Should anyone have to explain being a 'larper'?

  • 3 April 2014
Jake Rush and his wife dressed as Superheroes

Jake Rush, a potential Republican candidate for Congress in Florida, has defended his participation in live-action roleplays (Larps). What does the case say about perceptions of the hobby, asks Aidan Lewis.

Rush was recently "outed" as being part of a roleplaying group, the Mind's Eye Society. Images have been circulated of him wearing black contact lenses and heavy make-up while posing as a vampire. There were also reports he was a leader in a group called the Covenant of the Poisoned Absinthe.

Rush responded by putting out a statement with a picture of him and his wife dressed as superheroes, saying he'd "never hid nor shied away from disclosing my hobby activities". It's "kinda nerdy", he acknowledged, but "bottom line - there is nothing wrong with being a gamer".

Larping has been spreading since the early 1980s, and is most popular in North America and northern Europe. There are various settings, including fantasy, science fiction and horror - and various styles. Some Larps involve battles in woods with latex weapons, others are "parlour Larps" in which those taking part play invented characters in an improvised, private performance. Larpers say the activity is creative and liberating, but lament that they've long been the subject of misperceptions.

"It can be very hard for people on the outside to look in and understand it," says Thomas Miller, creative director at Larping.org. It doesn't help that "Larpers do look silly and can do silly things. And sometimes taken out of context those things can be really destructive to the people that are involved."

Sarah Bowman, an academic and long-time Larper, says the stigma "originates from the fact that we're supposed to stop playing pretend pretty much in our teenage years". She describes Larpers as "geeks", and says they are increasingly accepted in the US and elsewhere. "We're going to see a lot less of the societal shame attached to this kind of activity in the future."

Pollster Steve Mitchell says the revelation could even count in Rush's favour. "Some voters may find it attractive," he says. "Even though his playacting is unreal, at least he's real - he's a real human being that does different things."

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