LARP group leads to camaraderie, brings family together
BY BRYAN MCKENZIE
Jul. 28, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A dozen adults and teens wielding shields went full-on Braveheart in Darden Towe Park, clashing, slashing and smashing each other with foam-covered sticks.
It may seem like an odd way to make friends and bring families closer together, but members of Zorn Vongal, a local live-action role-play group, or LARP, say it works.
It's proved so successful, the group has worked with local agencies helping military families cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"There's sort of a kinship you make with the people around you. We hit each other for a while and then take water breaks where we sit and joke about the game and talk about our normal lives," said Caleigh "Iraleth" Compton, 16, renown through the realm for her fierceness on the field and her love of bacon.
"You could come into a complete group of strangers, battle with each other and find that you have made 10 or 12 friends who will stay with you a long, long time," she said. "You really get to know these people."
That's true, said Ethan "Quinton" Zimmerman, 14, who met the group at a library presentation in Harrisonburg.
"It was about a year ago and I was at the library because it was free book day and I see this LARP demonstration. I'm kind of into that, so I went to watch," he said, taking a break from combat. "I was in awe. It was a bunch of nerds dressed up and fighting each other."
Zimmerman said he was hooked after winning his first battle. He then stayed with friends in Harrisonburg to keep playing the game before his move out of state later this summer.
"I'm moving to Florida, and I'll look for a chapter there," he said.
"You can play here if you're 13, and that was one of the reasons we drive from Harrisonburg on Sundays," said Bill Goldberg, with whom Zimmerman has stayed this summer. "It's really a lot of fun, and the kids and adults seem to have a good time."
Zorn Vongal is the local chapter of the worldwide Dagorhir Battle Game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The game began in 1977 when a group of college students at the University of Maryland, sharing a passion for the books and medieval history, went out and whacked each other with broomsticks. The game evolved to include safer, foam-covered weaponry and various scenarios based loosely on the books.
About 20 chapters, or realms, are scattered across the country from California to Michigan, New York to Florida. There are large meetings of the groups, often with several hundred players, during which the players camp and hang out for weekends.
Most players create characters and backstories, and the chapters create stories for themselves that may focus on mock combat, history, magic or myth.
"Zorn Vongal means 'mountain raider' in Elvish, and we call ourselves that because we're at the foot of the mountains and people pretty much have to drive through the area on Interstate 64 or U.S. 250 to get to Richmond or the coast or Interstate 81," said Joe "Cy" Compton, 37, the local realm's founder.
"Our story is that we're a bunch of highwaymen waiting to pounce on travelers. We're brigands," he said. "Of course, in reality we're just a bunch nerds getting out and smacking the crap out of each other for fun."
Joe Compton and his children began the group in Greene County, but Zorn Vongal really hit its stride when they moved their Sunday high noon meetings to Darden Towe Park, attracting other adults and families.
They also visited area libraries on some weekends to present demonstrations, attracting more members.
As odd as it may seem, the game that features medieval swordplay, archery and battle techniques seems to bring people together. For Joe Compton, whose love of the game was stoked in the 1990s as a teenager in Nashville, Tennessee. Rediscovering the game helped him rediscover his family and overcome PTSD.
Joe Compton said his service as an analyst with an Army mechanized engineering battalion charged with clearing roads, investigating bombings and other sapper activities, created some emotional issues that made his relationship with his kids difficult as they grew older,.
"I struggled for several years, and still do, with PTSD. I knew I had some violent tendencies after serving and I really didn't want to play a violent game, even if it was mock violence," he recalled.
"Then one day, we were sitting down, looking through the family photo albums, and my teenage son and daughter saw these photos of their mother and me at a Dagorhir event in the 1990s all dressed up," he said. "My son said, 'Hey, what' is this?' I thought, great, there goes all the dad-cred I had left when they discover what a nerd I was."
He need not have worried.
"I thought it was cool seeing those pictures and it looked like fun," said Zach "Vogen" Compton, Joe's 18-year-old son. "Playing has taught me anger management, and it taught dad how to relax and let go a little. It's really been about learning your shortcomings and getting past them. We all had a bit of growing to do, and the game brought us together. It gave us something in common."
The changes they experienced encouraged the Comptons to take the game to Living Free, a local organization providing military families with support to help address issues such as PTSD.
"It's really helping the kids in the program and their families get back on their feet," said Diane Leroux, a member of Living Free. Her son, nicknamed "Rabbit," recently joined the group. He earned his name by winning his first mock battle game.
"It really reunites families by giving them a shared activity, helps kids better relate to their parents and their experiences and rebuilds confidence," Leroux said. "Along with other programs offered (at Living Free), it really makes a difference."
For Joe Compton, seeing how the game helped his family has encouraged him to offer the program to others who may be struggling.
"My kids and I built a new narrative between each other, and Dagorhir gave us something we could all talk about. We were now able to relate each other on a personal basis," he said.
"That helped us build better relationships with each other," he said. "We were sharing the same game, the same field and the same rules, and we shared experiences. We'd talk about the game and it allowed us to talk about other things in our lives, as well."
"It's made a big difference in how we relate to each other," said Caleigh Compton, Joe's daughter. "It took Dad a while to get comfortable with fighting and not get too into it and to get to where we are now. It's wild how a somewhat broken family came together by beating each other with sticks."
Information from: The Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com