Most of the time, Scout Boxall, 25, works as a court transcriber in Melbourne. A few dozen times a year though, Scout disappears.
“It started when a friend invited me to come and fight at a weekly Friday night battle, and it sort of kept on from there,” Scout recalls. “I thought, ‘This is fun, and a bit silly’. Then I started going every couple of weeks and I realised [live action role playing] is actually amazing.”
For the uninitiated, live action role playing (or LARPing) is where participants like Scout inhabit different characters while interacting with each other in the pursuit of shared or conflicting goals, often resulting in ‘battle’. For Scout and for thousands of others, LARPing provides the kind of creative expression, social connectedness and physical exertion that you can’t find at the local gym or on the running track. They describe it as like video gaming in real life.
“When you go on a Friday night, you wear your team colours, and you bring your weapons and you fight in this sort of battle royal style,” Scout explains. “That’s what I go for. You get to hang out with your best mates on a team and compete with other people with fake weapons.”
Inspired by tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, the first LARPs were run as long ago as the late 1970s. The games themselves can range in size from small events in people’s homes lasting for a few hours to public events in much more elaborate venues, with thousands of players participating over the course of a week.
“I wasn’t really prepared for the scale that LARPing would end up playing in my life,” Scout admits, reflecting on the past two years of game play. “I’m just looking at my wardrobe right now and I think it’s literally split 50/50 between LARP clothes and real clothes.”
Who is LARPing for?
Everyone. The point of LARPing is that it doesn’t discriminate; it’s a world where anything is possible, for everyone. If traditional team sports have never been your style, LARPing can offer you something new, with just a touch of magic.
Like many others, Scout got into LARPing through a friend and their background in the performing arts, but they acknowledge that there are many alternative access points. People discover LARPing through subcultures like gaming, history, fantasy and craftwork.
“A lot of people get into it through crafting,” Scout explains. “There’s a lot of metal workers, leather workers, tailors, seamstresses… People who work with foam and latex to create weapons and monster suits.”
Monster suits are just some of the kinds of costumes you might spot at a LARP. Grizzled soldiers, Vikings and noble elves all make regular appearances, too.
“I just wanted to play a relatively normal character,” Scout says, “so I chose someone who came from the Forest of Grisenwald.” They laugh, realising what they’ve just said. “It just sounds nerdier as I say it, doesn’t it?”
Enter Elspeth, whose typical day-to-day wear might include an underdress, a dress, an overdress with a corset in it, a coif, a hat, jewellery and a livery collar—all sourced from natural fabrics and sewn mostly by hand. And that’s just the costume.
“You also have to decide how they’re going to act and what they’re going to sound like and how they’re going to hold themselves,” Scout says. “And then you start building relationships with other characters in game.”
On the battlefield, Scout trades in Elspeth’s demure get-up for something a little more practical: think joined hose for leggings, boots, an undershirt, a doublet, a breastplate, a dome-shaped helmet, gambeson (padded armour), a bow, and a quiver with some arrows. In other words, not something Scout’s ever worn to their job as a court transcriber, and a very different style of exercise wear to what you’d spot at the gym.
While they might not be clad in traditional workout gear, LARPing is as physically demanding as any gym class with participants often finding themselves on their feet and moving at a pace for hours at a time, often while clad in heavy costumery or armour. Other elements such as sword fighting require strength, balance and agile reflexes to carry off convincingly.
With an Australian study from 2015 showing that that each 1,000-step increase per day reduced the risk of dying prematurely of any cause by 6%, with those taking 10,000 or more steps having a 46% lower risk of early death, the health benefits of running into battle once a week are undeniable. Who said you needed a treadmill to get your steps in?
Scout’s first weekend-long LARP was one called Black Powder and Bloodlines, which they describe as being a “late Renaissance, explorer, frontier colonialism kind of LARP at a low fantasy setting.”
“It was incredible because you’re in character the whole time, from when you wake up in the morning to when you fall asleep at night. It was a very intense experience.”
Then, at a yearly event called Swordcraft Quest, Scout and around 2000 others converge for a six-day long LARP. It’s one of the more extravagant LARPs, hosted in elaborate medieval village complete with a tavern and a casino. And, of course, battles twice a day.
“I went to my first one at the beginning of 2019 and it was just the best week of my life. It’s basically like a music festival for nerds.”
These longer events give participants the chance to completely immerse themselves in the community they’ve built throughout the year, or in some cases, over many years. It’s this unique and tightly bonded social connection that keeps Scout coming back.
“It’s so beautiful,” Scout says. “You spend a week camping in period tents, and you sit around a fire, and you make food for basically your extended family. Then you all feast together at the table at night, and you’re all in beautiful clothes that you love and that you made from scratch.
“It strips away a lot of the daily grind. Everyone’s phones are off the whole time, so you can really just get into tune with your body and the people you care about.”
People you care about, that is, unless they’ve crossed you on the battlefield earlier that day.
If you want to get involved in LARPing, Scout suggests following a couple of LARP pages on Facebook and keeping an eye out for events in your local area.