Meet Alex Heintz, Wild Elf

“It was Halloween when I took my first death,” muses Alex Heintz, 20. “There were vampires. Our group got separated and I died in a field. Then, I resurrected—and another vampire found me. He decided to let me live, but held me hostage in front of my entire camp.”

Heintz details how her camp decided to leave her Live Action Role Playing (LARP) character, a wild elf named Ursel, to vampires during a Halloween LARP weekend event. 

Underworld—a fantasy, horror, and medieval LARP game system in Canada—allows prospective players to try LARP out by playing their first game free, instead of paying the usual event fee of $30-45. When she is not working or studying at Western University, Heintz spends her time at Underworld day modules or weekend events in various parks.

Combat is a large part of LARP, and in order to do damage on another character, a player either uses a weapon or throws a spell packet while saying a number. Each character has a total of three lives. After two deaths the player gets the option to either let the character go and retain half of their experience (XP) or they can flip a coin. If they choose to flip the coin and win then their character walks away alive, but if they lose then the character is dead and they retain no experience.

“It’s a whole bunch of nerds wearing elf costumes shouting numbers at each other in a field,” jokes Heintz.

After their initial game, players can change their character. Heintz initially played Ursel as a human with a sword and a bow, but after spending time with wild elves, which she likened to the elves in the popular Lord of the Rings series, she changed her character class from human to elf and joined them.

Heintz as Ursel, pictured left, with fellow wild elves

“I teased [Heintz] about playing a different character with me so much that she actually did,” says Carolina Lopez, a close friend of Heintz whom she met at a LARP event.

“I bought myself a pair of latex ears and painted up my face and Ursel was born,” Heintz says.

Ursel has allowed Heintz to explore her obnoxious side as the character is more outspoken than her.

“Everything is a lot less personal in LARP because it’s not you, it’s your character,” she continues. Through the game, Heintz is able to see how people may react to things she may do in her daily life. “This is how people might react to me if there were no social norms, no laws, nothing in place,” she says.

Pursuing a degree in Media and the Public Interest (MPI), Heintz is interested in societal structures. Discussing her interest in both her MPI degree and LARP, she explains how the game reflects her studies.

“You get to see how rules have been built up and you get to watch governments be put in place,” she says.

Recalling an encounter with a dark elf named Maximus, Heintz draws parallels between real society and LARP society. Maximus wanted to set up a community chest for his camp where characters could take whichever supplies they needed.

“He invented ye old communism,” Heintz says with a laugh. “This was medieval fantasy’s first Marx.”

Heintz became involved in Underworld last June when her supervisor at Western’s Instructional Technology Resource Centre (ITRC) informed her of the local LARP events he attended.

“He came back one time after saying he was going camping and it looked like he had gotten hit by a car,” Heintz recalls. After he explained he had been at a local LARP event, Heintz asked him if she could come along to give the game a try.

Her interest in LARP initially peaked because her parents used to play in a guild—a term used to describe a medieval association of craftsmen and merchants—so she grew up hearing stories of their adventures. Her family’s shed was full of boffer weapons, which are easy-to-make, cheap starter weapons made of foam covered pipe.

“There were axes; there were swords. That sort of thing. So I would always play with those,” says Heintz. “For a kid, that was jackpot.”

Though she grew up in a family where LARP was normal, Heintz is aware of the reputation role play gamers receive. “LARP has a bit of a bad reputation because it is seen as a bunch of losers trying to escape reality. I don’t think it is that,” said Heintz. “It is an escape for a lot of people—it was an escape for me, too—but it’s very community-driven and community-based.”

The brotherhood and sisterhood among players is central to Heintz’s love of LARP. Recently, a girl from an Albertan guild told Heintz’s Underworld guild that she was visiting the major Ontario guilds. Twenty people instantly offered their homes, their food, and rides to and from the airport. “If people need rides, if people need a place to crash, we are there for each other,” Heintz explains.

While her fellow guild members are essential to her LARP experience, those close to her say Heintz brings humour and compassion to both her everyday life and the LARP community.

“Alex is always able to laugh at the most morbid of situations and make anything that seems terrible into a lighthearted joke, even if it’s at her own expense,” says Allyson Steward, Heintz’s peer and co-worker.

Lopez notes that this ability to lighten the mood aids gameplay. “Her down to earth personality allows players to immerse themselves further within the game world,” she explains.

However, Heintz can occasionally find it difficult to remain in character. “There have been times where my character is dying in someone’s arms and we’re both sobbing, even though I’m not supposed to be crying because I’m dead,” she says.

It is these emotional moments, though, which are Heintz’s favourite aspect of LARP. “I might have a good sword fight with someone, but it’s the emotional stuff you remember,” she says.

Currently, Heintz is taking a season to play non-player characters (NPCs) in her guild, which are the actors that players’ characters interact with as part of the game. “If everyone is a hero then no one is a hero,” explains Heintz. “There has to be the farmers, there has to be the monsters.”

This new role means that, for a year, Heintz will set aside Ursel. In the game, if a character were to ask about Ursel, they would be told she is in Jericho, the Toronto guild, hiding from demons. However, as Heintz also plays in other guilds, there will be opportunities for her to revisit Ursel in different locations if she misses being a character during her time NPCing.

Until next year when she returns to Ursel, Heintz’s weekends will be spent filling in for whatever acting roles are needed in her guild and looking forward to this year’s Halloween event.

“It is a horror fantasy, and they like putting the horror back into that for Halloween,” she explains. “You’re basically going to spend most of it running and screaming for your life.”


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