LARP’s secret weapon

Incidental exercise, community bonds, and live action role playing.

Written by Tim McGuire

Traditional forms of exercise aren’t for everyone. Just the thought of a treadmill, Pilates class or HIIT session is enough to make some people sweat, people for whom finding the time to go to the gym is only half as hard as finding the motivation.

Sammy Owen is one of them.

“I’m the type of person who hates doing exercise if I know I’m doing it,” Sammy, 37, admits. “When I played netball as a kid, I really liked the team aspect of it, but I dreaded knowing I’d be going out there to run around for 40 minutes. I did a bit of rowing here and there too but again, it just always felt like exercise.”

It took Sammy years to find her niche; conventional sports weren’t going to cut it. Now, the Sydney-based senior project coordinator is exercising every week – often without even realising it.

“My mother likes to call it incidental exercise.”

“When I’m LARPing, and I’m running around with my friends and we’re just having fun, I don’t even realise I end up running 5km,” Sammy says. “And I don’t think about the fact that I’m doing squats and lunges, or dips and dodges, and using every muscle in my body. My mother likes to call it incidental exercise,” she jokes.

Sammy participates in live action role playing (LARPing) every Friday night at an event hosted by Battlecry, a medieval-inspired LARP. After an initial debrief, players compete against each other in costume while working through a unique game scenario, like holding a base or escorting another player from Point A to Point B. That’s where the workout happens.

A typical Battlecry event can involve multiple training sessions with foam swords or other weaponry, as well as two or three rounds of play on the battlefield. It’s more of a workout than netball ever was, but Sammy doesn’t even notice.

“A lot of first timers say they’ve just come to watch but as soon as we give them a sword and they do one sparring round, they’re hooked,” Sammy says. “If you’re thinking about LARPing: just do it. Come on down, we’ll look after you, we’ll put a sword in your hand, we’ll even put a costume on you. You’ll absolutely love it. There’s a real sense of community here.”

It’s this sense of community that Tadd Lyons, 28, was hoping to create when he founded Battlecry in 2018. Having moved from Melbourne where he’d been an active member of the LARP scene, Tadd arrived in Sydney and discovered the sport wasn’t nearly as established as he’d expected. Not one to be discouraged, Tadd started his own.

“It becomes a bit of a lifestyle.”

“The activity is awesome fun but it’s nothing without the people,” Tadd says. “The community you’re involved in is what keeps you coming back. It becomes a bit of a lifestyle.”

Like Sammy, Tadd had always found there was something missing from traditional sport. For Sammy, it had been a way to disguise the exercise as something else. For Tadd, it was a lack of community.

“I’ve always been an avid sportsman,” Tadd says. “I play ice hockey every weekend, two games a week, plus training. I’ve done that since I was 14. But I never hang out with the other players outside of the game. It’s a pretty transactional relationship. LARPing couldn’t be more different. It feels a lot more like a family.”

Tadd, an early childhood education specialist, is passionate about fostering this sense of family and community spirit. Once the training rounds are done and the battles have ended, he puts on a sausage sizzle dinner for Battlecry’s participants to enjoy together. According to Tadd, that’s where most of the social connections are forged.

“A lot of people who are into gaming and that sort of thing don’t have a lot of community around them,” Tadd explains. “I modelled Battlecry very closely on the experience of certain video games so that it would draw in those people and pull them towards a much healthier culture of regular exercise and social interaction.”

Asked about the type of crowd Battlecry attracts now, Tadd has his answer ready to go: all sorts. Lawyers, doctors, chippies, sparkies, members of the defence force, architects, people who work in customer service, people who work from home – everyone. Battlecry’s youngest participant is 14; they’re oldest just turned 70.

Sammy is quick to echo Tadd’s sentiment. “You don’t need to be a certain kind of person to participate, we’re very welcoming,” she says. “You just find your people here.”

There’s more than one way to Live Better

How do you live better? Is it by live action role playing, listening to heavy metal music, or something else? Whatever it is, eligible Medibank members with hospital or extras cover can earn points through the Live Better app just for tracking their healthy habits or their physical activity – and it doesn’t matter whether it takes place on the footy field or the battlefield. Start earning points today so that you can redeem them for rewards in the future.

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Written by Tim McGuire

Tim McGuire has written for The Big Issue, The Australian, The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings, and others. He’s written about HIV and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and lots of things in between. He lives in Melbourne.

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