Lizzie Stark of elizabethstark.com has made the foray into LARPing; her new book, Leaving Mundania was just released. I haven't had the chance to read it yet, but my copy is ordered, and hopefully shipping soon. I just discovered Stark's blog, and I'm interested. All this being said, my anthropologist alarm is beeping. My concerns are below, but I encourage everyone else to voice their reactions as well. (Also, please forgive the plunge into anthropological method and theory. I work with what I've got.)
Lizzie Stark, and please correct me if I'm wrong, has LARPed for 18 months. In that time period, she has conducted some fantastic journalism, interviewed intelligent people, and participated in really interesting events. However, 18 months seems like a really short turn around for LARP. Having LARPed now for about 3 years (in Accelerant), I still, as an academic and a player, wouldn't feel comfortable writing an article on it. Why? I'm only just now starting to get a grasp on what makes LARP tick. That's taken three years of PCing, NPCing, staffing, blogging, and researching LARP. Stark is maybe just a different academic than I am, but I can't help but wonder if she's gone for breadth rather than depth. (In fairness, she spent 3 years on the book. That's standardish fieldwork time, I spose.)
My second issue... Stark seems to advocate expanding the definition of LARP to a broader range of activities. She puts "larp" in historical perspective, and categorizes a wide array of activities under the umbrella category of "larp." (I'm all for putting LARP in historical perspective, though I don't know that I'd categorize those activities as directly comparable to modern day LARPing. We run into the same problem with archaeology and comparative ethnography-- historical comparisons can trivialize the individuality of the extant community.) I'm undecided on whether or not this is a good idea. LARPers are part of a stigmatized community. While expanding the definition of LARP to a wider range of activities may make LARPing more palatable to a popular audience, it also risks sacrificing the integrity and nuances of individual LARP games. For instance, Accelerant and NERO, while both LARPs, are wildly different from one another in system, character motivation, and experience. How different then is an Accelerant LARP from some of the examples that Stark presents? Does it do justice to the individual games and players to lump them into an umbrella category? Again, I haven't read her book, so I don't know just how large her definition is. This is mostly gleaned from her blog and interviews. But I'm interested. And really curious about Nordic larps.
My third issue... and Chris Wilkins helped me articulate this: LARP is about LARPers. One of my biggest problems with writing about LARP academically is that it is a fully immersive experience that, in many ways, is meta-cultural. It is best represented by the people who LARP themselves (hence this blog). I get that journalism is all about representing others, but I'm a collaborative anthropologist. Not a journalist. I just have this feeling that she is an outsider looking in. I'm reading over her blog now, I feel like she has some really interesting questions and points, but is still kind of just scratching on the surface of LARP.
This is a cursory look at Stark's work, and I'm interested in learning more about her methods. As an anthropologist, I'm immediately concerned that she hasn't spent enough time in game. I also explained my larger concerns about extending the word "LARP" to a broader definition. Once I read the book, which I'm excited to do, I'll have a better feel, but these are my, admittedly, knee-jerk reactions. I do, however, need to wholeheartedly commend Stark on being respectful of LARPing as a whole-- she's definitely doing her part, from what I can do, to challenge many of the preconceptions about LARPing. And for that I really congratulate and thank her. I don't think Stark intends for her book to be comprehensive nor definitive. I have some concerns, but, if nothing else, it's a good starting point for future writers.
I hope to get the LARPcast fellows and a few other people involved in a roundtable discussion of the book. If you're interested, please let me know.