Chances are good that those of you that frequent Whedonopolis have heard of LARPs. For those of you that have not, LARP is short for live-action roleplay. In contrast to tabletop or video game-based role-playing games as well as practomime in which players take control of a character as an avatar such that the line is clearly drawn between player and character, that line is blurred in a LARP, for players immerse themselves fully in the character that they choose or are assigned to for the entire duration of the game — and as that character, they have specific goals they strive to achieve by game’s end. This may call to mind improv theatre or something like what would happen if you were to partake in a murder mystery dinner theater, but the key difference between these kinds of theatrical performances and engaging in a LARP is that in a theatrical performance, you are primarily acting for the benefit of the audience, but in a LARP, you are acting for the benefit of yourself, often with the intent to achieve some sort of personal growth through this unique experience.
LARPs have been around for quite some time, and the lion’s share of them have been orchestrated for entertainment purposes — some even on the mammoth scale of Monitor Celestra, in which over 100 participants brought Battlestar Galactica to life aboard a retired naval destroyer in Sweden, which very well could sail to US shores soon.
Yet what if the power of LARP could be utilized for educational purposes?
“21st century skills” has become quite the buzzword in the field of education in the US as of late, yet when many use that hot phrase to articulate how their schools or institutions are keeping up with the times, too often is it limited to the narrow scope of learning how to use select and specific pieces of computer technology that supposedly engender communication, collaboration, and publication skills. Despite all that has been researched and written to support the argument that a true 21st century approach would be to foster situated learning in the classroom (see this presentation for one example), precious few schools dare to explore programs in which students are genuinely challenged to hold their own in experiences that are as as close to being true to life as possible.
Aaron Vanek, who has been LARPing for over 25 years, is looking to change that. With the launch of Seekers Unlimited, Vanek has set out to explore the largely untapped potential of using this visceral artform as a means of learning through play.
Check out the debut episode of ENGAGE! to discover how edu-LARPing works:
Since the time in which that interview was originally posted, Seekers Unlimited has conducted three different edu-LARPs in schools across the Los Angeles area, and they almost have six brand new edu-LARP programs ready to launch, but they need help raising enough funding to keep their efforts going — especially because the IRS has not yet processed the paperwork required to give them non-profit status so that they may apply for grants.
If you are interested in supporting a cause that demonstrates the true power of game-based learning in a way that is empowering, transformative, productive, and authentic, please head over to their Kickstarter page at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/160286787/creating-educational-live-action-role-playing-game