At some point in our formative years, some well-meaning person or organization tries to convince us of the evils of creativity, the uselessness of imagination, or the wasted time we spend on basic play.
We reach that fateful day in grade school when we’re told to put away the crayons. Our parents holler at us to stop spending good money on those dumb comics. The job interviewer sniffs at our dragon tattoo. The blind date turns up his or her nose at a CGI superhero movie and insists we see a piece of subtitled historical fiction.
But then we find our people.
Sometimes we find them in high school, or on a campus, or at a local coffee shop, or on-line, or at a fan convention. They speak our language. They share our passions. And they value creativity, imagination, and play as much as we do.
For three fun-filled, colourful years, the organizers and participants at Underworld LARP Cape Breton: Tempest Grove found their people. They gathered at a community not far from the geographic centre of Cape Breton Island, Gillis Lake, and created a world where knights, elves, orcs, and various other creatures ran rampant around the countryside, developing far-reaching storylines and dizzying character arcs.
And in the act of disappearing into a fictional character – which speaks to the heart of LARP (an acronym for Live Action Role Playing) – the Tempest Grove gang, and their paying customers from across Canada, found each other and found themselves.
Sadly, they also found resistance.
What started as random acts of vandalism at the Gillis Lake site escalated into repeated property destruction this spring, culminating in outright mob rule on the first Monday evening of May. An estimated 18-to-20 people arrived at Tempest Grove in four different vehicles. They caused thousands of dollars in damage, destroying gates, fireplaces, scenery and benches, and spray-painting the remainder with pictures of penises and obscenity-laden slogans condemning “wizards” and “nerds.”
According to interviews, Underworld LARP Cape Breton co-owner Jeff Bushnik gave last week, the May 6 marauders were mostly teenagers, both male and female. Some came armed with baseball bats or large chunks of wood. One person brought a dog. Most of them started yelling at Bushnik when they realized he was using his phone to record video of their activities.
He also claimed that, upon their exit, one of the ringleaders “floored” his vehicle at an estimated speed of 70 kilometres per hour, only to swerve away from Bushnik at the last possible second, which can be seen on the video.
As you might expect, I had several angry reactions when I first read the Tempest Grove story.
I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, never watched more than one chapter of each of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movie series, and never read any of the books that inspired these films, TV series, and fandoms. But I know what it’s like to be bullied on the schoolyard or receive sneers from fellow adults for the heinous crime of admitting that I enjoyed some pop-culture property or work of fantasy or fiction.
Trust me: A guy who has over 300 back issues of MAD Magazine and is spending the month of May responding to a 31-day Twitter challenge from one of his favourite Muppet fan sites (for the second straight year, no less) is bound to have sympathy for people who put so much effort into creating their own magical worlds.
It goes beyond that, however. Originally, Bushnik thought “one or two teenagers” were responsible for the damage that repeatedly befouled Tempest Grove. That would have been bad enough. The concept that as many of 20 people would threaten the safety of so many others, destroy business assets that took hundreds of work hours and thousands of dollars to set up, and have so little disregard for their fellow human beings is inexcusable. It speaks equally poorly of both the perpetrators and the people who raised them, and we as Cape Bretoners cannot stand by and let these bullies win.
Fortunately, we aren’t.
A GoFundMe page set up to raise $1,000 exceeded that total in a matter of hours. Inspired, Bushnik raised the campaign’s limit to $5,000. By last Friday afternoon, contributors had raised $6,215. That’s bound to put wind in the sails of the Tempest Grove crew as they gather for a community clean-up this coming Saturday, and as they plan for a fourth season of activities that will take them Gillis Lake to the likes of Glace Bay and Louisbourg.
They’re still finding their people. And whether we ever put on an elf or orc costume to join the activities at Gillis Lake, let’s be “their people” too – by giving them the freedom to play.