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What’s the Difference Between Cosplay & LARP?

What’s the Difference Between Cosplay & LARP?

There are many ways for us to show our love and passion for fictional characters and magical worlds. Some write fanfiction, some draw fan art, and some join forums and participate in activities to show how much they love a character.

Some might even do cosplay or attend a LARPing event just to fully immerse themselves in their fictional obsession.

Cosplay is a combination of the words “Costume” and “Play”. It is the act of dressing up as a fictional character, often from a movie or video game, without necessarily acting the character out. LARP on the other hand, stands for Live Action Role-Playing. It is an activity that involves, not just dressing up as a character, but also acting them out in a real-world setting.

These two are often mistaken as the same thing (as they both involve the act of putting on a costume) however, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

To know more, keep reading.

What is Cosplay?

A person cosplaying Yui Ishikawa

The term “Cosplay” is a combination of the words “Costume” and “Play”. It is an activity that involves dressing up as a character from a popular movie, TV shows, comics, books, video games, or anime. Although they are in costume, they don’t necessarily have to act like the character they’re portraying.

Although cosplay has been around since the 1970s, the term cosplay was coined in 1984 when the founder of Studio Hard, Noboyuki Takahashi, attended the World Science Fiction convention and made a comment on “My Anime” with the words “Kosupure”.

Since then, the word has been used to refer to people in costume portraying a certain character (usually anime).

Over the years, cosplaying became more and more popular, and with its popularity rose cosplay conventions where people could go dressed up as their favorite characters and hang out. The first known cosplay convention was the World Cosplay Summit in October of 2003, but it wasn’t until 2005 that they held competitions that egged more cosplayers to attend.

What is LARP?

LARP is an acronym for Live Action Role-Playing. In its more basic definition, it is a role-playing game that requires people to dress up and act as their character in live-action depending on the theme or setting of the game. Not only does it require costume, props, and a script, it also requires a real-world setting where LARPers can play.

There’s no clear answer as to when LARPING began, but it was in the 1980s when LARPing grew in popularity. It started out as a hobby for people who wanted to role-play medieval times, but it ended up being an official event. The first known LARP group, and possibly the largest, is Dagorhir, which was founded in 1977.  

Although many LARP events nowadays cater to different genres, ranging from medieval to Sci-Fi, Dagorhir mainly revolves their events around fantasy battles set in the medieval era.

If you’re interested in LARPing but don’t know where to start, this video might help:

What is the difference between Cosplay and LARPING?

The main difference between cosplay and LARPing is that cosplay only requires a person to be in costume whereas LARPing needs action and a story. In order to LARP, one must be familiar with the lore of the character they are portraying. They must also be adept in improvising and coordinating with different LARPers.

This isn’t to say that cosplay is an easy activity because it’s not. A lot of cosplayers have to build their costumes and props by themselves, and sometimes they’ll be scrutinized over the accuracy of the costume they’ve made, especially if it’s for a competition.

Setting

A person in a knight costume

Another area in which cosplay and larping differ is the setting. Although conventions are usually where cosplayers often cosplay, technically speaking, people can cosplay anywhere they want. If a person chooses to wear a Naruto costume while grocery shopping, they’re still considered to be in cosplay.

However, LARPers have to be in a specific setting to be considered LARPing. If someone wore an elf costume to the grocery store they would no longer be portraying their character, instead they’ll just be someone who is cosplaying an elf at a grocery store.

The set-ups of LARPers usually require a budget, but if there’s none, LARPers can choose to just LARP in an open field or in a forest where they can sort of just pretend.

But in large-scale LARPing events, a budget is a must. Large-scale LARPing events usually cater to many LARPers which means there’s a need to construct props, lay out tents, and even provide food and snacks. The cost of hiring writers and crew is also something to consider.

In a blog post by Rachel Thomas called the Economics of LARP, she wrote in detail the expenses of a LARPing event. In total, she and her team spent over $15,000 to organize the event All for One.

The table below shows what they spent during the event:

ExpensesIn PoundsIn Dollars
Writing Staff£0$0
Site£3,316$4,394.81
Props£1,182.02$1,566.57
Costume Hire£1,668.96$2,211.93
Tabards and Sashes£1,143.61$1,515.67
Catering£1,757.03$2,328.65
Historical Display£750$994
Horses£150$198.80
Insurance£190$251.81
Ops£239.81$317.83
Travel£580.09$768.81
Contingency£1,402.35$1,858.58
Food for crew£0$0
Paid crew£0$0
Total£12,379.67$16,407.21
Expenses of the LARP All for One from the blog “The Economics of LARP”

Costumes

The difference between the costumes of a LARPer and a cosplayer are not much since, technically, anyone cosplaying could be a LARPer and anyone LARPing could just be cosplaying. The difference lies in the characters each type portrays.

Cosplayers typically cosplay characters that already exist and are popular. Usually, these characters are from a movie or a video game. According to an analysis done by DIYs.com, the top five most cosplayed characters are Harley Quinn, Spiderman, the Joker, Batman, and Harry Potter. This was done by taking a look at the number of hashtags used in Instagram along with the hashtags “cosplay” and “dress up”.

LARPing, on the other hand, does not dress up as popular characters that already exist, but instead they create their own original character relevant to the theme of the LARPing event they’re attending. For example, if someone was attending a LARPing event with a fantasy theme, they can go as an elf or fairy.

Then, they act as their character, magic and all, while following a script or set of rules set by the gamemaster (usually the event arrangers).

How to Cosplay

Different people in cosplay

Cosplaying is simple. First, pick out a character, find a reference for that character, create (or buy) your costume, and then cosplay!

The first thing you’re gonna wanna do is decide what character you want to cosplay. If you’re a beginner, you should pick a simple character with a simple costume design and not that many props and accessories.

For instance, the character Kuroko Tetsuya from the popular sports anime Kuroko’s Basketball is relatively easy to copy. All you’re gonna need is a basketball jersey customized to Kuroko’s school and number (Seirin and 11), and a teal blue wig with blue contacts. (You can opt out of the contacts if you find it uncomfortable).

The next thing you wanna do is gather a bunch of references to create your look. For characters with simple designs, like Kuroko, one reference can be enough. However, if you’re looking to cosplay someone with a more detailed costume and props, it’s best to have multiple references of the character and their prop or accessory.

But if it’s your first time, you don’t have to worry about your costumes accessories. Most cosplayers won’t mind if you miss a detail or two in your costume, as long as your character is recognizable, you’ll pass in their eyes. If you’re cosplaying for a competition, however, you’re gonna need to pay more attention to detail if you want to win.

How to LARP

LARPing is a much more complicated and daunting task, especially for a beginner. But it isn’t impossible.

If you want to LARP, the first thing you wanna do is search for a LARPing event that suits you. There are plenty of LARPing events scattered throughout the U.S and there’s bound to be one that will be to your liking.

Next, after you’ve done your research and have made up your mind to stick to this event, you’re gonna wanna contact the organization of the event for more information. (tickets, duration of the event, food etc.) Especially if this is your first time and the event you’ve chosen is a bit far from home.  

After that is where the fun begins. Create your own character! This is the fun thing that LARP has that cosplay doesn’t. Creating your own original character.

As a frequent OC creator myself, here’s a few important things to remember when creating a character:

  • Your character’s race (Elf, fairy, human etc.)
  • Backstory (Where’d they come from?)
  • Specific character quirks (Do they bite their nails? Are they loud? Do they have an accent?)
  • Personality (Is your character timid? Aggressive?)
  • Costume (Draw inspiration from existing characters but make sure that your costume is something you’ll be comfortable wearing)

In Conclusion

People LARPing

To conclude, cosplay and LARPing, despite being similar on paper, are actually two different things.

Cosplay is about dressing up as a fictional character and nothing more. Usually this is for a convention, a competition, or simply just for fun. Meanwhile, LARPing is the act of dressing up as a fictional character and pretending to be said character in a real-world setting.

Although cosplays are usually done at conventions, it can be done alone. LARPing on the other hand, cannot.

LARPing requires several different people, a script, and place for it to happen. It is also considered to be more expensive than cosplay, especially if you decide to be the gamemaster.  

However, that doesn’t mean cosplaying is an easy feat. Cosplay can also be difficult when it comes to the construction of the costume of the character and its accuracy.

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A short web story of this article can be found by clicking here.