21
April 2018

You’re in the office. It’s your first week, and you’re just getting to know your co-workers. The usual getting-to-know-you small talk is flying when someone asks the dreaded question:

“So, what do you do in your free time?”

For most this would be an easy question, but for larpers, it’s a different story. We censor ourselves, picking a different interest to talk about or avoiding the topic altogether. No matter how passionate we are about our hobby, it’s a well-known fact that you don’t spring the ‘I’m a larper’ conversation on someone when you haven’t gotten to know them. It’s not unheard-of for someone to keep their passion for larp culture as far from their professional lives as possible in fear of their hobby coloring their job potential.

Why? Why do we only talk about larping with other larpers? Why do we agonize over whether or not to tell friends, families, and significant others what we do in our spare time? Why is larping a dirty little secret?

ogre_in_the_room larp culture

The original negative views on larping (and nerd culture in general) can be traced to the early-80s Satanism epidemic was in its prime. Every new thing that came about was feared to encourage teens to practice witchcraft. Pop music? Satanism. Fast cars? Satanism. Nerdy kids playing made-up games in their backyard? Definitely Satanism.

Nowadays, we seem to be (for the most part) past this view, but the fear still lies in ostracization. We know how modern society treats those outside mainstream culture, those with different and unique interests, those who are passionate about things that most others are not. Just as we know this, no one wants to be ‘that nerdy guy/chick’ that no one wants to talk to.

Assumptions made by people who don’t know anything about roleplaying are always based on things they’ve seen in movies or on the internet, and almost none of it is flattering. There are groans and eye-rolls in the larping community when ‘lightning bolt guy’ is mentioned, and I know I’ve heard a fair share of ‘Larping? Like in ‘Rolemodels’, right?’. Thoughts go to antisocial kids with glasses and acne, and in some cases they’re right. Why is this a bad thing? Why is it a negative to have pimples or acne, or to be shy?

There are larpers who have these traits, but some aren’t even close. Larpers are of all age groups and backgrounds. We are psychologists, nurses, farmers, law students, and, yes, tech support. The big question is this: how do we break the stereotype? How do we change the views on larping to positive and accurate ones instead of negative?

Pride.

Informing people who aren’t in the know with a positive attitude is more likely to make them view it positively than an embarrassed explanation could hope to. If you present something in a way that says you are ashamed, those you present it to will act accordingly. Tailoring the conversation to emphasize something the person would be interested in is also a good tactic, but I’ve found that a simple ‘I go into the woods and hit my friends with sticks’ works better than most would imagine. It piques a lot of interest, leading to real conversations.

Just remember, my larper friends. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about something. If other people see how much you enjoy it, how much fun you have, they just might stop judging and start getting interested. If not, you’ve got a great community made of some of the most accepting people out there to fall back on. They are the ones missing out on a fantastic game, not you.

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Kiri Brasseur

Kiri is the Editor in Chief of Larping.org. Armed with an extensive knowledge of grammar and voice-enhancement, she aims to wrangle our team to pull larping.org to the forefront of online larp content. She has committed two years, some tears, and a lot of love to larping thus far, has no intention of dropping her weapons, and loves that her passions for larping and writing fit together so well!

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22 Comments

  1. AaronLarp May 2, 2013 8:14 PM

    I think the biggest problem with this in America is that everyone assumes larping to ONLY mean fantasy foam weapon campaigns–they mistake the content for the form, and many people aren’t fans of fantasy.

    Fantasy campaigns are to larp like super heroes are to comic books–the most colorful, the most popular, the biggest grossing, but far from the total of the artistic medium.

    Thus I have been telling people I larp, just like model UN clubs, mock trials, disaster simulations, military training, interactive museum exhibits, and classroom education. But since I started a company that makes educational larps, I expect my co-workers to be larpers. 😉

    Maybe if more larpers looked at live action role playing as an art and not a hobby, the mainstream’s attitude towards it would change as well. Maybe.

    Reply
    • Jordan May 6, 2013 9:49 PM

      Aaron I think you touch on something that is really important, that larp is art, but I’m curious how you draw the distinction between art and hobby. Is art taken more serious, than hobby? Basically, in your opinion, what’s the difference between larp as art and larp as hobby?

      Reply
      • Aaron May 6, 2013 9:57 PM

        Hey Jordan

        Larp as hobby: something someone does mainly for fun; any additional effects, personal or public, social, cultural, etc., are unintended secondary results.

        Larp as art: something someone does mainly to create change in personal or public, society, culture, etc. Fun is a secondary goal (it could be an unintended goal, or an intended goal, but it is secondary to the larger purpose of designing or playing the larp).

        Sometimes, however, art larps can fail at the art part but can still be fun, and sometimes a pure hobby larp can transcend to art.

        Personally, I think the difference between larp as art and larp as hobby is how many art grants it gets. I don’t know of governments or charitable foundations that fund hobbies.

        I hope that makes sense.

        Reply
        • Jordan May 6, 2013 10:08 PM

          The first one showed up. 🙂 We’ve got all comments on moderator approval while we test out not needing to have an account. Nothing against you. 🙂

          That does make a lot of sense. Actually, it’s brilliant. I had never thought of the implications that go towards something being art and something being merely hobby. When something is art it gains a great level of respect from society that hobby just does not. And, I do appreciate that fun is still a goal. Fun is often a misused word, but I think at the end of the day we’d agree that larp should be enjoyable. No matter the setting.

          Here’s to seeing larp get some grants in the US!

          Reply
          • Aaron V May 6, 2013 10:31 PM

            No worries on the double comment, do what you have to do.

            I did a shitty debate at the last Intercon on larp being art or not. A lot of people are against it, because they are worried that larp will be thought of as pretentious BS. Personally, larp can easily be both art and a hobby. Example:

            If Thomas Keller took up game design in between being a world class chef, it would probably be a hobby, while cooking is his art.

            If Shigeru Miyamoto or Will Wright took up cooking in between game design, it would be a hobby to them (probably), while game design is their art.

            Both are right.

            To some, making cocktails is an art, and I know bartenders that are artists. But it was always a hobby to me, even though I am pretty good at it.

            There’s a whole column I (or someone else) should do about “fun” in larp. Because fun for me might not mean fun for you (in fact, I doubt it does). Killing monsters and looting their bodies and gaining XP and leveling up is exceptionally boring to me (most of the time). But sitting in a basement for six hours discussing religion, philosophy, life, with a vampire and a (handcuffed) human scientist attempting to cure vampirism might be painfully dull to others (I was the human here, and it was great).

            I also strongly recommend anyone who DEMANDS that larps be fun read Markus Montola’s essay “The Positive-Negative Experience in Extreme Role Playing”, one of the most influential Nordic essays I ever read. And…crap, it’s not online anymore!!! It used to be here: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/db/10343.56524.pdf

            Damn…

            Anyway, I think larps should be “worthwhile” at the end of the end of the day. Worth your time, effort, energy, etc. Not a waste. My experience with the haunted house Blackout was not fun nor enjoyable–quite the opposite. But, it was certainly worthwhile, because I learned a little bit more about myself, what people can get away with in public, what people think is scary, what is horror, what people will pay to do, what I can charge people to do to them, etc. So I don’t regret the experience, but that was not fun nor enjoyable, at least how I define fun and enjoyable.

  2. Ivan Zalac May 3, 2013 3:34 AM

    I’ve been on a new job for the past month. Since I work in the IT industry, I was well researched – and on my job interview the CEO asked me what larp is. Which was pretty obvious since it’s all over my Facebook, Google+, Twitter, blog, here and elsewhere… I described it as a form of the improvised theatre in which actors are also the audience. Medieval fantasy larping was mentioned, and I described it as a subset of the larp form. It went well, and pretty much everyone on this job – and my previous one – is aware of how I spend a large part of my free time, and is fine with it.

    Reply
    • Jordan May 6, 2013 9:52 PM

      Alright, all the larpers move to Croatia where our chosen use of free time is socially acceptable. Last one out turn out the lights. 🙂 But, seriously that’s pretty great. Most friends and colleagues don’t have any idea what larp is when I tell them. I’ve gotten some seriously strange looks when I try to explain it. But, once I show them some videos and tell a few stories they usually go, “Oh, that is pretty cool.” So, I think over time the stigma will lessen.

      Reply
      • Ivan Žalac May 9, 2013 5:17 AM

        Well, I wouldn’t really say that larping is socially acceptable. But the definition I gave was. I have been made fun of at other places when I gave the description of running around in the woods and hitting each other with foam swords.

        Reply
  3. siriuslyyellow May 10, 2013 1:29 PM

    Hey! I work at a customer service desk in a grocery store. Essentially, it’s retail. I tell both co-workers and customers alike exactly what I’m doing. I tell them LARP stands for live-action roleplaying, and I say that it’s like a Civil War reenactment but with a fantasy twist. Then I tell them that there are also other kinds, using the examples of a zombie apocalypse and science fiction. Most people think it sounds fun, interesting, and cool. I have never had anyone give me a negative reaction. At the least, they’re confused and they give me a little laugh and smile and say, “Have fun.” And I’m fine with that reaction, too. 🙂

    Reply
    • Kiri Brasseur May 13, 2013 7:54 AM

      I’ve also gotten both reactions. When I first started playing, I was very shy about explaining what I was doing. I noticed that the more uncomfortable I was about it, the more the people around me picked up the social cue that this was something to be embarrassed about. Now that I’ve been more friendly and excited about larping to people who ask what I do in my spare time, I find that a lot of people are actually interested and know folks who larp. I’m glad you’ve found a way to tailor your conversations to larp topics that other people could be interested in. It’s fascinating what our own social cues can really do!

      Reply
  4. Rich Croteau May 14, 2013 12:21 AM

    I guess fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t care. I’ve been involved in the medieval fantasy larp genre here in New England , on and off since the late 80s as well as LHA and Re enactment. Currently I’m a 47 yearold medically retired military veteran batteling the VA for my benefits. . Larp, or just talking about it, making armor or costumes or developing character details keeps me from drinking a quart of whiskey a night in order to sleep. It gets me out of the house. My social and motor skills are coming back. My paranoia is slowly going away. I’m not completely afraid to leave the house anymore. I’m turning back into a human being. My therapists thinks its good for me, my wife thinks its good for me, and I would rather be doing that than getting loaded and crying over things in the recent past. I like how we fight battles in the Larp world, you throw a bean bag or cast a spell at a casualty and he/she gets up and walks away. No Nightmares.

    Reply
    • Aaron V May 14, 2013 11:58 AM

      Rich

      Thanks for your reply. I am personally interested in providing larps as a program for veterans to return to civilian life, as well as to deal with PTSD. I know the military runs larps to train before deployment overseas (I reported on the NTC at Fort Irwin), but what about when soldiers return?

      I run a nonprofit (pending) company that makes larps for the classroom, but I would like to expand into veterans affairs. Would have any idea where to start to talk to about this?

      Thanks for your reply, and for your service to America. The bureaucracy might not recognize or appreciate you, but We, the People, do. Thank you.

      Reply
    • Kiri Brasseur May 15, 2013 6:40 PM

      Rich, I am so, so glad larping has had such a positive impact on your life. I’ve been told stories from other people, too, about how larping changed their lives. Larping is safe. You get bapped a few times with foam, fall over, and wait until someone says a spell so you can stand back up and keep playing. No one gets hurt. Everyone goes home.

      Thank you for your service. 🙂 I hope things keep getting better for you.

      Reply
    • Mike R. July 23, 2013 11:31 AM

      Rich,

      Thanks for your service to our country. I am glad LARPing has helping you to adjust and that it brings you happiness. You are proof that we come from all walks of life.

      Reply
  5. Mike R. July 23, 2013 11:29 AM

    Kiri,

    Thank you so much for this article. I found myself smiling and shaking my head up and down in agreement throughout the whole thing.

    You are so right, LARPing is a wonderful hobby which combines creativity, artistry, improvisation acting and even athleticism all into one package, yet people often see Role Models or other lampoons of the hobby as the end all be all.

    I have been doing this wacky LARPing thing for over 20 years now. I have seen it grow and change in many ways and have met some of the most wonderful people in my life while LARPing. I even run my own and deal with the challenges of maintaining a business on top of everything else. No matter how accomplished we become however, the stigma often weighs heavily upon us. I even once lost a job because my boss and co-workers discovered my “secret”. It is a frustrating and upsetting experience. I can only hope that through continued outreach efforts one day, we won’t have to say we are “going camping” and can just be up front.

    Reply
  6. Jon July 24, 2013 8:30 AM

    Not to be the debbie downer here but I have definitely experienced a larp or two that are worthy of having the stigma. Some of these games i could see why people who have never larped before feel uncomfortable because as a larper I felt uncomfortable. Specifically I am not a fan of lightest touch / fastest swing combat games. People there tend to be people who complain, rules lawyer, metagame, and put as little effort into the game as possible. I can’t tell you how many times a non energetic mage “threw” a packet at me and its just aggravating as to how lack luster they can be. Games with giant shields, packet bows that don’t require a physical representation (yes they exist unfortunately), people who use illegal hitting locations as shields, taverns where you spend most of your time out of game, games where you spend more time socializing than playing, games where there sometimes isn’t anything to do for hours are all part of the stigma. Everyone i know says the combat is fun but they stay for the role playing and continual quests. Most American Boffer games have stopped being games and have become sports in my opinion.
    They normally don’t have nearly enough role play and I feel like the focus of larps globally should be role play. Without that they lack substance. And so many existing boffer fighters resist change, constantly claiming its not larp without those things, and that realism and theatrics are not what larp is and that realism and theatrics are always a GARGANTUAN sacrifice so safety. Even more ridiculous is the amount of people I’ve heard say something along the lines of “combat rule book means combat only game and role play rule book means only role play game. the two can’t mix, and should never mix because one is sport and the other is theater and you can’t run a game that is equally both because it has to focus on one or the other.” These are the games and people that I constantly see non-larpers referring too and there are many of them. I’ve even seen plenty of people who play those types of games and hate a lot of the “mechanics” but they figure there isn’t anything they can do or that its the only type of game around so they have to deal with it. In conclusion, like the article mentioned, larpers are making the larp stigma.

    Side note: Aaron V, you are doing a huge amount of contributing for the larp community. I wish I had been older or not in college so that I could have started Seekers Unlimited or something similar because LARP is a fantastic tool for education, relief, and making a better community for the future when used correctly. I applaud you for this.

    Reply
    • Mike R. July 24, 2013 10:09 AM

      Jon,

      I think you will find that as with anything in life, no game is “perfect”. They all have different focuses and run in different ways. What works for some might not work for all. You wrote a lot but early on you said “Specifically I am not a fan of..” which clearly presents this as your opinion. Some of the LARPs you mention may not be your style, but that does not make them invalid, nor does it make them worthy of being stigmatized.

      Some folks for instance REALLY enjoy Vampire the Masquerade or similar types of games with Rock-Paper-Scissors or playing card resolution systems. That is not really my favorite, but to diminish it is to diminish us all. The key is to find what works for you and enjoy it as much as you can. Just as when you turn on the TV there is a myriad of entertainment from the History Channel to Jersey Shore, no form of entertainment is less valid than any other. If we stigmatize and put down each other we don’t really make a very compelling case for those outside LARPing to not stigmatize us.

      On a more personal note, as a LARP owner, one thing you said sticks out like a sore thumb and I feel needs to be addressed. When you say “games where there sometimes isn’t anything to do for hours are all part of the stigma.” it strikes a cord because when I read Post Event Letters from players, the occasional complaint of “there was nothing going on for several hours” does arise. Often, I feel players do not truly appreciate the gravity of running a game or the enormous responsibility of keeping an entire player base entertained for the entirety of the weekend. What this means is that while there is a time when “nothing was going on” for you, there may have been personal plot, lessons or story development going on for others. Just as when these things were going on for you, other players may have felt there was “nothing going on”. The way I run a game is as a living world. What the means to me is that everyone, including the PCs, are part of it. So maybe when there is “nothing happening” because cast and staff is out doing other things, the onus shifts to the players to entertain each other. You have a character, a set of goals, a background and a personality. Share it with your fellow players! RP with each other. Take a walk. Work on craft skills. The point is there is never “nothing to do” unless you allow that to be the case. When you have a relatively small group of cast and staff entertaining 50 – 100 people there will inevitably be times where they will be tied up elsewhere.

      Reply
    • Aaron V July 24, 2013 1:53 PM

      Hi Jon

      Thanks for the kind words. Feel free to donate to our Kickstarter for Seekers Unlimited (if you haven’t already), and please tell others.

      And if you can travel to SoCal in November, I am running a weekend fantasy boffer larp (my first!) Nov 22-24: The Dreamlands (http://onlineeffects.com/LE/the-dreamlands/)

      Here’s my politically INcorrect view about larping stigma: when most larpers regard larp as fantasy based (how often do they mention theater games in articles or explanations?), when most larpers describe larp as a “hobby”, and when they exclude newcomers (consciously or unconsciously), that will be reflected in the media and community.

      It took the (unfortunately racist) epic “Birth of a Nation” to prove that movies could be art and not merely nickel-priced amusements. It took “Maus” to prove that comic books could tackle extremely difficult, personal topics in a mature fashion. Video games are under this scrutiny and pressure right now, larps are under pressure merely to be recognized as an activity that is more than a fad, more than RPGs in costume.

      Let me quote from Wikipedia on video games as art; I think it applies to larps as well:

      “In a 2010 interview with Nora Young for Spark, Jim Munroe identified part of the problem with the identification of games as art as the fact that video games represent a very new medium and that some critics find novelty alarming. Munroe suggested that video games often face a double standard in that if they conform to traditional notions of the game as a toy for children then they are flippantly dismissed as trivial and non-artistic but if they push the envelope by introducing serious adult themes into games then they face negative criticism and controversy for failing to conform to the very standards of non-artistic triviality demanded by these traditional notions. He further identified the mischaracterization of the kind of art that video games represent as one of the problems facing the field and explained that unlike the adaptation of literature into film which consists of the one-way non-interactive presentation of a linear plot, the development of video games is more closely comparable to the design of architecture where the game designer creates a virtual (often 3D) space or world and lets players loose in it to experience it on their own terms.”
      and

      “The question of whether or not video games may be fairly considered as art rose to wide public attention in the mid-2000s when film critic Roger Ebert participated in a series of controversial debates and published colloquies. In 2005, following an online discussion concerning whether or not knowledge of the game Doom was essential to a proper appreciation of the film Doom (which Ebert had awarded one star) as a commentary on the game, Ebert described video games as a non-artistic medium incomparable to the more established art forms:
      ‘To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.’
      —Roger Ebert

      LARPS CAN DO THAT! We can larp to be more cultured, civilized, and, ESPECIALLY, empathetic. But how many larp designers aim in that direction, instead going for the business model of pleasing the greatest amount of people for the highest price they can charge to make a profit?

      To Mike R’s comment: Yes. It *is* extremely difficult to entertain 20+ PCs for 6+ hours. Check out my article on PvP and PvE here: http://www.larping.org/larp-design-part-iii-pvp-and-pve/
      For The Dreamlands, I know I am not talented enough to provide a high level of enjoyment for all my PCs for 24 hours. Like you (Mike), I also take the position that my job as a larpwright is to provide the materials, ability, and possibility that the PCs can entertain themselves. Yes, I’ll help entertain, but I am not a fan of the traditional “players vs. environment (aka GMs)” setup of mods and random encounters. I hope it works, but who knows? I could be headed straight for larp catastrophe. Keep reading my column and you’ll find out, and know not to do what I am doing/did. 😉

      Reply
      • Jon July 24, 2013 5:40 PM

        I would love to come out and try dream lands. Unfortunately I live on the east coast and am a college student so it would be quite difficult for me to do. I try to keep up with a lot of the stuff you write because even though I don’t agree with absolutely everything you like, you present it in a positive and beneficial way that is meant to help the community as a whole and even those who aren’t yet apart of that community.

        And to Mike, I totally see where you are coming from but i’m not really addressing the “odd” “excentric” or non traditional games like theater style games, i’m more addressing the class of people that i’ve seen at events. and i don’t mean like one or two, i mean entire games that are filled with these people with the exception of one or two that are different. I’m more addressing those that are lazy, play to win (even if there in a sense isn’t a mechanic to “win”), or are constantly trying to get around rules or complain the entire event about an accidental hard hit or how someone accidentally did something their character couldn’t have done. Those are the kind of people that fit the larp stereotype that I observe that pushes non larpers away. Like I said, some of these people / games, even pushed me away because of how much they fit the “bad stereotype” and I am a larper already. And by no means am I saying that games I don’t like are part of the problem. A few of the games I tried are styles that I do like but the people were horrendously lazy and fit the bill for why non larpers refuse to try. Hope that clears it up a bit.

        Reply
  7. Sarah Helwig July 29, 2013 10:06 AM

    A lot of good points have been made about this. And we can’t forget civil war reenactments. People get pretty serious over those, and some are even consider educational. (See this article: http://blog.pennlive.com/gettysburg-150/2013/07/should_civil_war_re-enactments.html)

    I have to say that so far, those people who would not be inclined to LARP that I have talked to about my hobby have been open and receptive to understanding it, even if it is not their cup of tea. And these people have been of a variety of religious, social and occupational backgrounds.

    I think the hardest part in dealing with the “Ogre” is when recruiting, especially when recruiting younger people who are still very much aware of their reputation and haven’t fully developed their personality and social standing yet. I recruit in an area where there are multiple universities, and the students are our prime population. Because there are all types of LARPers out there (including lightning bolt guy and those who do and do not use foam weapons), it can be hard to gauge an individual’s reaction to the idea. Many of them do only know of the stereotypes perpetuated by social media, and even those who have a wider understanding are often afraid of the stigma.

    As Kiri said, I believe that honesty is the best policy (I participate in Mind’s Eye Society, so we don’t actually “whack each other with sticks,” as Kiri said, because representations of weapons are not allowed at sanctioned events). But being upfront about the people you LARP with, the kinds of LARPing events you have, and just having a genuine conversation with people is the best way to go. Yes, I have had conversations in bars where people have just laughed when I answered their questions honestly. But when they see that you expected their reaction and aren’t fazed by it, they often become curious, even if it’s only how you got started in the first place. And the more you talk about it, the easier it will become.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Larpwright's Lament pt 1: Of Passions and Players LARPING.ORG

  9. Jonathan JP March 27, 2014 7:23 AM

    I would offer a broader view. LARP is merely a societal extension of a desire for more of an impact on our livbes, control over our destiny and craving for genuine interaction. We see this played out in “traditional” social gatherings centered around a “fictional” premise. Does anyone really think that participating in a Fantasy Football League is not a form of LARP?

    I think we crave to be involved and active participants in our lives. Often times the mundanity of modern living (first world problem) drives the tedium into direct conflict with our own yearnings. Frankly, I see many parallels between any passionate hobby and traditional LARP events.

    Reply

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