Screenshot from the 1915 film Les Vampires by Louis Feuillade

Did you ever want to be beautiful, rich, charismatic, immortal and perhaps somewhat sinister? Well, why don’t you go ahead and do that – at least for a couple of hours a week.

Live Action Role Playing, or LARP (to take on the role of an imaginary character and portray him or her in a theatre-like way) might seem the world’s strangest hobbies to outsiders. Yet, with improvisational theatre becoming known and acceptable to mainstream media and the simply unknowing, LARP is getting more popular and accepted by default.

Why LARP at all?

Aside from LARPing being plain ol’ fun, it is a great way for players and game masters to express imagination as well as creativity. Costumes can be very simple or very elaborate. People spend hours of their private time to craft the perfect notebook for that one particular character. And in doing so they also happen to learn a lot about how objects are actually made.

The hobby also provides the players with the opportunity to test themselves in a safe environment. Whatever action they take, the consequences are just as fictional as the characters they chose to play. Problem solving is often a focus of those games and might even be useful in life.

For game masters, the hobby can be the mean to improve their organisational skills, having to find a location for the game, coming up with a plan on how to pay for said location, getting people to hand in character sheets and background story, negotiating with players so that eventually both background and the stats make sense, how to pass on which information, create an interesting story that most players will be able to enjoy, getting people to cooperate, etc.

Why play a fang?

While ordinary fantasy games usually (seriously, I stress that!) focus on the good guys, vampire games focus on the darker aspects of life. After all they do crave blood and not every victim lives to tell the tale. Best yet if they don’t. As a vampire, you are bound to overstep boundaries not only of the law, but also of a moral kind. What happens to the psyche of a character when he realises his lust for blood just got someone he actually may have liked killed? Not to mention the psychological stress of becoming more of a monster every night. And how does one dodge the ever present bullet of the law, with the police constantly breathing down the vampire’s neck? Over time the player is bound to become more and more inventive to figure out strategies of how to conceal his actions and perhaps maintain some small level of humanity. The latter being a particularly hard task.

As a vampire you get to be dark for a change. You get to be mean. People around you will do the same – and everyone involved knows and agrees to that. And at the end of the night, nobody will hold that against you, but rather have a good laugh and talk about this scene or that for the next couple of weeks! Why is that a good thing? Because on one hand you can try things out. On the other hand – and I do think this is undervalued almost everywhere – people sometimes need to be mean in some way or form. However, there is hardly any socially acceptable form of doing that. You’re not supposed to cheat at a game; you’re always supposed to cross the street when the lights are green; you have to smile at your boss, no matter what he throws at you; you can’t even roll your eyes. However, playing a vampire you officially get to deceive people. You get to have a place for your personal mean streak, as long as it’s always just the character interacting with his surroundings.

Unlike most fantasy settings, vampire gaming often is a player vs. player environment. As mentioned before, the game gives the player an opportunity to test their skills, test social interaction without having to fear the outcome. More so he gets to do this in an adversary surrounding, of course only on the game level. Out of character cooperation and trust has to be a given. This helps the player deal with adverse situations and perhaps develop better coping strategies for life, seeing as they were tested before in the game. Each participant gets a chance of trial and error on how to be more thick-skinned in situations where this is utterly necessary.

Isn’t all that kind of dangerous?

Critics of LARP often view it as being a form of escapism. Worried parents may think that it lures their kids, by now young adults, into a life of crime and violence because both may become subjects in the game. They think that thinking about such topics brings their kids closer to actually committing crimes themselves. And have not heard that one enough on the news.

Following the same logic, reading crime novels would be just as bad. And every actor who played a gangster would necessarily end up as one, seeing as playing a character in many cases means emotional investment on part of the actor.

I would offer this idea: escapism yes or no – I dare say every hobby is a form of just that. As is the case with many things people enjoy (beer anyone?) it can be a good thing when consumed in measure. It might end up being a bad thing if you do the equivalent of drinking several litres a day.

Ultimately, as with so many things, people need to be responsible. Remember that this is a hobby. Remember that social life still involve people other than your fellow players – even your parents or kids. But there’s a lot of fun to be had and lots of lessons to be learned – about yourself, about other people and about just how you can live a better life.

Interested, but not quite there yet? Never fear. There’ll be more articles on the general subject, giving you insight on possible rule sets as well as showing you how a vampire group can work and, if possible, how to find one you can be part of!