Teaching Responsibility Through Imagination
By Jodi La Marco
“The biggest thing that I think kids get out of LARP (Live Action Role Playing) is empathy,” says Trine Boode-Petersen, Executive Director of Communications at Wayfinder Experience. During the camp’s day- and week-long programs, kids play a live action fantasy adventure game using characters which they themselves create. By assuming a different identity,Trine says, kids develop a newfound sense of compassion for others.
In both day camps for younger children and overnight camps for older kids, Wayfinder’s staff strives to create a safe space for kids to express themselves and connect with one another. Before a LARP adventure begins, campers build confidence and community by engaging in “trust and improve” workshops, as well as games such as “capture the flag.” Children eight and up are welcome to participate in Wayfinder’s day camps and as kids mature, they begin to take part in week-long, overnight programs designed for kids ages twelve through eighteen, with many returning as counselors.
Before the game gets going, campers go through a short orientation. Wayfinder’s staff of storywriters craft the parameters of each new adventure. “On our first day of camp, there’s a story intro where the story writer will explain the worlds, and some of the things they’re working with in the worlds,” explains Trine.“For instance, perhaps it’s a festival year in the kingdom, and the kids are participants at the festival. There are three clans: the elves, the dwarves, and the gnomes. The kids will pick one of those three clans, and from there they are able to develop their own characters and relationships within that framework.”
Kids are also given a survey to let the writers know what type of character each camper wants to play. “We want kids to push their boundaries and push what they’re comfortable with, but not in a way that feels unsafe to them or that they’re not ready for,” Trine says. “So we ask them what they like to do in games. Do they like to sneak around? Do they like to talk? Is there’s anything they’ve wanted to do in an adventure game that they haven’t had a chance to do?” By filling out the survey, writers know how to place kids within the overall storyline based on each child’s interests and comfort level.
Games involve a mix of acting and athletics. “Our style of roleplaying is very similar to what people are calling Nordic LARP, or integrated LARP, which uses in-depth plots as well as what are called ‘boppers.’ The boppers are PVC pipes with pipe insulation and duct tape. Bopper LARPs, which are really big in America, are basically a reason to get together and hit each other with fake swords. We actually make our own swords out of foam, so they look pointed and sleek and elegant. In our camps, we also add in the roleplaying aspect, which is what really helps them grow and learn about themselves and about other communities,” Trine explains.
LARPS are also heavily improve-oriented. “Instead of being just about one big battle, it’s about making good story choices that are going to make your character more interesting, or make the overall story more interesting. We do a lot of ‘improve theater’ leading up to the adventure so kids are really comfortable stepping in and saying something,” says Trine.
This year, Wayfinder is launching an additional version of its overnight camp: Survival Camp. Campers learn wilderness survival skills such as wood carving, tracking, plant identification, and fire- and shelter-building, and then incorporate their new knowledge into a LARP adventure game.
The company also runs afterschool and homeschool programs, and even puts on a yearly LARP event for adults. “We have an adult program that we started three years ago,” Trine says. “It’s once a year, but it’s another one of my favorite programs because adults are getting to engage in this way that we’re asking teens to engage in and they love it. Adults don’t get to play that much anymore so we have a weekend where we just let them really let loose and play.”
Wayfinder started in Kingston in 2001, and was taken over by Trine and Corrine McDouglas—both long-time campers—in 2012. The two met in Massachusetts at a LARP camp called Adventure Game Theater, the forerunner of Wayfinder. “I actually started at the original AGT camp when I was 15. I started going to camp there in 2003, which was the last summer it was around. That’s where I met Cory. She was a camp counsellor for my first summer,” Trine says.
As a former camper who knows firsthand the benefits of LARP camp, Trine is working hard to secure donations for the organization’s scholarship fund. “We’re not a non-profit, but we operate like one, and we always need more revenue coming in to really make this thrive,” she says.“Our big push right now is getting donations for our Hero Fund, which is our scholarship program. We usually have kids every year who want to come to camp and can’t afford it because it is a specialty camp. Summer camp in general is rather expensive. Kids apply for it and then we dole out donations depending on how much we have in our account. It’s low this year, so we’re really pushing to get donations so we can get everyone to camp.”