40. If we want larp to grow, we need more genres/scenes

The other day I was at a project meeting, where we decided to expand the range of larp in Denmark. Why? The answer is a bit long. :-)

It starts with the fantasy bias. Larp doesn’t have to be set in classic fantasy worlds. There’s nothing in the form that makes the elves, orcs and mages automatically appear. Yet, for most larp cultures (the Palestinian scene being a notable exception), larp is mostly fantasy, and grew from fantasy.

I like swords and sorcery as much as the next person, but I have the firm belief that if we want to grow, we need to diversify. We need to create more different “genres”, for lack of a better word. And not on a small scale, but on a big one.

Larps vs scenes/genres

One wizard school larp in Poland doesn’t have the same impact as a global wizard school larp scene. A few zombie larps here and there are still just drops of water in the sea of boffer fantasy.

We’ve seen it done in the US larp scene(s). Vampire larp wasn’t always a thing, but for more than two decades it has. The interesting thing here is that though there’s spillover between the boffer fantasy and urban vampire scenes, it’s not exactly huge. There’s also a thriving con larp scene and a growing post-apo scene, but they're still much smaller than the two main scenes – fantasy and vampire.

In Denmark we don’t even have that. There are post-apo larps, and for a while there was even a post-apo campaign. There are vampire larps and there are zombie larps, but only a few. And there are of course larps covering the spectrum from 50's space opera to surrealist dreamland. These aren’t large scenes or genres, though. They’re just larps.

What I’m saying is that if we want to provoke big change, we need to expand our genre/scene choices. We don’t just need a Downton Abbey larp. We need a Downton Abbey larp scene. We don’t just need a sci-fi larp here or there, but we need sci-fi larps all over. We need to have 1700's campaigns, series of Rome larps and have enough Victorian steampunk larps so that the professional larp gear producers start making equipment and costumes for that.

It’s not impossible to create a genre. It is hard, and it takes effort. But it can definitely be done.

Why, you may ask?

Because it’ll make us grow and prosper. There are a lot of people out there who would turn into larpers if they found the right larps. Not just “if they found larp”, which is a phrase I hear all too often. No, if they found the right larps. Just like with any other kind of media. The difference is that we have only the thinnest selection, and it hampers us terribly.

I am sure that it’s the way to go, though. We’ll never get everyone to like high fantasy larps. We’ll never get everyone to want to play a soulless vampire. We won’t even get them all to want to go to wizard school. But the more variety we have, the better chance we have of getting people hooked.

If we create broader palettes, we can go from being small and culturally underappreciated to being something completely different. It may sound like the ravings of a madman, but as a self-proclaimed larp guru (it even says so on my business cards), a certain amount of raving is fitting. I don’t think it’s unrealistic, though.

A bright future full of variety

Consider it for a moment. Consider if we had not just one or two distinct larp genres/scenes that had a massive following, but ten. Consider if Germany – arguably the world’s biggest larp nation in terms of raw numbers – had not just its huge fantasy scene, but also the same number of people engaged in Roman larp, pirate larp, 60's larp, horror larp, romantic comedy larp, teen musical larp and time travel larp.

In the US, Dystopia Rising is showing how it’s done. They took a more or less non-existent larp genre – post-apo/survival – and built it from scratch. Now there are 15 DR campaigns, and they’re still growing. And I’d be surprised if there aren’t spinoffs, copy larps or things inspired by DR. It’s still nowhere near the size of the vampire or the fantasy scene. It’s not even in the same ballpark yet, but the most important thing is that they didn’t just get their participants from the existing larp communities.

Many of them were recruited from the outside world, thereby growing the total number of larpers in the US. And though DR is just one organisation, they’ve shown that it can be done. I hope that we’ll soon get to see the DR of Greek Mythology larps, the DR of 20's gangster larps and the DR of urban musical larps.

The only way is forward

Because we want to grow. We want to conquer. We want to spread the gospel. Because the gospel is good, and transformative and empowering. But I don’t think we’ll do that unless we open up new genres and scenes. White Wolf did it in the early 90's. Dystopia Rising is doing it right now. In Finland, the Harry Potter books and movies led to the creation of a distinct Harry Potter larp scene in Finland.

And you know what the best thing is?

We don’t have to stop doing fantasy larps. This is purely a more-is-more approach. The world is big enough to have many, many more larps in it. It just doesn’t know it yet.

It’s up to us to change that.

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