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Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games Paperback – May 1, 2012
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"Whether you thoroughly appreciate the work of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon [LARP's newly appointed overlord] or just have a mild interest in geek culture, Stark makes this world of pretend a little more real." —BUST
“Lizzie Stark takes us down the rabbit hole and into the curiouser and curiouser world of larp and shows us a place where imagination lives and breathes. Enter if you dare . . . and enjoy the ride! It’s an enlightening and wondrous journey.” —Tracy Hickman, New York Times bestselling fantasy author and game designer
“Rarely does a book so deftly crack open the everyday world to reveal the riot of imagination within. With humor, intelligence, and more than a little bravery, Lizzie Stark guides us into the vast subculture of larping, where lawyers become vampire hunters and systems analysts turn into knights. Hilarious, honest, and enlightening, Leaving Mundania reminds us how thin the boundaries are between the roles we play and the selves we believe ourselves to be.” —Stacey Richter, Pushcart Prize-winning author of My Date With Satan, and Twin Study
"Lizzie Stark isn't afraid to walk the goblin walk, talk the in-character talk, wear the make-up, and wield the boffer sword. With verve, wit and candor, Leaving Mundania provides an important contribution to the history of role-playing and gaming, and proves the cultural significance of this flourishing game/performance/medium." —Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms
“A fascinating trip through the looking glass and into the subculture of larp. Stark gives us both the magic and the humanity of live-action make-believe. And as a social historian, she incisively points to a pop-culture trend on its way from the fringe toward the mainstream.” —Samuel Freedman, author of The Inheritance and Letters to a Young Journalist
"Rich, unexpected and compelling . . . Stark’s keen observational skills and crisp writing style successfully cut through those hackneyed stereotypes to reveal the very real people who are drawn to deeply imaginary worlds."—Kirkus Reviews
"A fascinating look at the world of live-action role playing-with a book jacket that slays me."—SchoolLibraryJournal.com
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The beginning may seem somewhat off-putting to very artsy larpers, as the games described are escapism-heavy, and so appear many people playing them. But once past the initial shock, their commitment to the illusion of play starts shining through. Not only is the book an excellent foray into North-American larp (and elsewhere), it is also an intriguing bit of Americana, a testament to how people can easily adapt to strange roles, yet still remain very conservative. This too is discussed in pleasantly neutral terms and from many perspectives.
So in addition to being an extremely enjoyable read, a good document and a nice reference even for academics, Leaving Mundania deals with issues far more complex than they initially seem. It records the silly along with the very serious, and discusses the differences between the two with a clever tone. It is the most descriptive, all-encompassing book about larp and larpers on the market, and highly recommendable to anyone interested in the subject.
While giving some history and often focusing the spotlight on various notable figures in the larp community, this is essentially the author's first person account of her initial foray into a marginalized (and often mocked) gaming community that had caught her interest. My reading experience was greatly helped by the fact that I found the author to be someone I could relate to, with her admitted self-consciousness with the role playing gradually giving way to a growing enthusiasm as she discovered which types of games and in-game roles worked best for her. By the time she set out to run her own larp, I was actively rooting for her (and it helped that her larp was Cthulhu-themed, another interest of mine).
In addition to chapters about the author's foray into American larp, there are also interesting chapters about her exploration of the very different "Nordic larp." A chapter on larp-like army training, however, seemed at best tangentially related to the main thrust of the book and seemed like filler to me.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read from an engaging author. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in larp or role-playing games in general.
Lizzie Stark, however, has done her homework and it shows. Initially a confused outsider, she spends a few years participating in larps, and so can speak as an insider, one who has actually experience on the "inside". Her account is honest and funny at times. The unique personalities and diverse profiles of larpers is explored; instead of relying on stereotypes, she shines light on how many diverse walks of life people come from. One gets the sense of just how diverse larping is in the geographically disparate United States.
Both the good and bad parts of larping are honestly depicted. The "satanic panic" from the '80s and '90s is covered objectively. Moreover, larping is an inherently social activity and human drama is inevitable. Stark encounters a lot of the same problems in the larping group she is embedded in, which any experienced larper can identify with.
Leaving Mundania also goes into the various iterations of the hobby. The history of larps is explored (somehow I was not at all surprised to learn that Queen Elizabeth I was a hardcore larper), as well as the non-entertainment applications of larping (not many people know that the CDC and the US military have run larps for practical purposes). The chapters on the Nordic Larp scene have perhaps been of the greatest interest to many of the people I've talked to. The reputation of Nordic Larps has been rising in recent years as extremely high quality and stylistically unique larps. Stark travels to Knutepunk and is able to provide us with a look into this unique scene. In fact I've heard figures in the Nordic Larp scene describe Leaving Mundania as an excellent beginner's introduction to a lot of the ideas of "Jeepform" games.