Eph ‘Battlestar’ fans just love to LARP

Deep in the heart of the Odd Quad, at nine p.m. on a dark Friday night, I found myself walking down the hall to the common room on the second floor of Prospect. I was there to meet Samuel Jackson ’10, a self-declared super-fan of the television show Battlestar Galactica. Known colloquially as Battlestar, or BSG, the show airs Friday nights at 10 p.m. on the SciFi channel, and caters to a small but devoted contingency of science fiction fans.

On Friday, the second episode of the long-anticipated final season of the series aired, which, along with many other shows, was delayed for months due to the writers’ strike. However, this delayed return to television was not the only cause for the students’ fervor. Friday also marked the eve of the first official Live Action Role Playing (LARP) for the Williams chapter of the BSG Fan Club.

The concept of the LARPs derives from a long tradition of fantasy role-playing, harkening back to Gary Gygax, the pioneer of role-playing games a la the tabletop game of “Dungeons and Dragons.” Once at the event, LARPers take on the persona of their desired character or alter-ego and act out battles or re-enact sequences from their favorite books, TV series or online interactions in character. Though most LARPs generally fall under the fantasy genre, Jackson assured me that the science-fiction-themed LARPs are not uncommon and are, in fact, currently gaining popularity.

“I didn’t even know what LARPing was before I came to Williams,” Jackson said. “Really it was Menking [Steven Menking ’10] that got me into it. He is more of a fantasy fan, into the WoW [World of Warcraft] scene.”

Battlestar caters to the elites of the science fiction genre, bringing together re-imagined inter-planetary warfare, visually intense computer graphics and intricate plots between the human survivors at the outskirts of space, and the alien population known as Cylons. The show typically has a young viewing audience, targeting those in their teens and early 20s.

In anticipation of an upcoming LARP, the entire BSG Fan Club, referred by its members as “The Club,” met at 9:30 p.m. to watch the show and display its BSG finery. I had half an hour before the crowd arrived and the official meeting got underway.

At this point, only Jackson and his friend and fellow BSG fan Matthew Deady ’10 had arrived. I was immediately struck by their dashing good looks, as well as their matching “Ronald D. Moore is my master now” t-shirts. “Ronald D. Moore is the creator of Battlestar Galactica. It’s a take off on the whole Star Wars thing,” Jackson said jokingly. “I’m not a fan of Stars Wars. It’s Star Trek for life.”
By now, Jack and Deady were already in the midst of of a heated argument about the merits of recent entry on the video blog site BSGcast.com, an unofficial but highly regarded BSG fan site. The boys soon delved into a discussion that lost me in acronyms and exotic names, so I began to take in the unusual surroundings of the situation that I had been placed in, having never seen, let alone heard of, Battlestar Galactica.

The common room appeared to be well-loved, as evidenced by the many posters adorning the walls and the numerous game controllers and pizza boxes cluttering the floor. There were also several BSG t-shirts hung up around the room. “One of the t-shirts is signed!” Jackson said as he proudly pointed to one of his many wall decorations. “It’s by Tricia Helfer [a recurring cast member of the show]. She’s a Cylon [an alien who seeks to destroy humans]. And a former Playboy model!” The main focal point, however, was the television, where Jackson, Deady and others faithfully tune in Friday evenings. The box set of season three of Battlestar, was prominently displayed to the right hand side of the television.

Surprisingly, it was this box set that actually prompted Jackson’s passion for Battlestar. “I’m a big Star Trek fan, but since Enterprise ended there wasn’t much on,” he said. “I was watching Andromeda and Stargate, but they just seem so fake. My dad got the BSG box set for Christmas and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

From all their enthusiastic banter, it was clear that the boys were thrilled about the imminent LARP. “It’s a scripted LARP,” Jackson said. “One of the online club members wrote the script. Basically members of the Galactica are stranded on the planet Omicron after the Vipers’ deuterium [fuel] is sabotaged by a Cylon on board Galactica. The crew has to fight through Cylons to get to the deuterium store on the planet surface.”

At the LARP, each of The Club’s members dress up in costume, following the script and reenacting critical scenes. “I’ve got a pretty sweet costume,” Jackson said.

“I generally play either an Orc or an Ogre, but obviously this is a sci-fi thing so I’ve modified my costume into a sort of ragtag armor ensemble and will be one of the human refugee resistance fighters on the planet,” Menking added in regards to his own plans at the LARP.

For Menking, LARPing is the ultimate social experience. Not only does the weekend excursion allow him to meet new people, but it also allows him to stay in touch with old friends. “I’ve always been into RPGs and MMORPG’s [role-playing games and massive multiplayer online role-playing game, respectively] like WoW and Guild Wars,” he said. “I have a ton of friends online and LARPing is a good way to get out there and actually meet them. I’ve been doing it for four years now, probably averaging four to five a year.”

Despite their zeal for the Battlestar LARP, the BSG Fan Club members’ hopes were completely dashed after the event’s cancellation. “It was supposed to be in the Days Inn but last week they told us that because of ‘liability’ issues that they couldn’t let us use the space,” Jackson explained. “Luckily Dan [Waters ‘11] is from Bedford [MA] and he is pretty sure that we can have the high school to ourselves for future LARPs.”

Most viewers may not quite be ready to dress up as a character yet, but as “The Club” demonstrates, the show is gaining popularity by pandering to an imaginative, enthusiastic audience. Who knows, perhaps LARPs will be an increasingly enticing option for students on the weekends, especially since all-campus parties no longer seem to be viable social options. So next time you’re in an adventurous spirit on a Friday night, you might consider tuning into the SciFi channel and giving epic intergalatic drama a try. Costume not required.