Belonging. It is a feeling that people of every walk of life strive to find and hold onto in the communities they are part of. It is an essential part of happiness for most people. And when you’re a part of some of the groups that don’t necessarily fit into what society deems ‘normal’, finding it can be really difficult and even scary.
A few years back, I decided to try boffer LARPing – live-action roleplaying with foam weapons- for the first time. With some encouragement from friends I decided to try a group called Underworld LARP Jericho and went into my first event nervous. Nervous about being a girl. Nervous about bringing my girlfriend. Nervous about camping for a weekend with a group of people that the media had informed me were a bunch of rude guys shouting words at each other in a field in costumes. Nervous that I would be discriminated against for being one of few (if any?) girls playing, like I’d seen happen at conventions all too often.
Well, my small group of friends arrived on site, and proceeded to immediately throw all of those nervous perceptions out the window. Two years later, we still play the same characters and are enjoying being a part of this thriving and diverse community.
You see all kinds. But every single one of the people who come are treated on their own merits. I have never felt like my sexual preferences (pan, to be clear) separated me; they made it easier to get to know the large LGBT community at Underworld. I have never felt that because I was a woman I could not accomplish things, be included or be a hero. It is heartwarming to get to fight alongside paladins and clerics and warriors of every gender whether we live or die. Huddled in the dark in terror or laughing and singing around the fire. Anyone can be a noble or a Knight. Any single person can save the day. It’s a place where in and out of game the only thing that can hamper you is your own limitations and then you can know that you have a full community of people you can reach to, to help you keep going.
I want to share some quotes from people that I feel really show just how much LARP – Underworld LARP- effected their lives.
“I am honestly pleased to say that Underworld LARP is one of the most accepting communities I’ve ever been a part of. While I face prejudice in real life for my gender, sexuality, and disabilities, I have always been accepted at game with open arms. I feel welcome here.
That’s before game starts, of course. Not many people welcome me with open arms once I start playing a hotheaded barbarian who shouts at everyone.” Sam Bull
“I’ve enjoyed roleplaying with everyone and working on my social skills in a safe environment while working on my anxiety. The people have been so nice. Plus, I get an awesome story out of it which is an amazing bonus, and I get to wear cool outfits. Everyone has helped me a lot with the transition into a new environment with a whole new world for me to explore!” – Taryn Ram
“Cause, it’s just sort of something that happens. People of all kinds gravitate to larp, cause we can all be ourselves. And then slip into being other people XD” – Pauline Napast
And lastly, a beautiful quote by one of our players in Underworld LARP Kalidor that echoes the experiences of people I’ve seen here in Jericho and is a wonderful glimpse into her story:
“I’d been coming to Underworld for a few months and I had been struggling with gender identity for a long time. It was actually some community members that were super supportive and friendly that gave me the push to start LARP, as i had been to meetups but never attended a game.
After a few games I knew this was an amazing thing, where you could be who you want without fear of reprisals on a personal out of game level. And so i crossed that line a few months in. Being very self conscious (and with the express distaste of my female partner at the time) I chose to play a female Ajaunti. Using headscarves and a wig to more fully enshroud myself why still playing the gender role i wished to be. And it blew me away at the level of acceptance I received, yes there were the odd person who slipped up nouns and such but that is to be accepted in a tight knit community where almost everyone knows each other, sometimes personally.
I kept the character around and played her for dangerous games where my main would not go. And those games led me to a lot of self affirmation and belief in myself. It was during this transition of discovery and acceptance that my partner of 7 years gave me an ultimatum to stay male or leave. And the friends I made through the community stood with me and helped me be confident enough to continue, alone, but as who I am.
To further my transition, I joined the plot team as a seasonal NPC who played a variety of female roles (and some male ones if requested) which cemented my self doubts. If it wasn’t for the community of friends I had made and connected with not only would I still be in a very abusive relationship, but I wouldn’t be the proud and strong woman i am today.” – Catherine Compton
LARP isn’t for everyone. But never think that because you’re different you can’t try it and won’t love it. I think you’ll be surprised to find that we’re an amazing community of people from every culture and kind coming together to do something we love. It is a culture of people that needs more individuals of every kind! More women as paladins and fighters. More same-sex barbarians and non-binary gnomes. More elves of every colour of skin. Come out and see, try, belong. Your first event is free and we would love to have you.
- Mari Caige is an avid LARPER and Staff Member at Underworld LARP Jericho. She has been roleplaying for years and will someday have accomplished things that aren’t nerdy.