Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (May 1, 2012)
Published earlier this year, you may have missed Leaving Mundania in the slew of spring releases. Stark’s first book straddles the space between academia and pop cultural text, an endeavor one can label narrative nonfiction. After covering the basics of what live-action role playing is, Stark launches into a discussion of LARP culture, her experiences with live-action role playing, and historic precedent for the sorts of creative play which includes live-action role playing.
Exploring conventions like DREAMATION and Knutepunkt, she discovers that live-action role play has a spectrum of game types and experiences to offer. In addition to the historic (and Elizabethan era) forerunners of LARP, the other sectors that use some of the elements of LARP are mentioned. Military training, disaster response certification, and live training exercises for emergency response demonstrate that LARP isn’t solely the provenance of the gaming community.
As someone who has attended and run live-action groups, I was delighted Stark touched on games imparting new skills to players. Public speaking, approaching new people, sometimes consciously or unconsciously working out problems. She had no discernible issue pointing out the inherent issues of racism with many fantasy settings.
As Stark delves into her gaming research, the experience of acquiring the lexicon of gaming and her thoughts early on about cons she attends are like reading an ethnography or history text about gaming. It’s easy to forget what just starting out is like, and those sections may set off some nostalgia for long-time gamers. When she describes people she meets, Stark is brutally honest about the impression people leave, but exhibits a distracting number of personal social and intellectual prejudices. Newcomers and casual LARPers may find the text useful, with a caveat. Much of the culture she describes is specific to the geographic areas those games are found in. I found most of the book’s delving into her gaming experiences particularly alien—and after much thought believe it’s rooted in more than my lengthy involvement with gaming. I’ve been gaming with heavily mixed crowds in relation to race, gender, appearance and approach for my entire period of involvement in the hobby. There were times I felt quite hostile toward Stark’s text because the extreme gap between my experiences to the ones she recounts made it easy to perceive her observations as prejudiced or even ignorant. Even the methods of getting into character she describes are of a methodology I was previously unaware of and quite unfamiliar with.
If you like linear texts, this is not going to be a perfect read. In the end, Leaving Mundania is a text I feel those unfamiliar with live-action role playing and gaming as a whole will find the most useful. For those who have gamed for years or been involved with live-action groups, it does possess a ‘fly on the wall’ appeal via glimpses of other LARP communities across the globe. I think readers could also appreciate it if they love back story—Stark’s book has a never-ending supply of interesting back-story about specific gaming communities and the hobby in general. Though her terminology contains turns of phrase and usage unfamiliar to my West Coast background, Stark does her best not at describing mechanics, but relaying in-game and real life stories of the people she met during her research for the book. I recognized and identified the most with the stories of gaming communities coming together to help each other out.
Read Leaving Mundania or other books on live-action role play or role playing in general? Feel free to share impressions or titles to add to the reading list in the comments.
*E-book copy of Leaving Mundania purchased by reviewer.