The Netflix Files: September 13, 2011

It’s been a rough summer for Netflix.

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In July, Netflix announced its plans to terminate the super-cheap, super-beloved $9.99 plan in favor of making its subscribers dish out more for the use of each service (DVD and streaming). Deadline estimates that the decision will cost Netflix 2.5 million subscribers.

You already know all about this. Maybe you’ve cancelled your account. As long as we’re being honest, I certainly considered doing the same. Briefly. But BlogDailyHerald pays me WAY too much for me to ever stop writing this column.

We wondered whether Netflix would remain such an integral and relevant part of Brown culture. This summer saw the emergence of HBO GO, the amazingly comprehensive library of every HBO series and film. (I used it to binge-watch The Wire in its entirety… like everyone else.) HBO GO could have easily been incorporated into this column. But ultimately, we resolved to stick to our guns.

Netflix Watch Instantly might not be able to give us cool new releases like Toy Story 3 or The Social Network anymore. Yet that’s not really what this column is supposed to be about. We’re looking for the movies and TV that exist off the beaten path, the fun hidden gems. Basically, what we’re saying is Netflix still has a lot of random shit, and we still want to tell you all about it.

So, without further adieu, let’s talk about LARPing.

“LARP” stands for live-action role-playing game. In its tamest form, LARPing occurs around a Dungeons & Dragons board. Others (like McLovin’ in Role Models) choose to go all-out, dressing up in their best medieval garb and jousting with foam swords. It can be intense. Brown is known for annually hosting a widely-attended LARPing game on the Quiet Green, as students re-enact the historic Battle of Kadesh.

Why participate in a LARPing event? See for yourself — two critically-acclaimed documentaries on the subject, Darkon (2006) and Monster Camp (2007), are currently available on Watch Instantly.

As one LARPer in Darkon explains, “I come here. I pay five dollars. Three days. Beat everything within sight. Have a good time, sit down, drink a beer. Good times, good friends…What else is there?” It’s a tight-knit community that exists outside the realm of conventional reality. Cubicle drones and Starbucks baristas can leave behind the mundaneness of everyday life and assume the roles of knights and warriors, develop in-game relationships and command vast armies.

Darkon profiles the political machinations behind a medieval role-playing game. The film follows Skip Lipman, a family man and all-around likable guy who moonlights as “Bannor, Champion of Myriador.” His kingdom is the underdog, at war with the imperialistic ruling power of Mordom. The whole ordeal culminates with one huge, shockingly emotional battle scene. It’s pretty crazy.

Yet the heart of the film comes from Lipman’s real life, where he also functions as underdog. Very much a man that never reached his full potential, Lipman seeks out the Darkon world as a second chance to do just that, and to make his family proud. He is a deeply sympathetic character, one worth rooting for as he leads his troops into their final battle.

Monster Camp, alternately, doesn’t bother to mask the often awkward aspects of LARPing. Played much more as a quirky comedy, the film documents the operation of NERO, a role-playing game attended mostly by World of Warcraft addicts. These warriors (ranging from monsters to elves to lanky virgins in wife-beaters) must memorize complex spells and hit patterns. It’s significantly geekier. The MVP here is Val, a wheelchair-bound woman who lives alone and views NERO as “a chance to be around sixty people.” She enjoys the company of the LARPers and, working in-game as a costume designer and merchant, feels most comfortable there.

The two documentaries, while possessing some overlap, are wildly different in message and tone. So if you’ve ever been at all curious as to what exactly the phenomenon of LARP entails, check them out on Watch Instantly.

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