Which Activity is Nerdier LARPing or Tabletop RPG?

Which Activity is Nerdier
LARPing or Tabletop RPG?

So I saw this question come up on Reddit recently. My first response was LARPing, almost without hesitation. Then I began to think about it a little more. Was that truly accurate or did I came to that conclusion based on my own bias against LARPing? I decided to look at the question again by first defining what makes the two activities nerdy, then exploring the subject objectively.

I’m a tabletop roleplayer with decades of experience. I’ve never LARPed and only spectated at a few. My initial reaction was understandable, that LARPing is the nerdier act. It’s not an activity I participate or have much experience with so I was quick to judge. My perception of LARPing was thus, a group of adults dressed in costumes running about with foam weapons acting as if they were children on a playground. But was that really nerdier than a group of adults gathered around a table rolling strange shaped dice, voice acting out their characters? To really determine which act was nerdier I need to define what makes an act nerdy.

When a person is labeled a nerd they are thought to have these qualities: shy, book smarts, lacking social skills, and reclusive. The definition of nerd in the Merriam and Webster dictionary is an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits. Nerdy is an adjective that defines the person or in this case the activity. By dictionary definition, LARPing and tabletop activities are both unstylish and unattractive, even though both have become more acceptable in recent years. The last part of the definition, a socially inept person or in this case activity, has poor or little skill in socializing. I interpreted that to represent the number of social skills a player needs to participate in that activity. Though in truth LARPing and Tabletop are the opposite of being socially inept as both are very social activities that emphasize social interaction. What it will come down to is which requires more.

With the parameters of nerdy defined let’s look at the activities. LARPing stands for Live Action Roleplaying, the act of taking on a persona and acting it out to a set of specific instructions with a level of detail encompassing appropriate dress and accessories. This type of activity when choreographed and scripted is called acting or if in a freeform style, improvisation. When done by children, it called playing pretend. Place a group of LARPers in a park and contain them on a stage. Have them play a heavily railroaded adventure that is heavy scripted and you have Shakespeare in the park. Yes, the players could be defined as nerds but the act is stylish, attractive, and socially acceptable. True, people outside the group looking in may not think it’s socially acceptable but LARPing is just acting to an audience that didn’t know there was going to be a show.

Now let’s take a look at Tabletop Roleplaying Games. Tabletop Roleplaying Games are games of imagination with special specific instruction where players take on a persona of a character and verbally describe the acts and actions around a table. Again this is acting without movement or costumes, for the most part, voice acting.  The acting out of a persona verbally with or without movement, dress, or props is not nerdy. It’s acting and widely accepted and celebrated. So assuming a fictional persona and acting either physically or verbally is not what makes these acts nerdy.

To find the nerdy aspects of both we need to figure out what is unstylish about the acts. Both are roleplaying games. When roleplaying games were first introduced to the masses it was just a small niche in a larger hobby of wargaming. As roleplaying became more popular the individuals playing where perceived as socially inept, book smart, shy, and reclusive; nerds. If nerds were playing these games then the activity was nerdy.  The stigma of a nerd has altered over time and has become stylish. If nerds are now stylish that means roleplaying games are no longer nerdy and now stylish.

What about unattractive? What is unattractive about the two activities? The most unattractive part most people will find with both activities would be learning of rules. To appropriately play the game one must take the time to familiarize oneself with the rules. It can be as little as a page or a tome so thick if placed under the sinking side of the Tower of Pisa it would righten it. A person identifying as a rules lawyer can easily fit the definition of a nerd as they have slavishly devoted to their pursuits of studying the rules. If we use the size of rulesets as an unattractive nerdy aspect of the two activities tabletop RPGs overall have larger rulesets that one could slavishly devote their time memorizing.

Which is more socially inept LARPing or Tabletop RPGs? So we already defined what socially inept would represent but how does it apply to both activities? Both activities require the player to utilize their social skills, but what makes them different is the amount of skill that is required for each activity. The amount of social skill need is dictated by the scope of activity and the venue where the activities are taking place.

LARPing groups are usually larger than Tabletop RPG groups. Being larger requires a bigger space for the activity. Places like parks, nightclubs, restaurants, or bars are where LARPers hold their sessions. Public venues are more accommodating to larger groups. With more people comes more social interaction and not just with LARPers within the group but with other patrons of those establishments as well. LARPing also requires a certain amount of confidence in oneself to participate in an open forum like that. You’re performing in public, center stage. A large number of social skills are required when acting out in public venues.

In Tabletop RPGs the groups are smaller. They don’t need nearly as much space as LARPers so they tend to play at someone’s home or in the backroom of a gaming/comic store. They face less exposure to the general public and they also tend to pick quieter locations. Tabletop players in that sense are more reclusive. They interact with fewer people and less sociable outside of their groups. Socializing is limited to the group and less social skills are required.

So when we look at these two nerdy activities and compare it to the definition of a nerd. I have to rule that Tabletop RPGs is the nerdier of the two. Tabletop rulesets are heavier to digest and require more time studying. There is less social interaction than LARPing. Tabletop RPGs is a more sedimentary and reclusive activity while LARPing is more social and physically active. Not all Tabletop RPG or LARPing activities fit this conclusion but when you compare them overall to what nerdiness has been defined as, what characteristics fit, Tabletop RPGs are the nerdiest.

Don’t agree? Have a different take on it? Tell me. I would love to hear your thoughts and rationale on which activity is nerdier, LARPing or Tabletop RPGs. Remeber we are comparing the activities, not the people playing them.

~ Stephen Pennisi

Follow Stephen on G+ or on Twitter at @DadsAngry
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One Comment Add yours

  1. Some LARPs are more like a sport, given the physical activity needed to hack each other with foams weapons. Other LARPs are definitely more on the nerdy side when they require lots of roleplaying and social interaction. My opinion toward LARPing, however, will forever be clouded when, as the president of a university gaming club–which contained a large group of LARPers–had to deal with the fallout when some of these LARPers would disrupt other gatherings around campus with their antics.

    Liked by 1 person

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