Sunday, March 17, 2013

LARP: Living in Myth

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it,
And look what it's done so far.
- The Rainbow Connection

One of my passions growing up was reading Greek Mythology. I've loved it since I was in third grade, telling stories about Heroes, Gods, Impossible things and explaining the world around us. To this day, I still have the copy of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths from PS 71's library on my shelf (I consider it payment for putting me through hell during puberty). My favorite Myths were the descent into darkness, the tale of Persephone's Abduction and Orpheus and Eurydice. Since then I became a de facto Classics Minor (I did not take Greek or Latin, which was the only other requirement), and I studied the works of Aeschylus, Homer, Virgil, Hesiod. I studied the Gods, Monsters and Heroes of the Golden Age.

I've also added to my library other cosmologies: the exploration of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven by Dante Alighieri, I studied Jung and his concepts of Archetypes and the process of Individuation, and the more modern fare of Neil Gaiman's Endless, of Jim Butcher's Dresdenverse, Frank Herbert's Spice Addicted Universe, Tolkien's Legendarium, the Cosmere of Brandon Sanderson, and forays into other works of Myth that explain, through some detail, the nature of man and the transformation into something greater. Through these readings, I've come to one conclusion:

Man requires Myth. Even when we don't deal in religion, we still build myth. How much of our behavior is based on the stories or actions of those we've placed higher than ourselves, like our parents or personal idols and role models? We, as a species, require information and explanation from sources outside of ourselves. Unfortunately, I was also aware that most of the Western World is bankrupt of any solid Mythological sources. Religion has been very much on the decline since the enlightenment and industrial revolution. Both Religion and Technology have taken the notion of fact, rather than Belief. And Belief is more important than Knowing the answer than believing in it to enhance their growth.

Which is where I think the geek world has taken over. With various new forms of media, each with their own set of rules and laws inherent to each system, mythologies are forming everywhere, and people are taking things out of them and adhering to them as if they were pantheons of old. People require Myths, and they will take it from wherever they come. And through the formation of groups that practice role play and scenario work, those influences become personal yet shared myths between groups.

I became fully aware of this process shortly after I joined New York Jedi, a Stage Combat group that focuses on the universe of Star Wars. First, I was more than aware of the mythological inspirations George Lucas implanted into the original trilogy, this is a given and goes into a lot of what made Star Wars so universally popular. One of the key things in New York Jedi is that we build and create our own characters, complete with history and interconnections between each other. From there, some characters become infamous even in a shared world.

One such character was General Sun. General Sun was a Jedi Master, and one of the most powerful figures in NYJ's cosmology. There are many stories, myths, and outright lies about his exploits. One such is his impromptu visit to an idyllic tropical planet that did not acknowledge his presence, and using his great and terrible power rendered it into the volcanic Hell that we know Mustafar to be today. There is also the Chuck Norris fact that General Sun and Chuck Norris had met once, in a temporal void. In one moment, they nodded, and proceeded to roundhouse kick each other. This is how we believe the Big Bang created both the Real Universe and the Star Wars Universe.

In Real Life, General Sun was created and portrayed by Damon Honeycutt. Damon is a performer, instructor and a master (my terminology, he's decline the sentiment) of monkey-style Kung Fu. A humble man, an enlightened person. If Star Wars were real, Damon would be on the short list of people I know who qualifies legitimately to be a Jedi.

Conversely, we have Jinduri. Created by my friend Paul, Jinduri is a Sith Alchemist of immeasurable power and ferocity. He is dangerous and charming, Nigh Immortal and completely devoid of sympathy and compassion. He has with him at all times a cadre of fellow Sith known as Jen'Mas, who act as his will and his intent throughout the Galaxy. If General Sun is the pinnacle of Light, Jinduri is very much the pinnacle of Dark.

This phenomena is impressive. Here we have a universe already fleshed out for us by Movies, Books, Online Resources and fan groups, and now we've created characters that interact with that world and inspire/create/alter the world around us and for newer members.

Which brings me to the ultimate point: LARPing. New York Jedi wasn't about LARPing, it was about performing these for the benefit of a passive audience. As Sarah Lynne Bowman states (paraphrasing) that the difference between theatre and LARPing is that in theater, the audience are passive observers while in LARPing the audience is in the scene and interacting as well as their own characters.

When dealing with a LARP, we're dealing with three kinds of Myth. The Canon Myth, which is the source material set forth buy the developers of the game. Using Requiem, this is the founding of the Clans and Covenants of Vampires; for the Changelings the founding of the Courts; for the Mages, the Awakened Island and the Fall; For Dystopia Rising, it's the fall of civilization and the Rise of the Zombies. That is the mythology that has been created for us and which we all go in (relatively) knowing. This is the World Myth.

We engage in the World Myths by following the rituals and protocols that they dictate to us. As a PC playing in the Ordo Dracul, that's the Serpent's Tail, following the ripples of a single event, and the Titles and Oaths, as well as following the tenets Vampirisms's Original Bad Boy, Dracula. In Changeling, there were the protocols of the Courts, the oaths sworn and the ways of the Hedge and Wyrd.

Then there is the Local Myth, the myths that we create together. Requiem in New York had a figure like Simon Cassio, Khaibit Prince of New York for a chunk of game. I never got to interact with Cassio in game, I started playing shortly after his player, Dain, had moved to Texas. However, before I even joined the game, I was told one main commandment: Tell Cassio. Cassio was considered with legitimate reverence as he was the Benevolent Tyrant that kept New York in check. Even when he was gone for two years, "Cassio's New York" was still seen as the ideal Camelot for Kindred Society.

Then, at the tail end of the Chronicle, my character was tasked with going to France to  find Simon Cassio. Both myself and my character shared nervousness and apprehension. This was a globally famous character, whose presence was ubiquitous around the venue. His legend preceded him and the weight oh his return affected the game as much as the players who knew. This was the local Myth, dealing with those who have altered, challenged, or were forces of nature in the venue and existing with them in place.

Finally, there is the matter of Myths being made of players. We all have stories and exploits of what the players do as much as the characters they portray. Through speaking with players, we learn of the reputations of others, of anecdotes. We learn, we absorb, and we take aspects of what we absorb into how we perform. In this way do other players take on the roles of mythic figures. We take part in these by making friends, learning the customs of the players around us, like an initiate learning mysteries and rituals of a private religion. We learn their secrets and interpretations, and things take a weight of their own, including their own opinions of players they keep in high regard. This all goes back to the sense that People Require Myths, and will use their own experience to create them when one does not present itself.

To conclude, I think that the world is suffering from a dearth of something to believe in. Science deals in fact, and Religions seemed to be following suit. There is no real centralized system of beliefs, and as the more secular we become, the more we need to require something to believe in. The Geek culture, with the various mythologies and cosmologies floating around both traditional and modern, have a headway in terms of finding a system to have a basis for morals and ultimately inspiration. LARPers have the edge in actively dealing with these concepts and effectively assist in gaining skills, morals, growth in a way that modern society is some times ill equipped to handle.

We are all creatures of Myth, and we're living the most Epic of Tales every day.