There’s a War in the Schoolyard: Role Playing Games and Education

How’s this for school spirit? Students at Østerskov Efterskole participate in a history class.

How’s this for school spirit? Students at Østerskov Efterskole participate in a history class.

Just try telling a student at Danish boarding school Østerskov Efterskole that imagination and play aren’t meant for the classroom. The school, founded by role-playing veterans Mads Lunau and Malik Hyltoft, teaches traditional school subjects through Live Action Role Play scenarios. Østerskov Efterskole opened in 2009.

ØE boards students from ages 14-16—equivalent to Canada’s grades nine and ten. According to the school’s website, they teach traditional high school subjects and hold the same final exams as other Danish schools.

The unorthodox teaching method sets the school apart. Østerkov takes an interdisciplinary approach to learning that is marketed as both fun and informative. Elaborate scenarios are constructed to keep students engaged, following larping form. The only difference is that learning is the objective.

The school offers examples on their website of how they approach learning. When studying World War II, for example, half the class will be assigned the task of locating German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Using a compass and geometry, they are able to find the submarine’s exact position.

At the other end of the class, a group must decode radio signals and transmit them to the next group, who will then translate from German to English. Since this particular class is taught in English, students are learning geometry, English and history at the same time.

The school’s vision is to teach students the lifelong skill of play through the interdisciplinary educational approach. This philosophy seems to be ringing true with some Danes, as enrollment has jumped the last two years. Denmark is the international hotspot for LARPing with a community of 100,000 people strong. If this educational model will take off anywhere, it will first happen here.

Imagination and play are undoubtedly a foundation of a child’s development, and the innovative way these educators have combined fun and learning in the classroom could perhaps serve as a model for future North American educational institutions.

The school's official crest, replete with Unicorn.

The school’s official crest, replete with Unicorn.

Gaston, a student at the school, shows off a costume on Visitor's Day.

Gaston, a student at the school, shows off a costume on Visitor’s Day.

Lizzie Stark Knows How to Larp

Leaving Mundania, an insider's perspective to the world of LARPing.

Leaving Mundania, an insider’s perspective to the world of LARPing.

Lizzie Stark would rather be in a live action role-play than sit on the couch playing video games. And really, who can blame her? Stark’s recently published book Leaivng Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role Playing Games dives deep into the culture of larping and exposes this cultural phenomenon as deeply rooted in history, as socially intriguing, and as a whole lot of fun.

Stark sheds light on the historical influences on larping, revealing that even Queen Elizabeth I was known to dress up and impersonate characters. She explores the elaborate ceremonies of Tudor England and the current role-playing tactics of American military training, showing how these practices have influenced the games we see today. By examining role-playing from multiple angles, Stark demystifies the subculture for the curious reader.

The author takes an admirable participatory approach to her research. Stark initially began her reporting as an observer, but quickly became a player herself.”The true genius of larp is that it requires a first person audience”, Stark said in a feature with the BBC. (See the video here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17914502)

Author LIzzie Stark

Author LIzzie Stark

Over an 18-month period, Stark traveled to and engaged in different larping communities to conduct her research. She was not at all shy about donning costumes or makeup, and created her own characters to fully engage with her subject matter. Readers can follow her as she explores this gaming subculture.

The author had no shortage of personal adventure while experiencing larp for the first time. Her book description outlines the excitement she went through over those 18 months.  “Along the way, I duel foes with foam-padded weapons, let the demon Cthulhu destroy my parents’ beach house, and survive an existential awakening brought on by Scandinavia’s avant-garde larp scene.” (Book Description, http://lizziestark.com/leaving-mundania/)

For an insider perspective on the different kinds of larp and to read about Lizzie’s experience, take a look through Leaving Mundania. It can be purchased at Amazon.com, or you can read more about her book and download a free chapter at www.lizziestark.com.

There is a LARP for Everyone

http://cityofbyroncity.com/tag/hilarious/

What most people think of when they think of LARP.

To the uninitiated, Live Action Role Playing (LARP) looks like some sort of glorified Comic Con dress-up session, replete with knights in homemade tunics and Styrofoam swords. While this may not sound like everyone’s ideal form of entertainment, it might come as a surprise that most people have, in a loose sense of the word, actually larped before. What’s more, they probably enjoyed it.

Remember playing Cops and Robbers as a kid? Did you ever attend a murder mystery party? What about seeing a battle re-enacted? These are all good examples of a collaborative game of pretend within a set of rules. What these games have in common with larping is that they all operate on the same principle: players physically act out their characters’ actions.

Whether in a childhood game or an epic adult larp battle, participants don’t just play their characters, they become them. Players create their own characters’ names, back stories, and costumes to most effectively embody their characters at game time. Consider it the ultimate improvisational challenge.

Larping operates on a strong sense of community and collaboration. The goal of a good larp is to provide a great space for characters to create a storyline and participate together. Like any team activity or sport, larps strive to be entertaining and engaging for everyone involved.

This community spirit carries over into the kind of larp being created, as like-minded people gather together to create their own games. Events can last from a few hours to whole weekends. Though most larps tend to be combat-style, there are many other genres to choose from. Games range in style from horror to fantasy to adventure to historical period drama. Whatever your interest, there’s a larp for that.

Check out the gallery below for some inspiration.

Note: While LARP is an acronym, for Live Action Role Play, it has entered sufficiently into the common vernacular to be treated as it’s own proper word. While researching blogs and articles regarding larp, it is most often spelled as it’s own word, in lower case.