Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Darkon Rising

Watched an entertaining documentary last night called Darkon, which follows the exploits of a LARP group on the East Coast.  LARP, for those of you not in the know, is an acronym for live action roleplaying -- i.e.: folks who dress up as knights and elves to fight pretend battles in parks and school yards.  The documentary is fairly sympathetic to the people in this group, though it doesn't try to hide the fact these LARPers are, to put it kindly, pretty odd.  My first reaction, watching the film, was a queasy embarrassment -- you know the feeling you get when you're at some kind of public event, a wedding maybe, and someone who really shouldn't decides to show off their singing voice?  You shudder; you silently plead with them, "Oh no, no, please, don't get up there, don't do that, oh no, please don't."  But they do, and you cringe on their behalf, and pretend you don't notice they're making an ass of themselves, and you pray, for their sake, that nobody has a video cam.

Well, that's how I felt as the movie introduced us to these nice, well-meaning, slightly loopy folks who make war with foam swords and duct-tape shields.  But as the film progressed, and I got to know the various LARPers and their families, I began to have another reaction.  (The queasy embarrassment didn't go away; it just faded into the background.)  I began to think these folks aren't all that weird or strange, after all.  What they do -- the way they play their game -- isn't that different from how most people committed to a hobby, a sport, or some other personal enthusiasm, pursue their interests.  Is there any difference in kind between someone who puts on a costume to battle with fake swords, and someone who puts on a uniform to play weekend baseball?  There's a park near my house, and almost every night during the summer, the baseball diamonds are filled with guys in their mid-twenties, early-thirties, dressed up in uniforms and playing baseball.  Somehow, that isn't considered strange, but putting on a hand-sewn tabard and whacking another guy over the head with a foam bat, somehow, that's thought to be weird. 

I guess an argument could be made that amateur sport clubs promote physical fitness, but something tells me keeping fit isn't the primary motive at work for these guys.  Joining an amateur sports league, wearing a uniform, playing ball -- it's role playing.  For a couple of hours once or twice a week, you can pretend you're a baseball legend.  And honestly, that's what you're doing: you're pretending.  You hit a home run, you win the game -- so what?  What difference does it make in the "real" world?  Absolutely none.  The only place it matters is inside you, in the way you see yourself.  I guess LARPing serves the same purpose for people who got picked last, if at all, for their sandlot baseball teams.  God bless 'em, I say.

Anyway, anyway, it's a very entertaining film.  Highly recommended.  Get it through Netflix, or failing that, pick it up on Amazon.  It's worth your time.

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