Monster Camp

"OK"

Monster Camp Review


Who knew there'd be enough material in the world of live action role-playing games for not one but two documentaries about the (extremely) small phenomenon?

In cas you're unfamiliar with the idea, "LARPs" let you take your World of Warcraft or Dungeons & Dragons out of the basement and into the real world. LARP players put on costumes, body paint, and build complicated personalities -- not for a character on paper but for themselves. They then take these characters into fields and beat on each other with padded swords and throw spells at each other. (Spells being little sachels of birdseed.) It looks like chaos but we are assured during the course of Monster Camp that this is all highly structured, thanks to the rules of NERO, which publishes a 200-page manual covering how the game is to be played (complete with the memorization of spells).

Monster Camp tracks several months of NERO gaming in Seattle, profiling players in and out of costume and character, and wondering quietly whether this escapism is any worse than wasting your life away in front of a video game console or watching TV. Hey, at least it gets the geeks outside, right?

The documentary plays out largely as expected: There are innumerable players of the game interviewed, virtually all with the same story: I used to play D&D or WoW and got bored with it. Now I play NERO. And I still play D&D and WoW. Players love to expound upon their characters' backgrounds, but little of it holds our interest, since we aren't immersed in this world and could care less about the plight of the sea elves. We get it: It's escapism.

Attempts to explain the rules of NERO mostly fail miserably: No matter how much we see of the careful preparations, whenever the game is shown being played, it just looks like a wild pile-on of hitting and screaming until someone falls down. The experience is not unlike going to your local Renaissance Faire, sans costume. It looks like it could be fun, but you'd really have to buy in... and have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Whether or not Monster Camp is outright mockery is up for the viewer to decide. But as "game" documentaries go, there are comparatively few insights into the psyche of the player here, as opposed to the depth of a film like Wordplay. That is both strange and sad, because the crossword puzzle offers such little natural depth and a LARP naturally has tons. Yet there's more emotion in one crossword grid than a whole weekend of NERO. Maybe that's because there's a surprising homogeneity among the NERO players profiled.

The brightest spot: Director Cullen Hoback lucked out in finding a natural conflict near the end of the film, when the owner of the Seattle chapter decides to quit and ultimately tries to sell the chapter to someone else. Turns out it's just like any other business, just with extra orcs.

If the topic interests you, you might also check out Darkon, which is extremely similar in tone, but which chronicles various factions within a LARP fighting against each other in an series of elaborate wargames.



Monster Camp

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Saturday 3rd March 2007

Distributed by: Lifesize Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Cullen Hoback

Producer: Cullen Hoback, Aaron Kirk Douglas

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