Time to pretend

Winnipeg LARPers on breaking the limits of immersion

Chery Lovell-Simons (third from left) and Kayla Doerksen (far right) are enthusiastic live-action roleplayers and members of Etherworld LARP. (Supplied photo)

Some people are taking a more practical approach to media escapism, beyond video games or virtual reality. After all, it’s hard to say if technological progress will ever outstrip the power of imagination.

LARP, short for live-action roleplay, is a hobby much like tabletop and digital roleplaying games, but with characters and events being portrayed in real life.

“It’s basically a combination of an escape room that you can never escape from, a tabletop RPG, cosplay, costuming theatre and hitting people with weapons that don’t hurt,” Chery Lovell-Simons says. They founded Etherworld LARP, a private live-action roleplaying group.

“Particularly with Etherworld, we like to tailor it to the players out of what they’ve created for themselves. You show up, do puzzles, fight monsters ... LARP is a secondary fantasy lifestyle.”

Lovell-Simons, who has been active in the LARP scene for the better part of six years, established Etherworld LARP with a small brain trust of friends, including co-founder and world master Kayla Doerksen, and a lot of free time on their hands.

“It’s such a labour of love,” Doerksen says. “Everything has to be made. Everything has to be bought. Everything has to be organized and booked and planned, and that’s a lot of time and effort. But on the flip side of that coin, it is so good. It is unlike anything else. It’s creating a movie with your friends every weekend.”

“We were already world masters with Soldat, a science fiction LARP,” Lovell-Simons says. A world master is responsible for creating and maintaining lore, as well as designing games. “You’re the conductor of the train and make sure that everything runs on time and no one’s left behind.”

Etherworld takes a high fantasy approach to the hobby, citing influences from video-game franchises Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls and The Legend of Zelda.

A burgeoning global subculture, Lovell-Simons notes the regional distinctions that preclude any two LARPs from being the same.

“Each LARP all over the world generally has their own lore, own rule sets,” Lovell-Simons says. “People in Australia, it’s very combat-focused. Their biggest complaint is we can’t hit people hard enough. In Europe, you would see LARPs that are more grand scale ... it’s all about the realism.”

“There is Bicolline in Quebec where they have an entire city built that you can actually rent cabins to stay in, you can own property in the town to build on. It brings in probably thousands of people,” Lovell-Simons says.

Etherworld LARP strives for an inclusive atmosphere, with accessibility for disabled LARPers and a mainly 2SLGBTQIA+ membership that Lovell-Simons jocularly attributes to their theatre backgrounds.

“We take things a little bit slower, because it is all about the story. We have players with asthma. We’ve always tried to add more accessibility into games, because there are people who don’t want to be hit but still want to help,” Lovell-Simons says.

“I think it’s one of the only places in life you can get 100 per cent engagement,” Doerksen says, “where you’re not checking your phone or thinking about this or that or ‘should put this in the oven?’ Where you’re absolutely involved in it.”

Visit etherworld.ca for more info.

Published in Volume 77, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 24, 2022)

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