MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A fantasy world is tucked away in the basement of Milwaukee's Mitchell Mall. The basement was turned into a 30,000 square foot fantasy world where a "Live Action Roll Playing Game" was played. It's a game that Brian Pekarske says has helped him to heal.
Every day, driving a Paratech ambulance involves trauma -- and not just for the injured or sick.
"There have been things that I've seen on this job that will haunt me for life. It is important to have a way to decompress," Pekarske said.
Live Action Role Playing is the way Pekarske winds down after a long week on the job.
"It's a nice way to take a break from reality," a Live Action Role Playing player told FOX6 News.
"It is organized chaos," a Live Action Role Playing player said.
"There's really nothing like it in the world," a Live Action Role Playing player said.
"These are a lot of amazing people. You go in there and just beat the crap out of each other," a Live Action Role Playing player said.
The weapons used in Live Action Role Playing (LARP) are made of foam rubber. The combatants are mostly kids who grew up playing adventure board games like Dungeons and Dragons -- and wanted to start playing the real thing.
"Some families go camping and we're no different -- but when we go camping we're usually at a LARP event," Pekarske said.
Pekarske organizes the game. His daughter got him into it, and he got hooked.
"I was just dressed up, following her around being her babysitter," Pekarske said.
And when he dresses up, Pekarske dresses up.
"I like to say that during the week I'm a paramedic, and during the weekend I'm an Orc or Knoll," Pekarske said.
There are rules and guidelines for the more than 80 players participating in the quest -- composed of riddles, battles and alliances.
"We take it pretty hardcore," Pekarske said.
LARP is not for everyone.
"This is just a good escape from normal, everyday life," a LARP player said.
"It helps to kinda take me away from this world for awhile and go somewhere else," Pekarske said.
That can be easier said than done for Pekarske. He lost four friends while serving in Iraq -- and some of the deaths still haunt him today.
"I was with the 101 Airborne Division. I had some close calls, and you can only roll the dice so long before you run out of luck," Pekarske said.
Pekarske was nearly killed in a riot, and in a separate incident, he could have died by a rocket-propelled grenade had it not been a dud.
One tour turned into two.
"I might not come back, so," Pekarske said.
His experience overseas left him with scars that only time and help can heal.
The weapons may be fake, but for Pekarske, the benefits of LARP are real.
"I think it's important for people to have an outlet and if LARP is an outlet for people I think that's very healthy," Pekarske said.
"A lot of people consider us more family than friends. We're all really close. It's just a good escape. It's a release. Sometimes it's a lot easier being yourself when you're not being yourself," a LARP player said.
"(LARP) is a huge stress reliever for me," a LARP player said.
The weapons may be fake, but the benefits of LARP are very real for Pekarske. When the weekend is over, it's back to the important work of saving lives.
It's a return to reality refreshed through fantasy.
If you're interested in LARP, the next event is at the Airsoft Arena in Milwaukee on Saturday, April 26th from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
CLICK HERE to learn more.