It’s a hot, sunny late-July day in the Boston suburbs, and the rest of the zombie horde and I are hiding at the bottom of a hill drinking water, chatting, and waiting for the cue to follow the dragon onto the battlefield. Finally we get the cue, and shamble toward the young wizards and warriors who stand ready to send us back to the realm of the dead from whence we came.
You know how you’re envious of your kids for growing up in an era of smartphones, DVRs, and Marvel comic book adaptations that are actually worth seeing? Here’s another thing to add to that list: the awesomest, geekiest summer camp ever. I’m referring to Wizards & Warriors Summer Camps, which are held annually in several spots in Eastern Massachusetts.
Did you ever spend a summer in your back yard with friends, making up elaborate stories and fighting imaginary battles? Picture doing that, but in an organized setting, and you’ll start to get the idea. If you’ve ever participated in a live action role-playing (LARP) game, that’s exactly what Wizards & Warriors is: a chance for kids to create a persona for themselves and to come together to create a fantasy world that’s involving, entertaining, and satisfying for them all.
As the zombie horde approaches the stalwart heroes, we split up and begin our attack. We are a particular sort of zombies known as Draugar, and as the battle is joined we ready our weapon of choice: lightning bolts, born from the storms that gave us life after death. The heroes valiantly rise to the challenge, though, and quickly overwhelm us. Despite the power of our lightning, the heroes’ swords, staves, and potions disable us time and again, as we are repeatedly recharged back to our undead life by our allies, the electrical monsters who accompanied the dragon onto the field. The minutes feel like hours as we continue this vicious circle, broken only when the army of the living finally succeeds in defeating the dragon who was our leader. Defeated, we shamble slowly back towards our watery graves.
My son Isaac attended a two-week session of Wizards & Warriors Summer Camp in the summer of 2015. Age 14 at the time, he had never been away from our family for that long a stretch, much less several hundred miles away from home. My wife and I were worried that we might get a call a few days in begging for us to come get him, a worry made worse when, several weeks before the camp began, he had to have an emergency appendectomy.
We needn’t have worried. Not only didn’t he call wanting to come home, he barely called us at all–the camp is almost entirely unplugged, and (except in emergencies, of course) the overnight campers are only given access to their phones for a few minutes each day. He would have more than gladly stayed at the camp for the second two-week session had that been possible, and talked so much about the camp on the drive home to Virginia after I picked him up that I almost felt as though I’d been there with him.
Oh, and the whole zombie/Draugr thing… See, when parents come to fetch their kids from overnight camp, they (the parents) are made up as zombies and participate in the final battle–and the feast to follow it–that serves as the culmination of the experience. RPGs aren’t my favorite thing to play in general, but I have to admit that it was a lot of fun being a zombie, despite the oppressive heat and sun. I was glad to wash the makeup off of my face afterwards, though.
Wizards & Warriors Camps (and the Zombie Summer Camps that are also available) aren’t just a fun, creative, unplugged experience for kids; it’s also educational, but in a way that makes the learning part of the fun. Meghan Gardner–the founder and CEO of Guard Up, the company that runs the camps–has this to say about their philosophy:
Wizards & Warriors and Zombie Summer Camps offer STEM/STEAM curriculum through the game mechanics which encourage campers to learn science (physics, biology, chemistry) and math (geometry) as well as art (literature), in order to “power up” their characters and battle monsters more effectively. The best part about the game, however, is that kids aren’t pushed to learn about academics – instead, they are simply offered the opportunity to do so. However, when you can make a big difference in the success of your team by taking some time to learn Newton’s Laws of Physics so that you can get a level of spells, they find it worth the effort.
As a parent, I was thrilled with the effect the camp had on Isaac. He came home more confident and much less attached to his iPhone than he was when he left (though, alas, that didn’t last as long as my wife and I would have liked), and he was (and is, nearly seven months later) more whole-heartedly and verbosely enthusiastic about his experience than about anything else he’s ever done. Here are some of what he has to say about the camp:
The Guard Up Wizards & Warriors summer camp was by far the best summer camp I have ever attended, and the first sleep-away camp I have attended. I made many new friends, and learned some new things. Regardless of whether you are a possible future camper or a parent of one, here are some things you might want to know if you do not already:
- The counselors participate in the camp itself. They have their own characters and in-game personalities and actually play pretty big roles in the camp activities, unlike many other camps I have been to.
- The “swords” used at Wizards & Warriors can only hurt people if used incorrectly. The standard ones are just cylinders of foam with handles and you need training to use the more advanced latex weapons, which can hurt people more easily.
- If you can afford overnight camping and are even a little bit far from where the camp is, you should sign up for being an overnight camper. As an overnight camper, you spend more time with the other campers and get to know them better. It is still your decision to sign up for it or not.
- For potential campers: if you want to go to Wizards & Warriors, you might need to think a bit. There are certain types of people that would be a little uncomfortable in this type of environment. It’s fun, but not if it’s too loud or fast paced for you.
My favorite parts of camp were:
- Sidle Sunday – A silly day when the “spirit of chaos” is in charge.
- I made a lot of really good new friends.
- I learned a lot of things about myself at camp, both physically and mentally.
- The final battle was fun… to watch, at least. I twisted my ankle the day before and it started acting up right before the battle, so I couldn’t run without it hurting quite a bit.
Note: I was given a reduced rate on the tuition for Isaac to attend Wizards & Warriors Summer Camp. The opinions expressed here are my own (and Isaac’s, where indicated).