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Once upon a time, everyone fit into conveniently defined stereotypes — the jocks played football, the drama queens acted in plays and the geeks holed up in their basements to drool over World of Warcraft. If you didn’t fit into one of these cliques, you were destined to be a misfit.

Thankfully, a social phenomenon has occurred since these dark ages that, while often misunderstood, deserves our respect.

Live action role playing is an alternative to traditional pastimes like sports, theater or high-def XBox 360. Growing in popularity since the latter part of the 20th century, it involves a number of participants (LARPers) acting out (LARPing) a combat scene (a LARP) with fake weapons. Got it? LARPers LARPing in a LARP.

At Penn, we pride ourselves on acceptance and claim to abide by the tenet that you can learn something from everyone. So, in true columnist fashion, I’m here to tell you why students should give LARPers the time of day.

Contrary to popular belief, LARPing is about much more than ex-gamers living out heroic fantasies. For many LARPers, LARPing in a LARP can be a spiritual experience. Tom Cantine, who focused his Philosophy masters thesis at McMaster University on LARPing, wrote in an e-mail, “Good roleplaying, like any artistic medium, challenges us to look deeper into ourselves and others, and can provide insights that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

When I spoke to Aaron “Shaggy” Hoffer-Perkins who rallies about 60 LARPers every Saturday in Clark Park for capture-the-flag games with foam swords, he too emphasized the deeper values of LARPing.

Spoken like a true modern-day LARPing guru, Hoffer-Perkins made a point to emphasize the importance of solidarity among LARPers. He likened the practice to improv theater.

“LARPing is like an archetypal representation of the world,” Hoffer-Perkins said. The goal, he added, is for everyone to act out a role together in order to create a realistic scene.

With a giant foam sword slung over his shoulder, 10-year-old Patrick, a Clark Park regular, said to me, “My favorite times are when me and one other guy have an awesome duel, not when I’m running through enemy lines.”

Life lessons aside, LARPing can be the glass slipper for those who fell through the cracks somewhere between ballet and wrestling. Hoffer-Perkins explained how LARPing and capture the flag appeal to a specific niche of people who don’t identify with sports culture and also aren’t outgoing enough to enjoy pure theater. “We get a mix of people from all over the city,” he said.

Take a look at the motley crew assembled in Clark Park and it’s easy to see that LARPing does indeed build community. The players range from pee wee to middle-aged and aren’t dominated by any one neighborhood or race.

Plus, LARPing can be legitimate exercise. Epic Adventurez, a company that directs LARPing competitions in Philadelphia and puts on summer camps for capture the flag, etc., has a saying, “Get out of the video and into the game.”

Elaborating on why LARPing shouldn’t be viewed as an unhealthy hobby, Cantine wrote, “LARP is probably a little healthier even than competitive sports, socially and psychologically.”

When you keep in mind the danger of sports like hockey and the inactivity of hobbies like Halo, LARPing suddenly seems like Goldilocks’ porridge, juuust right.

So since I know Penn students are always eager to add another extracurricular to their busy schedules, perhaps a Student Activities Council-funded LARPing club isn’t that far off. And if you can’t find your foam swords and plastic shields in your messy dorm, at least show some respect the next time you see LARPers LARPing in a LARP. Appreciating the value of a good LARP, even from a distance, could be a happily ever after.

Kensey Berry is a College sophomore from Little Rock, Ark. Her e-mail address is Berry Nice appears on Tuesdays.

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