Stay With Me

18 Oct 2019

I’ve almost finished strapping in to my armour when Amy notices a blood spot in my eye.

This is bad. The previous night I’d been hit hard in the eye with a sword - a “LARP-safe” one, but then nothing is ever really “eye safe”. At the time I had some bruising but no bleeding. This has changed.

Around me, my friends are gearing up. In a few minutes we’ll be heading on to the field for a massive battle, hundreds to a side, with permanent, game-changing consequences on the line.

But the plan pivots in an instant, and we’re marching to the real-world aid tent, on the other side of the field to the in-world “hospital”. A medic eyes the approaching warband.

“Are you going to the battle?”

“That was the plan, but let’s see.”

He looks briefly into my eye with a UV torch and makes a snap decision.

“You’re going to Northampton General and you’re leaving now.”

And suddenly: we’re in realtime. I can actually feel the wrench as the world shifts and the ruleset changes. This Is Actually Happening, and irreversible things are now possible.

I don’t want to be a pirate. Most of my favourite activities require binocular vision.

I immediately switch to what I’ve started calling Situation Voice. It’s low, soft, precise to the point of being wordy, and utterly devoid of emotion. Situation Voice is not designed to prevent the people around me from panicking. In fact, my friends have learned what it means, and it can be unnecessarily stressful for them.

It’s designed to stop me from panicking.

Four of us move quickly to the car, now encased in a bubble of actual reality in the middle of another world. Driver, doctor, partner, and patient, walking quickly one way while hundreds of war-ready heroes move the other.

At the hospital, the staff aren’t surprised.

“Another warrior?”

“Yeah, but there’s no glory in getting actually hurt.”

The waiting room is an odd mix of dark humour, sitting quietly, unnecessary apologies, and trying to find ways to help. I’m a high-information patient, and we’re all playing a careful game where I don’t ask questions that would force them to either frighten me or lie to me, and they give answers that are truthful but reassuring. I am tracking the - low, but now measurable - probability of a very bad outcome.

Like last time, when it’s over, it’s over quickly. The opthamologist examines my eye for a minute and says, and I quote, “go home and live your life”.

My friend feels more relieved that I do; the Situation Mode hangover prevents me from feeling anything at all. On the drive back, I notice that she is holding my hand, no longer in fear, but in relief. It's genuinely touching.

The fallout is what we expected: the weekend’s basically over by the time we get back, and three people missed the highlight in order to support me with something that turned out to be a non-issue.

And that’s a real shame, and a debt that’s owed. But, ultimately, I’m not so sure that there was much of a difference. Each LARP is a huge investment of time and effort, and this is why we do it. To be Big Damn Heroes. To make, and tell, stories about taking dramatic, decisive action in defence of people we care about.

One way or another.