark turn and she had an idea about how to fix things, so she stood up in a crowed room and told everyone about it. People listened to her and followed her idea, and as it turned out, doing so saved the day.
"She told us that for a long while after coming home  from the event, she continued on with her normal less-than-stellar routine but often thought about the weekend. She thought about the person she'd been there, the one who'd stood up in front of all those people, even though she was afraid, and convinced them to listen to her. And I will never forget what she wrote about that... 'She would never put with crap like this. She would find a way to fix things... if I can do heroic things when I'm running around in the woods, why can't I do them here at home?'
"And then she did. She went out and got herself a better job and she ditched the lousy boyfriend. She'd make those changes and built herself a better life, and she felt like she needed to write to us and thank us for it. That was just amazing to me, that we'd been able to help someone reach that point. And we started thinking, 'Gosh, if this event did all that, when really our only goal going into it was for everyone to have fun, well, what would happen if we ran events where we tried to give people these opportunities?'" 
From Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt (pp. 194-195)
Curiously, "life-transforming" certifications have become very popular in the fitness industry over the past 5-10 years. As I often say here, competence precedes confidence, and a good certification gives its participants a sense of competence and accomplishment. While I wouldn't go so far as to call them exercises in live-action-role-playing ("LARPing"), the parallels are interesting to note.

Role-playing is a great teaching method. Everyone knows this on some level of consciousness, and yet it isn't used very often. Prejudices towards the teaching method are, perhaps, rooted in the common adult disdain for fantasy, and the common loss of ability to play make-believe that many kids experience as they struggle to grow up too quickly. Furthermore, the amount of preparation needed to go into creating a context rich enough to make a roleplay authentic enough to not feel strained is substantial. Under-prepare and you run the risk of having participants standing around awkwardly, unable to suspend connection to current reality ("This is cheesy"). Over-plan and you could end up with participants stiffly reading a lifeless script ("This is boring"). The key is to create structure that is flexible enough to allow and respect the freewill and contributions of the participants.

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