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Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 10:59 pm
Monster Camp is a documentary released in 2007 and directed by Cullen Hoback about a group of Live Action Role Players (LARP) in Seattle who play in the NERO LARP system. It shows the game from a variety of different angles, from the point of view of the Player Characters, Non-player characters, monsters, the game Owner, plot characters, and the family members of the players.

The documentary focuses on several of the players, introducing them by real name and character name and depicting their lives both within and outside of the game, including showing them at their jobs and showing their family members. For example, one player character, a dwarf whose real name is Paul, plays the game with his father, who plays non-player character monsters. Another of the LARPers plays the game with his teenage daughter. The filmmakers interview two mothers, both of whom seem supportive of their sons' involvement in the game, but also mentions families who don't quite get why their loved ones are interested in the game. Relationships between LARPers are also examined, such as when players met and become friends outside the game or become romantically involved, and also shows what happens when those relationships break down. In addition, it states that all varieties of relationships are welcomed, including homosexuality and polyandrous relationships, within the game world.

The game is shown to draw players from all over Seattle and from as far away as the East Coast. The documentary shows not just what the people do in and out of game, but goes into their motivations for participating. The documentary mentions how many players come from D&D, and were either dissatisfied with the experience or loved it and wanted to try it in live action. The film also shows that the LARPers play other video games (including stating that just about every person who plays NERO also plays World of Warcraft, aka WoW). One player briefly mentions addiction to games (specifically WoW), but the documentary doesn't go into gaming addiction as applied to LARPing. As for motivations for why they play NERO, one player states that she enjoys "making up worlds so you don't have to be in the real one". Another states that he likes the ability to play a different person every day, every time I play. A third, states that he needs "to be somebody else". Val, who is in a wheel chair, says she enjoys the game because she can put a table up, play a character and forget about her wheelchair for awhile during the game.

I found the documentary particularly interesting because it acknowledged stereotypes such as the typical gamer as a 'pasty white boy living in his mother's basement' and at the same time attempted to show the players as normal people, not just fantasy-obsessed 'freaks'. The film only included one set of reactions from non-players to the game, in the form of a couple who stumbled on the game at the state park. It also didn't show any parents or family member who disliked the game, nor did it interview members who quit the game (but that was likely outside of the filmmaker's scope).

I think one of the most interesting messages of Monster Camp is that the game is a community. It shows the LARP as a dynamic of relationships, and while players may come and go, the community as a whole continues on from game to game, even if the game changes hands from one owner to another. The people in the game understand each other, even if they don't always like each other. Overall, the documentary is engaging, entertaining, and provides a interesting auto-ethnographic look at the fantasy LARP community.