'Darkon' Gamers Engage In Epic, Full-Contact Battle ... Behind A Middle School

Live-action role-playing gives participants the chance to create ideal selves, wield foam swords.

Hundreds of men in full battle armor stand tense on the field of combat, their shields blazing, their swords pointed outward, their chests swelled with anticipation and bravado. Suddenly a cry for war echoes through their ranks, and the men rush forward to conquer their enemies.

If you've ever witnessed this scene, chances are good you're either, A) a French serf at Agincourt in 1415; or B) an IT exec at a middle school soccer field on a Sunday afternoon.

How is that possible? Well, for a LARPer, anything is possible, thanks to a vivid imagination and a couple of hundred foam swords, axes, maces and daggers.

"LARP is an acronym for 'live-action role-playing,' " explained Skip Lipman, who is featured in the documentary "Darkon," which made its TV premiere on IFC earlier this week after getting a limited theatrical release in September. "The game is a full-contact, padded-weapons fighting game — a war game and a role-playing game all in one."

In effect, LARP is essentially your run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure game, like Dungeons & Dragons, for instance — except that instead of resolving conflicts with dice and banter, LARPers actually "live out the fantasy."

"We get dressed up in fantasy garb and regalia, we wear real medieval-style armor that we either make or buy from professionals and we fight out our conflicts with padded weapons in a full-contact game," Lipman said.

Which means your notion of role-players as nebbish introverts is actually pretty far off base, he insisted.

"It's 100 percent full-contact. We play really hard. That's one of the things that really drew me to the game," he said. "As an adult, there are precious few places where you can bash each other around and not get in trouble, let alone have hundreds of people who want you to beat the crap out of them. Amazingly, injuries are pretty minimal and are just the kind of things you would expect to see in any full-contact sport — twisted ankle, hurt knee, somebody's shoulder, that kind of thing."

So what does a LARP battle look like?

"You see 150 people, 75 on a side, in their full regalia and heraldry and blazing shields, the shine of armor. You hear the guttural battle cries from each side, at which point the sides start to move slowly towards each other with a spiraling action," Lipman described, his voice taking on the timber of someone reading Shakespeare. "You hear the screams and pound of foam on steel as the combat begins. Great warriors wade through the battle mines, cutting a swath of destruction as they go, the bodies piling up around them until one side is victorious and their battle cry of victory resounds off the back of the middle school."

Take that, Scott from accounting!

If Lipman's LARP sounds like it's straight out of the pages of "Lord of the Rings" or "Braveheart," that's because it is. But beating the ever-loving snot out of your co-workers as an elf or orc or wizard is just one of the many fun things you can do in LARP, Lipman said.

"There's pretty much any kind of genre that you can think of that you might want to mess around with from literature and history. You could find a game for everything from the ancients of Greek and Roman history, through cyberpunk and sci-fi," he said. "Even in our game, for people who want to focus more on the role-playing, that takes place a lot on the sides of the field."

Lipman's game is actually quite complex, with various factions fighting over territory on a map when they're not, you know, literally fighting over territory on a map.

"It's kind of like a live-action version of Risk where each unit is called a country, and they claim a number of X's on the map," he explained. "We vie to control X's and we build on our X's and we gain revenue so that we can make ships and do deals and pay mercenaries and all that kind of stuff. So there's a whole economy that's driven by the game map. It gets pretty in-depth."

But LARP's greatest benefit? For Lipman, it's the chance just to be somebody else.

"You get to re-create yourself. Everybody is struggling with reconciling what their ideal is with reality and who they are. In a role-playing game, you get to create that from the ground up," he said. "I think that at its best, it can be an awesome learning tool to teach yourself success [and] the ability to persevere through failure.

"As I faced all my defeats," he concluded with gusto, "going against the mighty empire."

Check out everything we've got on "Darkon."

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