Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Darkon (2006)

I've always respected the act of Civil War battle reenactments. They give those who are interested a better understanding of what some important historical figures went through in the first half of the 1860s. They can also honor those who fought to end slavery. Darkon is a little different. This is live action role-playing based entirely on fantasy. I have my opinions on it, but ultimately I think this serves an important purpose as well- perhaps even a much more personal one. 

As I said, Darkon is live action role-playing. These people gather in Baltimore to dress up like medieval warriors who try and conquer "imaginary hexes of land on a map." It is also necessary to defend your imaginary hexes of land. Each group is called a country and represents a spot on the map. The entire organization is on this map, so you can see the entire history of the game and who owns which area of land. 

One of the members explains that the groups meet every two weeks and they do battle in city parks and behind schools. Once a month during the summer, spring and fall, the groups have weekend camp outs that are larger in scale. 

The interesting thing about this documentary is not the battles or the costumes, it's the people who take part in all of it. The film introduces to several of Darkon's members and they all seem to have something in common- they are looking for a place to belong. One woman talks about how she works at a fabric store stocking shelves. She says it's important because if she does her job well, people can find what they are looking for faster and easier. She then goes on to say that if she quit that job and someone else did it, it wouldn't make any difference. Another woman talks about being a single mother who lives at home with her parents. She feels that as long as she is there, she isn't in charge of her life. But at Darkon, she controls her destiny. It gives her a sense of freedom and purpose. She also seems to have some questionable ideas on how to raise a child, but I'm not here to comment on that. 

Most of the male members talk about how they never fit in as a kid. They were loners and anti-social or got picked-on by the popular kids. One of the guy's mother's is interviewed and she seems thrilled that he found Darkon. Since joining he has found a group of people who are similar and he can now build healthy relationships.  Another guy says that in his personal life he works at Starbucks and is a nerd, but at Darkon everyone is equal. 

However, just like with any group of people, Darkon has its drama. There can be tension within individual groups. Moral issues are discussed privately with the utmost sincerity. By the look in their eyes and the tone in their voices, you really get the feeling that these people are just playing a game. 

One of the more fascinating aspects of the documentary is the philosophical realizations that some of these people have. In daily lives we all have roles that we play. If we go to a wedding, it is expected that we behave a certain way and participate in the various customs that go along with it. These people see Darkon the same way. They each play a part that ultimately helps achieve a greater purpose and promotes order in the social structure. The lines of reality are definitely blurred here as well. One player says that he spends so much of his time preparing for Darkon and playing Darkon that the fiction of it becomes his reality. He is actually the hero of his own destiny. 

I think the world is made up of two kinds of people when it comes to stuff like Darkon. There are those who need to take part in groups like these in order to feel fulfilled and there are those who already know how to follow their bliss and can get just as much out of reading a Joseph Campbell book or watching the Star Wars movies. No matter how we live our lives, we are all the heroes of our own destiny. It's up to us to figure out what the journey is. 

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