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38. We (almost) just need to stay alive for larp to gain territory on the world stage

I usually start this point out with a question.

“How old is the average football player? In the world. On average?”

The truth is that I have no clue, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the followup question.

“Has that average age changed significantly since the year 2000?”

I have yet to find someone who believes it has.

There’s always Paolo Maldini

It may have gone up a little or it may have gone down a llttle, but no one will claim that the average age of footballers has changed significantly over the last 15 years. And why should it? Kids start playing at some point, and adults stop playing at some point. For professionals, the maximum realistic career length is 15–20 years.

If you start at 18, then you’re probably out by your mid-30's, at least from the top levels. Sure, you may still play in your 40's, but there’s a reason Old Boys football is 35+. Of course there are exceptions, and there’s always Paolo Maldini. But as a sports commentator once said:

“There’s always Paolo Maldini.”

And if you don’t know, google him. If only for the wild and intense eyes.

And now let’s talk larp

But back to the talk on age, and this time about larp. Trying out the same first question gives a lot of different answers.

“Most larpers are in their late teens.”

“I think the average age is 23.”

“Hmmm… maybe 28? At least in my community, that’s a good guess.”

I don’t know the answer here either.

But when I ask the second question, I always get the same reply. A big, confident and unequivocal “Yes!”

Larpers have grown older since 2000. Not just individually, but globally. We’re still being joined by new people (in Denmark this often happens around the age 8–11), and older people are leaving their larp communities. But we also have people who hang in there as they grow older.

When I was part of the organiser group of the 400-person summer larps Legendernes Tid 1+2 in 1999, one of the ways we measured our success was in the amount of players aged 25 or more. You know what our number was?

Roughly 5%.

5%

And we saw that as a success. Larpers over 25 were rare, and larpers over 30 were almost legendary.

Much has changed since then. Both with the world and its many larp communities. One of the things that’s clear, though, is that we’re growing older. I’m 37 and I’m by no means an unusual specimen. At the Swedish blockbuster larp Monitor Celestra in 2013, one of the things I really enjoyed was playing with so many people in their 30's, 40's and 50's. Some were even in their 60's, and still going strong.

For our international larps we don’t keep tabs on player ages, but people who are 30+ don’t stand out at all. In fact, it’s the 20-somethings who can seem young, and we have quite a few people who are in their 50's and 60's. Our oldest player so far was a 71-year old at College of Wizardry.

I don’t know how much the average age has risen since the turn of the millenium, but it has definitely surged upwards. And that has had consequences, and will have more in the future.

We’re getting better at what we do

I’m not necessarily a more creative person than I was at 16, when I started organsing larps. But I am a better writer and a better communicator on general. I’m better at dealing with emotional players, better at logistics and better at money stuff. I know more about organisations and law, and I can layout, design web pages and edit videos.

I also have hundreds of projects under my belt instead of zero, have a toolbox full of tricks and have a confidence level that’s both towering and well-deserved. In short, I am waaaaay better at organising larps than I was at 16, and that means I’m better at staging memorable experiences that others find powerful and inspiring.

This means that instead of a geeky 16-year old who isn’t super-persuasive when it comes to selling the idea of larp, there’s a (still geeky) 37-year old man who’s done exactly that professionally for 14 years. And that makes the outside world more likely to listen.

And I’m not alone. There are many of us.

We have more money than we did

I’m writing this on a plane from Krakow to Copenhagen, having just spent the last three days at our Polish office, doing design work on two blockbuster larps with price tags of around 500€.

That sort of price tag just didn’t exist in 2000. It didn’t even really exist in 2009, the year the first Danish larp broke the 1000 DKK (~140€) barrier. As far as I know, at least.

In 2009 I didn’t have a Polish office either, and didn’t even dream of doing larp projects at Polish castles.

And ironically, I’m still pretty poor compared to most of my friends who are around my own age. I get to do what I love and don’t want to change or complain, but it’s a fact that I’m not exactly wealthy. I have plenty of friends who are well off, though. People who drive “parent cars”, live in big houses and have families, adult jobs and more money than time.

There are still plenty of poor students, and the growing internationalisation means that income differences between countries are becoming apparent in larp communities as well. But even though Poles and Czechs have less money than Finns or Danes, they still have more than they did in 2000. And that trend will continue for a LONG time, unless we fuck up big time.

We have more cultural capital than we did

My old friend Johanna Koljonen is no longer a. early-20's student, but a nationally famous media personality. Jaakko Stenros, on whose sofa I used to crash 12–13 years ago, is now a renowned games researcher and author of several influential books. Mike Pohjola, who was once laughed at for his outrageous hair and artsy projects now lives in a lovely suburban home, drives a nice station car and is a succesful author, playwright and filmmaker. My old youth school student Peter Thiele has been on the Copenhagen city council for years now, elected on a platform that included larp.

This means that more doors are open to us, more ears listen when we speak and more people in places of influence and power feel that we aren’t crazy, young weirdos, but peers worth paying attention. My company has done larp in a Danish cathedral, in a prestigious art museum and in the government building of Christiansborg. I’ve been quoted by our former minister of culture, have been interviewed by People Magazine and have talked about larp and participatory culture being important on Finnish national TV.

And while we’re still pretty unknown to most of the world, that’s changing.

We have more non-larpers who know about us

When I was a teenager, larp was still very mysterious to most Danes. If people had heard about it at alll, they seldom had a nuanced understanding, and there were high-profile projects to point to. As a young tabletop roleplayer says in a legendary TV segment from Danish national news in 1987:

“I’ve heard that they exist, but I don’t really believe it.”

Today, the vast majority of Danes know what larp is, and while they may have a very simplistic view of it, they aren’t unaware. On the world stage, the Nordic countries lead in larp awareness, but knowledge is spreading everywhere. The internet and social media are powerful indeed.

There’s also the swingdoor dynamic at work. The number of ex-larpers grows every day, and it’s a rare larper indeed who has forgotten what larp was, just because she no longer plays. Ex-larpers may not be allies in the Grand Larp Crusade (for those fighting that), but they are at least people who “get it”. They’ve been there.

What effect does that have for you? It makes everything easier. Renting locations from people, who don’t think you’re shooting a movie. Getting funding from a foundation that understands what you do and why it matters. It has an effect on parents, who now gladly send their offspring to Camp Mordor, where once they were distrustful of this strange, new phenomenon, and it means the police have a better chance of understanding that you PLAY a vampire, but don’t think you ARE one.

The future looks bright indeed

The rising age of larpers brings with it challenges, of course. The 40-somethings don’t necessarily want to play the same as the teens. The old guard has become jaded, and when you show them a dragon they won’t squeal with delight, but instead launch into a war story about how they were at Dragonbane in 2006, where there was a dragon that (apparently!) broke its neck during transport.

It’s not just roses, glitter and fireballs, but even so, it’s still a pretty cool time to be a larper. We’ve only begun scratching the top of the iceberg, and it will be many years before larp is as normalised as theater, TV or performance art. Every year that passes brings us closer, though.

And as long as we don’t fuck up things too badly, we’ll continue spreading our tentacles. I find that thought pretty comforting, both as a devout larp hobbyist and as a professional larp producer.

In the dark times, that’s one of the thoughts that keep me going. That, and the hope that someday someone will say:

“There’s always Claus Raasted. If you don’t know, google him. At least for the beard and the flame shirt.”

If you like my writing, and want to throw money at me to write more, you can do exactly that, using Patreon.

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3351676

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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