Darkon: moar like dorkon, amirite?

May 13, 2009

Directed by Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel
2006, Ovie Productions, 93 Minutes.

To live and PWN by the sword...Darkon is Live Action Role-Playing, where the characters in the game assume different personas of their own creation and partake of different warring nations and factions in the Darkon universe. Not entirely unlike traditional Dungeons & Dragons, except the focus is not upon the stat-sheets and one’s imagination, but the actual grandiose foam-weapon battles between armies. I do know some folks who play Darkon, and in Baltimore no less — the location of this documentary’s subjects. And I have actually come across Darkon groups in the past in local parks and so forth (I too live in Maryland, for whatever it’s worth).

The documentary focuses on a drawn-out Darkon campaign fought between two warring faction leaders: Skip Lipman/Bannor (he’s Bannor in Darkon), and Kenyon Wells/Keldar. Of the two, Skip is the more likable character, a stay-at-home dad with the utmost exuberance for Darkon’s potential as a fulfilling and self-empowering creative channel.

Kenyon/Keldar seems to stand for similar things, but then he doesn’t take the Darkon fantasy as seriously as the other members of the documentary. Instead he uses it as a medium for him to channel his expansive, greedy determination. Unsurprisingly, outside of Darkon, he turns out to be a soulless corporate cog who has no problem manipulating people in the workplace. Friendless in his youth, but ever cynical, bitter and pushy, Keldar is a Darkon tyrant.

What is revealed by all this, is that these Darkon characters are not necessarily escapes or pure projections in another universe, but simply extended, exaggerated branches of their respective personalities inside the world of Darkon. Bannor is a romantic leader, infatuated with Darkon’s style and drama, whereas Keldar is a bland, aggressive manipulator.

Darkon is a democratic fantasy — it exists based on compromises and agreements decided upon by the group at large. It may be a social outlet, but as an outlet for the individual’s imagination it is not as successful. How much of this is a fantasy if so much social interaction brings it back into the “real world” of drama, power struggles, etc.? If Darkon is a fantasy, then the real world is a fantasy too. Proper fantasy strikes me as a single-minded vision — it is not democratic. Darkon then, becomes another game or sport.

That isn’t to say Darkon is a strange, negative or absurd enterprise by any means. In fact, the documentary is positive for making the viewer re-examine all the real Live Action Role-playing and fantasy elements that take place in our communities (American football, martial arts, yoga, religion, frats and sororities, etc.) because they have long since been accepted by mainstream society as cultural landmarks. But when fantasies become vivid enough to the ones enacting them, those fantasies bleed into real life and how we develop as members of our daily communities. This is shown to be one of the prime incentives for many to participate in Darkon.

The production was interesting, but had some things I could have done without. For one thing, the camera is intentionally shaky during battle scenes, giving us not a realistic depiction of what is taking place, but a further idealized vision of the battles as internally experienced by some Darkon players. The music plays into this too, being monotonous and “epic”, appropriate sometimes, but occasionally cheeky and disruptive.

Furthermore, from what I could see, Darkon players purposefully ignore the real combative elements of swordplay, instead opting for their own imaginary version of what constitutes combat. This leads me to believe that the foam battles stem not from actual enthusiasm for combative camaraderie, but lazy idealized image of it. In that sense, it leans toward the dangerous end of the fantasy spectrum of the martial arts — where a black belt deems one a cold-blooded killer. It ain’t so, but at least Darkon stays in it’s own medium for those circumstances.

@ Amazon
@ IMDb


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