DARKON is a feature documentary that follows the real-life adventures of an unusual group of weekend “warrior knights”,  fantasy role-playing gamers whose live action “battleground” is modern-day Baltimore, Maryland, re-imagined as a make-believe medieval world named Darkon. These live action gamers combine the physical drama of historical re-enactments with character-driven storylines inspired in part by such perennial favorite fantasy epics like the legends of King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, and the saga of Conan the Barbarian. As role players, they create alter-egos with rich emotional, psychological, and social lives. They costume themselves and physically act out their characters exploits both in intimate court intrigue and campouts and in panoramic battle scenarios involving competitive strategies, convincingly real props, and full contact “combat”. Because real life so often gets in the way, it’s easy to understand these players motivations. Everybody wants to be a hero.

I just caught the last half of this documentary on the tube. For those interested in the issues discussed in this blog I think that it illustrates many interesting facets of the social and psychological forces that are in play. It shows, quite clearly, the difference between “fantasy warriorship” and the real thing. While this video shows the almost cliche version of the “D&D Geek” living out a fantasy life, how different are the martial artists who train 2-3 times a week as a hobby…or even as a profession…and desire to be called (or thought of by others)  “warriors”?

However, I feel obliged to state that in this entire documentary, nobody appears to be claiming that they are “warriors” outside their “game life”. Likewise I have to admit that if not for the self-consciousness issue and embarrassment (entirely “my issue” there) of being associated with a group like this, I could almost see myself enjoying something of this nature. They do appear to be having a lot of fun, and it makes me reminisce about my teen years …its just not for me. It brings to my mind the bible quote:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.

While I look back on my “geek years” in HS with no regrets and fondly remember running around the woods doing this sort of thing as a teen, most of my friends and myself translated that energy into the “real world” through military and public service. As an adult I would prefer spending any available funds and free time working on “real life” skills that could help me in my actual profession. I am also very content with the life I have and the accomplishments I have achieved and don’t feel the need to develop an “alter-ego”.

A well written critique of the film can be read here. A few appropriate quotes from it are:

Skip always comes across as reasonable, yet over the course of the film, it becomes more and more apparent that, for him at least, Darkon has done more harm than good. One telling scene in the middle of the film—actually, the key scene of the film itself—involves him confronting a friend of his who has always been his strongest ally in Laconia. This friend has decided, within the game, to sever their alliance, to change his character and switch sides, essentially betraying Skip.

Their argument spills over and out of the game, into the “real” world, Skip unable to accept this betrayal and taking it very personally, his friend repeating futilely, over and over, “It’s just a game. To Skip, this doesn’t register, its plain nonsense. There’s no separation—the micro world of Darkon, the macro real world, they are one and the same to him. And this is the crux of the problem with losing oneself too deeply in a character and a fabricated world, this inability to differentiate reality from fantasy, anymore.

Have we lost our capacity for imagination and wonder, for the pure joy of playing make believe? At what point does childhood die? These questions, quickly raised, are never answered, and never asked again, but to me it’s the most fascinating thing about the popularity of LARPing. Though it’s easy to dismiss these folks as maladjusted, socially awkward misfits, there’s something a little noble and admirable about this defiance of the world, of their refusal to grow up. As far as escapism goes, you could do much worse.

Interesting points that one can apply to almost any pursuit that one uses to fill a void in their “real lives”.

One final thing I want to make clear. I do not want to appear to be ridiculing people who participate in activities like this or people who believe that they are “warriors” because they study martial arts. There is nothing inherently “wrong” in either pursuit. It’s a free country where we are all free to believe what we wish and I don’t believe anybody is causing any harm here (although some people in the documentary appear to be confusing their fantasy lives and their real ones). I just subscribe to a different definition of the term…and what it takes to be classified by it.

The entire documentary can be seen here.

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