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Photo: Brittney Elkins
A crowd forms in a conference room at the Indiana Memorial Union. Some have travelled from as far away as Ohio. A few leave to put on costumes. When they return, dressed mostly in black, it’s like they’re speaking in code.
“If he attacks during an unplanned fight, guardian vigil goes off, hi I go first,” one says. “Oh and by the way, this isn’t a planned coliseum fight, so I’m using my claws!”
These aspiring vampires are part of The Camarilla, a live-action role playing game, or LARP for short. The players in The Camarilla create their own characters and stories. As the players change, so do the characters and the game. The International Camarilla Conclave—the global convention for vampire games—will meet in September. There, the players will meet with other vampire groups from around the world. Things that happen throughout the year can play into the games at the International Conclave. Regional conventions occur throughout the year, as well. At these larger meetings, different vampire groups interact with one another to further develop the plots of their games on a global scale.
Though the stories are violent, players won’t really hurt each other — in fact, there are strict rules preventing contact between players. These people are the ultimate vampire fans. Just don’t expect them to obsess over the current vampire craze.
“It’s not like Twilight. It’s nothing at all like Twilight, thank God,” said Mark Elliot, who runs the Cyber Cafe at IU’s Herman B. Wells library. Elliot has been LARPing since the 1980s and said the games are ongoing — like a never-ending book in which each gathering adds another chapter.
We’re here, we’re in Bloomington. How would a group of vampires go about living? We try to figure out—who’s going to be in charge, who’s going to be the enforcers, how do we be political,” Elliot said. “You make friends and your friends become enemies, and your enemies become friends. It’s fun to be part of a worldwide group where you know you’re not just sitting around a table making stuff up on your own. And we have a broad spectrum of society in our group. We have students, we have professionals, we have doctors, lawyers, nurses. We’re all very connected to our real lives. It’s just fun to step out of your real life for awhile and interact and just have fun. If they weren’t we’d probably have to take them aside and say, ‘look, this is game.’”
The in-character conversations are often peppered with cursing and gore, so players have to be at least 18 years old to participate. The plot of the game is usually dark, and the vampire characters like to solve problems by killing them. In a recent game, human intruders attacked the vampire’s main building.
“They claimed to be servants of another vampire, they lied… that vampire does not exist,” said Venue Storyteller Keera Ford. Ford is in charge of creating plot hooks for the Bloomington group. The infiltrators were her idea.
“So they had to deal with the backlash of a prominent building being exploded and had to deal with taking care of the hunters who were coming after them,” she said. “It was definitely a surprise… I could tell by the look on people’s faces! It was great.”
Elliot said the group then set out to find a solution.
“We have to figure out—why did these people set our building on fire? And we have to get a new building and figure out—will we take revenge or lay back or be all ‘ARRRGH!!!’”
Both Ford and Elliot have mixed feelings about today’s pop culture vampires, though.
“It’s nice to have something you like become more widely accepted,” Elliot said. “But when someone perverts it, that’s not really cool in my opinion.”
“I cringe sometimes when I see Twilight everywhere,” said Ford. “While I think some of the things in the movie I saw were funny, I am not a fan.”
As for the infiltrators: one was killed right away, another escaped, and the third was illegally turned into a vampire…only to be put to death shortly after. The vampires now take precautions to protect their gatherings, including not meeting in the same place twice. They’re not taking any chances when it comes to the safety and sanctity of The Camarilla.