Tuesday, November 15, 2011

REVIEW: Darkon (2006)

I remember when it wasn’t cool to be a geek. I don’t know what changed since ninth grade - whether it’s the sheer ubiquity of technology these days, or the fact that video games have introduced sci-fi and fantasy tropes into a new generation that’s accepted them as the norm. Maybe it’s just my adult self ceasing to give a shit about how things I like are perceived by a general audience. Still, while we might live in a golden age of geekdom, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t outsiders subject to ridicule.

Enter LARPing (Live-Action Role-Playing), in which grown men and women dress in fare more suited to the local renaissance festival and run around soccer fields beating each other with foam swords. To the uninitiated it looks ridiculous, but to those involved it’s as serious an undertaking as any. Darkon explores the world of LARPing by following a number of enthusiasts through their in-game conquests as well as the more mundane aspects of their everyday lives.

I was apprehensive going into this film, half-expecting an incredulous outsider’s look into a bizarre subculture with the take-away message of “can you believe these people?” But Darkon doesn’t ridicule its subjects, and lets them speak for themselves, whether it’s on their in-game characters, the political machinations that make up the story of the game, or what they do when they aren’t slaying foes. Still, the unspoken question that runs throughout the interviews is: Why do this? What’s the appeal of a grown-up game of ‘let’s pretend?’ Anyone who’s roleplayed doesn’t need an answer to this; it’s fun, and that’s all that matters. It seems like the filmmakers weren’t content with this though, and often they dig into the personal insecurities of the subjects, superimposing their inadequacies in real life against their in-game victories and aspirations. I wonder just how much questioning had to happen before some of the answers that appear in the documentary were elucidated.

The subjects are interesting and likable people though, and the dedication they put into weaving their in-game stories reveals a passion that would be entertaining to watch regardless of the pursuit it was poured into. This eventually lends the footage of the game a weight that it lacks when it’s shown out of context in the beginning. And this is what LARPing is all about – not the act of hitting things with fake weapons, but the clash of personalities and the communal telling of a story. The dramatic music and crane shots near the climactic battle almost cheapen it in a way. There’s enough tension in the story without these pseudo-Hollywood effects.

What it comes down to in the end is that real life can be boring, and most people find a way to make it less so. These people don’t deserve scorn - if anything they should be applauded for creating a story so extensive and immersive.

7.5/10 = Worth your time

Darkon is available to watch via Netflix Instant.

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