Wait, what is this?! A #WebSeriesWednesday review?! Ya, it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these, perhaps I’ve been busy LARPing? You’ll never know 😉
LARPs is one of those darling series that I love to point to when discussing the merits of web series as a medium. I like to talk about the power of underserved niche audiences online and what could be more exemplary of that than fans of Live Action Role Playing?
The thing that really makes LARP’s special though is its ability to transcend pigeonholing. It would be easy for the uninitiated to dismiss a show like this as something meant only for LARPers but the reality is a show that should have broad appeal because of the show’s focus on characters.
For the lazy reader who hasn’t already read our review of season one of LARPs, or watched the show, Live Action Role Playing is really exactly what it sounds like. You create a character who lives within a fantasy world created and ruled by the Game Master. It plays out much like traditional tabletop, card based or video game RPGs just… with real live people running around in character.
Season 2 makes a few subtle changes from its first season as all the episodes got longer, and the overall run time was stretched towards roughly feature length. Lost in the transition was the exceptionally tight editing of the first season, where everything seemed to be either a plot point or a joke. While the humor has been turned down a bit, the extra time is not wasted, but rather focused on exploring the characters.
The start of the second season of LARPs finds ‘Arthur’ (Jonathan Silver) in a bit of a rut following the demise of his character ‘Noctus’ after he was caught cheating and ‘exiled’ at the end of season 1. ‘Brittany’ (Charlotte Rogers) and ‘Will’ (Scott Humphrey) are struggling to sort out their complex real life relationship which fizzled ‘out-of-game’ but which continues ‘in-game’ (because an elf’s love is forever). Meanwhile ‘Shane’ (Elizabeth Neale) is weighted down by the truth behind her reasons for joining the LARP group – to write about her experience for the local paper.
Also returning for the second season is ‘Evan’ played by series writer Jon Verrall. Evan’s struggles are more internal and a bit more nuanced – more on him later. New additions to the cast include ‘Kat,’ played by Amber Goldfarb, as well as an entire second group of players who do a steam punk themed LARP.
One of many great character moments in the show comes near the very end of the last episode where if one looks closely they might notice that all of the characters are wearing the colors of their LARPing alter egos. It’s a recurring theme in the series, how the underlining traits of our characters sneak out and become major aspects of their in-game alter egos.
This is the secret for pulling off a show like this – it’s about the characters! It goes for every genre. How do you make a story about space aliens or animated creatures relatable? You make it about the characters. Here we find a perfect structure for character development. LARPs allows it characters to be introverts, to hide away their true feelings and still be compelling because those hidden traits always shine through in their player characters (PC’s in the show).
This dynamic allows the viewer to ask a lot of interesting questions about the characters such as, what does Arthur’s willingness to constantly be killed off ‘in-game’ say about his real life mental state? Or how about, what does “Biff’s” unwillingness to let “Corillia” die in game say about “Will’s” feelings about his relationship with “Brittany?”
Where this type of structure doesn’t quite hold up as strong is with Game Master ‘Evan.’ As ‘GM’ he is tasked with creating the scenarios that the PC’s are presented with, while also portraying all of the additional characters in the story that they will encounter. This means that ‘Evan’ doesn’t really have his own alter ego character, and as perhaps the most introverted of the group he is the hardest to understand. A good visual example of this can be seen in the ‘hot tub scene’ where every one ends up in the hot tub, while ‘Evan’ sits in a chair parked up against a distant wall.
‘Evan’ is far from devoid of depth though. His love of chess mirrors his desire to script game scenarios that compel his characters towards fulfilling conclusions. More to the point, his scenarios are the mechanism that informs the audience of his character’s deeper motivations.
For much of the series it is easy to see his character as being motivated by an inner desire to tell a good story, and in turn, the quirks of his PC’s and their real life personalities as obstacles to that goal. I for one have no trouble identifying with his frustration over their seeming lack of respect for the amount of effort he has put into crafting his scenarios. ‘Evan’ lives for the game while for the most part his players live for their characters.
As the personification of the PC’s in game enemies and a stern enforcer of the rules, it makes sense that the characters might see ‘Evan’ in an adversarial light. Still his actual relationship with his players is most closely mirrored through his portrayal of the ‘in-game’ character of ‘Jeeves.’
As a constant thorn in the PC’s side, “Jeeve’s” true nature is revealed in the end, in something of a twist that reminds us that like a good parent, a good ‘GM’ is not your friend, but someone who cares about you far more than any friend ever could.
For the audience, watching these characters on their quest for self discovery and friendship, these character arcs are a fulfilling reminder that web series are a legitimate medium for telling character driven stories.