Far too many people regard the word “LARP” as insulting. I don’t find it insulting at all. It is descriptive. It is not a pejorative, unless the person objecting to the term is representing himself and his society as something other than a LARP.
LARP is actually an acronym and not an independent word. It starts for “Live Action Role Playing,” and ” is a form of roleplaying where the participants physically act out their character’s actions.” There are a lot of variation in its description and definition, though these variations do not differ as substantially from Living History, and I don’t think that the term “character” is essential, although the term is very close to “persona” or “impression.” In some minds, if you have an alternative name, a backstory, a title and powers (that is, powers not attained from natural abilities but granted by the entity running the LARP), you have a character. I’m not certain, but that is a matter we can deal with in a later column!
The term actually is dependent on what participants want to do. On what they concentrate. Why they joined and participate in that society. It might be an obviously fantasy- and magic-based society—like Nero or Dagorhir or even Dungeons & Dragons—and even then there are some practitioners who get protective of their image and refuse the term. There are others which are more realistic—I have dealt before with the difference between high and low fantasy—but which still are driven by the definition as set forth above. Take away these components, and there is no reason to have that society!
The difference is not a set of rules; everything has a rule of some sort. The difference, I think, is whether it has a set of authenticity regs. The fact that a society has authenticity regs of some sort—something more specific than merely requiring an “attempt” (not even a reasonable or earnest attempt) at period costume—although these regs differ not only in interpretation but often in what is required. A generic reasonable attempt (as interpreted by whom? Obviously authenticity regs usually require AOs of some sort)? An ability to point to specific physical artifacts from the time? As I noted before, that is up to the society and its members. There is no need to be involved with a society when you do not agree with its regs. That is unfair to you…and to the society and to its other members!
However, it seems to me that the existence of authenticity regs can indicate that the society is not merely a LARP, but their existence does not determine the opposite. Is serious Viking Age—or any era—reenacting a LARP? It certainly could be, and I think it depends on what that society or those participants want it to be. If wanting to make things as accurate as possible according to the society’s authenticity regs is one things; and if there is LARPish factors—for example, a member who emulates a specific historical individual—contained within those requirements, then I would have no problem calling it a LARP.
And would not be consider that using such a term is a put down at all!
There is a popular concept among many renactors and many folk who call themselves reenactors without understanding what the term means. These are people who are not interested in experiencing and portraying accuracy. It is called the Ten-Foot Rule (or at times the Ten-Inch Rule or the Ten-Yard Rule or, for all I know, the Ten-Mile Rule.
I am not here speaking of the ten-foot rule that was invented by Sam Walton. Rather, I am using the term as conscripted by the reenacting community. Roughly speaking, it says that if you get within ten feet of someone and he does not look like an absolute farb, that is enough.
Find something to be proud of. Ignore or accept anything that isn’t. Wear polyester. Ignore inappropriate spex. A few folk go so far as to say “No one will notice those sneakers because they are black…”
Don’t get me wrong. Living history will always be an illusion. If you cannot see it, if it does affect your historical silhouette, if you feature proper fabric and proper sewing and proper metal, it does not matter. If you are wearing Rupert the Bear underoos, I don’t care as long as the MoPs do not see them. However, when you wear them beneath a kilt and when you die, the kilt flies up around your neck, then I care.
There are, of course, societies that endorse the ten-foot rule. Fine. Hopefully they will recognize the image they are presenting, even if I have to spend more time defending my society’s accuracy and comparing my group’s standards against theirs. And I will, of course, not play in those societies. That is not what I am trying to do, what I endorse. Hopefully, such a person will not be playing with and intermingled with my society, and people will not be confused by the presentations..
When I look at someone who is farby from my society, I can only think that this person is representing me. A knowledgeable MoP will see him and think that everyone in the society has lax standards. A society is judged not by the aspirations of its members or even by its best presentation; it is judged by its worst.
So when someone defends or proposes the ten-foot rule, don’t be surprised by the look on my face. Just do not do this and ask me what I think of it. I don’t think you would like my answer…
Authenticity Regs—what members of your society is allowed to make kit from–vary from society to society. Some are stringent, and some are very lax…some might say non-existent, and they might vary—usually in details for societies interested in extreme authenticity—but they help to coordinate the appearance of participants. For an example of what Authenticity Regs might contain, see Regia’s Authenticity Regulationsm which were originally written down by Gary Golding as society Authenticity Officer and then revised by his successor, Gavin Archer. Gavin has added a second document which delineates a Authenticity Kit Guides which is mainly for the appearance of military items.
This being said, the is no need to critically examine anything worn by someone in another society—especially if they beg for egoboo on how swell they look—and then tell them what they have to do to bring it up to your standards or the standards of your society That is dangerously close—and perhaps in fact is—what I commonly refer to as an Authenticity Nazi.
What another society—or an individual—chooses as its authenticity regs is its concern. Members of that society have chosen to adopt and to live by them; as a friend says, what is permitted is promoted, and they do not want to be “bettered.” Smile if necessary, do not answer their questions if at all possible and, especially, do not criticize! Save the criticisms for members of your society, since they more than anything, represent you; and any farb they wear reflects back on what you do and wear. (You can use the farby wear as I do to warn members of your society to never ever never wear anything like that!)
A final note. I generally use the term “accuracy” instead of “authenticity” for most replicas and reproductions, and for a very simple matter. Years ago, at a display, a young girl came up and looked at the hardware, including a helmet. Finally she said, “Is this authentic?”
I assured her it was.
“Wowzer,” she said. “So someone back then wore this…”
My face fell, and I have used the term “accurate,” especially when dealing with MoPs, ever since!
It struck me today: If I was not doing living history, what would I be doing?
And the answer came nearly as quickly: I simply cannot imagine not doing living history of some type. I might move from one aspect—read society—to another because of politics, because of standards—or lack thereof—or because of interests—I should point out that I love Regia Anglorum, though, and it fulfills my needs very very capably—but I would find it unable to step away from living history. I study it. I discuss it. I breath it. I am surrounded by reminders. When I am not actually doing it—at events, either as a participant or as a spectator—I am doing research into things that will enable me and others to do better impressions.
Not fancy bling, not clean and sparkling clothing, not extraordinary furniture and not undocumented but convenient assumptions. Fantasy-driven cosplay simply does not interest me. It is the sum of the mundane, everyday life of some time in the past that fascinates me. Research into, attaining and maintenance of a realistic environment are essential to me if the experience is supposed to satisfy me. Any anachronisms—humorous or not—only spoil the illusion. Cinematic accuracy and not playing to details—both large and small—can be frustrating and totally disruptive. Role-playing games, fantasy titles and excessive society-protecting bureaucracy is only slightly more pleasurable to me than taking an eight-pound hammer and smashing my hand!
Now, of course, I wear historical clothing while creating that environment—that is essential to the environment. That is not the reason that I do it. That is not among the reasons that I became so interested during the ACW Centennial in the 1960s. The reasons were the little things. They still are. Those physical tokens of the past: It does not matter if they are reproductions or exact re-creation or authentic. They set my heart to pattering and puts a smile on my face. Knowing the histories of notable, famous and extraordinary men does not appeal to me as much as the histories of the common man. I collected maps, charts, books, kepis, coins, all the small bric-à-brac that gave me an idea—and a feel—about the past. My roots as a reenactor stems from those days, when I collected the ephemera of living in the past, and dressed—with the help of my grandmother—in the fashions of an earlier time to play with the items collected but did not realize that this was living history. But I liked it, wanted to do it and got involved in it as soon as I could.
Of course, I was not a good reenactor in those days. Research was watching a film. Academic books were generally left un-consulted. Old and outdated books were accepted uncritically. Polyester was as good as wool. Aluminum was a suitable substitute for more precious period metals. WFA-sized belts, over-sized bling and anything black were cool, dude! Suede, plywood and cotton were natural fabrics and so perfectly legitimate to use when I became a little more critical and discerning. I still had much to learn, both individual facts and how to find them, and my approach gradually changed. I was embarrassed by my earlier philosophy and earlier attempts, but living history is an evolutionary process. It just took a while for me to realize this and even longer to accept this.
Today, I’m better. My clothing is more accurate, I think, though I am still working on designs to make them still better (ie, more accurate, since that is my goal). They are worn and are lived in; they are ordinary work clothes, neither a Hollywood costume nor the cosplay attempt preferred by at least one society. I am surrounded by accurate reproductions of furniture from the age, of tools from the age, of actual artifacts from the age. I trust I will get better, that I will learn more and that what I think I know will be altered.
But I know—know—that my interest in living history is not going away!