All the little monsters love going to camp

We’ve all seen them; the weird and wacky

people huddled over a tabletop together playing video games, rolling dice, or trading cards, talking in terms that are mystical in their incomprehensibility. We laugh at their activities illustrated on YouTube—wearing shabby renaissance-faire-reject costumes, hitting each other with padded swords and throwing foam balls at one another while screaming, “Fireball! Fireball!” Monster Camp is a movie that humanizes the so-called freaks and geeks of the world that try to escape the boring reality of work and school for the rich fantasy life of live-action role-playing.

Shot over the course of a year, Monster Camp details the exploits of the role-players in NERO Seattle, both the mighty adventurers and the witless monsters who partake in the game. The film’s major set piece is an unnamed Washington state park, where the NERO events take place. The film follows NERO owner, Shane, and organizers of the event at three major events, with a special focus on the people who are the monsters for the event—called non-player characters in the NERO vernacular. One of these NPCs, Brittney, is new to the event and through her the audience is

introduced the rules of this role-playing universe.

While the perspective is mainly from the monsters, the adventurers are given screen time as well.

J.P., a 15-year veteran in this type of role-playing and known in-game as “Sir Gregor,” allows us to understand the experience of the adventurers and the deep levels of

interaction present throughout the NERO game. J.P. also shows the unusual and at times

paradoxical relationship dynamics that can arise within the game, J.P. being involved in a five-year-long out-of-game relationship with

one of Sir Gregor’s most bitter in-game rivals.

The film makes an effort to show the lives of the role-players from a sympathetic view—and to show the very real worries about their own lives and the lives of their character in the game. One 17-year-old, a person whose character is a mechanical dwarf called “Tinkerstouch,” worries about university in the real world and ensuring his character doesn’t permanently die in the game world. Dave, the head writer for the NERO Seattle crew, has a daughter and must balance his time between family, playing World of Warcraft and plotting entire campaigns that make the live-action games fun for others.

One of the constant themes throughout Monster Camp is the power and prevalence of escapism; these men and women get away from their lives through their role-playing, and find a common world in which they can socialize with one another. That point is driven home beautifully with a wheelchair-bound woman who admits that, while she doesn’t even role-play much or fight against the monsters, she can still escape into a land where she isn’t in the wheelchair and interact with people—something she lacks at home.

Monster Camp also shows that through this escapism, people can affect real meaningful changes in their lives. People who are shy, unsure or awkward become someone else when they adopt a character and through their character they take on those qualities in themselves. From the girl whose character helped her to learn social skills and gain friends through NERO, to J.P., who got rid of his crippling shyness by playing the flirtatious Sir Gregor, we see people who are using their experiences in the role-playing games to help themselves in the real world.

The power of imagination and escapism is at the heart of Monster Camp. Though the costumes are rarely impressive and the make-up is incredibly amateur, there is a heart behind each of the people who partake in the role-playing activities. These

are real people, something most forget in our casual mockery of their activities.

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