It’s a typical Thursday evening at Wesleyan when a band of armed men and women descend upon the Butterfield Central Green. Wielding foam-covered Plexiglas swords, they strike at one another and dodge oncoming blows in an intense struggle to bring their opponents to the ground.
“Master your flinch-response,” an experienced swordsman yells at the novice he is dueling. “Master it!”
The Butterfield warriors are in fact members of the central Connecticut interactive theater group called “Quest.” The organization is an offshoot of Wesleyan’s Strategic Game Club, but also includes alumni and other players from the greater Middletown area in addition to current students.
“Quest,” a fantasy role-playing game, differs from some other Live Action Role Playing (LARP) groups in its use of actual—“though relatively harmless—”weapons. Others, like Wesleyan’s chapter of “Vampire: The Masquerade,” use dice or rock-paper-scissors to determine the outcome of battles.
“If we decide to fight, we take out our swords and fight,” said Jason Smith, a Questee who lives near the University. “And I succeed in hitting you, if I succeed in hitting you. It’s vastly more fun that way.”
Active Questees, as participants call themselves, regularly attend fighter practice and play the “Quest” game about once a month. On those occasions, the “Games Master” designs a setting, rules and a broad outline for the game. The outcome depends on the decisions and actions of the players.
Characters for the game are born according to players’ whims. Some choose to retain aspects of their personalities when they play “Quest,” while others adopt characteristics completely unlike their own.
“I can explore being somebody else,” Smith said. “That’s a big part of role-playing.”
Jared Gimbel ’11 enjoys the personal freedom that “Quest” grants him.
“I usually go for rogue-assassin-type characters, which normally would not be tolerated in this civilized world, which you see right here,” he said, indicating the Butterfield Complex.
Diane Strong, who also lives near Wesleyan and comes to campus to role-play, said she particularly enjoys the opportunity to act without having to stick to a script.
In order to fully immerse themselves in the game and to better adapt to their new personas, Questees often don elaborate costumes and make-up.
“You need ways to distinguish your character because you’re not actually an elf, you’re a human using make-up to look like an elf,” said Jeremy Berkowitz ’10.
Although they disagree on the amount of influence J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” has had on fantasy role-playing, most Questees believe that a childhood fascination with fantasy and science fiction books led them to the activity. However, they also point out the vast differences they see between the two literary genres.
“Every time I find Frank Herbert [author of the ’Dune’ saga] in the fantasy section of the bookstore, I get a little angry,” said Seth Alter ’11.
Some “Quest” games are designed to last for an entire weekend. Participants arrive Friday evening and stay until Sunday afternoon. When Quest was first founded, players liked to stay in character throughout the entire duration of the game.
“It really gives you a chance to disappear into another world for a couple of days,” said Smith.
Jesse Karps, who is not affiliated with Wesleyan, particularly enjoys not having to deal with outsiders disturbing the mood during games that span several days.
“Everybody gets it,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about explaining yourself.”
There have been a few unpleasant encounters with some members of the Wesleyan community at events held on campus. One night, someone set off fireworks in the middle of the outdoor fighter practice. At the last game, a drunken student charged at players, brandishing a light-saber.
Despite these interruptions, Karps agreed with other members of “Quest” that they love to answer serious questions about their shared hobby.
“Honestly, I don’t think that anyone in the ’Quest’ community has any bad feelings about the way Wesleyan as a whole has treated them,” said Berkowitz. “I don’t really see any anti-LARPer hate crimes or anti-LARPer sentiments running around Wesleyan. And you know, people don’t vandalize Clark with ’Die, LARPer. Die!’”
Those unacquainted with LARPing do sometimes express their skepticism over the escapism that the activity encourages. But now that a Wesleyan LARPer is on the hit TV show “Beauty and the Geek,” perhaps interest in “Quest” will grow on campus. After all, Questees don’t necessarily consider their occasional desire to escape reality unique to their activity.
“Everything people do is escapism,” said Berkowitz. “I mean, when people go and join the PTA, or do local acting theater, or try to run for office, that’s escapism, too.”