Red banners hang from the walls. Each sewn with the black symbol of the vampire clan of the Camarilla they represent. The Prince of Portland sits regally amidst his court, a Toreador (the artsy ones), his impeccable white suit and long blonde hair every bit the part of a Vampire lord.
I meander through the gathering, eyes darting every which way, nonsense spilling out of my mouth as I play “Charlie” the Malkavian (the crazy ones). My imagination launches me into character, the wig and horn rimmed glasses carry me the rest of the way. “Charlie” has a condition known as word salad. He says random, sometimes unintelligible, always inappropriate, things instead of what he intends and is not quite aware of why people don’t understand him.
From San Francisco the trip to Portland, where the vampire convention was being held, was about a 12-hour drive. We took off work, packed the pit bull and bags in the truck, and headed for I-5 at about 4am, Friday morning, caravanning north with other soon to be vampires. By 10pm I’m standing in the Hilton’s Doubletree salon surrounded by about sixty or seventy other people playing in the Mind’s Eye Society’s Vampire the Masquerade pre-Chronicle event, and I’m a psychotic blood sucking monster who’s called “Charlie,” because “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was the only random thing I could think of to say when Alexander the mystic scarred Tremere (the magicky ones), played by my friend Skylar who runs the local game store Gamescape (http://www.gamescapesf.com/), introduced me to the very old, very powerful Brujah (the punk rock ones).
LARPing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_action_role-playing_game) is a phenomenal thing. It’s like tabletop with the safety off. For years I’ve been dressing up and playing pretend. I think a major difference between myself and more normal people, is just that I never stopped playing pretend. Imaginatively, this is one of the best outlets I have. The challenge of improvising a character in a collective storytelling environment inspires me in ways even stagecraft falls short of. There’s a fun to it all that’s quite infectious.
When “Charlie” encounters the World of Darkness, it’s a very different experience than I usually get out of gaming. It’s not a qualitative thing either. Playing WoW in my boxers with a bowl of hummus and a loaf of bread getting crumbs all over my keyboard is it’s own particular brand of awesome. And gathering around a table to hurl dice at one another for hours on end pretty much describes my social life. But every now and then organizations like the Mind’s Eye Society (http://www.mindseyesociety.org/) put together these events that really pull out all the stops. See, Charlie, who was once a brilliant mathematician for NASA’s Skylab program, before the ‘accident’, and can’t communicate with the world around him, alienated and alone in a room full of people, “Charlie” cried when the very real and talented violinist played for the assembled vampires. “Charlie” reported back to his Prince in San Francisco,
Fish broken drinks. Scrotum Horace screaming puppy. Coed bumblebee, cream creative suite. Atari bridge running chamberpot. Burning catheter ripped out. Blood spilling into the floor. Crying garbage can. Fear crayon. Hasan burning. Wax mouth calculus yellow-red. Glass anglefish eye top hat.
NORAD ice cream,
And it was “Charlie” who ate that pretty vampire’s crayon. And I, in my own way, got to live vicariously through my imaginary construct. As a result, today, I feel less alienated, less incomprehensible, and that impulse to randomly eat other people’s crayons has been remarkably satiated, at least until the next gathering.
I think that what draws people to this peculiar hobby is more than the thrill of being someone or something else. It’s more than the distorted vicarious pleasure of it all. It’s more than the girls in the corsets, or the chance to be a supernatural being of the night with cool powers. The attraction of the LARP is a chance at sovereignty. More than the fantasist’s escape, it’s a chance to dress up out of grandma’s trunk in front of a collectively constructed mirror world, or in my case a broken mirror world, and having a relevance usually reserved for mega stars, presidents, and CEOs of multinational corporations. To be a princess or a madman, an oracle or warrior of great renown, and know that the decisions you make, mean something to the shared imagination and enrich the world we’ve all agreed upon. And who cares if it’s just for tonight, so much the better. At least that way, tomorrow night, we get to build a whole new world.
No, it’s not always like that. Sometimes, though, one is able to transcend self-doubt, explore alternative ideas, and entertain the unthinkable. Certainly, the imagination can take one to a dark and dangerous place, and of course those feelings of sovereignty and validation ought to be regular parts of our every day lives. But you must first discover the notions before you can aspire to them. And that is what happens. I often look at history as a vocabulary of human action. And in this seemingly innocuous hobby we’ve found a means to imagine ever more remarkable permutations and possibilities.
In the end, “Charlie” had a great time in Portland, almost as much as I did. He was able to establish ties between the Court of San Francisco and that of Portland, help rescue a terrified Tzimisce (the flesh warpy ones) from a band of ruthless assassins, see a cool vampire duel, and even had time to do a cartwheel. But all that pales in comparison to what I got from “Charlie”. Cause in the end, when we tally it all up, I get to have been someone else just long enough to appreciate who I am.