“They did good, so they get waffles.”
– Lodge, The Gamers 2
It’s 3:00 am. The smell of coffee and maple syrup fills the air. You hear the soft tinkling of silverware and dishes. Dennys is mostly quiet on this early Sunday morning, save for one corner of the restaurant, where a group of 8 oddly-dressed folk are jabbering away about the night’s adventure. Someone’s talking about finding a body in an alley. Don’t freak out–They’re LARPers, and they’re enjoying one of the most important aspects of the LARP community: Afters.
A Rich and Creamy History
My first experience with afters was after a local LARP “Big Game”. I was out with Jon, Gordon, Chris, and the other storytellers of a local Vampire: The Masquerade LARP which was running its annual murder-athon that often resulted in major character death. Among the casualties of this game were my character, a Gangrel named Max.
So there I was, at 3:00 am. Dwight was talking about how nobody respected his character. April was talking about ducks. Greg was chatting up Linda (they later totally got together). Most importantly, we were having a good time. Yeah, we were talking about game, but we were doing so as a group of gamers, in a communal and completely meta fashion. Storylines weren’t on the line, and pancakes abounded. Nobody was on their phone, because this was over a decade ago and smartphones were not a thing.
When I started my own LARP group, I started adopting Afters as a very regular thing. We all went to IHOP, which was open 24 hours on weekends, and we’d talk gaming. Not as our characters…we were there as friends. I got to know these people not as the brooding homicdal maniac who just claimed praxis, but as the college student taking comparative religion and considering seminary. Ricky and Matt were taking about the paranormal. Donnie and I had an IHOP dessert called Who-Cakes and the experience was so bad it is burned into my skull, 10 years later.
It’s not just Parlor Larps. I started playing Darkon a few years ago and discovered that Afters was handled differently by different in-character Countries. Mine, for example, did Denny’s after a campout weekend, but others did Cracker Barrel or IHOP. A few had home barbecues. No matter where you went, though, there was an amazing feeling in that moment where someone said “Hi, I’m [Real Name], I had fun playing with you,” and you had a chance to meet the person behind the guy who just assassinated you and your buddy last night in a sacrifice to Drow Gods in the name of Ched Nasad.
Afters provides a very deep and needed cool-down time after the high adrenaline, high-stress time of a LARP game. And I’m not talking bad stress either. Maybe you had a really, really good game and you’re on cloud nine. I’ve been there, and without the slow cool-down of a meal and some good time with friends, I’ve had that serious drop that leads to a really terrible, depressed feeling.
The Science of Afters
In the world of conventions and cosplay, this kind of “drop” is called “PCD” or Post-Con Depression. Patrick Delahanty, founder of AnimeCons.com, wrote an article a few years back on the subject of Post-Con Depression and its causes. “During the convention,” he writes, “your body uses serotonin. After the convention, the lower levels of serotonin in your body can cause depression until your body has time to produce more. This can take several days.”
Seratonin, a monoanamine neurotransmitter, is also called the “Happiness Hormone” because of its role in appetite, pain regulation, depression, and overall health. It can be boosted naturally in several different ways, including food, human contact, and exercise. And LARP…well, it’s stressful. Whether you’re swinging a padded stick or pulling off a six-man killbox, LARP generates stress, which generates that happiness hormone.
So now back to Afters. It’s lower-stress, but it also prevents a huge seratonin drop by continuing to boost the hormone at lower levels. Your average afters might provide this anti-depression kick without you even realizing it:
- Extra Vitamin B6: from leafy greens and garlic in the food. (And what LARPer doesn’t like garlic. Come on.)
- Extra protein: a lot of after meals are breakfasty, including eggs and breakfast meats. Breakfast meals are usually protein-laden.
- Human Contact: meeting new people, and resolving issues nonviolently, are shows to increase seratonin. Also touch, like hugs and handshakes.
Afters acts like a nicotine patch and lets us slowly slip out of LARP mode and decompress.
So what happened to Afters?
Nowadays I see it less and less. Game ends, and someone says “who wants to go to White Castle?” and there’s a mumbling. People have work in the morning, or they look at their phones and make other plans…I haven’t been to a real Afters in a few months, I don’t think. And I can see the effects, sometimes, in the game I play. The separation of character to person becomes noticeable, and the in-character, out-of-character divide can lead to greater bleed. People seem to be friends less after a game. And it’s not anyone’s fault…the world is just different and faster and immediacy comes more natural than relaxation and decompression.
But I implore you to keep your Afters. We need that separation and we need that slow decline, weaning ourselves out of high-seratonin, high stress-, high-energy mode. Cheap food, expensive food, just drinks at a bar–what matters is that we stay together, and get to know each other outside of our fake selves. Let’s find out who we really are, so we can build a better community and share the happiness.
By the way, I’m Sam…you should totally email me. Sorry I killed your character!