In an age of busy schedules and technology, sometimes people just need an outlet to escape reality.
Some like to go to the beach; others unwind with a good book.
Then there are those who are drawn to a world of medieval games, elves, aliens, and possibly superheroes and super-villains. They fight mythical creatures and defend the realm or strive to protect humanity as it falls into dystopia.
Enter the world of live-action role playing (LARP).
LARP is a form of role playing where players act out characters staged in a fantasy world. These are collaborative games with rules that vary depending on the game and the genre, according to larping.org.
LARPing "is a cross between a murder mystery and video game," said Aaron Cervasio, head of logistics at Immortal Unbound L.L.C., which runs the postapocalyptic, superhero LARP group Oblivion, in Tabernacle, N.J. "Different games have different rules and stories that you can get enraptured in."
The players who enter these pretend worlds are not just fantasy lovers, sci-fi fanatics, and experienced gamers. Cervasio says he's met LARPers who are biochemists, writers, teachers, lawyers - all looking for a way to relieve stress and take a break from their workweek.
Cervasio, a video-game fan and an involved LARP member since he was 16, said that people might be surprised to see who actually participates in these games.
"There's always been that stigma of being a socially awkward, unattractive person that doesn't have a job and lives in the mother's basement," Cervasio said. "LARPers have lives; they just have a hobby that not everyone shares."
With ABC's new reality-meets-fantasy show, The Quest, some people may become intrigued by the concept of live-action fantasy games.
On The Quest, 12 contestants compete in epic challenges in the world of "Everealm," where mythical creatures lurk in the woods, to see who will emerge as the true hero. Two local contestants, Jasmine Kyle, a mother from Media, and Lina Carollo, a Delran school counselor, made it past the first round.
Tara Clapper, a Mount Holly resident and freelance writer for the LARP section of the online news site Examiner, said that The Quest takes a positive approach to fantasy, but by definition it isn't LARPing.
"I think the producers have a really positive approach; they are geeks, too," Clapper said. "But in the show, [the contestants] are being themselves, and as a LARPer, you portray a character," said Clapper, who often plays with a New Jersey-based group called Seventh Kingdom.
Unlike the show, live-action role playing isn't new. In the mid-1970s and into the early 1980s, when tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons gained popularity, people began to embrace role playing.
Because Dungeons & Dragons allows only a certain level of role playing, gamers began to seek more ways to be fully immersed in the worlds or games that they played, making LARPing a desirable option.
Players get to develop a character and personality based on the game. They can grow in levels, become more powerful - and the possibilities are endless. There is a general direction for the story of the game, but most participation is improvisational.
One of the first big LARP groups formed in the United States is NERO LARP. Started in 1988 by Ford Ivey in Boston, NERO LARP is a medieval-fantasy group with more than 45 chapters, according to the group's website.
LARP games and chapters can be found almost anywhere, but typically players meet in local spaces, like hotels and people's homes, or in public spaces, like camps or wooded areas.
Some LARP groups are more theatrical and do not focus on weapons or athleticism. And then there are LARPs that require "boffers," or foam replicas of weapons. According to LARP forums, plumbing supplies, foam, and Nerf weapons are all fair game and could be used to defend a camp or fight off opponents.
Cervasio said some LARPs require a member fee, depending on how involved the LARP may be. Players can spend more money on costumes and weapons if they choose, but the average LARP fee can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 a game.
A game with a large number of players could require larger accommodations for the group, and for Oblivion, it sometimes costs Cervasio $2,000 for the weekend. In order for a LARP's owners, or creators, of the game to get compensation for the costs of the camp or space, a player fee is determined.
While it might sound difficult, staying in character is a necessity for LARP games. Mount Holly's Clapper plays a bard and warrior named Ceara from a fantasy Celtic kingdom called Fir'bolg.
"I'm a writer, so I like to embody the character and feel the progression," Clapper said. "I get to learn about [Ceara] and myself."
For those who are interested in seeing what live-action role playing is all about, a simple search online can bring up local LARP groups. Meet-up groups can also show regional LARP groups.
Simply put, LARP continues to evolve in the gaming and role-playing community, and with more diverse LARP organizations all over the country, people may be saying, "Let the games begin."