This is not a manifesto. But it contains some considerations that I think are important.
- Designers of a larp set in a historical period have double responsibilities: to the real people of the period, and to the present day.
- It’s impossible to experience a historical larp, or to design one, other than through our present-day selves and our own understanding.
- Full historical authenticity is not achievable. Designers choose the aspects of the actual historical setting that they wish to reflect; and, in doing this, they also choose (whether consciously or not) the aspects that they erase or to ignore.[1. Of course this also applies in a similar kind of way to larps set in the present day, or in fictional settings borrowed from media, or even in the future. As do some of the other points. But anyway I think it’s particularly noteworthy re history.]
- We often encounter history through the filter of other media. Is a larp about the court of Louis XIII going to be based on history, or on the novels of Dumas (writing for a context of 200 years later), or on the various film/TV adaptations of those novels (another century later), etc? And what is highlighted, what erased, what ignored, what changed, at each of those removes?
- Is having knowledge of a historical period, or the ability and freedom to research it, an example of privilege? Is it correlated with social class? If so, then is a drive towards closer fidelity an exclusionary goal?
- There’s also para-historical larping – in a setting that’s inspired by actual history, but not seeking to represent it. As it gets further from actual history, the associated responsibilities will change. But this is a big topic which can’t really be discussed here.
- Some historical larping chooses to portray the aspects of the period that modern participants will find to be fun, and to ignore or erase those that they won’t. (And, possibly, to add in ahistorical material: invented for the purpose, or taken from elsewhere.) This is not a design direction that currently interests me.
- I am interested in historical larping that, in its design intention, responds to the present day. We have commonalities with people from history, and we have differences from them. Larp that quietly draws parallels, or that resonates upon universal human themes, or that indicates non-obvious points of difference, can be a powerful tool for exploration of the past – and of the present, and of the possible future – in a meaningful way.
I absolutely don’t want to yuck anybody’s yum – if you enjoy historical larping that’s not at all caught up with these thoughts, then that’s great, it’s completely valid. This is just me musing on my own interests and practice. I feel that, for me, history is a big and important thing, and I want to engage with it reflectively.
(Thanks to Anne and Laura for thoughts and comments.)