Faking It

LARPing is a freeing experience. Though, the one time I did it, I’m pretty sure I did it wrong.

I was with a group of friends at GenCon (Anaheim), a gaming convention, and they were on their nth year playing a 7th Sea LARP. For those of you as clueless as I was, that stands for Live Action Role Playing game. Our group was all dressed up in pirate costumes, when we entered a room full of other pirates and sailors. It was hot, especially since I was wearing multiple layers (Corsets! Chemises!), but not stifling. There was an excitement keeping any negativity at bay.

The organizers greeted us at the door with our character sheets. My friends had all played before, but my sheet was new and I had to study. I remember the most important two details about it. My name was Amelie, and I was super charismatic.

All dressed up.

Me with the Pirates of Penzance at GenCon. Photo by Jen Brinkman.

Now, in real life, I might be a bit charismatic, but only with people I know. I’m not really extroverted enough to approach strangers and get what I want from them. I wish I were. Putting on this personality would be a stretch for me, but it was also what I wanted in life.

Of course, I’d never LARPed before, so I was mostly clueless on how to go about it. Looking at my sheet, the captain (of my pirate crew) sent me off to learn information. I still have no idea how that was supposed to work. Was I supposed to show people my character sheet so that they knew to talk to me?

How it was supposed to work didn’t matter. I just went with it. Immersed myself in Amelie. I flirted like crazy with the guy serving drinks in the back of the room (not a playing character, but an organizing one), and he loaded me up with all the info I got back to my crew.

We won that year, so my intel must’ve been good enough, no matter how inexpertly I got it.

For weeks afterward, whenever I got nervous about approaching strangers, I reminded myself that I was Amelie and charismatic and beautiful. And that got me places, probably more because I actually asked for information (or extra sauce on my pasta) than anything else.

This, at its heart, is why I think we like mistaken identity stories. We like the idea that you can put on someone else’s personality, that you can live their life, and walk away with a better perspective and having had a healthy dose of fun. Of course, we also like that these sorts of stories always end up with the faker being found out. They have to be found out, otherwise we’d do this all the time. We’d try on new identities every day until no one had any true self at all (or, at least, until accountability was a relic of bygone days).

And yet, mistaken identity stories have happily ever afters. They end in weddings or job offers (mostly weddings) for those involved. There’s usually a good reason for the faking in the first place.

Because it’s cathartic. We wish we had the guts to play the game, but we know instinctively that it’s a horrible idea. All the things that almost go wrong for the characters, we know would be catastrophic and not worth it in real life. But we can’t help wishing.

Sometimes, I still pretend I’m Amelie.

Since I’m not, I’ve got a mistaken identity novella coming out. Things go horribly wrong. Everyone is confused. There’s a terrorist action. Oh, and it ends with happiness, of course.

ETA: Oh, because it took me a while to post this, the Kickstarter project for the aforementioned novella is live!

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Janine A. Southard is a Writer & Editor for narrative projects. She's a proven talent when it comes to mimicking voices and crafting content for videogames, articles, & fiction.