They serve your food. They sort your mail. They man the ladder trucks.
They are your accountants. Your nurses. Your personal trainers. But when they are finished cooking your food and bagging your groceries and driving your children home from school, they become something bigger: a heavily armored storm trooper, battle rifle in tow. A demure gothic Lolita, smiling shyly behind linen and lace. A short, sword-wielding night elf, enacting a living, role-playing game. Super Mario himself.
What drives these otherwise ordinary people, these superfans, to cast off their mortal lives and slip into the realm of fantasy? For some, like Denise Ritenour, who has spent the past ten years playing powerful vampires, fandom is escapism. "You can become anyone or anything when you larp," says Ritenour, who participates in "larps," or live-action role-playing games. "I have the ability to check reality at the door."
For others, it's about developing bonds that are greater than this world. That's how it's described by Ricky Torres, executive officer of Vader's Fist, the 501st Legion of Florida storm troopers. "I could call anyone in Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa, or Orlando," says Torres, "and my brothers would drop anything to help me if I was in trouble."
Mostly, fandom means dedication to a cause. It means falling asleep humming the Imperial March, dreaming of elaborate designs and Victorian gowns. It means working tirelessly on your next costume or staying up all night painting and gluing and honing your broadsword. It means that the only way the real world of doctors and lawyers and tax attorneys will ever take that Nintendo controller from you is if they pry it out of your cold, dead hands.