Name: Nicole Wheatley
IG Name & Race: Alena Lithvir, Twilight Elf
Age: 28
Number of Years LARPing: 5
Home Game: Seventh Kingdom IGE

Born with a rare eye disorder, Nicole Wheatley has not let her disability stop her from enjoying the benefits of LARPing. Although it hasn’t been easy immersing herself into the imaginary world, she is an avid comic book nerd and gamer. Here is Nicole’s story overcoming great obstacles and inspiration to all of us.

Catherine C. J. Baxley: How did you first learn about LARPing and where was your first event?

Nicole Wheatley: I feel as though I had two first events: when I was a member of the group known as Alliance and when I joined Seventh Kingdom IGE. During my first semester at community college in Baltimore county, I came across a small group of Dungeons & Dragons players. We would meet up every Friday once classes were over and play the game for a few hours. Chris Griffin and Karly Chetzel discussed the idea of trying a real life version of the game.

Chris mentioned playing with a chapter of Alliance in New Jersey and suggest a few of us join him for the next upcoming game. I asked to tag along and for the next month spent time creating our characters. We met at Chris and the first step was creating our characters. I decided to play Kayleigh, a high elf seer and alchemy user, after trying my hand with a sword. We each made our own weapons and went into mock battles to learn the rules for combat. Let’s just say I can fight with a weapon but I would break every rule to keep the other fighters safe.

My first game of Alliance was a blast! I was given a complete spell book and was involved within the main story line. I was nervous and embarrassed my costume was of poor choice; it was nothing more than a piece of cloth wrapped around my body and pinned in place. My character was awoken from sleep and had no memory leaving plot to generate her story. After a few events, I realized Alliance wasn’t for me. The staff wasn’t sure how to deal with a blind player so [they] decided to string me along taking my money while keeping me locked in the so-called inn. I left two years after playing the game.

A friend, Alan Gibson, suggested we try another game called Seventh Kingdom IGE. I was hesitant, after being used and burned, I wasn’t sure how to receive the new game. I was on guard and kept those I met at a distance. Our first event was interesting though: we were given the rules and allowed to take part in a kingdom matter. It was a nice change I was just a player learning the game and not being isolated due to being disabled.

CCJB: What is the best part about LARPing for you? Worst?

NW: The best part about LARPing is interacting with the other players in order to reveal facts of the story you’re trying to play through. It’s interesting to see how different people play their character even if they are from the same kingdom or  race. There’s also the interesting costumes and lore that surround the game.

The worst is that the game seems focus on combat; there are some LARPers who would see your character as being weak if they lack combat skills. It is also annoying to be treated as fragile due to my disability instead of asking what I’m capable of. There are some people who will avoid taking my character on mods, scared that I may end up getting hurt.

CCJB: What has been the most challenging experience in-game (or IG)? Did it coincide with your out-of-game (Or OOG) mentality?

NW: It’s hard to stay in character and not meta-gaming. I hear a lot of things and sometimes get confused by what is in game and what is just people talking. There are times where people had to correct me due for commenting on things that my character wouldn’t know. Also dealing with a large group of people and being myself around them. I don’t do well with crowds and yet in large groups are common. Being an empath, large groups can create a large amount of energy and it takes some getting used to.

CCJB: What is Bardet Bedel Syndrome? Is it common?

NW: BBS is a rare eye disorder and affects one out of one thousand people. Both parents must carry the Hortatory gene and each child born has a fifty percent of getting the disorder the risk increases with the birth of each child. It affects me physically and mentally. It is seen as a disease that causes the retina to deteriorate over time.

CCJB: How exactly does BBS affect you? Could someone else with this syndrome suffer the same way?

NW: No one with this disease is affected the same way which is why the disease is complex. My sister Lauren and I were the only ones born in our family with the disorder and yet neither one of us are the same. I suffer from night blindness, sensitivity to light, color blindness, zero depth perception, nearsightedness, poor side vision, and delayed adjustment from bright to dim lighted areas. I was also born with six toes on each foot and had severe case of Scoliosis, having surgery to fix the problem. Like the comic character Daredevil, my other senses are heightened to make up for my lack of sight. I have a slight speech problem due to poor teeth and shortness both causes of BBS. There is also a mental problems such as intelligence and dealing with emotions.

CCJB: How does this affect your daily life?

NW: I try not to let it affect my daily life my parents raised me to live a normal life even if normal is not how everyone else would see it. Technology helps makes up for my short comings with my vision. It prevents me from making mistakes with clothing selections. School is a struggle; it takes longer to complete readings and some classes like math are a struggle to get a good grade in. I can’t drive so I take public transportation which can be a pain sometimes. Lately I have been forced to deal with cataracts leading me unable to read normal font and needing the aide of a enlarging tool on a computer or iPad.

CCJB: When LARPing, what’s your biggest obstacle?

NW: I would have to say dealing with other players. I meet and recognized people by the sound of their voice and this leads to me being quiet when there is more than one person talking. I have a problem of not seeing people walk past me so unless I hear or run into them a person could be sitting at the same table and I wouldn’t know that they were there.

Asking for help, I don’t want to break out of character, yet sometimes I should get aide in game. Except for the day time, most people are a blur to me making it hard to identify them unless they are talking. When people are showing an item I pretend to know what they are talking about instead of admitting to the fact I have little clue what the item looks like. This also occurs in a mod when people are fighting and too much action is occurring at once. There are a few people who will describe the scenes to me but I know it’s seems odd, I don’t ask more people to repeat the action.

I also struggle dealing with large fights or a large group of people in tight areas. In game, I avoid combat due to not knowing where a weapon would be coming from. In small areas sound tends to be overwhelming and can cause a lot of confusion for me.

I struggle sometimes with telling people how I feel as my character due to out of game reasoning. I know that people try to keep me safe by keeping me off of heavy combat mods but there are times where I wish to at least try the mod instead of being left behind. I hesitate to speak up because I see the other players as friends and don’t want to hurt their feelings. At the same time, I miss out on mods and getting my money’s worth at the events. I know that people know how little I can see in game and instead of speaking up, I tend to go quiet or withdraw into myself.

CCJB: If someone had a similar disability and were interested in LARPing, what would you tell them?

NW: I would say make sure that you find a group of players that accept you for yourself and not judge you based on your shortcomings. Have a good sense of the game and go there with a friend who already has an idea of what you are capable of as a player. Know what kind of character you want to play and write some notes in order to recall what your character can do in game. On my computer is a list of what my character can do and a summary or the advantages and weakness of each skill and ability. Speak up if you are unable to complete a task let other players know and ask for help I regret not asking for help and letting my ego get in the way.

CCJB: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

NW: In Baltimore I was like Harry Potter and at the age of eleven until the age of seventeen went to a summer camp at the Maryland School for the Blind to learn how to deal with my disability and live a normal life. While there, I learned how to travel with a white cane and what technology helps with everyday tasks. I gain an independence through them and the life skills taught through the camp.

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Photography: Mark Chadbourne, Darren M. Fitzgerald
Game: Seventh Kingdom IGE