A video making the rounds on the internet this week has Harry Potter fans the world over falling to the ground in apoplectic fits of jealousy. Shot last month near the town of Czocha, Poland, the polished footage shows about 190 robed and pointy-hatted Potterites commandeering a local castle to host the world's largest and most intricate J. K. Rowling–themed LARP adventure in history.Organized by Denmark's Rollespilsfabrikken and Poland's Liveform LARPing communities, the College of Wizardry simulation gave super fans an experience thousands of times more satisfying than buying overpriced butterbeers at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: the chance to escape the Muggle world and, for four days, become students and teachers in a 24/7 magical academy, learning spells, playing Quidditch, and engaging in hyperbolic emotional intrigue with their fellow witches and wizards. And thanks to the intense and sophisticated LARPing community and resources of Northern Europe, this fantastical reality is set to open its doors once more next spring.
People role-play Harry Potter all the time, and the College of Wizardry organizers openly admit on the event's website that what they're doing is just an extension of daydreaming or make-believe. "It's essentially the same as when kids use curtains as robes and sticks as wands and run around pretending to be witches and wizards," they write. "Except we're grownups with nicer costumes and a lot of experience in designing interactive experiences with each other." That translates to uniform and finely tailored robes, ties issued to participants in the colors of one of five school houses (although set in the Potter universe, the game took place at the fictional Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry, not Hoggy-Warty-Hogwarts), and manuals and guidelines for how to interact over the course of the week.The immersive detail of this magical reality is something you'd probably never be able to create in the American LARPing world. Here simulations are more weekend-warrior fantasy creations—a lot of slash-and-hack battles giving folks an opportunity to channel some aggression into foam swords and fireballs. It's the sort of thing you'll see in the 2013 film Knights of Badassdom. But the Poles and their neighbors devote serious time and energy to developing new worlds, not just battles. In 2012, a Polish LARP squad called the Brothership of Sorontar from Glogowka announced their plan to develop Kraina Pradziada, a full-time, Tolkein-themed LARP park inspired by an already functional LARP park, Utopion, in Bexbach, Germany.
The Poles have wanted to pull off a massive Harry Potter LARP for ages, but they never had the resources to hire a castle and create all the kit. That's why they called in the Danes: the true kings of LARPing. Rollespilsfabrikken, an association of 1,000 dues-paying members with a physical headquarters and armory in Copenhagen, is just one of dozens of Danish LARP organizations partially funded by state grants. With 100,000 Danes involved in the practice, LARPing is the third-most popular organized activity—behind soccer and handball—in the nation. The Danes have even experimented, in the town of Hobro, with education-through-LARPing.The Danish organizers of the Harry Potter simulation state that they're disciples of the Nordiclarp movement, which is all about creating a convincing world and then dumping characters into it unscripted. Without prompting, there's no guarantee that the good guys will win, no telling how the scenario will play out. That freedom, they hope, will make wizarding feel real, create engaging stakes in the events, and perhaps dig up new emotions and insights.This ethos undergirds their mission statement for the Wizarding event: "We want the LARP to feel like you're stepping into the world of Harry Potter. Emotional drama, school rivalry, young adults fighting the battles of adults, and occasional comedy are all part of the experience… We want drama, escalation of conflicts, and de-escalation back to normalcy again."Also known as bleed, this obsession with the leakage between reality and fantasy and altered emotional states has in the past been taken to more extreme ends in Denmark than the fight against Voldemort. In 2008, the "Motherland" simulation envisioned Denmark ruled by Nazis in a reality where the Allies lost World War II and subjected participants to simulated torture. In 2011, the $40,000, two-day "Kapo" simulation attempted to teach Danes the reality of a paranoid police state by having them recreate the conditions of Jews brutalized in concentration camps and then coerced into degrading and dominating their fellow prisoners. The LARP, intended to explore the roots of human cruelty, involved simulated gang rapes.Thank God for now they're only interested in exploring the teenage angst and juvenile excitement of the wizarding world. But we'll have to see what they cook up next: The same team plans to reopen their castle-cum-academy twice more in the next year, April 9–12 and 16–19, inviting another 114 participants and additional non-participant observers to get as close to Hogwarts as it's possible to get. So anyone 18 and older who'd like to receive his or her belated, digital owl had better sign up now and figure out how to get to rural Poland in the spring.Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.