As a kid, I played games at recess that involved some very weird imaginary scenarios. There was one about a magical rainbow summer camp populated by giant spiders, and another one about a family that lived on the edge of a volcano. The family was constantly in danger of a grizzly death, but always escaped just in time. The details of these interactions have mostly vanished. What I remember now is the feeling of power and freedom that came with creating my own universe, and the impatience, followed by pride, as I slowly learned to share my ideas with the other children.

At some point, whether because I had better things to do or because it was no longer “cool,” I stopped playing these kinds of games. But what if I hadn’t? What if, instead of growing out of imaginary play, I had grown up with it, evolving the games until what I had was a complex, inclusive, and intellectual form of entertainment for all ages? I would have created LARP.

LARP stands for Live Action Role-Playing. It’s kind of like Dungeons and Dragons without the crowded table and boring street clothes. It combines improv theater, cosplay, and gaming, which means amazing potential for creative kids, teens, or adults. Players design their characters and then create costumes and props to match, before heading out to a park or backyard and acting out the course of the game’s plot. LARPing teaches all kinds of awesome life skills, like teamwork and problem solving, and even a person who has no patience for board games can get engaged in the physical and face-to-face aspects of LARPing.

If you’ve heard of LARP before, but don’t think it’s for you, consider this—you’ve probably already done it. Playground games, murder mystery parties, and war reenactments are all considered to be forms of LARPing. While many LARP games fall into the fantasy genre, they can really be whatever you want them to be. American Civil War, space opera, steam punk—whatever. (Check out this amazing Battlestar Galactica LARP.) Plus, the health benefits of role-playing are well documented. Many therapists use role-playing with patients to work through phobias or traumatic events in a safe environment. There’s even a class about LARPing at the University of Washington.

LARP groups are typically led by a Game Master (GM), who organizes the events and structures the plot. As the team moves through the key events in the story, rock-paper-scissors is used in lieu of dice to randomly determine the outcome of events such as battles, natural disasters, or item distribution. There are a number of established rules of play, but more are popping up all the time, so there’s no guaranteeing what you’ll encounter. And since there’s so much inherent flexibility, you can design the game to suit whatever age level you like.

Nervous? There are plenty of online resources to give you or your teen ideas and tips, especially if you’re just getting started (there’s a list below). Or, if nobody’s interested in leading the first campaign, you can check out this list of established LARP groups and join in with a local chapter.

Go forth and LARP!

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This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.