Defender of Central Park

Thursday, August 18, 2016
You can find Alioune (or Ali) N'Gom in Central Park almost every weekend, wearing a medieval-looking smock and wielding a giant foam sword with other chain-mail-wearing and (foam) armed friends. They are LARPing, live action role-playing, which N'Gom describes as "playing pretend with props and costumes." They attract onlookers no matter what, but at 6'6", N'Gom stands out all the more. A self-proclaimed nerd and connoisseur of nerd culture in New York City, N'Gom, 24, makes a living out of his passion. As the Battle Lab Director at the beloved Brooklyn Game Lab, an afterschool/camp program and game shop in Park Slope, he teaches aspiring young geeks the ins and outs of fantasy fighting by day. At night, when he's not playing Dungeons & Dragons, he's crafting weapon props and costumes to sell to his fellow LARPers. He chatted with us about the geek scene in NYC. How did you get into LARPing? I've always been a huge nerd. Growing up, I was into comic books and video games and everything else, so this just really seemed like the logical next step for me. In 2008 [when N'Gom was an NYC high school student], I saw the movie Role Models, which had a scene about LARPing. It was supposed to be a huge joke, the punchline of the movie, but I thought, "that's awesome!" I could see myself doing it. I spent two years trying to LARP by myself until I realized there were organized groups in New York. In my first year of college, I joined a national group called Amtgard and have been doing it ever since. I've gone from just playing to helping run things. What are you pretending when you play? Well, there are different types of LARP. Some groups are more focused on fighting and the sporty aspect of it, which is great for people who didn't grow up liking traditional sports. LARPing allows them to be physical and feel like they have mastery over their body, without having to buy into sports culture, which many of them are averse to. Then there are groups that don't fight at all. They're a bunch of fancily dressed people in a room acting things out. The LARP I do is about fighting, but we're also into role-playing, costuming, and crafting. Most LARP is based in sword and sorcery fantasy, like Conan the Barbarian and Lord of the Rings. But some more modern groups role-play as vampires or post-apocalyptic survivors. I'm not really into those genres. Fantasy is what clicks for me. What kinds of reactions do you get when you're LARPing? We play in Central Park the majority of the time and we always get negative comments. We used to play on the east side of the park where most of the people walking around were visitors who went to the Met. For whatever reason, the feedback we got from them was really negative—a lot of pointing and staring. But we recently moved to the west side of the park where there seem to be a lot more locals. Even if they've never seen or heard of LARPing before, they're genuinely curious and respectful. Still, at least once a week someone yells out "nerds!" at us. I've learned to ignore it, as have most LARPers. The insult we hear the most is, "Get a life!" Meanwhile, I'm hanging out with 40 of my close friends, getting exercise in the sun. Feels like a good life to me! So I don't take that too seriously. Besides Central Park, what are some other nerd hot spots in the city? I'm into pen-and-paper games like Dungeons & Dragons, and The Uncommons [a board game café in the West Village] hosts D&D nights. As "nerds" have become more common in pop culture, The Uncommons has gotten really busy. I love seeing places like that flourish because it means that similar venues will follow. There's also Twenty Sided Store in Williamsburg, which has delicious food and a big space to play board games and RPG [role-playing games] with friends. Montasy Comics is another great hangout for nerds who are into card games. There's one in Queens and one in Manhattan. To buy and sell [Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh!] cards, I go to Nebulous Gaming NYC on the Lower East Side. They have a really welcoming staff. Would you like to see LARPing become more mainstream? Sure. The idea that LARPing should be kept a secret for the sake of the people that already enjoy it bothers me. If it's for everyone, it has to be for everyone. But at the end of the day, no matter how popular it becomes, we're going to be attracting the same archetypes of people. I don't think there's ever going to be a time when LARPing is overrun by college frat boys. Want your kids to get in on the LARP action? Check out the Brooklyn Game Lab: Brooklyn Game Lab 353 7th Ave at 10th St, Brooklyn