From Iceland — Look Alive, People: It’s time to go out and play

Look Alive, People: It’s time to go out and play

Published July 7, 2024

Look Alive, People: It’s time to go out and play
Catherine Magnúsdóttir
Photo by
Joana Fontinha/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Role playing games of all sorts have made their way into the public consciousness in the last decade or two. Most people have, at the very least, heard of the concept of inhabiting a character online, around a table or even fully in costume while galavanting out in the wild. On my ambitious adventure to acquire advanced awareness of this town’s activities, I sat down with expert LARPers Bryn Galdur Kristmunds and Unnur Helga Möller to learn more about Live Action Role Playing.

“I’m probably the only person that the University of Iceland has given a bunch of money to dress up in funny costumes,” says Unnur, who wrote her master thesis on LARPing. Having done extensive field research and also partaking in the hobby for her own enjoyment, Unnur has seen the LARPing community in Iceland flourish over the years. Initially tightly bound to the realms of obscurity and under constant scrutiny, players have had to overcome a lot of stigma. Even though the instinct and desire to dress up for different events seems to be entirely natural and a lot more common than one might think. “If you think about it, a wedding is one big liminal LARP event where everyone knows the rules,” Unnur explains.

As a co-organizers of LARP events in Iceland, Bryn sees the appeal of creating characters, building their relationships and fleshing out their stories. “Instead of a miniature figure — like in tabletop games — you yourself represent your character,” they say. “It helps to be a performer, improv is a big part of the game, but it’s a lot more proactive than a play. You work together to make a story and create fun little moments — it’s a whole other level of immersion.”

I’m probably the only person that the University of Iceland has given a bunch of money to dress up in funny costumes.

Given the sheer physicality of LARP, a great deal of importance is placed on safety measures. Based on the traditions of Nordic LARP, players check in with each other before, during and after each game session (which tend to last several hours) to make sure everybody feels physically, mentally and socially safe. Different LARP stories are geared towards different types of players and different age groups. But even the ones that incorporate darker narrative themes for adult players — such as Vampire the Masquerade — are about having fun and having a safe space to explore the themes and characters, while getting to be more expressive in the drama of it all.

Ultimately it is largely about trust, and communicating with and respecting your co-players with concepts such as “playing to lift” enabling good story and character outcomes for others, and “playing to lose” setting up moments for your character to fail for the sake of a good story beat.

“Playing games will tell you a lot about a person,” Unnur says. “You learn a lot about them by playing with them. My own research has shown that kids and teens that get into LARPing tend to be more empathetic because they spend a lot of time considering the feelings of others.”

In terms of costuming, I am assured that getting into LARP is not, in fact, about having the biggest, flashiest and most detailed outfit. “Especially for the Vampire game, there is very little costume requirement, since there are so many different flavours of vampire from 18th Century Baron to 90s Chad,” Bryn explains. “It just has to make sense for the character and type of vampire. Thrift stores are your friend — you can find a bunch of flowy shirts, vests and belts. A lot of belts. Nexus also has costumes, props and weapons that are safe for LARPing.”

A large weekend mediaeval fantasy event is happening in July for more experienced players, while pushing the boundaries of what the group can organise. The “Heimar og himingeimar” costuming event will take place in Hafnarfjörður in late August, bringing together those who find joy in dressing to the nines and beyond.

Want more people doing strange stuff? Check out more of our On The Fringes series.

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