Yes, I literally moonlight as a vampire. In my early years of college it was for a few hours every other Sunday. Then in my senior year I would do it once a month on a Saturday, but only if I went into Manhattan to make it happen. Now I go to a small town in New Jersey five times a year, with around thirty other people—mostly vampires, and some werewolves and wizards thrown into the mix. For about seven hours, we’ll go through our fascinating and dangerous lives as elaborate supernatural creatures; scheming, drinking blood, going out clubbing, and trying to take over the world.
For those readers who have been to a LARP, this is probably going to be a dull and simplified explanation for you. I am by no means an “experienced” LARPer, but I have fun doing it. Take my experience with a grain of salt—where I’m from, no one knows what it is.
For those readers who don’t understand: LARP is Live Action Role Play. In some instances it’s basically a tabletop D&D game but enacted in reality, and in some instances it’s a murder-mystery dinner show. There’s a hundred different kinds in a thousand different places, but the common denominator is that you aren’t yourself—you’re a character, and you’re playing a game live and in person.
In my sophomore year of college, my good friend -- and also a bizarre Swedish transplant -- Ben asked me to join a “thing” he was starting on campus. He said this mysterious thing wasn’t a club, and it wasn’t a common-interest organization; it was a big game called Vampire: the Requiem. Ben didn’t give me any more details on it until I actually went to a meeting and set up my place as a player, and I accepted because he was my friend and I didn’t want to let him down. I really had no idea what to expect.
So there was an initial meeting where I took up a pen and wrote up my character with all the grace of a bumbling dumbass who had literally no idea what she was doing, all while Ben explained to me and fifteen other potential players how this all worked. Once we stepped into the game, we were this character. We leave our identities at the door, and basically become this fictional person we made up on the spot. It wasn’t in broad daylight, but we would interact with the world as it actually was for the most part.
I’d elected to be a young vampire, not yet corrupted by un-death. I was a German librarian with big glasses and a pencil-skirt. I thought I looked like a waitress instead of an academic, but I didn’t have any other backups for the costume. I remember being very excited and a little nervous because I wasn’t confident in my acting skills; I was a writer, not a performer. But I had nailed down an interesting and detailed backstory, and I had an accent, and I was going to be with a lot of my friends who wouldn’t judge me too badly.
I’ll always remember the way that just before game I locked eyes with my roommate, Ben’s girlfriend, who had also never done anything like this before. She was trying very hard not to crack up when she looked at me in my fake glasses, and I felt the same way sizing her up in her black and red “look at me I’m a sexy vampire” dress (which I was pretty jealous of and still am). There was no way we could take this seriously. We tried to interact with each other “in character” but ended up cracking up and walking away.
But then a few hours passed, and I started to get used to this idea that I wasn’t myself. I started to get emotionally invested in this librarian vampire I was pretending to be, and it stopped being so silly. I was suddenly involved in a treasonous plot to defect from the current regime in power, and I was flirting with danger in being found out. It really indulged the escapist in me; I was somebody else, and I was part of a huge and fascinating plot full of interesting characters and lots of intense drama.
This particular installment went on for two years, and we grew to having about twenty students playing a night. Some people had done this before, and a lot of them had no idea but were having a ton of fun. I played a handful of interesting characters that I grew to love and then got really tired of because of assorted silly accents I doomed myself to, but I was always excited for Sunday nights. I ended up going to different games in New York put on by different people outside my school, and it only got better and better.
But there’s always a negativity that follows LARP. It’s eternally stigmatized for being so fringe that it only attracts people who are so helplessly nerdy that they don’t have lives. It’s for people who don’t know how to exist in the real world so they choose to exist in a fictional one.
Needless to say that’s not true, and no one needs to read this essay to figure that out. A hobby doesn’t define a person, and there’s a thousand different kinds of people who LARP (I go to one now that’s run by a group of school teachers). But no one should be afraid of that stigma to do something as “fringe” as LARPing. Of course it’s not everyone’s cup of fictional tea, but I had no idea it was going to be mine. And now I’ve spent time living out my life as an ancient and powerful witch, a Napoleonic war veteran, an undead punk rock star, and plenty of others I’m not as attached to. I’ve met a ton of friends, and I’ve actually started a great relationship playing vampire.
It’s a way to do something different and fascinating, to make something wonderful for yourself—an entire persona—and play it out to its fullest extent. It’s the most remarkable break from the ordinary. You can be whatever you choose to be. And once you’ve become really involved, you’ll be amazed with the plots and themes you’ve created with all the other players. It’s like being a part of your favorite movie, but with no script and no extra takes.
Not much can beat the little thrill of getting gussied up before game in an elaborate costume and complicated makeup, then stepping into the shoes of a character you created for a night of intrigue and drama. So interest clubs are nice, and bar-hopping is fun, but give me a room full of vampires and I have myself a fun Saturday night.