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Darkon (2006)

by on 2012/02/27

“There’s a desperation to life because it is terminal, everyone is going to die.”

* * * *

I come not to mock LARPing, but to praise it. I refer, of course, to Live-Action Role-Playing.

Ok, time to fess up. I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons. I own the Castle Ravenloft board game. I’m soft on roleplaying. Soft …like melted into a puddle.

I love games. I loving gaming. I love gamers.

I also hold down increasingly more and more well-paying jobs, own my own home, save and invest early and often, and pay own bills all by my lonesome. I’m highly immature and highly responsible. Dependent on my fantasy world and fiercely independent.

Directed by Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel, Darkon is a simple, wise, well-crafted documentary about the complex and highly sympathetic people who make up the Darkon Wargaming Club in Baltimore, Maryland.

When the action opened onto a bunch of people in medieval garb, whaling on each other with foam bats and Nerf maces on a high school football field, I thought I might crack an ironic smile. But just as a smirk twitched on my lips, Darkon introduced me to the people behind the mock battle. And I liked them all. Rather a lot.

The two central “actors” are Skip Lipman and Kenyon Wells – leaders of two opposing countries in the sprawling imagined world of Darkon. Skip is Bannor, an upstart and one-time supporter of an imperialistic power called Mordom, and Kenyon is Keldar, the ruthless supreme ruler of the aforementioned Mordom.

In rl, Skip is a stay-at-home dad. He watches Excalibur while he’s folding the laundry, plays battle strategy while he’s taking out the trash, plays strategy games with his kids. In his way, he was charming.

We meet his wife, we meet his brother, we learn about his father. We learn Skip feels hemmed in by his day-to-to suburban existence and longs to be a hero, do something extraordinary.

According to his parents, Kenyon was a quiet boy who spent all of his time alone and had trouble relating to people. That is rather hard to imagine when you watch Keldar bellowing orders to his dog-loyal hordes on the battlefield.

We meet Rebecca, an under-employed mother who lives off of her family. She has dreams of owning her own home, becoming independent, and making a better life for herself and her kid. In Darkon, she’s Nemesis – exotic, resourceful and mysterious.

The players lead mundane suburban lives, they pay the bills, do their laundry. To a one, they share that Darkon gives them a sense of control, identity and belonging.

The entire thing is played for imaginary hexes of land, fake gold coins and bragging rights. But it is as deadly serious as though the gold and blood was real. In fact, according to the Darkon rules, “participants should also wear anything they may need personally to protect themselves from injury, such as knee/ankle braces, sports bras, and/or a cup.”

Deadly serious indeed. In fact, I think Darkon couldn’t be more important.

What’s more ridiculous, living a dull workaday life every day, and never, ever doing anything fantastical, goofy or unconventional? Or taking a break from paying the bills, and sprinting through the woods on a Saturday in full dark elf face and body paint, wearing full chain mail?

I think you know my answer.

So I tip my Viking helmet to these people. Darkon, Skip, Kenyon, Rebecca – I salute thee.

* * * *

89 minutes


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