I really enjoyed the film, though obviously my own live game experience gave me obvious interest in the subject matter. It is surely not the definitive documentary about LARP, nor is it the best conceivable doc about even that one LARP group, but there was still plenty to like. Strangely, I find myself more interested in critiquing the LARP than the documentary about it. Darkon is a live combat LARP and although there are obvious role-playing elements to it, the emphasis is clearly on bashing at each other. This is not just the focus of the filmmakers; Pat's question in the Q&A (three of the LARPers were there at the screening along with the directors) seemed to confirm that role-play was not the emphasis of Darkon. Nothing wrong with that, but the film solidified my lack of interest in this style of LARP. Having a general arraying his battle line may be interesting from a strategy point of view, shouting orders within the in-game lingo and character names may add to the fantasy feel of what's going on, shouting your own taunts and war-cries at the enemy is great, but it's a limited sort of role-playing. To be sure, there was skulduggery and deception and behind the scenes political machinations, but the thrust of everything was who's going to stand on which side of the field when we run at each other and make crazy with the biffing and the baffing. (Clearly not enough boffing in Darkon, if you know what I mean. The gender ratio was at least 20:1.)
Getting back to the film, it follows a few people with more or less screen-time and does a good job of getting their own take on what LARP has done for them. Several people are pretty upfront about saying of themselves, "My life is shitty and this game lets me escape to a place where I'm powerful and in control of my life." This is not the face of LARP that is going to promote the hobby -- but this was the unconfortable truth that these players were brave enough to share with the documentarians. Some of the players have clearly derived positive benefits from their participation, while the film is maybe too easy on players whose involvement may not have been that beneficial to them or their lives. If one redirected a fraction of the time and effort spent on becoming the chieftain of Outer Blorpia into one's life in the real world... (Of course, I'm hardly in a position to take people to task on this score.) One of the drawbacks of the film is that it is almost entirely from inside the Darkon camp. Outside testimony from friends, family and coworkers could really have helped to flesh out the effect (if any) the game has on its players. There's a bit of that, and almost all of it is interesting; for instance, I think a long chat with Skip's wife might have really added something to the story that one only gets a glimpse of in the film. This would have been more interesting than yet another shot of boastful war-speeches accompanied by the deafening 'flump' of boffers against shields before battle.
This is not the 'Spellbound' or 'Word Wars' of LARP, but still quite good. Unfortunately, the uninitiated who see the film will probably make the identification LARP=boffers. So I can't point my relatives to this movie and say, "This is what I do for fun." Because our games (and, ahem, players) are almost entirely unlike Darkon. Not that I'm claiming superiority(*) -- just that these gamestyles are as different as American football and poker.
(*)Ok, I confess it's true: we are all thinner, better-looking and more comfortable in the real-world than the average Darkonian.