LARP, live-action roleplaying, is Dungeons and Dragon’s less popular sister. At least in the sense of pop culture.
While many television shows devote an entire episode to the characters learning about Dungeons and Dragons or referencing a character who has once played the popular tabletop RPG, LARP is demoted to mere visual gags. While a main character can play DnD and talk about it on a regular basis, side character or extras will show how weird they are by dressing up as a wizard with other, usually goofy-looking nerds. However, a few moderately popular films have dealt with fantasy-style LARPs.
Knights of Badassdom and Role Models, on the surface, are pretty similar films. There’s an estranged long-time love named Beth, music is featured heavily throughout the film, there are drugs, vulgarity, and an underachieving, disillusioned man who is uninterested in LARP. Knights presents itself as being a more genuine take on LARPing, but the film’s sincerity falls apart under the tiniest bit of scrutiny. The resolution is that the almost none of the characters continue to LARP, and those that do, take it to an unhealthy obsession. Role Models, however, is about trusting the LARPer to self-regulate; it’s fine to have a shared interest, and it does take over into a full obsession (as is the case with Ken Jeong’s King Argotron), but almost everyone is able to separate reality from fantasy. And, even when they can’t, they’re just being a dick.
There are plenty of things Role Models can be criticized for, but, critique of mid-naughts comedies aside, it basically understands what LARP is and how it’s played as well as enjoyed. The character ridicule the game at first, but at the end, they are participating with genuine enthusiasm. The conflict is mainly in-game and characters are punished for taking the conflict out of game. This is one of LARP’s main tenants. The game ceases to be fun when it’s taken too seriously. The point of Role Models is that it’s alright to be silly if you’re being genuine. This is exemplified in the beginning of the movie where Paul Rudd’s Danny becomes irate about Starbucks’s sizing system. The sizing system doesn’t actually affect him, but he’s either so contrarian or so fearful of buying into something that will make him seem silly that he has to avidly reject it. By the end of the film, he’s participating in the LARP and appreciating why the players can assign emotional attachment to something they know is not real.
Like with any roleplaying game, gamers can let themselves buy into the LARP and suspend disbelief while still acknowledging the silliness of what is occuring. Knights misunderstands what LARPers want. Many think it would be cool to be a folk hero, but, in practice, most reasonable people understand that life is not a game, and tales of heroism are complicated and filled with destruction. That’s the appeal of LARP. The realness of LARPing comes from the human connections you make along the way rather than the believability of the monsters. Immersion into a fantasy setting is just that–fantasy. The two who find this connection immediately leave, which is an odd twist for a movie that tries to present itself as a film for LARPers. The characters the audience is meant to connect most with don’t connect with the hobby. Only the comedic relief characters stick with the hobby, and their achievements are played for laughs–in-game notoriety being the common reward for saving the world.
Obviously, Knights is a metaphor for what LARPers experience. The horror, fighting, and interactions are simulated, and the deaths are fake. Everyone is fine at the end of the day. The monsters the LARPers fight give them agency to deal with their issues in real life (this is also a plot point of Role Models). The characters in Knights who leave the LARP have worked through their issues through the journey that occurs over the course of the movie. They return to their true interests, which are always presented as being much cooler than LARPing. For constrast, even if all of the characters in Role Models never LARP again, they would still have an appreciation for the game and an understanding of what makes it fun for the players.
LARP is easy to make fun of. So many see fantasy and roleplaying as being for children. Escapism is often seen as something to be feared–losing yourself in a fantasy world–rather than valued–becoming more confident through fantasy. Though Knights tries to prove otherwise, LARP is very real, though the weapons may be made of foam and the foes made from Halloween costumes. However, as shown in Role Models, LARP isn’t about the spectacular ending and everyone going home at the end of the weekend; it’s about the journey.