To get a total outsider’s perspective on LARPing, we asked former Indy graphic designer Lauren McKenzie to spend an afternoon as an NPC — non-player character, or whatever zombies, travelers and other riffraff the storytelling staff needs — in DedStop.
Indy: Could you describe your exposure to role-playing games?
LM: I had zero exposure to role-playing games before this event. I had no idea what was going on or what to expect.
So what does a weekend usually look like for you?
A weekend for me usually consists of either me taking my dog to the dog park, or I do a lot of freelance work on the side. Sometimes I bartend. So, constantly busy. I don’t have a lot of things going on outside of working a lot.
When I asked you to come up to a zombie apocalypse LARP, what did you expect?
I was like, “Well, I don’t think I’m the right person for this.” And the more you explained it — “No, I don’t want somebody who’s the right person for this. I want somebody that has no idea what’s going on.”
At first I was really taken aback. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to act or what to wear, or... I was just throwing myself out there to the wolves, I felt like.
Was there an image conjured in your mind by the phrase “zombie apocalypse LARP”? Did you have any preconceived notions at all?
I really was a complete blank slate going into this. I didn’t know what to expect. I really didn’t think that people would get so into character, that it would be unlike they were their normal selves. That I think really took me off guard, that everybody took it really seriously. When you are role playing, you are role playing. You are no longer Lauren. You were now a Zed or whatever NPC character you played. So I didn’t expect that part of it — I thought it was just going to be sort of a free-for-all, everybody just running around biting each other. I had no idea what was going to happen.
So going back to the day of, on arriving at the site, what was your sort of “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment?
As soon as we arrived at the site, there were people dressed up that greeted us at the car. They were so amped up and were so excited, and they were talking to one of my friends about, well, “What’s your character’s name? Well this is my character. So when we go in there, this isn’t my actual name, but nice to meet you.” Immediately, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I am not in Kansas anymore. What is going on? What have I gotten myself into?” But it was still a great experience.
So how did the players respond to you as a total newbie?
Everyone was so excited to have me there! It was so... I never felt so welcomed by a group of people. They were just, like, “Wow! They’ve never done this before. Great! We’re so glad to have you! We’re so excited for you to be here.” And some people at the same time were, like, “Oh, you’ve never done this before... uh, okay, so this is what you should expect. We’re going to get you all set up, and we’re going to walk you through the process, and it’s going to be fine.” So that all made me feel way better about the whole situation altogether, just knowing that everyone knew that I was new there, but also treated me as if I were a player, just like them.
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While you were on site, I brought you to the Storytelling team. What did the storytellers have you do?
So I was really confused about the storyteller aspect of it. I was confused because when I thought of an NPC, I thought it was just going to be Zeds. I didn’t realize that there were going to be other elements or other people that would interact with the characters. So that I was really confused about when someone came up to me and said “You’re going to be, like, a 1970s or 1930s vacuum salesperson.” And I’m like “Why, though? Why am I selling vacuums?” And it was just to try and sell this zombie go-away potion that may or may not work. So it was really interesting that I was basically just standing there like Vanna White-ing this zombie go-away potion. I didn’t know what else to do.
But the really cool thing was that if a person chose to buy it, then there were several different outcomes, and so we would pause everything, and they would pick an outcome, and either it would be like the potion turned you into a crazy person that talks to Zeds or some other crazy. I was just standing there, like “What is going on!” But yeah, I sold some zombie glitter.
What was the biggest challenge you think you faced during your time at Dystopia Rising?
I think my biggest challenge was really getting into the role play aspect of everything. Really removing myself from the situation that was ahead of me and really becoming a part of the whole event, being a townsperson or being a zombie. I think I really wish I could go back and just not care at all, just put it all out there, you know? I’m no longer this person who wakes up every day and goes to an office and clocks in eight-to-five, you know? Now I’m a zombie! And that’s so crazy, but everyone’s out there just having so much fun. So much fun! It’s wild to me. There’s no judgment — no judgment at all, which was a really, really cool experience for me altogether.
So what would you say was your most enjoyable moment that day?
I think when we were getting in full makeup for me to become a zombie, or Zed, really kind of made me realize what I had just gotten myself into. Dressing up in ragged clothes and putting makeup all over my face and putting my hair up, and then there’s this giant squirt bottle of just fake blood. Someone basically told me to just go outside and squirt myself in the face with it. And I think that that’s when I realized, like, “I’m a zombie!”
And I’m covered in blood — it’s everywhere! And I’m about to attack this town that doesn’t even know we’re coming! That was a lot of fun, being able to go — oh! Oh! And we had this thing where the zombies didn’t have to be all like [gurgling noises]. We could run. So we were just running straight at people, just running straight at ‘em like rrargh! It was so much fun! That was definitely my favorite part, yeah.
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Why do you think people play this game?
I really do think people play this game to escape reality. I mean, everybody needs their escape, right? Everyone. I have a thousand different escapes. Maybe this is just now an extra escape that I have. I may do it again, but I really think people love to just completely remove themselves from their day-to-day life and do something else that’s fun and kind of a stress-reliever almost, or a different outlet.
Okay, last few questions. What do you wish you knew before going into the game?
I wish I would have known... not what to expect, but almost — I wish I would have known how the whole game would play out, like I wish I would have known more about the different roleplaying and how committed everyone was to their character, or committed to the environment, or committed to everything around them, and how to interact. I wish I would have also known how exhausting it truly was. I was worn out at the end of the day.
Would you play this again?
Yes. Would I want to create my own character? Absolutely, yeah. I would definitely want to create, because I would like to have that ownership, to be able to say “This is MY character. I get to be this person because this is who I want to be.”