The Savoy Cinema Nottingham was proud to host an evening showing of Treasure Trapped (2014) on Tuesday 24 March 2015. This was a film independently brought to Nottingham by director Alex Taylor (who stars in the film), producer Shona Brown and Cosmic Joke Productions at the behest of the city’s lively live-action role-play (LARP) community. In a documentary style this film follows three unlikely, yet equally determined protagonists – Alex, Mike and Nick – on their quest to understand LARP today, and why thousands commit to “dressing as elves in the woods,” questions that local enthusiasts clearly wanted to see answered.
This journey logically begins in the UK, somewhere along the motorway, at Peckforton Castle – the revered homeland of LARP. The hobby started on this hallowed ground back in 1983, and has since grown from a mere table-top strategy game to a dynamically interactive and worldwide phenomenon. And much like the three boys, we viewers often enter this world with misleading preconceptions. We perhaps visualise the kinds of people – or “LARPers” – who would partake in such activities.
But such prejudices are soon put to shame. We voyage between destinations, and gradually discover the “fundamentally social” and powerfully “organic” nature of the hobby. It is this community spirit and sense of belonging which keeps people coming back to LARP, and it allows people to learn a great deal about themselves and others. It just so happens that they do this through often highly-fantastical, but also therapeutic scenarios in which the participant can impact both the outcome of the given plot and the immediate outcome of individual characters… Got that? No?
Well, things seem similarly complex when next we vicariously follow the boys’ confused and anxious first steps into the midst of an unexpectedly intense forest scene. A melee they are soon ferociously sucked into, despite carrying with them ‘yellow armbands’ (a talisman which had been said to infallibly protect the bearer by alerting others to the fact that they are not in character). The environment they find themselves in is exactly like a film set too: Everyone is completely submerged in the moment, and their elaborately intricate costumes compete with each other as they ready themselves to fulfil their duty.
Nobody quite knows what fate they will meet either, which leaves both the audience and the participants on edge as things repeatedly “never quite go to plan.” And at times this level of intensity really immerses the viewer. It allows us a giddy glimpse into the heady LARP experience. However, LARP is not unregulated. It has numerous, but fixed possibilities which can be skilfully manipulated in countless ways for various purposes. And these parameters are ultimately down to the decision of the (again rather film-like) director.
Having got a sense of how these things work in the UK, the second half of the documentary then heads over to Scandinavia, where LARP has become more of an educational tool than a recreational past-time. We are welcomed to Østerskov Efterskole – a college which teaches its pupils to strive for learning through role-play. Everyday subjects become integrated into the scenarios of LARP to create something enjoyable, as it is this college’s belief that “you must have fun in order to learn things.” The only institution of its kind, this school stresses the importance of measuring both knowledge and social understanding, and they seek to teach their pupils above all to empathise with others.
Following this international low-budget romp makes for light-hearted and easy viewing, and it also condenses everything down into a manageable two-hour chunk. Meaning that before long, you might end up wanting to take up LARP as a form of escapism too. Or just as a way to have fun and meet new people. Which is exactly what the boys set out to achieve during this film, and the results are pretty contagious.