Treasure Trapped – An Inspiring Documentary!

Written by GeekGirlCon Copywriter Sarah “SG-1” Grant

Role playing games are huge parts of the lives of many people I know in the Seattle area; two of my writer friends regularly run their own games out of their living room, as well as at AmberCon in Detroit every year. I know quite a few groups of people who have reservations at games stores and coffee houses for weekly games as well, and I even participate occasionally.

Live action role playing, or LARPing, is something that’s existed sort of on the periphery of my life for a while now; I have friends who LARP who will talk about it, and friends who LARP who won’t talk about it. It depends on their circles of friends if they share it or not; I’ve heard them say that people get a strange look on their faces when told what LARPing is. I don’t LARP myself, but I have been familiar with this look for most of my life when trying to explain why I love science fiction and fantasy books, films, and television shows.

On June 27, I was privileged to go to a screening of a documentary called Treasure Trapped. It was made in the United Kingdom and several Nordic countries by a film company called Cosmic Joke. I was very interested to see it; I’d been chatting via email to one of the film’s producers, Shona Brown, and she is very passionate about the project—and the fact that they were coming from the UK to the USA for a screening tour!

Nick Peel, Shona Brown, Matthew Sturdy and Alex Taylor at Pacific Coast Highway.

Nick Peel, Shona Brown, Matthew Sturdy and Alex Taylor at Pacific Coast Highway. From the Treasure Trapped FB page.

There were about 40 people at the screening of Treasure Trapped, and I had high hopes of seeing a good, solid representation of the LARP world. Previous films I had seen tended to be very condescending, even cruel, to the players and those running the events, and I really didn’t want to see that again.

I didn’t see any condescension or cruelty to the LARP community through the entire film. I loved it, and I learned a lot more about LARP than I’d ever known before.

The title of Treasure Trapped refers to the original Treasure Trap LARP at Peckforton Castle, Cheshire, which is often billed as the first LARP. There were interviews with people from that original LARP in 1982; they were articulate, funny, and very intelligent. Various LARPs spun off from Treasure Trap throughout the UK, including the Durham University Treasure Trap, Cambridge University Treasure Trap (now known as the Cambridge Larp Society), Labyrinthe (run in Chislehurst Caves in Kent), and others. Much of the background of the beginning of LARP was covered in the film, and I found it fascinating.

Most of the LARPs covered in Treasured Trapped had common elements: player characters (characters made up and embodied by specific players), non-player characters (nameless monsters, fighters, etc., referred to as NPCs), referees, and writers. Many of these LARPs were in medieval settings, away from big cities, on camping grounds with plenty of space for battles to take place and lots of room to roam around. The players, writers, and NPCs had different costumes, ranging from simple armor and armaments to larger-than-life monsters, dragons, and so many more.

In a swift change from medieval LARPs, the film team visited a post-apocalyptic LARP called Wasteland. This was set in Britain 80 years after a global nuclear war. Instead of the usual padded swords, dragons, wizards, and warriors present in medieval games, there were people trying to live in this devastated world, finding food, protecting themselves from radiation, and looking for anything to help them survive. There were guns, dirty bombs, and mutated monsters attacking at any time–and it looked like lot of fun!

A lookout held by one of the factions in Wasteland UK. Image used from Wasteland UK gallery.

A lookout held by one of the factions in Wasteland UK. Image used from Wasteland UK gallery.

As the team learned more about LARP, they found out about a specific event in Gothenburg, Sweden called Monitor Celestra. This was a LARP on board a retired naval vessel, and set up as a Battlestar Galactica LARP! That got my attention in a hurry. Monitor Celestra looked amazing; its focus was on costuming (for participants to truly be in character) and on making everything on the Navy vessel look and feel as though they were actually on a ship called Celestra. It was being taken over by Galactica for its supplies, scientific capabilities, and its crew. The Cosmic Joke film crew actually became part of the LARP in order to film: they were inserted into the story as a film crew documenting the operation for the top brass back on the Command vessel. This LARP ran three times with 150 people each time. I would DEFINITELY want to do this if it was run again, and certainly if it came to the US.

A scene from Monitor Celestra. Image from Petter Karlsson Production Design.

A scene from Monitor Celestra. Image from Petter Karlsson Production Design.

Their next stop was in Copenhagen for an event called PanoptiCorp in 2013. It was an event centered around a fictional advertising company, and the premise was to put aside morality and do whatever it took to win clients and market their products. This was an immersive, 36-hour experience, starting with a session to allow each player to actually set aside their real selves and become a ruthless, money-making machine, out to win everything. My favorite part of PanoptiCorp in the documentary was the time they spent after the LARP was over, dissecting and discussing the things they did and said, how they felt about them, and what to do with the experiences each player gleaned.

The final film experience was at a school in Denmark called Osterskov Esterskole, which teaches based in role playing and related activities. The students we saw in the film were teenagers of various ages, all of whom seemed like fairly typical teenagers–but they truly enjoyed their school experiences. The film team spoke with teachers and students alike, and Osterskove Esterskole was compared to conventional schools in the UK, where students sit at desks and are lectured to–much as many students are in the United States.

After the documentary finished (and it wasn’t long enough–I wanted more!), the filmmakers and about 15 of the people who attended the screening trooped over to the closest brew pub and sat down to talk about both the film and their own experiences with LARP. Everyone I met asked me the same question: “What game do you play?” At first, I felt a little awkward admitting that I didn’t game, but everyone there accepted me and brought me into their conversations. I learned more about LARP that Saturday than I had ever heard–and I had an amazing time.

Cosmic Joke and friends at San Diego Comic Con!

Treasure Trapped and friends at San Diego Comic Con!

This weekend, the Treasure Trapped crew is at San Diego Comic-Con for a screening there, and I wish I could be there with them, passing out buttons, talking to people about it, and steering them toward the screening. If I had the money, I would help Cosmic Joke put Treasure Trapped screenings on around the world, and show as many people as possible how the world of LARP is and can be truly incredible. And I definitely want to buy multiple copies of the DVD when the production team releases it; I’ll be giving them to people in my life who want to know the kind of geek I am. I may not have done LARP before, but I think I’ve found another group of people in the world where I belong.

If you want to set up a screening of Treasure Trapped in your area–and I highly recommend that you do so–please visit the Treasure Trapped Tugg Events page to begin your amazing journey.

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Sarah Grant
“Rock On!”

5 responses to “Treasure Trapped – An Inspiring Documentary!”

  1. Jordan says:

    Sarah, great review of the film and thanks so much for coming out to the screening. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and felt connected to the larp community! If you ever want to head out to a game in Seattle, let us know and we’ll connect you with some good folks! 🙂

    • Sarah Grant says:

      I’ve been following you on Facebook since we hung out in the bar after the film; I’ve got my eye on you…in a totally non-creepy, y’all are awesome sort of way. 🙂 Thank you!!!

  2. Tish Wells says:

    Great write-up. This sound fascinating.

    If I ever get a chance to see this, I’ll make a point of it. Since my fannish experience started in the mid-1970s, I’m always glad when the pre-Internet era is acknowledged.

    • Sarah Grant says:

      Tish, thank you for reading! 🙂 I loved that it went back to the beginnings of organized larp, which I didn’t expect. Now I want to run a Star Trek one in Seattle…

      SG-1

  3. […] DVD on the way out was this past July when I saw Treasure Trapped on its tour of the US. (I wrote a rave review of the film for GeekGirlCon here!) It’s a documentary of epic proportions filmed in the United Kingdom and several European […]

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