A new, bloodier style of live action role play has entered New York, creating a chance to escape the living. The name, fittingly, is “Dystopia Rising.” Their catch phrase, “Welcome to the Family,” is quite unsettling once you meet the characters participating in this zombie apocalypse. For a forty-five-dollar general admission fee, you can reimagine yourself to be a convict, cowboy, or anything in between as you and hundreds of other zombie-enthusiasts work to rebuild civilization and fight off paid zombie actors. The LARP, or “live action role play,” lasts ten weeks, and you can choose to step away from your former self and camp out in the cabins deep in grizzly country for a week or a few days. If you choose neither - responsibly - stay in the comforts of a hotel, arriving at only to participate in scheduled events.
This fictional town being racked by the onslaught of zombies is called The Fold, and each activity it offers sounds stranger and more illegal than the last. “Be part of a massive multi-part Morgue Build!” This was a little strange, but every town needs a morgue, right? “Experience the return of the Zodiac Torture Shack!” This one got me a little bit. “Leave a little piece of yourself on our new morgue props! Will you survive the dive into the Hellmaw or will you become part of the Requiem Flesh Wall?” At this I had to stop. For only forty-five bucks, you would seem to be getting the full package deal, the finale including becoming one with the flesh wall as a bonafide dead person. But why is this appealing to everyday New Yorkers?
Max Forest is a zombie LARPing enthusiast who attends this outdoor gathering every year. I found him after a very quick Instagram search and a tagged photo of him holding a (hopefully fake) beating heart in his fist, sending him a DM wondering if he would be willing to share his experiences.
“Something about the chaos, it creates community,” he tells me, “I get to build rudimentary homes and make flint fires all while living up a high school fantasy of mine.” I asked him if he had ever read the Dystopian comic books with similar plotlines to that of “Dystopia Rising.” He had never read “Marvel Zombies” to my surprise, but was sporting a cowboy hat in the post, similar to Carl Grimes from “The Walking Dead.” I asked why he sought out an escape like this, to which he replied: “I work at a desk job, dude. I need to kill a zombie once and a while.”
To leave the city for a weekend is an escape. To walk from one dystopia to another– though this one exchanges rats and crime for mud and flesh-eaters– is a vacation. To some New Yorkers, leaving the troubles of the city includes a relaxing drive upstate and taking on a different set of much scarier and bloodier issues. The sense of pride one will feel after finishing a session at the Torture Shack and relaxing on the Flesh Wall should lead “Dsytopia Rising” to be NYC’s next hot spot, and I for one am certainly hoping to see the most popular food stand, “Broken Tooth,” rated on Yelp later this year.
Art by Michelle Cao