Many people have often asked the question: "Why would someone want to get dressed up in a costume and run around in the woods for a weekend hitting each other with foam weapons?" First, this question is already misleading. A similar question could be asked about baseball as: "Why would someone want to hit a stick with a ball and run around in circles?" To simplify the question is to unjustly represent the topic.
First, fiction has always played a major part in society. The entertainment industry is proof of that - with multi-million dollar movies about monsters and elves - to the tens of thousands of books written on fantastical subjects. We, as people, love to 'escape reality' for a period of time, be it in a movie on television or just by curling up with a good book. It helps to stop the 'everyday grind' from becoming too much to handle. All work and no play
And, as in many cases, people often imagine themselves in the stories that they are experiencing. Imagining if they were the hero or heroine in the book or wondering how scared they would be if they were actually in the same position as the lead in a movie. To some extent, table top games such as Dungeons and Dragons helped to address this. Now, only the outline of the story was written and it was up to the players of the game to decide how they would go about obtaining their goal. The game not only helped to increase entertainment values of this fantasy genre but it also helped people to learn new ways of problem solving and other mental tasks. In fact, Arcadia University, in the late 1980's and probably even still today, required every new freshman to play a short, watered down game of Dungeons and Dragons during their orientation.
For some, however, this still did not capture the 'true' feeling that one would see an actor going through on the silver screen. It was hard to be afraid in a dark cavern while you were sitting around a kitchen table or to feel the exhaustion of fighting a group of enemies when all you did was roll some dice. So, the next step was taken and Live Action Role Playing, or LARP was created.
Just like the tabletop games, you created your persona, your character, complete with abilities and other things, however this time, instead of rolling dice around a table you had to physically complete the tasks at hand. You had to hike up the hill, you had to use your foam weapons or magic (often represented by small bean bags) to defeat the opponent and save the day. With some groups, costuming and set designs are so well done that the area begins to look and feel like the place the game is set in. Now, instead of watching an actor or reading about a character doing something, it is you, the participant, who has to do it, complete with all the trials, emotions and rewards involved.
So, to answer the question: Why would someone want to get dressed up in a costume and run around in the woods for a weekend hitting each other with foam weapons?" the most simple response would be "Because we are tired of having Hollywood show us how it is done and wanted to do it ourselves."