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Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative…

Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action…

by Lizzie Stark

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Leaving Mundania is a wonderful journalistic look at one of my passions, Live Action Role Playing, or LARP. It is rare to see so much effort into researching this often misrepresented hobby. While I did not learn much about LARP that I did not already know from being involved in ti for years, I was so happy to see how Ms. Stark portrayed the most important part of the hobby. LARP is really about community, and her personal interviews and reflections on that aspect were a joy to see. She made an effort to become involved in a number of different LARP communities and show them in a light that we don't get. I would recommend this book to people interested in Role Playing, and gaming communities as a whole, not just LARPers. This book could be a good read for high school students who feel outcast because of their gaming. It can really shed a positive light on what is thought of as the geekiest of hobbies. ( )
  BJPetrie | Apr 7, 2014 |
A journalistic investigation inside the world of live action role-playing games (LARPs), Leaving Mundania covers the breadth of the LARP scene from the relative silliness of adults beating each other with foam swords to the high-concept art games of the Scandinavian LARP event Knudepunkt. Stark’s book is full of touchingly human character studies: Jeff, for example, a veteran of Afghanistan, whose real-life experiences of combat make glamorized play-violence increasingly hard to tolerate; Derrick, a black athlete and closeted gamer, who must keep his “geeky white” hobby a secret from friends and family; or Claire, a tall, attractive woman, whose in-character adultery trial becomes disturbingly close to real-life slut shaming. And if the latter is any indication, Stark doesn’t shy away from the problematic issues within LARP culture either, while being careful to reiterate that LARP communities share the same issues had by any large group composed of flawed, human individuals. Fascinating read, even for non-gamers. --Brian Vander Veen ( )
  SFCC | Jun 4, 2013 |
I was not at all interested in larping, reading about larping, or thinking about larping, but two references to this book within twelve hours made me go pick it up, and I'm glad I did. I wouldn't describe it as an evenhanded piece of reporting - Stark got herself firmly embedded in the larp scene for a couple of years while doing the research, and admits up front that she kind of lost her objectivity - but it's an in-depth look at the American larp scene, with a particularly fascinating additional chapter about some of the European avant-garde stuff that sounds more like a cross between improv theater and psychotherapy. I particularly liked the account of Stark running her own larp for the first time, and the chapter about American military training using many of the same techniques.

My only real complaint is that the negatives seem very much downplayed - the book mentions the American larp scene's pervasive sexism and homophobia, but doesn't actually discuss it much at all, and that makes it seem, to me, worse than a frank examination would have. It's pretty clear that many of the problems with gamer culture are reproduced or even intensified, and it seems like that could stand some analysis. But that would definitely undercut the overall thesis of the book, which is "Larping is much cooler than you thought it was!" Which, to be fair, I am now mostly convinced of. ( )
  JeremyPreacher | Mar 30, 2013 |
This book was absolutely fascinating and unbelievably informative. I couldn't believe how much information I was able to gain about LARP of all kinds, including the type that Queen Elizabeth I partook in.

The book was well-written, and the only reason it's not a five-star rating is that there were some slow spots for me. The fact that this was a non-fiction book (albeit about something I'm interested in) that held my attention almost all of the time really says something about the book itself. I'm not a non-fiction reader in general, and I was immersed in almost the entire book.

Overall, it was a fun, interesting, and very informative read that I would recommend to anyone who has any interest in RPGs or LARP, or even theatre and how it is related to LARP. ( )
  Esquiress | Aug 26, 2012 |
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Of all the "NPR-worthy" books I read these days (or that is, nonfiction titles with an academic's dedication to precision but with a popular hook to its theme, and thus perfect for a six-minute feature on "Fresh Aire"), Lizzie Stark's Leaving Mundania is perhaps one of the most personally satisfying; because its subject is the decidedly nerdy activity of live-action roleplaying games, or LARP (or "larp," or "larping," depending on which indignant practitioner you're talking to). And indeed, Stark doesn't even begin to hide from the geeky stereotypes that are associated with this popular "Lord Of The Rings Come To Life" weekend hobby, instead showing how it can be a place of brotherhood and spiritual refuge precisely for the biggest misfits of society out there, those with behavioral problems or a lack of normal social skills or physical handicaps or ongoing family issues; and by her as a non-gamer writing a huge chunk of this book by literally becoming active for a year in one of the nation's largest LARP groups, she does a masterful job at showing how one can be hesitant and self-conscious at first but eventually come to be profoundly moved by the proceedings, exactly as has been the case with so many full-time LARPers. And in the meanwhile, Stark goes into a fanboy's level of detail about all the various small differences between one particular group and another (some create their surroundings mostly by describing them out loud, while others physically create every detail; some settle battles with D&D-style dice-rolling, while others literally fight it out SCA-style), the history of live-action roleplaying (which can actually be traced back to Elizabethan times, believe it or not), and the ways that LARPing can be of benefit in the real world, including looks at entire fake towns that are maintained by military and police groups for "total immersion" disaster training. Funny, insightful and well-written, this is perfect for people like me who love learning all about some random new subject every now and again, simply for the sake of learning about it. It comes recommended in that spirit.

Out of 10: 9.4 ( )
  jasonpettus | Jul 12, 2012 |
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"The story of adults who put on a costume, develop a persona, and interact with other characters for hours or days as part of a LARP, or Live Action Role-Playing game. A look at the hobby from its history in the pageantry of Tudor England to its use as a training tool for the US military"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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