I was in a wedding last weekend. At this wedding, the master of ceremonies held a speech for the groom. The groom organizes larps for a living, mostly for children. In the speech, the MC quoted liberally from G. K. Chesterton’s The Club of Queer Trades (1905). Well, from the short story The Tremendous Adventure of Major Brown. I have been aware of this short story for some time – it is often mentioned as a piece of fiction that predicted alternate reality games. It has been on my reading list for ages, but until I actually heard how apt passages it contains, it had been easy to postpone reading it.
I read the story finally today on the flight to Digra 2009. The story is quite charming. While investigating a case of assault the main characters of the book stumble upon the “Adventure and Romance Agency Limited”, an agency that creates adventures for its clients on a subscription basis. These adventures are a very clearly pervasive games.
Chesterton very beautifully explains why people want to play these games:
If [the modern man] wishes to float into fairyland, he reads a book; if he wishes to dash into the thick of battle, he reads a book; if he wishes to soar into heaven, he reads a book; if he wishes to slide down the banisters, he reads a book. We [the Adventure and Romace Agency] give him these visions, but we give him exercise at the same time, the necessity of leaping from wall to wall, of fighting strange gentlemen, of running down long streets from pursuers–all healthy and pleasant exercises. We give him a glimpse of that great morning world of Robin Hood or the Knights Errant, when one great game was played under the splendid sky. We give him back his childhood, that godlike time when we can act stories, be our own heroes, and at the same instant dance and dream.”
The visceral of the real in combination with the fantastic of the game. There is also a passage that explains both the business model of the company as well as how the game mastering is carried out:
The Adventure and Romance Agency has been started to meet a great modern desire. On every side, in conversation and in literature, we hear of the desire for a larger theatre of events for something to waylay us and lead us splendidly astray. Now the man who feels this desire for a varied life pays a yearly or a quarterly sum to the Adventure and Romance Agency; in return, the Adventure and Romance Agency undertakes to surround him with startling and weird events. As a man is leaving his front door, an excited sweep approaches him and assures him of a plot against his life; he gets into a cab, and is driven to an opium den; he receives a mysterious telegram or a dramatic visit, and is immediately in a vortex of incidents. A very picturesque and moving story is first written by one of the staff of distinguished novelists who are at present hard at work in the adjoining room.
The book is available for free at Project Gutenberg.