Are You LARPing?
Fake it til you make it.
There are so many important things to discuss, but I keep seeing an accusation hurled around that I feel the need to address. The accusation? LARP, short for:
You’ve probably heard of games like Dungeons and Dragons, where nerds sit around a table with books and dice and imagine that they’re wizards and warriors battling orcs and whatnot. LARP takes it to the next level, where people actually go out into the woods dressed like wizards and warriors.
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If you watched the Disney+ show Hawkeye (one of the better Marvel things of late), you know what I’m talking about because it’s a prominent plot point. Otherwise, I offer this classic Internet video that illustrates what LARP is and why people look down upon it:
LARPers are often considered the bottom tier of the nerd hierarchy because they’re just so extra.
And so, when people of our type—preppers, homesteaders, and everyone Dr. Chris Ellis would classify as “resilient citizens”—express a certain sort of unorthodox personal style, they are accused of LARPing.
The classic example is the dude who wears tactical pants, sunglasses, and a plate carrier to buy Twinkies at Walmart. Another example would be a homesteader who dresses like the Amish. I’m a blacksmith, an ancient art long superseded by industrial processes, so you might call me a LARPer too.
Here lately, I’ve seen a certain contingent of the online far-right attack my homesteading friends as being LARPers. But what does that mean, why does anyone care, and what does it have to do with our prepping?
Why People Hate LARPers
First, I want to say: I don’t care how you spend your free time because I have none. Plus, I think almost any hobby is time better spent than staring at a television.
But I have a theory on why so many people reflexively hate the concept of LARP: it’s because socially it’s perceived as a net negative. What do I mean by this?
If you spend an evening playing Scrabble with your family, almost no one would call you a loser even though you’re not doing anything “productive” in the capitalist sense. Why? Because you’re creating value through shared time with your family. And the cost is very small: Scrabble is as cheap as a board game gets and it takes minutes to set up and learn.
If you play Dungeons and Dragons with your family, you still won’t be seen as a loser, but people maybe won’t look at you as warmly. There’s a certain religious angle there, but there’s also the fact that D&D is much more expensive in money and time. But most would probably say it’s a net positive.
However, with LARP, you’re taking a whole other level of commitment. Like D&D, you have to memorize extensive rule books, but you also have to buy or make costumes and props, plus you’re probably going to spend all day doing this thing. Maybe you’re building connections, but the relative cost is enormous.
In plain English: aren’t there easier ways to have fun with your friends?
Where Is the Value?
Whether my theory is actually true or not, I think it gives us a good metric by which to gauge our preps. You always want to ask: is this adding value?
I don’t want to boil everything down to utilitarian materialism (more on that below). But most of us have hard limits on budget, space, and attention. We have to make careful choices about what we buy and keep in our homes.
But the problem is: gear is so cool. Let’s be honest: preppers love gear. We love knives, guns, armor, backpacks, radios, and all that crap.
When I was a lad, I was fascinated by the print ads for the original Metal Gear game, which had little pictures and descriptions of all the items in the game. It was a clever ad because it’s like catnip for gear fiends, which all little boys are. I wanted all that stuff. And I own some of it now (I’m still working on sourcing the rocket launcher, mines, and plastic explosives. Haha, just kidding ATF! I don’t have a dog to shoot.)
I’m admittedly still this way. I recently had the privilege of viewing an exhibit of Renaissance-era weapons and armor, and it was more than just fulfilling my inner child’s dreams of chivalry, it was an unexpectedly spiritual experience.
A suit of armor was more than mere war gear, each one was a work of art. The suits were carefully decorated with what inspired and frightened the owners: pictures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Greek and Roman heroes, angels, demons, and wild animals. It was not only unnecessary but difficult and painstaking.
Yeah, sure, people still decorate their weapons, but an AR-15 receiver with “Let’s Go Brandon” inscribed on it just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi.
A reader was recently telling me about their Lamborghini (hey, do you know about Unprepared Pro?), and while that’s very cool, it just does nothing for me. If I had that kind of scratch I would be the dork with custom suits of plate armor.
But as a prep? One shot from an .22 rifle and my clanky ass would be stuck on the ground for the rest of my short life.
Let’s be honest: part of why we buy things is because they make us happy. Humans are funny like that. But as preppers, it’s way too easier to accumulate more crap than we know what to do with.
So you need to be honest with yourself: are you buying things that are actually useful or are you inventing justifications for collecting gear? Everyone needs a few knives, but do you really need an entire drawer of them? Are you buying candles in case of a power outage, or are you using a power outage as an excuse to buy candles because you like the aesthetic? Do you really need a gas mask, or are you just going for that World War I vibe?
You do what you like. I’m just trying to help you. But at the same time…
There’s Nothing Wrong with a Little LARP
During our last cheerful reminder of impending nuclear destruction, we talked about taking care of your spiritual affairs. Mental and spiritual health are two things that preppers don’t talk enough about, and one of the things that can help both is your personal aesthetic.
I’m not saying buying things makes you happy. OK, it does, in a material, shallow, temporary sort of way. But using a soulful tool makes a dreary task uplifting.
If anyone asks, I own a scythe because I want a way to trim grass even if the oil dries up. And that’s a perfectly fine justification. But if I’m being honest, I own it because I like it. I enjoy the craftsmanship of the snath and the blade. I enjoy the skill in peening and honing the edge. I love the feeling of getting my stance and cadence just right, the sharp blade effortlessly and silently slicing through each blade. I love not smelling fumes and being able to talk to my loved ones as I work. It’s a transcendent experience, and it happens to be a useful tool. (That is, when I remember to use it. As is, I’m going to spend much of my fall cutting brush.)
I’ve often spoken about my fondness for Roy Underhill, a contemporary of Bob Ross who employs old tools and wood instead of brushes and paint. Roy is as LARPy as they come, dressing in his trademark cap and suspenders and prancing through the woods like it’s 1820. Instead of power tools, he uses old-fashioned contraptions from axes to complex hand-cranked boring machines. It’s not what most consider an efficient way to work.
Why does he do it? It’s what makes him happy. But beyond that, he builds incredible things with his LARP. Chairs, boats, toys, you name it. And he built a successful and long-lived television show and a successful woodworking school. And he inspired entire generations of woodworkers.
One of my favorite prepping channels is Townsends. You will not find a LARPier guy than James (or Jas. because he’s a LARPer and apparently “James” was too much to write with a quill) Townsend, who practically lives in the 18th century. He also runs a successful business, a popular YouTube channel, and knows how to handle a wheat shortage.
I’ve long enjoyed the Twitter account of Michael Thomas of Sharon. He’s a controversial guy because he’s one of those Catholics who’s more Catholic than the Pope (not a high bar these days) and he wishes we were still living in the ‘50s. The 1550s. He trims around his apple trees with a scythe and lights his house with candles. Pure LARP.
But… he’s building things. He homesteads. He makes apple cider from his own apples. He’s started a Catholic Land Movement, complete with regular conferences and workshops. Maybe you roll your eyes at all of that, but he’s not hiding in a fantasy world. He’s putting his own little dent in the universe.
So when I see someone attacking a fellow homesteader for LARPing instead of going to the moon or whatever, I have to ask: what have you built? What have you grown? What do you have to show for all your ideas and ambition? It’s easy to read books and wax poetic about putting cities to the fire and sword, but have you actually done anything?
Because doing things is hard. Gardening is hard. Caring for animals is hard. Building things is hard. Getting people to agree to even one thing is hard. Reading books is easy. Talk is cheap. Anyone can argue with people on Twitter. You won’t have much to show for it.
Figure out what drives you. What excites you? Embrace it, and use it to put your own dent in the universe.
Attacking other people for how they spend their free time is a LARP.
Roy actually is pretty efficient. Every episode of The Woodwright’s Shop is a whirlwind as he builds things the old-fashioned way in real time. Most episodes leave him bloody and breathless.
You’re a good egg Josh. I appreciate your positive outlook even on dire predictions. The root of your preparedness is ultimately a hope for a personally peaceful and productive existence and that tone, which runs through your writing, assuages some of my anxiety, gives me hope, and gets me moving forward. Thank you.
"larps can become pocket realities, pocket realities can engulf the world" — https://twitter.com/nosilverv/status/1333561663333806085